Category: Baking

Cooking Experiment with Four-Year-Old: A Further Episode in an Ongoing Series

Winter wish list: check! We are all be-mittened and be-hatted thanks to Kevin heading out solo yesterday morning to do his capitalist duty in this season of exuberant consumerism, while I hauled the children to my mom’s where she tossed together a delicious lunch of sloppy joes on very short notice. We arrived in time for Fooey to help stir the sugar cookie dough, a good start to her day of cooking; actually, perhaps her best moment. CJ participated by eating dough off the wooden spoon, while everyone else gleefully cut out shapes, then iced the baked results, and ate them on the spot.
We arrived home with a sleeping toddler, several bags of cookies, and no house keys because I was wearing my weekend pants, and weekend pants have no pockets for keys. Of course. Lucky for us, Kevin had blown through an errand list the length of his arm and was on his last stop, nearby in uptown.
Late afternoon, and it was Fooey’s turn to cook supper with Mama. Her menu: chicken noodle soup, with extra noodles on the side. And meatballs. And fried potatoes. And beans and rice. And pumpkin muffins except baked as cake. And. Whoa, whoa, whoa, stop!
In retrospect, I made several tactical errors, most critically when I failed to account for the fact that cooking with an enthusiastic four-year-old would not be the same as cooking with her older brother and sister. Who, first off, can both read. Literacy is a real help to these cooking projects. It helps with the menu planning. Reading the cookbooks. Figuring out, independently, whether ingredients are on hand. Reading the recipes out loud during the cooking process. Finding measuring spoons and cups and reading amounts, and measuring them accurately. Second of all, four-year-olds can’t use sharp knives. They might think that they can, but they can’t. Don’t let them. Thirdly, and most crucially, four-year-olds lack endurance. Excitement meets reality and wanes sharply. I knew we were in trouble when she complained–first task of the afternoon–that washing the potatoes was “really hard, Mommy.” Crumbling a quarter slice of bread into crumbs rendered her weary beyond expression. Fetching ketchup from the fridge: “I have all these things I have to keep doing!” Squishing the hamburger into meatballs and placing them on the cookie sheet was perhaps the most successful of our cooperative ventures, but even this carried certain pitfalls. “Um, did you just lick your fingers?” “No.” “Let’s not lick raw hamburger from our fingers, okay, please?” (Yup, error number four: four-year-old handling raw meat.)
Next time, I’m thinking we’ll retool the four-year-old’s cooking date. I might direct the menu just a tad more (I did nix the beans and rice, and the pumpkin muffin-cake; still, we ended up with a genuinely eccentric selection of edibles upon the tabletop. Poultry, beef, and pork, if you count the bacon fat in which the potatoes were fried).
Next time, I will lower my expectations a great deal.
Still, she was proud of the end results (I think; mostly, anyway), with the meatballs coming in as her favourite. I’m hoping the ongoing experiment will broaden her palette ever so slightly, as she’s currently our pickiest eater. And stubborn as heck. And taken to screeching in disgust at the sight of any objectionable new dish. The good news is that this role used to be filled by AppleApple, who is now willing to try anything. I live in hope.
:::
If this weren’t already a veritable epic, and if my children were not becoming restless and desperate for attention, I might add something about last night’s fabulous debauch at our friends’ third annual Hi-Fi Christmas bash … something other than the cryptic words whiskey sour, dance fever, barefoot, cognac … forget it, those aren’t cryptic in the least. I’m already looking forward to next year. We’ll ship the kids somewhere for the whole weekend, and dance till they kick us out.

Saturday’s Cooking-with-Children Experiment

We’re always looking for new ways to include our children in some of the daily routines that keep our household functioning. This is part of my own larger plot to share the burden of unpaid domestic work amongst all the members of the family, as I ease further and further into paid work, again. I would also like to launch my children into the world with a number of useful domestic skills: knowing how to cook and how to shop for nutritious food, how to pick up after themselves, how to entertain themselves, how to notice needs and care for each other. Pretty lofty goals. And it doesn’t feel like we have much time to instill these values and skills into our beloved offspring.
I’ve noticed something: when we write a plan on our large family calendar beside the phone, the plan happens. For a long time, I’ve been dreaming of cooking a meal, once a week, with a child who is old enough to help out (ie. everyone except CJ, right now, though I’ll bet he’d love to try, too). But it’s never actually happened with any regularity. So, I decided to write it on the calendar, oldest to youngest, the next three Saturdays. Yesterday was the first, and because it was on the calendar, Albus took it very seriously–and so did I. Plus, we had a great baking/kitchen day. Apple-Apple started by stirring up and kneading bread dough, almost entirely by herself. Fooey was my cookie-assistant. And Kevin covered the granola-baking while I took two eight-year-old boys shopping for pizza-making supplies. Two boys, because Albus had a friend over and the friend expressed interest in helping out. This turned out to be really really fortuitous and so much fun that I’m thinking maybe Apple-Apple would like to invite a friend to include in her cooking adventure next week.
I’d made the dough in advance–in fact, I used an insanely simple fermented dough recipe that has proved mostly successful in its three outings. (It’s literally: flour, salt, water, and yeast, stirred together and left to ferment on the counter overnight). The first outing was the best, because I didn’t leave time for a second rising on my second attempt. And for pizza dough–it was awesome. So stretchy and moist that the boys were able to spread it on their trays with ease and without assistance. Plus they loved the tactile pleasure of oiling the trays with their hands, smooshing the dough, sprinkling the cheese. An excellent meal choice, Albus. We made tomato sauce in the blender using the same cookbook (My Bread, by Jim Lahey). Can of tomatoes, juice from tomatoes, salt, olive oil, clove of garlic. Rev the engine. Gloop onto the dough and spread with a spoon. Then there was lots of grating of cheese and chopping of pepperoni. I fried the bacon. The red peppers were last summer’s, frozen. We never got to the french fry making, the other item on the menu. Maybe next time.
It was such a fun day of cooking together. And what made it all possible was this knowledge in the back of my head that I didn’t need to find time to vacuum the whole house … because we’re trying out having a cleaning service come in every other week to do a full cleaning. They will dust. I have never dusted. Should I even confess that? They will vacuum. They will wash the floors. I have never washed the wood floors. Again with the confessions. Stop me now.
I will report back on this experiment.
Because they’ll be coming on Wednesday, I am instituting a Tuesday evening tidy and computer time. (Computer time available to those who help with the tidying.) We did a dry run last Tuesday, and Albus was particularly helpful.
Anyway, to sum it up, spreading out the burden of housekeeping freed me up to spend a full day cooking and baking and sharing that time with the whole family. Here’s hoping this experiment will prove sustainable.

Bread-Baking Tutorial

Tutorial: Quick-Rising Bread (adapted from Joy of Cooking)

I always double this recipe and make four loaves, but you need a big basin to make that amount all at once. So, below is the two-loaf version.

In a large bowl, dissolve 2 and 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast in 1/4 cup warm water (slightly warmer than body temperature; to test, you should be able to stick your finger into the water comfortably). Use 2 and 1/2 teaspoons if you’re making whole wheat bread. Let sit for about five minutes.

Stir, and add: 2 tablespoons sweetener (honey or sugar or even maple syrup); 1 tablespoon salt; 2 tablespoons oil or melted butter or shortening; 2 cups warm water; 3 cups hard bread flour, whole wheat or white. I definitely recommend using hard flour, which is meant specifically for bread-making. At this point, you can also substitute 1-2 cups of the bread flour with dry, grainy additions, such as flax seed or flax meal, oats, millet, wheat germ or bran, sunflower seeds, ground seeds, or really anything your tastebuds desire. Raisins or other sticky dried fruits should be lightly dusted with flour before adding. Start by experimenting with a smaller amount. Joy of Cooking recommends using these in quantities no larger than 25 percent of the weight of the flour (which, to me, sounds like huh? So I just play around with the amounts).

Stir, stir, stir, then begin adding the last 3 plus cups of bread flour. I recommend using some hard white flour even if you’re making whole wheat bread; the loaves will be lighter and will rise more. Add this portion of flour by half cups, kneading to mix. I knead in the bowl, on the floor (as Apple-Apple is demonstrating in the photo). You want your dough not to be sticky, but also to remain moist. This can take some trial and error. Don’t keep stuffing more flour in just because you can or because the recipe suggests you should (as I’ve made the mistake in the past). A moist dough will rise better (not damp or wet). When you’ve kneaded to satisfaction and your dough feels silky and encorporated (ten minutes, more or less), lightly oil the surface of the dough, turn it in the bowl (I use the same bowl; saves on dishwashing), cover with a damp towel, and set somewhere warmish, not drafty, to rise.

Let rise one or two hours. Grease two loaf pans. Punch down dough, cut into two equal pieces, roll each with your hands into a loaf shape and place, seam down, into the pans. Cover and let rise another one to two hours.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. You can add a pan of hot water to your oven to add moisture while baking (sometimes I do; sometimes I don’t). You can also brush the loaves with butter or egg-wash or milk (again, I don’t bother). Pop loaves in at this crazy high temp for ten minutes, (don’t wander off!), then turn down to 350 and continue baking for approximately 30 minutes (slightly less in my oven, but you’ll have to play around with yours). To check that your bread is done, slip the loaf out of the pan and look at the bottom–you can rap it with your knuckles, too: bread is sturdy; it doesn’t mind. If the bottom is a bit pale, pop it back in the pan, and into the oven for a few more minutes.

When done, remove from pans and cool on racks. Or eat immediately with butter melting into soft warm squishy slices (be warned: bread is hard to slice when it’s hot). If you make more than you’ll eat in a day or two, freeze the extra. Fresh-made bread stales quickly.

Enjoy! And let me know your results …

Now and Soon and Later

Spent yesterday baking, completing my to-do list. Apple-Apple is my new bread dough kneader. She’s amazing and strong and loves to do it All By Herself. Together, we’re turning out these gorgeous loaves (four at a time). Next, I mixed up oatmeal cookies in my Grandma King’s electric mixing bowl. Fooey arrived in time to place a few pats upon the tray, then decided it would be more fun to lick her hands. She also stirred the granola, to which we added a few surprise elements: maple syrup and ground pumpkin seeds. By this point, I was going a bit frantic from the pile of dirty dishes and the relentless call of the oven timer, and it was lunchtime. Somehow, Fooey managed to exist almost entirely on cookies yesterday, but Kev whipped up some omelettes for the rest of us. I started a lentil barley soup for supper, using one of the last jars of canned tomatoes. (That was a canning project worth the effort. Must remind myself when tomato season is once again upon us.) Lastly, I baked two loaves of a breakfast bread for my upcoming girls’ weekend away … and left out not one but TWO important ingredients. Seriously. Luckily butter wasn’t one of them, and the loaves turned out tasty enough to inflict on friends.

Nina’s buying club is up and running again, and I am trying to re-inspire myself to bake. And make. And it’s ever so slightly harder to find that inspiration; perhaps because I’m noticing that every act that moves us closer to the land, the local, the rituals of the past, the slow-life, also invents new snags and issues. It takes more time, for one thing. Baking bread, the smell of it rising, the sturdiness and nutritional value of homemade … it’s amazing. But it takes planning and effort, and commitment. I am trying to determine my commitment level on a number of fronts. There is only so much Me, and no matter how I might wish it were otherwise, I have only so much Focus and Energy. I cannot use myself to my full potential at every moment of the day. Daydreaming, newspaper browsing, snuggling, computer-screen-staring: these are not character flaws, these are mental-health necessities (that’s my theory, anyway).

So, we had some warty moments yesterday, which I attempted to record photographically. Guess what … kids don’t like being photographed while throwing temper tantrums. It removes them from a good hollering self-pity session, makes them feel silly. It also invades their privacy. And I get that. Would I like to be photographed dumping last night’s coffee grounds in the sink while yelling over my shoulder, “No yelling this early in the morning!”

The question is: where am I putting my energies? Now. And soon. And later. Now being the most important to determine, though Now leads to Soon and Later; that’s where planning comes in, and lists. Housework. Cooking. Baking. Laundry. Food-Gathering. Mothering. Reading. Writing. Doula’ing? Re-schooling?

My current summer plan involves slowing down and focussing almost entirely on the kids: swim lessons, picnics, park, bike rides, crafts, playing outside, developing a little week-long drama camp for my kids and a few friends, camping, canning. Eight weeks of Mother.

Barack Obama Makes Me Weepy

Obama. At around 10pm last night, briefly considered doing the responsible thing and going to bed, but tossed that notion right out the window because there aren’t many moments in a life when you get to sit on the couch and experience history as it is being made. That sounds grandiose, and I generally shrink from anything resembling idolatry, but there it is. When Barack Obama came onstage, I felt myself gasp. All evening long, it seemed too much to hope for, that at any moment something could wrong. There was Henry Champ (CBC) at the White House reporting about a sudden and unexpected mob of young people running down Pennsylvania Avenue, chanting for Obama and against Bush, and it felt, briefly, like something terrible was about to happen–a riot, a display unsuitable for the moment that could potentially ruin it. But, no. It was only students coming out of their dorms from nearby universities, using their (as Mr. Champ put it) “text message machines,” to call each other to a spontaneous and, thankfully, peaceful celebration. John McCain’s speech was gracious, better than his entire campaign, and perhaps redemptive. And, then, finally, there was Obama walking onstage with his beautiful family in a park in Chicago, and the impossible was suddenly real.

I fear for this man. I fear for his safety. I fear for him because he is symbolic, because he embodies the hopes and aspirations of a country, and of a world. I don’t know whether Americans can fully appreciate how stunning his victory is for the world. I don’t know whether Americans know how far their nation has fallen in the eyes of the world under the governance of George W., but the overwhelming popular turn-out, the line-ups hours long endured by voters, the grassroots support of Obama’s campaign, culminating in his victory, changes the way the world sees America. It renews faith in democracy. It legitimizes the American dream. A bi-racial man who never knew his dad, who has a foreign-sounding name, whose background is unusual, exotic, not privileged, who has not spent decades building backroom political allies, rises in his 47 years to the most powerful position in the country. I am genuinely proud to be American, in a way I never imagined feeling. There: I know it sounds grandiose. I can’t help myself.

Okay, I know he faces a crazy, impossible task, trying to set the broken economy straight, working within straitened budgets, two dismal wars underway, and all the rest of it. But he has a quality that’s rare: the ability to involve ordinary people in the processes of power. When people feel their voices aren’t heard, or that they, as individuals, don’t matter, they check out of the system. It seems like Barack Obama has the ability to bring people in, to inspire them to work together, to think of something other than themselves, other than immediate gain. Does that make him sound like a socialist? Well, where’s the balance? Individual responsibility, and collective gain. Does that fit with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Patriotism is a sense of belonging, isn’t it?

Clearly, speechifying is not for me.

Onward.

Another freakishly hot day, so I hung two loads of laundry. Seems wrong for November. I’m baking a batch of Amish Friendship Sweet Bread, with my own improvised alterations to the original recipe. Yogurt, chocolate chips, less oil. It rose up beautifully. Tonight our family is heading to Toronto for my brother Christian’s art opening at the Steam Whistle gallery. We’re very excited and proud. This morning, AB said, “He’s a real artist! And you know him even better than we do!” Oh dear, baby CJ is muttering to himself in the baby monitor, suggesting he’s ready to get up and get busy.

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