“Mom, can I help you with that?”
My daughter was watching me cook a batch of chocolate frosting for the fudge cake we were about to devour. Her eyes told me that this was more about a chance at licking the frosting bowl. My independent girl, the one that would soon brave her first year in junior high at a new school, the one I found—at two years old—directing traffic at the top of a slide swarming with kids, the one that gets mean when she’s sad, just like me. The trailblazer that runs ahead of me all day long, but at night asks for me to cuddle her to sleep. The child that still holds my hand.
So we make frosting together, her adding the ingredients that I measured out for her, me lecturing on the proper speed of stirring (fast enough to keep it from scalding, not so much it splatters all over your shirt).
And as I’m demonstrating she asks
“How did you get so good at cooking?”
This stops me in my tracks as I stifle laughter. Because I am no great cook. I can can all day and am handy with dessert, but I often come up short at mealtime in comparison to her chef of a father.
So I’m tempted to correct her, but stop myself. I need to be careful here. My goal is to raise a confident, mighty woman that does not apologize for herself or negate her gifts. I want her to take a compliment gracefully, to achieve her full potential, and not hold herself back out of some twisted notion of modesty.
And, too, if I really listen to the question, she was asking how to learn, not debating my kitchen skills. It’s not about me.
So instead of correcting her honesty, I say “Well, honey, with a lot of practice. My mom taught me, and-- here—you go ahead and try.” And with that I hand her the whisk and let her do it. It’s awkward and imperfect because she’s eleven and still learning, but it’s FROSTING and when it comes to my kid’s joy, perfection can go jump in a lake.
This is why I cook real food. This is why I let my kids in the kitchen and spend time—gobs of time—and dirty all of the dishes in my cupboards and spend time at farmer’s markets and grow what I can in my garden. All of it. This is why.
It’s healthy and economical , yes, but it’s so much more than that.
When I invite my child into my space and she learns how to do things for herself in the process, she becomes more confident. And more self-reliant too, and suddenly cooking becomes a way of expressing her independence without (too much) rebellion.
When we are cooking together, the sweetest conversations bubble up. Standing side by side working together to create a meal, life happens. Questions are asked. And if I make this cooking of the meal the priority, and have managed some sort of balance in the rush of life, I can breathe. And I can answer.
This doesn’t happen always. There are days when we order takeout or when I’m tired and my patience is gone and the words are less than graceful. There have been days, especially when they were younger, that the kids were shooed from the kitchen just so I could slap a meal together.
But most days, the kitchen is where you’ll find a child cracking an egg or flipping a pancake or me nervously watching them practice knife skills. We have braved their creations ranging from salad to “soup” and have learned from their, ahem, adventures (graham crackers dipped in cider are a thing. Try it.)
This day it was frosting. It was a little runny. So my daughter and I took turns drizzling on the chocolate frosting, making a mess and laughing at our efforts. The finished product was predictably ugly. But it was delicious, and my family gobbled it up. No special occasion, just a regular day. Because regular days are when we cook around here.
Gwennie’s Fudge Cake
Gwennie Olmstead was Lucie’s sister-in-law, Uncle Oral Olmstead’s wife
1 cup sugar
2 TBSP cocoa
1/3 cup shortening (1 large TBSP)
¾ sour milk*
1 tsp soda
1 ½ cups flour
1 tsp vanilla
¼ cup hot water—added last
Preheat oven to 350°. Mix the sugar and cocoa together in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the shortening, creaming together until mixture is crumbly. Mix in the egg. Sift the baking soda and flour together in a small bowl, then add to the chocolate mixture, alternately with the milk. Stir in the vanilla. Add the hot water last. Pour into a greased 9x13 pan. Bake 30 minutes until edges are pulled away from the pan.
Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” Frosting
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
2/3 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.
*Sour milk was abundant in the days before refrigerators, and it was put to use in old recipes like these. If you don’t have any sour milk around, just add a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to your milk, and you’ll be good.