Cooking and Connecting (Part 2)

Almost a year ago, I blogged about the first time my mother and I cooked together, an experience made somewhat awkward by the fact that it had taken 24 years to try it out. I made myself a promise to share the kitchen experience with my son, so that cooking and baking with me was something he experienced often, and treated as the norm.

Sadly, I haven’t repeated the experience with my own mother. But I have kept that latter promise. And never more so than this week. As I join the rest of the UK in a snow induced lock-in of tremendous cabin fever, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has turned to the scales and bake ware. And even with the following points, I’m sure you all agree it’s pretty adorable.
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Let me share with you my new expectations of cooking with toddlers.

Don’t expect to keep to a recipe.

It’s pretty funny exploring a kid’s version of ‘just a bit more’ when you are trying to weigh ingredients. My son anyway, just tips whatever he is holding upside down. If you are someone who really cares about precise measurements in your baking efforts, I would recommend pre-weighing everything like you are making a YouTube video. Even then, you will probably have broken glass in the batter at some point. And a lot more washing up. My thoughts? Let them tip it all in, because after all….

…Don’t expect to be able to eat anything

It’s really fun for kids to be involved in preparation for meals and treats. And obviously we can do our best to make food as hygienic as possible by washing hands beforehand etc etc. But let me tell you a secret. Do you know how long a two year olds hands stay clean for after you’ve washed them? About 3 seconds. I cant even lift R off the kitchen step from the sink without noticing his fingers down his trousers / up his nose / in the plug hole / picking something questionable up off the floor. If by some miracle their hands are moderately clean and stay away from the ingredients, you can bet your life that you will turn away for 2 seconds to get the vanilla essence, and turn round to their head stuck entirely in the bowl, tongue out.

Don’t expect to maintain a normal level of mess

If you’re one of those ‘clean up as you go’ types.. Good luck. If you can even see through the icing sugar cloud to move the used utensils closer to the sink, you’re doing really well. Expect everything to be covered in flour and oddly sticky even if the ingredients aren’t. Personally, I count the session a successful activity if I manage to keep the eggs unbroken and off the floor. (Why has no one invented a way to clean up a broken egg in less than twenty minutes and without making you contemplate suicide?)
As your kids get older, they will be able to ‘help’ clean up more and more, (and then less and less as they become teenagers as far as I’m aware. What age is the peak of help and cleanliness you will ever receive? 9? 11? More experienced mums, do tell.) but for me anyway, I prefer to do without the so called ‘help’ of even more things being spilled and spread everywhere and just let him lick out the bowl hoping to heaven he stays in one place until I can get the chocolate-y creature that used to be my baby into the bathroom. (Why is it so far away from the kitchen? Arms up, hands in the air! Arms up!)

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Don’t expect to keep it healthy

Most children I know think cooking is fun regardless of what you are making. But most recipes aren’t appropriate before the age of about 6 or 7 at the earliest. Tweens and teens and even younger kids love peeling, chopping, blending and reading our recipes. And generally don’t randomly spit in the bowl for giggles. But when your kid is under three, they may well shove a handful of whatever you are making in their mouths, making anything main-course-like a tad off limits, (raw meatballs anyone?) and are obviously unable to help with preparing of veg for soups and the like. Coupled with their belief in their divine right to lick the bowl / spoon(s) / counter-top, that pretty much leaves dessert as your main option. Alright as a one off, but with 4 days of snow behind us, and no end in sight, pretty soon I may have to lend R my hula hoop.

 
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Cooking and Connecting

Can you remember the first time you cooked with your mother? The first time you were given a wooden spoon and told to stir, carefully? Or handed the oh so heavy bag of flour to pour slowly into a mixing bowl? Or even taught how to crack an egg without having to pick bits of shell out the batter immediately afterward?

Most people probably have formative memories of baking and cooking with their parents, helping to prepare simple suppers or special ocassion baked treats. Apart from being a fun activity to keep kids entertained, it also helps children feel included in the household and is a truly bonding experience for both adult and youngster alike.

My first memory of cooking with my mum however, was this week. “Surely not!” [I hear you cry.] I suppose I’ve never asked and she never offered. We’re very different types of chefs, to say the least, and while she learned all her cooking from school, (meaning she knows all the right movements for ‘fold’ vs ‘stir’ and ‘blanche’ vs ‘saute’) my culinary efforts, mainly self taught, often do end in picking eggshell out the batter. Nevertheless, I’m happy for the most part with my gut cooking instinct, and I would tentatively say I’m a better cook than my mother, perhaps just because I try harder. Perhaps down to the differences between us, both in the kitchen and out of it, we’ve just never bonded over a hot stove.

But this week, I half asked and she half offered to teach me one of our only ‘family recipes.’ As we stood in my kitchen, unpacking ingredients and peeling vegetables, I was struck by how strange it was that we hadn’t done this countless times before. It’s such a standard mother/daughter activity, and surely should have just naturally occured before I was even old enough to remember it. But it didnt. And now, at 24, that natural part of it has drifted somehow askew. As I peeled and chopped and stirred the passover ingredients together, I felt some other emotions being mixed in too. As a child these may have been excitement and wonder at watching our own creation come into fruition. Each slice of our masterpiece would taste better because of the fun and closeness that went into it. As a child, it would be an adventure. As an adult, there was a touch too much inhibition and self-consciousness to give our activity the natural smoothness it should have had. Somewhere mixed in the batter was both of our yearning for this to be just another normal family activity, and to wipe away the bittersweet knowledge that this was the First Time. It felt forced.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer in its never too late, and I am so very glad that even at 62 and 24 respectively, we’re finally learning to engage in these ‘normal’ mother/daughter pastimes. Its just that like so many other new things we’re both trying of late, it makes me wonder why we didnt try it years ago.

But the answer to that is obvious. In fact, I’ve already mentioned it right here. Where did my mother learn all her cooking? At school.

And so the way out of this cycle is a no-brainer also. The next time I have an urge to bake a cake, I wont be waiting for R to have his nap. I’ll be making sure he’s right next to me smearing batter over the walls and spilling the flour on the floor. Creating a memory that he’ll never be able to remember.

Are you in there, Honey?

Based on the evidence I have gathered over the past 3 days, I would be very different without my husband.

Does anyone out there at all, bother cooking for one? I have resided for the most part this week, on tortilla chips, the remains of a cake I made last weekend, and some questionable cheese I found in the back of the fridge. Tonight I am opting for take-out, due to the fear I’m developing rickets from malnutrition. Even R looked unimpressed when I offered him cheerios for dinner. (That last part is a joke.. He was totally impressed. Still Joking. )

if I dont have the impetus to cook for one, you can imagine how I feel about cleaning for one. Washing up, wiping down surfaces, laundry… All out the window. My flat looks somewhat like a frat house, one occupied mainly by babies and single women, to explain all the books and toys and glossy magazines.

I havent opened R’s window blind since Monday, because I’m nervous that in the absence of my tall hubby it might snap all the way to the top and make me go get the step ladder to pull it down again. I havent eaten off real plates since he left because why should I have to scrape and clean them? And I’ve pretty much worn my pyjamas under all my clothes this week for the ease of the frequency I’ve been napping. I need a whole new word for how lazy I’ve apparently become.

In addition, in the short space of a few days, I have forgotten how to hold a conversation. Not having anyone above the age of 1 to talk to from 7pm until whenever I happen to cross paths with a bystander, is not good for my people skills. A lady said “excuse me” this morning on my way to work, and as my first adult communication of the day, I took out a headphone and snapped “What?!” Shockingly, she muttered “nevermind…” and hurried away. If perchance you found me via google nice lady who probably needed directions, my apologies, I am tired and grouchy from 3 days of single-mumming.. Mea Culpa, and I hope you found your way.

So there you have it. Without my other half, I am greedy, unhealthy, messy, lazy and rude. Luckily, C is coming back this evening, and I can get back to normal. Somewhere underneath everything, (pjs included) there will be again a wife and mother who makes lovingly prepared nutritious meals (for the most part), keeps her house sparkling (well… ish.), knows how to do basic household chores and can even hold a decent conversation and make people laugh once in a while.

(Here’s that anti feminist voice inside me coming out again…) It just looks like I need a man to make me bother to find her. All I can say is, its a good job I’m not single. After all, with these startling realisations about what I would be like, who would marry me? 😉