Maintaining Sanity While Cooking With Kids

I don’t know about you, but I love the idea of cooking with my kids. In my mind we are in a big open kitchen in a cozy country house, the kids are standing on stools around a wide butcher block island in the center as I gracefully give them tasks in the creation of something delicious. The reality is that there is almost no counter space in my kitchen so I get crammed into a corner as Ben throws flour everywhere and I desperately try to maintain my composure while whatever I’m trying to make gets mauled into oblivion to shouts of “Hulk smash!” (seriously). I want to cook with my kids, and I want to enjoy it. I don’t want my son’s memories of being in the kitchen to be of me hovering over him correcting his every move. I love to cook and it is something that I am good at. I am however a terrible team player, so even if it were an adult working in the kitchen with me I would not feel relaxed about sharing the space. Throw in the four year old’s utter lack of self control and my fear of giving up control and it’s kind of…unpleasant. That being said, I continue to try the cooking with kids experiment. One way I’ve found to make it easier is to make something that can be divided into parts. If I am baking bread of some kind I will double the recipe and give Ben one good sized chunk of dough to shape something edible out of, and one smaller chunk of dough to do whatever he wants with (destroy, stick toys in it, make it dance all over the kitchen floor…). I also let him play with all the measuring cups and spoons. The other day a ladle and a wooden spoon had a hilarious conversation in our kitchen. Ben was just being silly and playing pretend, but it was a really sweet moment for me. He saw something associated with cooking as fun and playful, so that is a good start.

Attachment parenting at its finest...and most stressful

Attachment parenting at its finest…and most stressful

Ben gearing up to beast the dough
Ben gearing up to beast the dough

4 year old rage!

4 year old rage!

Rolling out the pitas. Note the extremely calm and joyful look on my face...LOL

Rolling out the pitas. Note the extremely calm and joyful look on my face…or not…

Pitas ready for the oven

Pitas ready for the oven

Keeping tabs on the progress

Keeping tabs on the progress

Poof! Just like that! Magic.

Poof! Just like that! Magic.

Gawgeous.

Gawgeous.

My personal favorite pita. It was devoured with pure pride and happiness that only bread made from scratch while wearing a baby can provide.

My personal favorite pita. It was devoured with pure pride and happiness that only bread made from scratch while wearing a baby can provide.

Warm and snuggly pitas.

Warm and snuggly pitas.

They're just so cute!

They’re just so cute!

In case you are feeling terrified, I mean inspired, by my tales of baking, here is the recipe for the pitas in the photos above. Pitas are in my opinion the best possible bread to make. Maximum pleasure, minimum effort. The dough is as easy to put together as pizza dough, which was my first foray into yeast dough. I had a phobia of bread baking for a number of years, which I will explore in another post, but suffice to say that these are a good beginning place for even the bread phobic.

Pita Bread
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything”

3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
4 cups whole wheat flour
3 1/2 tsp salt
3 1/2 tsp instant yeast (I have no idea how to adapt it for another kind of yeast but there must be something out there on the internet about this)
2 tblsp olive oil + some for the bowl at the end
3 cups water (more if needed)

Combine dry ingredients in a big bowl.
Add water and oil and mix it around with a fork until it starts sticking together and gets hard to mix.
Use your hands to continue mixing and add water if needed until it becomes a big ball of dough. (Now is the time to let your kid knead aka beat the heck out of the dough.
It is okay if it is a little sticky, if it is very sticky you can add more flour.
Take another really big bowl (or put the dough on the counter for a minute and clean out the same bowl) and spread olive oil around the bowl. Put the dough in and turn it to coat lightly with oil.
Cover with a dish towel and put it in a warm place for 2 hours or until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
Clean and dry some counter space, about 2 feet should be fine, and spread some flour around.
Pull off chunks of dough and roll them out until they are flat but not too thin, maybe 1/8-1/4 inch thick.
Give your child 1 piece to make into any shape (Just don’t watch if it’s too hard not to interject. Sometimes I walk to the other side of the kitchen.)
When they have used up their calm behavior give them another piece of dough and send them to the other side of the kitchen while you finish rolling the dough.
Roll out as many pitas will fit on your biggest baking sheet. It is okay if the edges are touching they will rise upward not outward. It is important to make sure they don’t have creases because then they won’t puff. They will still taste good though!
Bake them for a few minutes until they puff or get lightly browned around the edges.
Take out and let them cool on a kitchen towel, bake a few more batches.
Warning: your smoke detector may go off if it is really close to the kitchen because the loose flour can burn a little at such a high temperature. Use the oven fan or just leave a door or window open while you do this.

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4 thoughts on “Maintaining Sanity While Cooking With Kids

  1. Oh, I have the same visions… *sigh*. It’s harder now that Stella wants to be involved. Sometimes, I move operations to the dining room table so that we have room to spread out.

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