Lessons learned in the kitchen

Bread baking takes practice!
Often things learned the hard way are best remembered. And bread baking takes practice!

I don’t remember when I made my first cake or when my mother first gave me advice about cooking. As for my early experiences with baking, I remember the 4-H project on breads and pastries that I worked on the summer I was 7. I cut pie dough together and rolled it, punched the bubbles out of yeast dough and kneaded it, and left a sprinkling of flour around the kitchen for Mom to clean up. I’m guessing the older 4-H members did most of the work on the booth we decorated for our exhibit at the fair; my memory of it is hazy.

What I remember most about the breads and pastries project is making bread dough with my friend and neighbor, Lynn. At the stage during mixing when the specified amount of flour was in, we were adding just enough more to make the dough easy to handle. Too soon, Lynn had her hands in the wet, sticky dough trying to pull it out of the bowl. (After all, the best part of bread-making for most people is handling the dough.)

My mother cleaned almost as much dough off Lynn’s hands as we had left to work with, but we were able to shape loaves of bread, set the pans aside for the dough to rise, and Mom calmly, quietly guided us through the process.

Often things learned the hard way are best remembered. My kids need to make mistakes and learn from them, so why am I always pushing my I-haven’t-lived-50-years-for-nothing attitude on my girls? Why am I such a fussy control freak about “my kitchen”?

“I’m in the mood to make cupcakes,” Kathie announced. I wondered if she’d been watching a cooking show.

She thumbed through my most used, best loved cookbook, looking at yellow cakes.

“Let’s see what mixes we have on the shelf.” I advised.

“I don’t want to use a mix,” she determined. “Can I use the new pan?”

So, that was it. The new, red silicone tart pan I just bought was luring her. I left it on the counter like a shrine until I took time to dig around in our cupboards and make a place for it.

“I guess you can use it.” I was doing dishes, so I stuck the new pan in my dishwater to freshen it up for its first use. “These (the tarts) will only hold about enough for one cake layer not a 13×9,” I explained, “so a scratch cake would be a good idea.”

“I’ve never made a scratch cake.” she said wistfully.

If it wasn’t a door that opened before me then, it was a window, and through it I could see new possibilities in the kitchen for this girl, who was no longer a little girl who needed much help. Had I been holding her back with packaged convenience foods that she was so used to throwing together?

We often laugh about some of the directions printed on things, like “Open can, pour contents into pan and heat … ” – no-brainer descriptions. Fixing eggs and stirring up packaged mixes aren’t teaching my daughters how to really cook anything.

I let her proceed while I washed dishes and tried to advise her only when she asked about doing anything. Her recipe for a two layer cut in half easily. She followed it along right down to knowing to break the egg into a separate container before adding it to the batter. With no home ec. at her school, what had I been waiting for? I wanted her to learn this stuff somewhere.

She loved using the mixer, was meticulous in filling the 24 little cups, attentive to checking the timing, and thrilled at how easy they came from the pan (the beauty of silicone bakeware). I loved watching her work, confident that she could do it without me, but happy when she asked for my comments.

All that’s left for me is to look forward to the next time she’ll let me go along for the ride when she cooks. All that’s left for her is to convince her friends at school that the cute little cakes she shared at lunch weren’t made from a box.

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