Andreae Prozesky is all for child labour in the kitchen.
Way back in the 80s, a children’s television game show called “Just Like Mom” ran on TV. As part of the fun, moms from around the Toronto area would subject themselves to a hideous taste-test round, in which they sampled cookies created by the primary-school-aged contestants during the earlier bake-off, attempting to tell which cookie had been baked by their own darling child.
Ketchup was an oft-added ingredient. Ketchup?
Even as a youngster, I couldn’t wrap my head around my age-mates’ compulsion to put ketchup in the cookies. Was it ignorance? Malice? Revenge? Perhaps a gustatory secret message to Mom? (“My cookie will be the one with ketchup, Ma. We’re on our way to Disney World, for sure!”) Or was ketchup such a ubiquitous household item that these kids assumed it went in everything, like butter or flour?
I was completely mystified by it.
Far be it from me to criticize other mothers’ parenting styles, but those kids really should have been able to follow a cookie recipe. I guess that would have made for boring television—much less of an eeew-factor—but seriously: Cookies aren’t exactly rocket science.
Most kids I know make awesome kitchen help. Messy kitchen help maybe, but enthusiastic. One of the first skills children master is filling containers up and pouring them out. They freakin’ love it. And that’s the first phase of baking right there. Obviously, they’re not up for anything too complicated, so forget the croquembouche or anything with sticky, scorching, caramel syrup. But most basic cookie recipes are perfectly kid-friendly. They’ll take a good chunk out of an otherwise Blue’s Clues-filled afternoon, and, hell, you’ll have cookies at the end of it.
If my daughter is a more advanced cook than some of her pre-school pals, it’s only because, for the first three years of her life, she refused to be more than eighteen inches away from me at any given time. She was ten weeks old when I did a whole year’s Christmas baking with her in one arm and the other arm wrist-deep in cookie batter. Post-partum insanity? Perhaps, but ever since then, the kitchen, with its implements and motors and things that get hot, has been part of her comfort zone.
Before Bonnie was born, I remember reading in some crap parenting book that children shouldn’t be encouraged to play games that involve food preparation, because they’re stunned and they can’t tell the difference between a pretend oven and a real one. Which is absolute rubbish. The idea that the kitchen is full of danger is a harmful one, I believe, and one that’s bound to lead to a complicated relationship with food later on. Kids should be taught to manage danger, not avoid it. I’m not saying I let my four-year-old run around with knives and skewers, but she is an ace with a whisk and a wooden spoon, and she can hold her hand on top of mine when I’m using the electric mixer. At two she was into putting egg-soaked bread in a hot pan to make French toast, and these days she can stir a white sauce, grate cheese, and (carefully, with oven mitts) put a tray of cookies into the oven.
Children, like animals, understand that very hot things are not for touching. If you tell them that knives are only for grown-ups who have been practicing cutting things for a long time, chances are they’ll listen. Something like, “you know, if you cut your finger off with that knife, missy, there will be blood everywhere and it won’t ever wash out of that ballerina outfit you’re wearing, and there will be blood and bits of finger in the cookies, and we’ll have to throw all the cookies in the garbage.” I’ve found that appealing to a child’s vanity and gluttony does a lot more to dissuade them from cutting their fingers off than does anything else, but perhaps my child is particularly vain and gluttonous. I’m particularly vain and gluttonous, so it only makes sense.
Anyway, we’ve never lost a finger, big or small, here at Food Nerd Laboratories, and any kitchen burns have been small and aloe-treatable.
When I ask my daughter what kind of cookies she wants to make, she can name something that actually exists, and she can tell me most of the ingredients that make up the recipe.
Thank goodness, ketchup is never one of them.
Bonnie’s Favourite Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup smooth natural peanut butter (100% peanuts)
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup milk
1 1/4 cup unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325F
In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat butter and peanut butter until well combined. Add sugar and cream well; add egg and do the same. Beat in vanilla and milk.
In a small bowl, stir baking powder and salt into flour. Add flour mixture to peanut butter mixture and beat to combine (or have young helper mix the two with clean, dry hands – it’s like squishing playdough). Stir (or squish) in chocolate chips.
Drop dough by great heaping tablespoonfuls onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Flatten each cookie slightly with your hands (another good job for a young helper). Bake 8-10 minutes, until golden around the edges. Makes about eighteen 2 1/2 -inch cookies.
Careful! Peanut butter cookies burn very easily. Make sure your oven is fully preheated before you put them in, or they’ll get a blast of heat from below and they’ll scorch all to hell. Which makes children (and me) cry.
Send your questions, comments, and knife-wielding suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org