Saturday, 16 January 2010

Cooking with children

My daughters' school is in the process of starting up an after school cooking club and they were looking for volunteers to help run it. Yes, I know I already run the gardening club but this sounded so up my street I just had to volunteer for that too. This week I, along with another volunteer, was sent on a training course for the club. That turned out to be a fun day in which we made our own elevenses and lunch, mostly based around modifying a basic scone recipe to make scones, "bread" and pizza bases. It was a good simple way to make a variety of different foods using just one recipe and the food tasted great. I had to admit, however, that when I got home my stomach felt as if I'd eaten rather too many scones!

I'm always enthusiastic about food but after the course I felt inspired and very keen to try some of the recipe out with my children. As it happened my eldest invited herself over to a friends house the next afternoon so this presented me with the perfect opportunity to do some one to one cooking with my youngest. It is easy to always treat children in relation to their position in the family rather than by their actual age - I always treat one as the eldest and able to do lots of things and to have responsibility, and the other as the youngest, not able to do so much and in need of more help. This is, of course, the genuine situation but sometimes I have to step back and think what was my eldest able to do at the age of my youngest. My youngest is five years old now - still very little but also able to do more than I probably give her credit for. One of the things they had talked about on the course was taking health and safety into account but teaching the children how to do "dangerous" things such as chopping and cooking safely.

So I told my youngest she was going to make some biscuits and I was just going to help her with reading the instructions. She was surprised when I told her that she was going to turn the oven on and was going to use the hob to melt some butter. She was even slightly anxious about it but I explained that she would not be burnt if she did what I said and was careful. The recipe for oat biscuits was beautifully simple and it took her only half an hour to make them. I had to stop myself jumping in a couple of times to help speed things along or to make the biscuits a tidier shape. And what pride she had when the biscuits were finished. She excitedly told her sister all about it when she got home and told Daddy he was only allowed to eat one and not the whole boxful!

After this my eldest was keen to have a similar one to one experience and this suited my just fine as I was equally as keen. She had received a box of recipe cards for Christmas and this morning she searched through it, having difficulty deciding what she would like to make as so many recipes appealed to her. We selected an apple flapjack recipe straight away to make for Daddy and I said she could choose something else to make her and her sister. I helped her narrow down her choice by removing cards that required ingredients I didn't have. Finally, she decided on a Victoria sandwich cake as she is studying the Victorian Era at school at the moment. This pleased me as it meant I could use the two new sandwich tins I had bought earlier in the week in the sales and I could use up another small jar of my homemade seedless raspberry jam.

My eldest was also equally as anxious about switching the oven on and using the hob to melt the butter for the flapjacks but she was keen to peel and chop the apples. In fact, we were in the kitchen for about 3 hours, including tidying and washing up and she really enjoyed herself and asked me if there was anything else she could help me make. I suggested we make some coleslaw for dinner. Coleslaw was one of the recipes we had made on the course as it gives plenty of opportunity for the children to learn grating and chopping skills.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a beetroot in the fridge for the coleslaw and I had to nip to the allotment for it. It is nice to see the allotment again, newly emerged from its snowy blanket. I have missed the colour green in the last fortnight! But soggy doesn't even begin to describe what it was like round there. Very wet clay soil and foliage that has collapsed under the temperate and weight of the snow. Icky!

I emptied the kitchen compost caddy into the compost bin then grabbed a few small beetroots and some leeks before heading over to the brassica bed to inspect the plants. Earlier in the week I had been idly staring out of the girls' bedroom window at the snow-covered allotment only to spot a fat wood pigeon sat amongst the sprouting broccoli, gorging itself on the purple buds. I know I like to feed the birds but there are limits! So it was no surprise to find no flower heads left today. I picked some more Brussel sprouts then pulled a large sheet of galvanised netting over as much of the brassica plants as I could.

Back home my daughter had settled down on the sofa to watch TV and wasn't enthusiastic about making coleslaw anymore. I'd clearly missed the moment but there was no point nagging - I was feeling pretty tired of being in the kitchen myself by then. Still, whilst I was still in the allotment mood, I put a little bit of potting compost into a tray and planted 7 peanuts into it. At least now I feel the growing season has started even though I shall have to wait a few more weeks before tearing open the seed packs that arrived in the post this week. Patience... patience...

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