Cooking With Kids: Pretzels and Cookies With Brynnie
IT WAS A DREAM OF MINE
Quite soon after Miss Brynn was born I began dreaming of cooking projects together. My love of cooking came from hanging out in my grandma Kinsella’s kitchen. I had my own little cooking station in her tiny apartment kitchen. It consisted of a board on a kitchen stool. I had my own pots and spoons and my ingredients primarily consisted of vegetable peels and water. In my imagination, I was creating something wonderful. Something that smelled and tasted exactly like the delicious meals my grandma made for our family.
As I got older, grandma shared her culinary secrets with me. I can still see myself, standing next to her while she worked. She was a tiny woman, just under five feet tall. She was not skinny; she was fluffy. Her hair was silver, her hands graceful and skilled, and her voice was soft as she talked about the whats and whys of her cooking process. She had a twinkle in her eye when she told me the secrets she didn’t share when she would give a recipe to a friend. She may have quite deliberately left something out of those ‘shared’ recipe cards. She was proud of the food she prepared; food filled with love, flavored with Irish, her heritage and nature.
PLANNING and PATIENCE
Cooking with kids requires equal doses of planning and patience. My goal was to find a way to allow Brynn to do as much as possible while creating an atmosphere where she could be challenged but not frustrated. I wanted her to feel ownership and success. I was mentally prepared for some bumps along the way, but in reality there were few hiccups. Brynnie is a very good student, she listens, and works hard to learn. She takes her job seriously, and is tenacious, staying with the task to the end. I had the pretzel dough made; her task was learning to roll, form, dip, and sprinkle the pretzels. Amazingly.. she got all of that down quite quickly and stayed with her assignment, forming a double recipe of pretzels.
THE FRUITS OF OUR LABOR
The pretzels really were delicious. Nothing quite like warm pretzels, right out of the oven, and brushed with butter. In addition to the traditional salted pretzels, we made a few that we brushed with butter and rolled in cinnamon and sugar. That was a special and surprising treat for Brynn to savor while taking a break from her labors watching a favorite movie.
We were having so much fun that I decided to give Brynn a larger role when we made chocolate chip cookies in the afternoon. Again, if you’re cooking with kids, planning is important. All of the ingredients were assembled before Brynn came into the kitchen, and I decided which ingredients I thought she could measure and/or add and which might be too much for her 3 year old hands.
For instance, I had the butter and packed brown sugar already in the mixing bowl. I thought the concept and process of packing down the brown sugar would be more mess than I wanted to deal with. Brynn did, however, measure 3/4 cup white sugar. We used a 1/4 cup measure, and carefully counted out the number of scoops we added. We used the same dip/level method that I use and with help she was very successful. We got to apply that skill again when we measured the flour. With the eggs, I decided to crack the eggs and put one at a time in a small pyrex cup. Pouring the egg from the cup into the bowl with the beaters going was tricky business. In retrospect, I think that granny should have turned the beaters OFF. Live and learn.. there is so much joy in the journey.
Once the dough was together, Brynn was given the task of spooning the dough onto the prepared cookie sheets. I demonstrated a technique that uses a spoon and clean fingers to push the dough onto the cookie sheet. She liked that and was successful, however she also decided to try her own method which involved skipping the spoon and using fingers only. I think when you cook with kids you have to be prepared to let them experiment. Brynn quickly decided that her new technique was quicker, but too messy. We cleaned her hands and she went back to the spoon and finger push process, working carefully as the big bowl of dough disappeared.
As we worked along we talked about a lot of important things. How much dough should each cookie have? When she would put too little dough, which was the most common problem, I’d ask her if she thought a given cookie had enough dough? After stopping to evaluate, she always correctly came to the conclusion that more dough was needed. Great thinking skills, Brynn. But I was prepared to let it go if she thought it was enough. I knew that the finished product would give us another opportunity to talk if we let a tiny cookie go with the rest.
We also talked about how far apart we needed to put each clump of dough. She really had no frame of reference this; she had to take my word for it that the cookies would spread when they cooked. Would we get more cookies on the sheet if we stuck to rows? Or would a random pattern work just as well? Conversations along the way. No firm conclusions needed. But oh, how fun to watch the wheels spin as she thought carefully about what we were doing.
She was not prepared to accept much help. I really did not expect that she would stick to the task and spoon out an entire batch of cookies. The process was not quick and once in a while she would tell me that I could help by putting the decorative red hot on the cookie. I wanted her to do all she wanted to do. I wanted her to own the process. It was a good thing that I had that attitude because this little girl wants to take control!
Warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies hot from the oven… she was thrilled. She hovered over the hot pan, carefully testing with the tip of her finger, wanting to get that first cookie as soon as it had cooled JUST enough. The look on her face was priceless. What kid doesn’t like a hot chocolate chip cookie, but there is something special when that cookie is the product of your own efforts!
HER HANDS ON MY HANDS; MY HANDS ON HER HANDS
Yes, Brynnie you are very much part of this circle of life. My grandma is in the kitchen with us, cheering us on. She smiles when she sees my alarmingly aging hands, patiently showing your hands how to roll pretzel dough. There is a twinkle in her eyes as she watches my silver haired head, bending over your sweet young face, as we work together, learning, growing.
Brynn, you come from a family who loves to eat and loves to cook. It’s already quite clear that you will follow in this family legacy. I so admire how hard to you work, how much care you take. Helping you learn is a pleasure and a privilege.
Thank you grandma, for your love; for the time and patience you invested in me. Thank you for the legacy of the love of cooking you have seeded into our family. I’m already looking forward to our next cooking with kids adventure. I wonder what we’ll make and when will sweet Sophie join us?
Technical Details: Yes, we also planned to capture these photos. I had a single speed light on a light stand. For the pretzel photos we aimed that speed light at a reflector and pushed the light back at the kitchen island. For the cookie photos, the single speed light was shot through a diffusion panel toward the cooking area. Camera: Sony a7II, handheld; Sony 55mm F1.8 f1.8mm, 1/125th sec.