Holy crap, you guys.
I cooked with my kids.
And it was AWESOME.
The kind of awesome that gives you faith in your children and the future of humanity and makes you think for just one tiny second that perhaps you aren’t screwing up this whole parenting thing nearly as much as you think you are.
It didn’t start out that way, of course. Those of you who know me know that I’m not much of a cook, to say the least. I don’t enjoy it, I’m not good at it, and despite the fact that I’m in charge of dinner for the girls at least four nights a week, it rarely occurs to me to plan ahead, leaving me in a mad dinner scramble more often than not.. My desire to improve my culinary competency was a big motivation for the Jewish Mother Project, and so when Rosh Hashanah came around, I didn’t hesitate. I was going to make matzah ball soup for the first time with my daughters.
I got my mother-in-law’s favorite Joan Nathan recipe and headed off to the grocery store. Halfway down the first aisle, I found myself in a familiar conundrum. I needed matzah meal, but the only thing I could find was matzah ball mix. Was it the same thing? I had no idea, but I bought it anyway. And when I asked the butcher for schmaltz, his response was a snooty, “We don’t carry chicken fat here.” Oy. (It turns out you can also use canola oil, so we were fine.)
I woke up Sunday morning to an NPR piece about honey cake, and suddenly decided we had to make one of those as well. Thanks to the magic of Facebook, I got an easy recipe from fellow Kveller writer Rebecca Schorr and sent my husband off to the grocery store with the girls for the ingredients (as well as some actual matzah meal). As soon as they got back, we got to business.
We made the matzah balls first. The girls scooped and measured and stirred and poured and did a shockingly good job taking turns and sharing. They were sweet and funny and exceedingly cute. They were so excited about cooking that I let them make their own lunches; they practiced cutting string cheese and strawberries, and my big girl made her own peanut butter and jelly sandwich while I helped the little one make some toast with a great deal of butter.
After that, we got started on the honey cake. More mixing and pouring and even a bit of tasting—one loved the sugar, one loved the flour, neither liked the honey much. It wasn’t until we had the mixture entirely finished and poured into the pan that I realized I had forgotten to add the boiling water. It was clear the cake was much too thick without it. Had I been cooking alone, I would have freaked out, berated myself for screwing up yet again, and likely left the whole gooey mess sitting on the counter for my husband to fix when he got home. But I was with the girls, and I wanted them to learn a lesson I still haven’t mastered myself: that it’s OK to make mistakes in the kitchen (and in life).
So, I pulled it together and we decided to make another cake. Just one problem: we were out of honey. Josh started rummaging through the cupboards while I nagged him to text a neighbor. We went back and forth about it until my older daughter, who will turn 7 next month, offered to walk next door and ask for honey. Josh and I looked at each other in shock. This is the same child who often doesn’t want to walk up to her bedroom on her own. We sent her off to the neighbors’ and she triumphantly returned a few minutes later, honey bear in hand. The second honey cake was a success.
With the matzah balls in the fridge and the cake in the oven, we headed out to ride bikes. For the first time ever, my 5-year-old rode without training wheels. We headed back in the house, and the girls formed the matzah balls and dropped them in the boiling water. Almost an hour later, my husband pulled them out and put them in the chicken stock he had made while the girls and I were biking. (It’s true, I still don’t know how to roast a chicken or make stock, but we’ll get there.)
It’s now been a couple of days since our little cooking adventure, and I’ve had some time to reflect on the experience and how and why it went so well. Here are my initial thoughts:
1. I spend way too much time planning to cook. Choosing a recipe and getting the ingredients is important, of course, but it’s easy to get mired in too many online searches and recipe planning tools. Sometimes, you just need to start cooking.
2. I don’t have to be an expert in order to teach my daughters something. I can read and measure and pour, and that’s enough. We can learn the rest together.
3. Sometimes I underestimate my daughters’ competency. (Except when it comes to all matters toilet-related. I’ll spare you all the details.) This morning my 5-year-old helped make scrambled eggs for breakfast and she did everything from breaking the eggs to turning on the stove (after I put the fear of God into her if she ever touches it when I’m not there). Even though she overcooked them a bit, she happily ate the brown parts because she cooked them. I won’t lie. I was kvelling over burnt eggs.
4. Empowering the girls in the kitchen gave us all a wonderful boost of confidence. I suspect it’s no coincidence that my big girl marched off to the neighbors’ for honey and my little girl finally got up on two wheels on the same day as our big cooking adventure. And I went to bed that night in a state of blissful shock; I still couldn’t believe that not only had I successfully cooked with my children, but that I wanted to do it again!
5. I just don’t like honey cake. I guess we’re going to have to find a new recipe for next year.