Top | First Person
(article, Melissa Lion)
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The other day I took my four-year-old son, Archie, to the movies. As we sat, waiting for the feature, an ad for Junior Mints lingered on the screen, a woman’s hand holding three chocolate-covered bits of mint goo.
“Look! Beans!” Archie said.
It was a testament to his childhood growing up without television and with a mom who begins her shopping in the bulk aisle and ends it in the produce section. I’d like to tell you that this is due to a devotion to organic eating, or to being mindful of the environmental impact of packaging and shipping in the American food chain. But, sadly, it’s none of those high-minded things. The reasons are purely economical: As a single mom and a full-time freelance writer, I just don’t have the cash to blow on the items in the middle of the grocery store. I shop the perimeter, because that’s as far as my wallet lets me travel.
I have to give my mom credit. She, too, was a single mom, and our house always contained whole foods: butter instead of margarine, sugar instead of NutraSweet. Popcorn was made in a pot, despite the far-cooler microwaved option. Cookies were always baked from scratch.
I remember my first experience with cookie dough in a tube. I was at a friend’s house, and we decided to bake cookies. She brought out a tube from the fridge, sliced one end open, and squeezed the dough out from the plastic cinched with a metal staple.
The cookies were passable. In college, those tube cookies appeared in my life again, and I was always struck by their metallic grittiness. And by the fact that baking cookies from scratch takes far less time than going to the market and buying a cookie tube.
Most cookie recipes make far more cookies than you can eat at once, so I tend to wrap the leftover dough in plastic wrap and foil, then freeze it. This is even more economical and convenient — and they’re still cookie tubes!
[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="Spicy Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies are easy to make — even with kids."]
Archie’s been baking with me since he was about two. He’s a strong little guy, and he pulls a chair over to the counter on his own, climbs up, and helps. He helps with pizza dough, bread, granola, and, of course, cookies.
At first, I’d find myself a bit panicked, thinking of the number of times I’d heard the old adage: Baking is a science. In my mind’s eye, I’d see Cook’s Illustrated’s Christopher Kimball, shaking his head at the flour spread all over the countertop and down my son’s sleeves as he stirred, with a metal spoon, the dry ingredients. Archie would stir and stir and stir. And flour would float everywhere.
Should I add back a teaspoon, a quarter-cup? How much baking soda and salt was in that flour pile on the floor? Measurements became guesses and hopes.
I tried giving Archie his own small bowl of ingredients, a spoon, a whisk, whatever utensil I was using, but it was no use. He never cared about having his own workstation. He knew that the real action was happening in the big glass bowls, the bright red mixer, and he wanted to be part of it.
Cooking with a toddler became stressful. Baking had been a lovely way to spend an hour, creating something delicious, warming up the house with a tantalizing smell, but now it was a chore — something I’d think about doing, then decide it wasn’t worth the trouble.
But with cookies in demand, or homemade wheat bread too delicious not to make, I continued baking with my little helper.
And, surprisingly, not a single recipe was ruined by a toddler’s marker-stained hands. No matter how many times Archie poked holes in the plastic wrap covering a rising dough ball, the bread always survived. Cookies for which he’d mixed the dry and wet ingredients never spread out too far or wound up too cakey.
It all worked out. This can only mean one thing, I’ve decided: When they say baking is a science, people are lying.
And Christopher Kimball ties his bowtie too tight.
p(bio). Melissa Lion is the author of two novels, [%bookLink code=0385746423 Swollen] and [%bookLink code=0375839542 Upstream]. She lives in Portland, Oregon, and blogs about extremely personal things very publicly on her website.