It’s been many batter bowls since I had young kids perched up on my kitchen counter, sticky and smiling amid the detritus of dough scraps, half-licked beaters and flour dust.
But I remember those days with sweetness – the cinnamon rolls on weekend mornings, the Christmas cookie marathons, the birthday cakes artfully embellished with an enthusiastic if untrained hand.
In my case, it was two young stepdaughters and an assortment of nieces who pulled up a stool or took a boost up on the counter to stir, shape, frost and decorate.
It wasn’t just a means to an end: The kids seemed to like the cooking part as much – if not more – than the eating part.
Of course, distractions were fewer three decades ago than they are now. No DVDs or Kindles or smartphones, no computer games or texting and, in rural Maine, not much out the front door except the outdoors.
Obviously, much has changed since then. What hasn’t, I’m told, is that kids still love to cook.
I polled my experts – the two cinnamon-roll masters who now have kids of their own hanging out in the kitchen, eager to be part of the process.
“They love baking,” says Kate, mom to Julia and Anna. Since there are not many sweets in their house, mom and daughters make baked goods for special treats, and as a thank-you for favors from friends or as welcome gifts for new neighbors. Chocolate chip and sugar cookies, and a triple berry crisp, are their favorites.
“It’s fun,” says Anna.
“Baked goods are easiest with kids, because there’s no stovetop cooking, and they can turn the light on in the oven and watch them bake,” adds Mom.
New proof that a watched cookie does bake!
What has changed, at least in the city of Baltimore, where the family lives, is the way they shop for food. There are farmers markets and community supported agriculture programs with local produce, fish, meats and cheeses, which “give us an opportunity to talk about where our food comes from and to try new things.”
In Baltimore, there’s a place called Let’s Dish! where families can put together meals from a variety of offerings, take them home, freeze them and pop them into the oven after a soccer practice or piano lesson. Pecan-crusted tilapia? Pinto-bean burgers? Everyone gets what they want on their plate.
“Julia and I made a bunch of freezer-ready meals. She loved putting together the meals and later felt very proud when we ate the dinners that she helped make,” she says.
Or, as Julia puts it, “I like to cook with my Mom and Dad because it’s healthier than take-out food and everyone compliments you on your meal.”
Such healthy conveniences may not be in every corner market in Maine, but the concept can certainly be borrowed. If you’re the type of cook who whips up extras on the weekend, let your family make up individual plates from the leftovers and freeze them.
Who says you can’t have Saturday’s baked beans with Sunday’s roast chicken, on Tuesday?
Even the anti-cooks can spend quality kitchen time with the kids.
Kate’s sister Sarah used to frost a mean cinnamon roll, and once pre-packaged chocolate chip cookie mix in Mason jars for everyone on her Christmas list. Today, “I hate to cook,” she says.
But she and daughter Cadence still bond over “homemade pizza,” Cadence’s specialty.
“She likes to make her own,” says Sarah.
JULIA & ANNA’S TRIPLE BERRY CRISP
11?2 cups each blueberries, blackberries and raspberries
4 tablespoons sugar
11?2 cups butter
2 cups flour
2 cups oats
11?2 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1?2 teaspoon nutmeg
11?2 cups sugar
In bowl, gently toss berries with sugar. Stir flour, oats, brown sugar and spices.
Cut in butter and mix until crumbly. Spread half the crumbs in bottom of pan. Top with half the berries. Sprinkle with remaining crumbs. Bake in 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes.
MOUNDS BAR BROWNIES
3?4 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 cup slivered almonds
1 package sweetened coconut
1?2 cup condensed milk
Microwave the chocolate and butter, 1 minute at a time until the butter is melted and chocolate is smooth. Stir in sugar. Whisk eggs and vanilla and add to batter.
Whisk flour and cocoa powder and stir in.
In a separate bowl, stir condensed milk into coconut and set aside.
Line 13-by-9 inch pan with foil, with the foil overlapping the ends of the pan.
Spoon in half of the brownie mix. Top with coconut mix and then remaining brownie mix. Sprinkle with slivered almonds. Bake at 350 degrees for 30- to 35 minutes. Drizzle with melted chocolate if desired.
CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
bag 60 percent cocoa Ghirardelli chocolate chips
1 cup butter
3?4 cup sugar
3?4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
21?4 cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
OPTIONAL: 1 cup of nuts, diced dried fruit (like apricots) or both
Whisk flour, baking soda and cinnamon and stir into batter. Add chocolate chips and nuts and dried fruit, if using. Drop by spoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 9 to 11 minutes, turning trays halfway through.
CADENCE’S HOMEMADE PIZZA
Toast muffin. Spread with sauce. Top with cheese. Broil. Voila! Dinner!
Who cares if Mom doesn’t like to cook.