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Experiment Cooking

When we were young, our parents sometimes opened their kitchens for 'experiment cooking'.  (Yes, by 'we' I mean Alex and I grew up three doors away from each other.  That's a story for another day.) These sessions are some of my fondest cooking memories from childhood. In experiment cooking, there are no recipes.  Kids use whatever ingredients they want.  They use whatever techniques they want.  They make messes and mistakes.  I remember short but very sweet cake, salty cookies where salt was accidentally used for sugar, and lots of unusual spices in combination.

This past week, Lil asked to be the cook so I introduced her to this marvelous kitchen play.  Because I wanted her first time to be relatively successful, I made some suggestions (baking powder, for one) to ensure her cookies were at least edible.

Lil put in butter

then sugar.

She mixed and cracked an egg in the bowl.

Then she added flour, a little bit of vanilla, and baking powder.  More mixing, and then chocolate pieces.  Lil was very excited to scoop the dough herself.

She put the dough in the oven to bake.

Then I asked her to wash dishes.  She was so elated at being the cook that she was happy to clean up after herself.

Lil even wanted to take the hot cookies off the cookie sheet.  She was concentrating so much!

Parenting a child through experiment cooking is not easy.  "It's getting messy!"  "She's wasting the nice German chocolate!" "Will she burn herself?"  All these thoughts were running through my head.  But remembering how much I enjoyed myself experiment cooking as a child, I kept my mouth shut and tried to make the experience joyful for Lil.

In the end, the mess was not too great.  Lil 'washed' the dishes, though I had to rewash them.  She sponged off the countertop as best as she could.

The ingredients were not a waste because we all enjoyed the cookies.  In total she used about $3 worth of chocolate, butter, and sugar.  A pretty cheap afternoon, really.

And she didn't burn herself!  I couldn't believe it and it took all my strength to not just say no.  I rationalized that even if Lil did burn herself it wouldn't be serious and it would teach her an important lesson.

Perhaps I learned more than Lil through experiment cooking.  I now know that she can do more than I expect.  I saw that when she was truly free to make the mess, she is truly willing to help clean up.  Once I let go of my preconceived notions and hesitations, it was actually loads of fun to watch her cook.

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If you want your kids to enjoy some cooking with abandon not under your roof, remember to come to the Kids Cook classes at Sprout Soup starting October 8.