How An Episode Of ‘Chopped Junior’ Changed The Way I Parent

IMG_1191“Mom, can I bake something?” my eight-year old daughter pleaded as she entered the kitchen.

Of course she wanted to bake something.  Because I had just spent the past two hours prepping, cooking, serving and cleaning up from a dinner where I made six different dishes to please our family of five.  I sighed.

“Not right now, sweetie, I just finished cleaning up and it’ll be too much of a mess.”  As if it were the answer she was expecting, she wandered off, probably to watch another episode of some annoying laugh-track show on Disney Channel.

Looking back, I’m embarrassed to admit just how many variations of that conversation we had.  Don’t get me wrong, I often let my daughter help me in the kitchen.  I’m a pretty decent cook and an avid baker and I let her do things I deemed acceptable for an 8 year old.

Simple things like ingredient gathering, pouring, and mixing.  I didn’t let her crack the eggs because shells might get in the batter.  I didn’t let her wash the bowls because she didn’t do a thorough job.  I didn’t let her use the stove top or oven because she might get burned.

Or I would say, “I don’t need any help right now, but you can be the guinea pig taste tester when it’s done.”

And then one rainy night, all of that changed.  I walked into our den to find my daughter watching a show on the Food Network called “Chopped Junior”.  I sat down to join her and for the next 20 minutes I stared at the screen, stunned, as I watched kids the same age as my daughter work their way around a kitchen better than most adults I know.

These kids expertly chopped using razor sharp knives, they sauteed, they boiled, they pan-seared, one kid made a roux.  What the hell even is a roux??

I sat there wondering how in the world kids so young could be so skilled and knowledgeable in the kitchen.  And then I had an epiphany.  It was so simple.  They could do all of those things because somewhere along the line, somebody told them “YES.”

And I vowed right then and there that I would do an experiment.  The next time and every time, my daughter asked me to do something in the kitchen, I would say yes.

“Mom, can I bake cookies?”  Yes.
“Mom, can I make scrambled eggs?” Yes.
“Mom, can I make Mac n Cheese?” Yes.
“Mom, can I make a quesadilla?”  Yes.
“Mom, can I make homemade frosting?” Yes.
“Mom, can I use a bunch of your baking stuff and make up my own recipe?”  Ugh. Yes.

And so it went.  I’m not gonna lie…this was one insanely messy, time-consuming, experiment.  In the beginning, she needed a lot of help, learning how to work the oven, the gas range, the timers.  My countertops seemed to be permanently sticky for a while there…the sink never empty of the many bowls, pots and pans she used.

But I usually didn’t have to explain something more than once.  And the more I said yes, the more she asked to do.  Pretty soon she was looking up recipes online and following along on her own.  I became more and more hands-off and watched her capability, and her confidence, soar.

Fast forward to a year later and I will tell you that this is one of the best parenting decisions I have ever made.  And my children are 18, 15 and 9, so I’ve made an awful lot of them.

This kid could cook our family breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert if she had to.  She can crack an egg one-handed (I can’t even do that) and can saute’ broccoli with the best of ’em.  Her homemade chocolate cupcakes are the best I’ve ever had.

My daughter will have these skills, this confidence in herself, for the rest of her life.  And that to me, is worth all the wasted eggs, the spilled milk, the messy kitchen.

So fellow parents, I encourage you to really stop and think when your child asks to do something, not just in the kitchen, that might result in them learning a new life skill.

Because for all the time and energy you may have to put in up front, there is a huge payoff at the end.  I know this because tomorrow I have to bring in 24 cupcakes for a pot luck event.  And I’m sitting here writing this article.  Because guess what?

The cupcakes are being handled.  And if I’m really good, she might even let me be the guinea pig.

***This piece was originally published on Scary Mommy.  http://www.scarymommy.com/chopped-junior-let-kids-cook/

 

Baker’s Remorse

IMG_0635

I’ve always loved to bake.  I cook simply because there are mouths to feed over here but I bake because I thoroughly enjoy it.  And when it’s dark and cold and rainy outside there is nothing better than being inside a warm house with the smell of fresh cookies in the oven.

But something happened a few days ago that has never happened before…I sort of found my kryptonite.  I decided to try a new chocolate chip cookie recipe and I’ve completely lost all self-control.  Now, I like sweets as much as anyone, but I’m aware of the rules of normalcy….eating a couple of cookies after lunch, not a problem.  Eating SEVEN cookies before 10:00am….now it’s getting weird.  

And it’s gotten WAY weird with these cookies.  My first mistake was making far too much dough.  My second mistake was cooking them so that they were a little crispy on the outside yet chewy and gooey on the inside.  My final downfall was keeping dozens of these cookies in plain sight on my counter in a clear plastic container.

And every single time I walked into the kitchen there they were, just taunting me with their deliciousness.  Once I realized that me and these cookies had a little problem, I tried ignoring them.  Tried avoiding eye contact with the container.  I got to the point where I would spend lengths of time in the kitchen doing the dishes, preparing meals, stealing glances at the container out of the corner of my eye, pretending that I was going to win just this one battle and leave the kitchen empty-handed.

But I was shamefully defeated EVERY damn time.  When I opened the container to take this photo I LITERALLY PUT A COOKIE IN MY MOUTH AND IT WAS HANGING THERE while I clicked away.

When the kids asked to have a cookie I was like “YES!  Have a cookie!  Have FIVE cookies!  Pack them in your lunch and pass them out at school….JUST PLEASE MAKE THEM GO THE HELL AWAY!  

Thankfully, the cookies are now gone and life resumes as normal with the exception that I can’t button any of my pants.  If any of you are curious as to the recipe, I apologize but after the last cookie was gone I ceremoniously burned it at the stake while singing “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” around my kitchen.

Why? Because We’re Italian!

Last week my family shuttled a pizza box containing three small slices of leftover Neapolitan pizza through 3 CITIES and 2 COUNTRIES rather than let it go to waste.  Why?  Because we’re Italian.

A little background…we were in Victoria, Canada with my parents on a two day visit to Vancouver Island.  While the rest of us were out doing touristy things, my dad was scouring the city on foot in search of a good meal for us.  When we met up with him later, he was waving a menu in his hand and spoke of finding a promising pizza place run by an actual off the boat Italian.  In CANADA, of all places.

We hurried through the city as the rain started to fall and the wind whipped our faces.   We stepped into the warm restaurant with the smell of fresh dough baking, quickly ordered, and then were charmed by the owner, Luca, and his tale of how a guy from Milan, Italy ended up making pizza on an island in Canada.  After a short wait, the pizzas arrived and were as delectable as we had hoped.  Truly exceptional.

IMG_2851

Now I’m sure all you East Coast people take it for granted that you can just go out and get great pizza anytime you want.  Having spent my childhood in New York, I am aware of what real pizza tastes like.  Having spent the next 25 years in Southern California on a never-ending quest to find decent pizza, I finally arrived at this conclusion:  the ONLY way to get good pizza in Southern California is to be invited over to Fran & Sal Collica’s house for dinner.  If you’re not on that A-List, you’re shit out of luck.

Currently I live on an island in the Puget Sound, and find myself once again starved for good pizza.  So when we finished that meal in Canada and had three little pieces of that awesome pizza left, there was no question of leaving it behind.  Italians leave no man behind.  And by man, I mean pizza.  We boxed it up and deemed Jack, my 12-year-old son, Guardian of the Pizza.

This kid carried the pizza through the city streets of Victoria, through a mall, through customs in Canada, on a 2 1/2 boat ride through Puget Sound, declared it at customs in Seattle, where the pizza then hopped into a cab and onto yet another boat, this time a ferry, where it arrived on Bainbridge Island and was then transported by car before finally settling into it’s final destination…our refrigerator.

pizzajack

I realized later that this is not unusual behavior for my family.  My aunt from New York recently visited my parents in California and brought with her a huge amount of pignoli and sesame cookies made by her mom, a fabulous baker.  The cookies traveled from New York to California where they were served each night with a different meal and to a different crowd of people.  There were so many cookies that when my parents were packing to come visit us here on Bainbridge Island, there were still a few left.  So what did my parents do?  They literally shipped the cookies in a box to my house here in Washington so we could polish off the last few while they were here.  Why?  Because we’re Italian.