May 15, 2007

Someone's in the Kitchen with Mommy

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Find more about cooking with kids, healthy fun

Cooking together is one of those cool things that helps you connect not only with your child, but with your heritage, too. One morning, 4-year-old Talie and I were enjoying both as we merrily mixed up pumpkin bread. She beamed with pride at measuring the baking powder all by herself. I soaked up good family karma because I used to make this same recipe with my mom, who once made it with my great aunt Wanga, who perfected it without the help of a Kitchen Aid mixer.

Then, suddenly, there was egg everywhere — in the mixer, down the sides of the mixer, on the counter, on the floor, on the dog, on Talie and me. I'm embarrassed to admit that all it takes is a few oozing eggs to jar me from groovy time-warp vibe to cranky in-the-moment mom. Especially when you consider that kids plus kitchen tends to add up to a sizeable mess — it should just be par for the course.

But despite trying, I can't let it go when one of the girls accidentally revs up the machine with a tad too much enthusiasm and the flour whirls out of the mixer like a mini blizzard. And I hate the thought of scaring my kids out of the kitchen, not to mention breaking the chain of moms handing down family recipes, just because I'm a neat freak.

That's why I was so glad to glean some sage advice from Mollie Katzen, author of several nifty children's cookbooks. Katzen offers lots of tips for avoiding and containing messes, both in the introductory pages of her books (her latest is SALAD PEOPLE) and within the directions for each recipe. These are my favorites:

  • Keep sponges and damp paper towels ready.

  • Go for the biggest mixing bowl you've got, even if the contents will fit a small one.

  • Ditto the liquid measuring cup — choose one size bigger than you need.

  • When measuring liquids, put the measuring cup in a pie pan, then let you child pour and the pan will catch any spills. (This is also helpful for catching spills under smaller mixing bowls.)

  • To contain cracked eggs, have your child whack them on the bottom of a pie pan. The mess is trapped and you can spot the bits of shell in a flash.

  • Keep flour in a wide-mouthed container, and have kids measure it over a large tray to catch spills.

  • With Katzen's clever strategies and a few timely deep breaths, I can now make it through almost any kitchen escapade with my patience intact. More importantly, Caitlin, Ellie, and Natalie are still interested in cooking, and there's still hope that one day, they'll be inspired to make bread with their own little pumpkins.

    Note: If your kids are 8 or older, they might find the recipes in Katzen's HONEST PRETZELS more appealing. It includes 64 recipes that outline what kids can do on their own and when they should ask for grown-up help, so they can safely stretch their wings in the kitchen. Some of our faves: Button Cupcakes, Creamy Corn Soup, Gingerbread French Toast.

    Is cooking with kids a disaster in your home? Click the comments link below to find and share solutions.

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