March 21, 2005

how not to bake brownies

Sit on bed, minding your own business. Child hops on bed. "Mommy, I want to do something with you."

"Sure, what do you want to do?"

"I don't know. You think of something."

"How about we take a nap? I'd really like that." (You are tired.)

"No. No naps. Think of something else."

"Um… we could read a story. Or watch TV." (Trying to think of things that require no physical exertion whatsoever.)

"Too boring."

"Well, why don't you think of something, then?" (Something low key. You are, yes, tired.)

"I don't have any ideas. You think of more things."

"We could do anything. Draw a picture, bake a cake, do a puzzle…"

Watch child's eyes light up. "You gave me an idea! We could bake brownies and then while the brownies are cooking, we could have dinner and then we could eat the brownies for dessert."

Sounds so benign, doesn't it?

You sigh inwardly at the calories you'll undoubtedly consume, while simultaneously (and visibly) smiling with pleasure that your kid did after all come up with his own idea.

Go to kitchen to investigate ingredients. Unsweetened chocolate? Yup, back behind the peanut butter chips. Man, this stuff must be old. But it looks bug-free, and chocolate doesn’t go bad, does it? Decide to use chocolate. Unsweetened cocoa? Yup, got that. Butter? Yup, that too. What the hey, why not make the brownies? After all, it's a semi-structured activity, a chance to interact while working on a project that involves exactly zero small rubber frogs.

"I want to eat some of the chocolate."

"You won't like it. It has no sugar in it."

"I want to! Can I have that one?" Pointing to half an ounce of pure unsweetened cacao.

Offer child a teeny head-of-a-pin homeopathic sliver instead.

"Ptui! Yuck!"

Explain how the chocolate he likes has other ingredients to mellow the flavor. Put chocolate and butter in saucepan. Show child the lumps of yellow and brown. Ask him simple questions like: what's going to happen to them? And: What colors will they be? Feel good about the interaction, about stimulating him to think and be part of the process that way.

Turn to the cocoa. Ah, another little lesson, this one perhaps more age-appropriate. "We need two thirds of a cup of cocoa. But we only have a one-third cup measuring cup. What should we do?"

His first thought: we should buy a two-thirds sized cup. But none exist. Confounded, he reconsiders. We should have two one third measuring cups, then. Smile, "You're very close." Explain the methodology.

Wonder why you haven't explored math in the kitchen before. Heretofore baking together has been all about stirring and pouring and whisking and running a knife across the top of the measuring cup to knock off excess flour. Actions, not concepts. Feel proud of yourself. You could even be a homeschooler, the way this is going!

Kid dumps cocoa powder into now-brown now-bubbling butter-chocolate mix. You stir, put it back in stove. Time to measure sugar. No, not to eat it. No, really, child, don't stick your fist into the sugar bag and stuff your now-crystallized hand into your mouth. Please. You're six years old, not two. Kid has a sugar addiction. Wonder where he got that from? (Give you a hint: not his daddy.)

Moving right along: You and kid pour sugar into dark, muddy chocolatey concoction on stove. Stir and go back to butcher block counter. Next step: cracking eggs. Kid is relatively interested in the whole separating-out-the-whites process but doesn't really want to hear about the properties of whites and yolks. Maybe next time. Meantime, kid wants to get into butcher block drawer.

Get irritable. Kid is not listening. This is supposed to be baking-together time, not child-drums-with-utensils-while-Mom-makes-overly-caloric-treats. Discover kid is looking for whisk, ie: thinking ahead. Have Egg Whites, Will Whisk. Feel chagrined, nay, positively guilty. Kid was more involved than you knew. Apologize, praise, continue.

Smell something burning. But what? We're baking here, not – oh. Right. Chocolate-butter-cocoa-sugar concoction, the heart of the brownie recipe. Burning while you debated whisks. Turn off stove. Check chocolate mixture. Decide it's okay except for a tiny bit at the bottom. Hope you're right.

Continue. Whites, whole egg, whisk. Flour, baking powder. Discuss tablespoons and teaspoons, halves and quarters. Back in the math groove, maybe it's not too late to rekindle the whole baking-as-learning-and-togetherness deal?

Mix dry ingredients with (clean) hands. "Why are you using your hands, Mommy?" Because… um… because they're here and clean and everything else is full of chocolate goo?

Kid is interested in everything again, watching the melding of egg and chocolate, readily answering the question: "How long do I stir the flour in? How do I know when to stop?" Calories are worth this, definitely. This is great.

Kid leans forward, wanting to peer into the pan as you pour the brownie mix. Drops his raisin box on the floor. Raisins scatter everywhere. Kid cries buckets. Remember, he just today got over a week-long debilitating bout of flu. He has low self-regulation reserves. Kid wants, not more raisins, that would be too simple. No, kid wants a toaster pastry (Nature's Way, the organic version of Pop-Tarts).

"Sorry, I can't give you one this close to dinner."

Kid cries more buckets. Wails turn inevitably to a coughing fit (a flu remnant). Coughs erupt in vomit. Copious amounts. All over the kitchen counter. In measuring cups, mixing bowls, everything. Except, miraculously, the pan with the brownie mix.

A lesson, yes. But for whom?

Brownies come out well, though. And kid is in a good mood for the rest of the evening. Go figure.

The moral of the story: Life is messy. But sweet. And sometimes chocolatey.

Posted by Tamar at March 21, 2005 11:48 PM | TrackBack