Monday, February 18, 2013

Kids in My Kitchen

{My Man and I lingered a bit over a dinner out with friends this evening and so upon returning home I dove into a small archive of blog posts that have never seen the light of day for one reason or another so that I'd be on time for our Castle date. The post that follows was written 15 months ago...}

It happens every once in a while that Molly will awaken from her nap just a bit too early and come creeping down the stairs with sleep still hanging heavy in her deep dark eyes.  A still-not-completely-awake and still-completely-cuddle-able little one is not to be ignored. This I've learned well after watching three other children quickly grow beyond the cuddle point.

Today I sat under her sluggish little form until I grew cozy from her warmth and decided to have a little nap too. Oh and we snuggled and snoozed and I opened one eye and calculated that I could remain in our perfect little nest just ten minutes longer before I had to start dinner.

Then that familiar little ding sounded from my cell phone. It was my Man, texting that a friend needed dinner and did we have extra soup? We easily will,(when I actually prepare it...)  I responded and now fully awake and almost alert, I gathered the troops. We had 2 hours until dinnertime and we were starting from scratch--less than scratch actually, our meat was still in the freezer!

It was at this point that I discovered that the time the kids and I have been logging in the kitchen over the past few years was beginning to bear some fruit, or in our case this evening, to bear some chili and cornbread.

"Meg, grab the cornmeal and a big bowl, here's the recipe, you'll need to double it so call out the original amount so I can double check your math."

"Cole & Kate, go to the pantry and bring 3 cans of tomato juice and 4 cans of kidney beans and two packages of ground beef from the freezer."

Now we were cooking with gas, or electric really. Molly asked what she should do. This always gives me pause. Did we really need another set of little feet and hands in the mix while the rest of us were in such a hurry? No. We absolutely did not, but to tell her that the biggest help would be for her to go off and play for a while would hurt her very big feelings terribly.

"Molly, put the silverware away out of the dishwasher," I told her while quickly removing all of the sharp stuff from the silverware basket.

"I'll need a stool!" she said as she ran from the room and returned with a stool to place directly in the center of the chili/cornbread prep zone.

Everyone was busy at their assigned tasks, so I turned on some jazzy music and began working too. It was as cozy in the kitchen as it had been on the couch. Meg at the cornbread, Cole working on dishes at the sink, Kate opening cans of beans, and Molly, finished with her chore, was watching it all from the sideline.

Cooking with the kids as they've been growing, turns out to have been worth it. Worth what, one might wonder. Worth all of the things that having children help in the kitchen entails...

The mess. 
The mess is a big factor when the kids are active in the process--especially if they are small and have less than perfect aim when adding wet ingredients to the mixing bowl. 

 I'm learning though that when kids are comfy in the kitchen, they aren't only learning how to cook, but also how to quickly clean up.

The time.
When I invite a small child to bake with me, I can count on it adding at least 15 to 20 extra minutes to the process. Sometimes I don't feel like taking the extra time, but to insist that I don't have the extra 15 minutes would be untrue. I easily spend 15 minutes doing something useless many times during the day so why not spend an extra 15 on something that is going to pay big dividends in the near future?

The waste.
There is always the chance that someone will send an egg to its end on the carpeted (blechk!) kitchen floor. Also it is probable that the added person(s) in the kitchen will require more focus and concentration than I am able to muster. The result is a recipe that gets messed up big time and all ingredients must be given the el-dumpo. 

Sad, but true. Actually, there is much more in life to be sad about than a ruined batch of cookies or a pie crust that just won't roll out. When mistakes are made, lessons are learned. When mommy doesn't lose her religion over "spilled milk" it helps children learn to roll with the punches as well.

The Licking vs. The Keeping the Food Clean.
Kids are curious creatures. My kids are curious creatures who've never met an object that they aren't willing to at least give a healthy licking. Add to that curiosity the temptation of the glorious smell of vanilla and melted butter or cinnamon and nutmeg and I defy you to show me a kid who doesn't become obsessed with the beaters of the mixer.

When we are cooking for ourselves, I relax the standards a bit, but when we are fixing "take out" it can, at times, be a challenge to make sure all hands are clean and are kept away from eager tasting mouths. The same goes for beaters, spoons, spatulas, or anything else those curious little creatives can dream up to dip into whatever it is they want to sample. 

Cooking with kids is one of those labor-intensive, patience-building,  heart-warming, grit-your-teeth and get-it-done activities that, in the big picture, is so worthy of the challenge.

Post Script February 2013...

Those children in the pictures above look so young compared to the children that populate our kitchen these days.

 In my kitchen these days are two very tall kids who are able to give their personal chef an evening off every now and then and fix dinner on their own. Even better, they are usually happy to serve as sous chefs alongside of the executive chef and make dinner prep happen in half the time! {Those times are fast becoming some of my favorites in this season of pre-teen and early-teen kids. The conversations happen over a batch of banana bread that just don't seem to happen as easily anywhere else...}

Those 20 extra minutes I was hesitant to invest a year or so ago are paying off...BIG TIME. Now, if I want to cuddle with a youngin' on the couch in the late afternoon it's more possible than ever because the sous chefs know how to follow kitchen directions and get dinner started without me...not always perfectly and like I'd have done it myself perhaps...but dinner happens anyway AND so do the cuddles. 

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