Category: Cooking

Pass the Unity Cup, Please

Today has been a kitchen day. I like kitchen days. I feel, mostly, competent in the kitchen. I feel free to experiment, to explore, to attempt. And I’ve got some devoted helpers, suddenly, too. Fooey’s been all over the kitchen ever since last weekend’s supper extravaganza. And I’ve been letting her help more, too. There’s more mess, but so be it. She helped last night making Christmas cookies, unwrapping candy canes and smashing them with a rolling pin, then sprinkling them into our stained-glass cookies. And she helped again this morning, following along with a children’s recipe, and reminding me at various points: “I can do this, because the little boy in the picture is doing it!” And she can.
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It was Albus’s turn to plan and make supper. He chose lasagna, and was agreeable about what went inside. “Meat and cheese,” he wanted, and agreed to chicken and roasted red peppers (both of which we had frozen in the freezer), and even though he’d never heard of ricotta, he went along with the suggestion. He set up “stations” at the counter. One station for resting and drinking water. Another for grating cheese. A third without a stool. He also spent a long time chopping veggies for a raw veggie platter, which I’ve served with great success on a couple of recent occasions. But only because I’ve been cheating and buying non-local sweet peppers and cucumbers which might be grown in greenhouses in Ontario, but are probably harvested by exploited migrant labour.
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Supper was dominated by Fooey and her kikombe cup, which she made at school and brought home with chocolates inside to share. This is what the label said, for those not familiar with the Kwanzaa celebration (like me): “This cup represents a kikombe – a unity cup used in the celebration of Kwanzaa. There is a wrapped goody for each family member in the cup. Pass the cup during the holiday celebration to symbolize your family’s unity.” We passed the cup as soon as Kevin got home from work on Wednesday (Fooey’s last day of school before the holiday). She’d barely managed to wait for him to get home, she was so excited about it. So, the cup obviously means something special to her, and it’s not just about the chocolate. Tonight, she asked me whether we could pass the cup and put chocolates in it. I said we could pass the cup and put cucumbers in it, as we were in the middle of supper. She thought that would make the cup messy (she was right), so she agreed to pass it with imaginary chocolates for everyone. But we didn’t follow her rules properly, and so every attempt to pass the cup was prematurely halted by a Fooey screech: “Nooooooo!!! Now we have to start again!” “Mmmm, my favourite chocolate candy,” was a verboten phrase, for example. This went on and on to the point of intense comedy, until we were all in stitches, even Fooey, who apparently could at least dimly grasp the absurdity of her demands. I’m not sure we ever successfully passed the cup. (Kevin and I both told the kids that neither of us had learned anything about the celebrations of other cultures and religions, when we’d gone to school. The kids were genuinely puzzled. “Hannukhah can be spelled at least seven different ways,” AppleApple informed us.)
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And there she is, moments ago, fallen asleep in our bed, where we let her read till Fooey falls asleep (they disagree about whether the door should be open or closed when falling off to sleep; plus AA likes to read at length before bed–where did she get that from?).
And if you haven’t guessed, yes, you are looking at a genuine Fooey-made replica of a kikombe, above.

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.
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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.

Sunday Cooking Experiment with Eldest Daughter

I wasn’t sure we were up for it. But it was on the calendar: AppleApple’s turn to make supper. We’d scheduled it for yesterday, on Sunday, because Kevin was away and working from Thursday night through Saturday evening, and this cooking experiment requires a second parent on hand to entertain those children whose turn it is not. We started with bread dough in the morning. AppleApple agreed to help. Truthfully, I was so lethargic and unfocused after that time alone with the kids, I wouldn’t have managed to bake bread otherwise–and that’s my new weekend goal: bake bread and bake cookies.
AppleApple is amazing at bread-baking. Has all kinds of opinions about what extras we should add in to make this batch different than the last one. When I told her that some people wouldn’t believe that a seven-year-old could bake bread that looks and tastes like her bread, she was flabbergasted. It seems so easy. Measure, mix, knead. (With help from mama). This bread has rye flakes, and sunflower and flax seeds. It rose up beautifully, and we made four loaves for the week.
While the bread was rising, I took Albus shopping for winter boots. We had to drive around a bit, and he ended up, at the second store, deciding that the only boot in the store that was in his size would do (seriously! And the first store had precisely zero boots in his size). We were home in time for me to deliver Fooey to her first friend birthday party, which had her thrilled with excitement for days leading up to the big event. While she was out, I baked piles of oatmeal choc chip cookies. Kev went to pick up Fooey with Albus and CJ, and Fooey ran through our front door shouting that her little friend “has a daddy! And he’s really nice!” I got all the details at bedtime: musical chairs, a treasure hunt, what her friend’s basement playroom looked like, and on and on. She has no difficulty separating from us and doing her own thing.
AppleApple and I started on our cooking around 3pm, and worked till almost 6. I finished the cookie-baking while she started prepping ingredients. She chose a seasonal menu that did not require us to leave the house to find ingredients. She used the Simply In Season Children’s Cookbook. On the menu: Tater Soup, Granny Apple Rice, and Secret Chocolate Cake. “Tatter soup,” was how she pronounced it. That required scraping and cleaning nine smallish potatoes and four large carrots (we doubled the recipe). I appreciated how straightforward she was about her desire and ability to do certain tasks: for example, she told me that she didn’t feel confident chopping some of the vegetables. She worked very hard. She scrapped and cleaned two large beets for the secret chocolate cake. She peeled four apples for the rice. It was all very labour-intensive, but I noticed something: I didn’t mind using extra pots and pans and kitchen implements with someone else around to appreciate and enjoy the labours, and I didn’t feel impatient at all.
Which I note because I’d felt very impatient when I was in the vehicle running errands that morning (not with Albus, mind you, but with the situation of sitting in the vehicle, waiting at stoplights, having to drive across town, etc.).
But as we worked together, and talked and planned, and measured and made decisions, it felt like we had all the time in the world at our disposal.
The meal was delicious. The soup was creamy and smooth. The rice was sweet and savoury. The bread was tall and chewy. The dessert was decadent.
Next up: Fooey. It will be interesting to see what my four-year-old brings to the table (literally as well as metaphorically). She says she’s already got her menu planned. I wonder whether it will resemble her favourite outfits, when she picks out her clothes in the morning: a skirt, a dress, a shirt, a, sweater, tights, and socks.

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.

A Day Among Days

Too too late, but feel like recording a few of today’s really lovely moments. I was home alone with the kids, which is an odd way to spend a Saturday, and the day proceeded like all the days of this summer holiday will, if I’m a blessed and fortunate woman.

The backyard was where we spent all morning. Hammocks. I brought out a mid-morning snack of lemonade and popcorn, ran inside for something else, and when I came back out again, CJ had climbed himself into one of the lawn chairs with his sippy cup. At one point, three of the kids loaded themselves into the wagon and Apple-Apple pulled them around to their “house” (where I was the grandma, Fooey informed me). After lunch, CJ went down for his nap and I introduced the concept of The Siesta (they weren’t keen unless it involved “screen time,” a term I don’t recall ever using myself). Thanks for the siesta idea, Janis; this is going into my summer routine. I dozed and the kids played games, not of the video variety (“you’re the meanest mommy ever”): Bananagrams, Jr. Boggle, Rush Hour, Snakes and Ladders. Siesta hour ended with a book on the couch (a grownup book with no pictures); the sight of Mama prone and absorbed filled everyone with resentment, so on impulse I began reading it out to them. I’m reading Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, which is brilliant, dreamy, dense, complex, elliptical, with occasional terse dialogue, ie. not what one would imagine holding a child’s interest … but it did. All three gathered around in almost absolute silence to hear these quite astonishing words read aloud. The book was even better consumed in this way (though I don’t plan to torment Kevin by practicing this regularly before bedtime).

Quickly, before CJ woke, we made pizza dough, though I wasn’t as patient as I should have been with Fooey’s interminable stirring. I know other parents are better at this; I could be better, should be better. Lordy. I just wanted the darn dough stirred. Apple-Apple kneaded. She’s got a career as a baker (a baker, farmer, teacher, mother, dancer, writer, artist, I believe the current plan is). Beautiful dough, like silk. We left it to rise and headed out to the little park where we actually lay in the grass for awhile and made pictures out of clouds. Every cloud was a pirate device or weapon in Albus’s eyes. I will not let this trouble me. Nor was I troubled by the body part jokes that wended their way throughout our day. SIGH. When do these topics stop being so Highlarious? What was that? Never?? Darn, ’cause I seem to have outgrown them.

After supper, CJ discovered his own ears. He loves other people’s facial features and is thrilled to have them pointed out on himself, but this is the first he understood that he has two ears. Two of them! He pulled the tops out and perpendicular to his head, and with a huge grin of pure delighted discovery he ran through the obstacle course that is our living-room floor, ears in hands, to show his Daddy, home from work.

A brilliant moment in a solid, good day.

Witching Hour

Have been worrying about how I’m going to balance the multiple demands of that delicate witching hour, 4-5, now that the weather is gorgeous and my toddler wants to play outside with the big kids. Can’t be in two places at once. Well, this may be my fate (and our neighbours’): me shouting every minute and a half out the open windows, “Who can see CJ??” Thank heavens for good fences.

On the other hand, my shouting is probably the least of our neighbours’ noise concerns, given the cacophony of construction orchestration going on outside our front door. This is the clearly marked “Road Closed” sign, which I ran out just now to photograph because it WILL NOT LAST. In fact, Kev informs me that the line-up of pylons has already been dismantled by some enterprising driver in a hurry. I am striving not to let it bug me lest I morph into one of our neighbours, whom I shall refer to as The Mayor of W Street, who lives to be the bearer of bad news, and is on a quest to smite those who commit all and any minor by-law and traffic infractions. He’s also sometimes generous, and this afternoon left for us, without a word of explanation, this little red wagon.

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