I grew up a free range chick in the kitchen. My independent culinary debut was as a (very) short order cook standing on a chair by the stove making fried eggs. I was probably 6 or 7 years old. I remember watching with intense fascination as an egg transformed from clear, sticky goo into an opaque, tasty breakfast.
Baking offered even more exciting transformations. Not only is it cool that very wet, spoonable dough turns into muffins in the oven, it tastes good too! Jiffy provided my first baking adventures. Fake blueberry, artificial apples and cinnamon, classic corn muffins, my mom had to stock up on those little blue and white boxes for a while until I got bored with them and moved on.
The first real recipe I remember making is Toll House chocolate chip cookies. I followed the bright yellow plastic recipe cut out from the package and taped to the inside of our cupboard door. I remember yelling down the hall to my mom every time I didn’t understand the directions or couldn’t find an ingredient. A few “words,” followed my catastrophic messes until eventually I compromised by shelving the ingredients, wiping down the counters, and stacking dirty dishes in the sink.
When I was 8 years old, on Christmas morning my mom gave me my first cookbook. Across the top left corner of the first page of, For Good Measure a cookbook for children, my mom inscribed:
My very special, sweet daughter.
Merry Christmas 1987
I made popovers, butterscotch squares, and tuna noodle casserole (recipes I still use!) by following simple, illustrated instructions. The best part of this cookbook is the last few pages. They are blank, except for a heading at the top that says, “My Recipes.” My world then changed forever.
A few months ago, my mom and I were talking about cooking. She said to me, “I didn’t teach you anything in the kitchen, you taught yourself.”
“That’s not true,” I argued. (Of course I had to argue, but I did have a point to make.)
“You let me have free reign in the kitchen,” I told her. “And by giving me that freedom, you allowed me to make my own mistakes, and learn from them.” (This isn’t an exact quote since my memory of conversations is rather sieve-like, but at least the bigger stuff doesn’t go down the drain.)
In thinking about it now, not only did she give me the gift of freedom, she gave me the interest in cooking to begin with. Wanting to start at such a young age, I could only have been modeling my mother. Lucky for me, she was the perfect model-perfect because she didn’t expect me to be a cookie cutout.
Thank you mom, for showing me the very best way to love, and be loved. Now it’s my turn to share this with my children.
Motherhood is not easy. This is obvious to anyone who has ever seen a mother threatening, bribing, or ignoring a child’s bad behavior. How on earth do you get this free willed little creature, which came from your very body, to do the right thing and still respect their freedom? Striking that balance is a constant, uphill battle.
If you ask me, Sisyphus had it easy. Boulders may be heavy, but they don’t have opinions that change every few minutes. That lucky king had a giant pet rock to tend to that didn’t demand junk food, or refuse to eat his vegetables. However, unlike Sisyphus’ task, parenting is anything but a dull, pointless task.
I believe teaching my children to cook is one of the best gifts I can give. Fried eggs and chocolate chip cookie are only the beginning! Seeing exactly how much butter, sugar, and refined flour you are consuming gives you something to think about. Ultimately, I believe they will be healthier for it.
For Good Measure
About ten years ago, I used to make fun of recipes that call for 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour, or unsalted butter with a teaspoon of salt. If I had known who Alton Brown was then, I would have revolted. I thought it was a bunch of unnecessary boulder work.
When my mother-in-law introduced me to Cook’s Illustrated, and America’s Test Kitchen, I changed my tune. I even went so far as to buy a kitchen scale. The whole point (I now know) of weighing precisely 8.75 ounces of flour is to achieve consistent results. I used to think I did a pretty good job aerating the flour, and using the scoop and sweep method to measure. That is until I weighed my results. Surprisingly, I was several ounces over, which would have made the cookies drier, and less flavorful.
The bonus is, my budding chefs think the kitchen scale is fun to use. We get a little math lesson converting 8 ¾ ounces to 8.75. My 7 year old can read the numbers, and +/- until she gets it just right.
My favorite part of Cook’s Illustrated recipes is the explanations for WHY I’m weighing my flour. There are no unnecessary steps. Not only that, CI has made me a better cook. If I have a technique question, their website is the first place I look. I can then apply their tested reasoning to the recipes I develop.
Toll House has always been our go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe, but last weekend we made Cook’s Illustrated’s Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies for the first time. I don’t know why we never made them before.
Measuring chocolate chips is always exciting for the kiddos. Access! I only had a partial bag of regular-sized chips, so I supplemented with mini chips. As I started to pour the bag shifted and several sprinkled onto the counter. “Baby chocolate chips!” Celia proclaimed. “Don’t worry mom, we’ll eat them all.”
Then there’s always a squabble over who gets to lick the beater. (When you’ve got two helpers, that’s the one drawback to a KitchenAid.) To avoid the fight, I give each girl a spoonful of cookie dough. Plato said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” But I say, Motherhood is after all, the necessity of invention.
My only criticism of this recipe is the very last direction: “Cool cookies completely before serving.”
Who on earth can wait?
Otherwise, we followed the directions carefully, and the results were spectacular. They really do live up to their name! Celia (almost 3) says, “Daddy’s going to be so excited to have a puffy cookie with chocolate chips in it!”
After we finished our warm cookies and ice-cold milk, Isabella says, “I’ve taken lots of trips to heaven today.”
Make them for yourself: Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
The cookies lasted two days, so of course we had to make them again yesterday. This time I forgot to reserve 4 tablespoons of butter, and browned all of it. (Mmm, that smells so good!) Upon adding the chocolate chips, we discovered why you reserve 4 tablespoons (to cool down the batter). The cookies were still fabulous. In fact, we may just make Perfect Chocolate Swirl Cookies from now on.