(This is pretty much an account of the first time I set out to bake cookies, with Macadamia and Pecan for sous chefs, many years back)
When something involves kids and implements that are either sharp or heavy or stuff that makes a lot of noise when banged on or dropped, it can never be a ‘not interesting’ journey. There will definitely be times when some of it or all of the above, put together, would lead to some wonderful moments of discoveries on the part of both, the child and the parent involved in the said project.
For the child, the discovery could range from the rather innocuous ‘banging a spoon repeatedly on a pan produces delightful noise’ to something more far-reaching like ‘banging a spoon repeatedly on a pan could get mommy or daddy to agree to whatever it is that you want, just so the noise stops’. It could be something as simple as ‘scissors cut paper’ to ‘they can cut mommy’s or daddy’s hair too’ (when she or he’s not looking, of course). Simply put, it teaches the child and the parent something. Children learn a new skill and parents learn exactly how much patience they have. Either way, like I said, a learning process, it sure is.
Kids seem to run on endless amounts of energy which seem to work in an inverse proportion to the energy levels in their parents. They are eager to learn and their constant exploring fingers with that wide-eyed look of wonder often leave a parent gasping for breath, short of breath, wide-eyed with the knowledge of impending disaster. Those little hands are always busy with something or the other. So, while cooking, the something or the other could be anything from ‘playing ninja with a pair of scissors or trying to see if the spoon handle can fit into the nostril and be used as an effective scoop for that bit of booger that is just that slight bit out of reach for those little fingers’. Either way, it’s a joy beyond measure. If you find yourself close to losing it, do remind yourself at this stage that it is indeed good to ‘teach them skills when they are young’ and that ‘it’s all going to be worthwhile in the end’.
I still remember the time my kids wanted to bake with me – meaning they wanted to learn to bake stuff (just in case anyone reading this is under the illusion that we are one weird family whose idea of working together is trying to stuff all of ourselves into an oven and baking ourselves). I’m an eternal optimist that way and I remember thinking to myself ‘Hmmm… how difficult can it be, for kids, to measure out one cup of all-purpose flour?’ It was much later that I discovered that optimism and foolhardiness do indeed go hand in hand.
I’d asked either Macadamia or Pecan (when they were a lot younger) to measure out a cup of all-purpose flour while I busied myself with getting some stuff from the fridge. When I walked back to the kitchen, they had indeed measured out one cup of all-purpose flour. Just that the flour was not where it was supposed to be – in the mixing bowl. There was this fine white mist all over the kitchen, on the countertops, in the sink, on the floor and it seemed rather comically magical right then and I remember thinking ‘who the hell says Hong Kong does not have snow. I have some happening right here, in my kitchen’. I should’ve believed in magical genies too, right then. It would have saved me the trouble of cleaning up, methinks.
There was this other time when I remember teaching them to crack eggs. The hens flinched, covered their eyes and ears in the poultry farm, I’m told. Hey, optimist that I am, I still look at the countless number of eggy face packs and hair washes they gave me, in the process of learning to crack eggs. Priceless, I tell you. I did discover that instructions have to be very very clear – crystal, if you like. Phrases like ‘beat the egg’ need to be followed by a demonstration of the word ‘beat’ (a number of times, if you may – not just one demo) if you don’t want your child to go get the nearest available thing which would then turn them into makeshift witch doctors of sorts, trying to ‘beat’ the egg repeatedly, probably resulting in your kitchen getting an egg wash. While on the topic of egg wash, you may want to be careful again because cracked eggs, if washed with soap and water which is then poured over the bread dough, won’t really do anyone, any good.
There are lots of other things that will happen along the way, as the recipe progresses too (if it progresses, that is – that’s not the optimist in me – that’s the realist in me). I remember this time when all three of us – meaning the hapless me, the excited Macadamia and the wide-eyed Pecan all set out to make double chocolate chip cookies.
At one point of time, I can swear I was covered in fine dusting of all-purpose flour and cocoa powder, I stepped on eggshells a couple of times, there were these egg smears on the floor which the curious Pecan was ‘investigating’ while Macadamia tried to find out if chocolate chips responded to the pull of gravity by tossing them in the air one by one – only to discover that they did! She then tried to make things better by trying to gather the chocolate chips from the floor and squished a couple underfoot, in the process. While she started to whine about having gooey stuff on her feet that looked like poo, Pecan was in the process of discovering that his nostrils could not be used as a substitute for his mouth and that things stuffed into the nostril, stay there or worse still, melt and flow, thus leading Mommy (who, by now looked like a cross between Snow White and the Gingerbread Man) to wonder if he was having a nosebleed.
Mixing the dough is pleasure untold and don’t you, even for a minute, take your eyes off the said dough. I did! By the time I turned around, Pecan was trying to lick the dough off the mixing spoon and realizing, in the process, that suddenly pulling out the mixing spoon results in globs of cookie dough flying all over – some even landing on his head. While Macadamia decided that the chocolate chips in the dough were nowhere near enough and that it needed some more, Pecan was, by then, busy smearing cookie dough on his face. We did, finally, make double chocolate chip cookies that day and trust me, they were the sweetest batch of cookies I’d ever baked.
So, if there are any new parents out there that are looking all rosy eyed at those ads which seem to portray a picture of eternal bliss when cooking with your kids, the first thing you probably need to do is stop watching those ads and secondly, can those expectations – like yesterday.
If you’re asking yourself right now if it is worth sampling the pleasures of getting your kids to cook stuff with you, my answer would be an unequivocal YES. So what if, you max out your medical insurance in the process? At least you will remember to make sure all your kitchen appliances and the whole house, for that matter, is insured and your kids get to learn theories of Physics, Chemistry and Biology – all at the same time! Oh – and you get to learn psychology, yoga and whatever else it takes for you to keep your sanity, all at the same time. Told ya earlier, folks. I’m the eternal optimist!
Go on – give it a try. Get cooking or baking with kids. Trust me – it’s worth every single second. This time around, that statement comes from the bottom of my heart.
Gauri Venkitaraman dons many hats – a wife, a mom, a teacher and many more. Working as a full-time English teacher in HongKong, Gauri also raises and nurtures two terrors, affectionately known as The Nutty Siblings a.k.a Macadamia, a teen and Pecan, the ten-year old who behaves like he is fifteen. Gauri’s family means the world to her. Life is a lively roller coaster ride and we, as a family, aim to enjoy the ride together. http://tiny-tidbits.blogspot.hk/ is where Gauri pens down her thoughts and musings, in an attempt to preserve memories for posterity.