Winter is Here
Winter is here, which means it is holiday baking time again. Halloween cookies. Thanksgiving pies. Candies. My daughters love making cookies. I don’t especially like making cookies with my kids. Which is a shame, as I loved baking cookies with my mother when I was little.
She didn’t cook much back then, but for some reason whenever she baked, her projects came out pretty good. Chocolate chip cookies, I remember, were probably my first real food love affair. She made them small, so they were more like little mounds than flat disks. They were not a handful, but a bite. We ate them warm. I ate too many and I loved the fact that she didn’t count how many I ate because it usually really was too many.
Anyhow, when I had my first daughter I envisioned baking as something we would do together. She was three years old I think when we started. She wasn’t an easy baby, but I don’t know how fair my assessment is because nothing about the first is ever easy.
Hardly sleeping through the night back then, she was constantly tired, and exhaustion fueled a wild streak. She could act like a normal child, playing with spoons and bowls, singing to herself, which charmed me into believing something like taking out bins of ingredients might be okay, but then all of a sudden, everything thing would go weird.
Once, I came back from the bathroom. Somehow, in the one minute I had been gone she’d managed to take her clothes off and throw fistfuls of flour into the air. She had a flour-urine paste stuck between her legs. My animals have always seemed to know when my kids will become animals themselves, and I think they are attracted to this. So the cats were there too, their fur whitened.
It seems the height of ignorance really, that I tried this because the other problem—especially when it comes to baking, is that I am sort of a control freak. After the years of cooking under so much pressure, it is hard for me to bake without this crazy perfectionism kicking in; I will be fine one minute and then, all of sudden, this persona breaks in. I won’t even know who is speaking when I explain no you don’t smash them on the counter, what are you an idiot?
With the exception of a few, most chefs I cooked with were competitive, grumpy, and uptight people who would just as soon roast a child than feed one. For a while, trying to obtain a degree of success in this challenging setting, I might have been one of these people. Not quite horrible, but not exactly nice either and rather the opposite of maternal. Maternal in a professional kitchen will cause you some serious problems.
The girls, of course, so excited by the promise of cookies don’t listen to my instructions. They seize the eggs, cracking them upon impact. Flour is thrown like confetti, cries of glee as it floats down.
As far as baking with an audience now, too much flour goes into the bowl, the butter is left lumpy or the batter is stirred too much, which everyone knows ruins the dough. And for stupid reasons, reasons which have to do with being a severely limited human being, the entire time I am baking with the kids tension begins climbing into the muscles in my neck.
The girls of course can tell when mommy is tense. My eldest will say, “Why are you talking like that?” And then I know my voice has risen. “And your face looks weird.” Kids really tell it like it is.
Anyhow, last Saturday, with my husband at work all day and the rain was sheeting against the windows, the kids asked if we could bake. They held their hands together when they asked, light in their eyes, like little innocent choir girls. As I wondered if they would keep their clothes on my eight year old, mildly psychic, said, “We’ll even keep our clothes on, mommy.” How could I resist this?
For the most part, the morning went okay. We lost a bottle of vanilla in fight to the death over who got to pour the vanilla in, but uncannily, I had another bottle in the cupboard. There was some tense measuring cup negotiation—an argument about who got to hold the half-cup as opposed to the cup, and the inevitable comparisons and besting one another. But it was all so vaguely reminiscent of certain kitchens I have worked in that I actually began to laugh.
My four year old kept saying, “Mommy, this is the best day. Mommy, we are having fun aren’t we?” And after hearing this enough I actually began to lighten up, and stop worrying about the overworked dough, the flour on the floor, the salt, which we ended up forgetting to add. We proceeded all the way through cookies into candy making, which went over okay, until I realized having two young children over a pot of molten caramel was not the brightest idea. This I think is the problem with playing with my kids in the kitchen. There are moments when the past bleeds into my present and I forget where I am. I forget that it’s not about perfection, and that it’s not about impressing anyone anymore. In other words, it’s not about me anymore.