As the little people (not short, but younger) in your life age, they become much more creative, interesting and culinarily challenging.
I’ve just returned from a weekend of kids-cooking in Cincinnati with my niece and nephew (oldest brother’s kids). I used to get away with simple recipes like pancakes and cupcakes and fried chicken… But, now the kids are older and demand more from our kitchen creations.
When my middle brother visits my niece and nephew, he entertains the kids with movie making, science experimentation, Harry Potter regaling and intellectual conversations. He’s a Potter Scholar, Science Junkie and PHD in Philosophy – please address him as ‘Dr. James’.
My visits, though, involve intricate meal planning, grocery list organization, food procurement, inspired baking and cooking.
It starts weeks in advance of my arrival. The kids are old now – 14 and 13. So, I email them proposed menus and we go back and forth via text and email in the days leading up to my visit to solidify a weekend’s worth of kitchen entertainment.
Several criteria for each creation must be met.
Firstly, the culinary endeavors must include an element of artistry.
My niece is an amazing artist – like really good. She gets it from my brother – actually, both brothers draw. I, on the other hand, can barely scratch out a stick figure.
In addition to my niece’s inspired cartoon characters – the AnniesDishList icon – she does incredible portraits.
Secondly…we must satisfy their yen for all things scientific.
My nephew has been fascinated with science and space since birth. At 14 he has met John Glenn, been to Cape Canaveral, experienced Zero G and has already targeted three universities. Cal-Tech has a partnership with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (he’s visited) and preps students to join this elite group of scientists. Stanford has the leading research lab for his rare skin condition. And… MIT…because, well, it’s MIT.
Lastly, we like to layer in a hint of the dramatic. My people are a dramatic people. It’s genetic and inescapable. In my brother’s family, even the dog is dramatic. Unlike most dogs, their dog, Fred, hates going outside. The tiny hypo-allergenic pooch starts to shake with terror the moment he catches a glimpse of his harness and leash. Here’s a pic of the dog trying to avoid a trip out into the snow and cold by faking, yes faking, a paw injury. Apparently, the dog does this every time he’s confronted with the terror of venturing outdoors. Oy!
So the weekend kitchen challenges had to incorporate art, science and drama.
For snacks, we selected a spherical theme. (Everything below is like OTT fattening…don’t judge. They’re very thin, active kids).
Monkey Bread: artistic abilities tapped as we strategically placed dough balls in a pie plate.
I’m not sure why it’s called monkey bread…It should maybe be called super fattening, sugary, buttery bread balls of gooey goodness. We carefully melted an entire stick of butter and then stirred in brown and white sugars and cinnamon. Once the sugars disolve, the resulting gooeyness is creatively poured over every inch of the dough balls before the entire thing is baked in the oven.
Next….Not too dramatic or scientific…but, creative and relatively goodish for the kids and satisfying our spherical theme…We made spinach party poppers. One might argue that the spinach element balanced out our not so healthy Super Bowl weekend indulgences of guac and chips, monkey bread, pancake breakfast etc. One might argue that for sure.
Spinach Party Poppers. may be the best way to get kids to eat spinach. And, represented the vegetable portion of our weekend food fest.
Satisfying the scientific challenge was probably the toughest part. In advance of my arrival, my nephew had proposed a series of molecular gastronomy recipes (damn Internet). All of the recipes included ingredients you just can’t get at the local Kroger like Sodium Alginate, Agar-Agar and Calcium Lactate. Some of the recipes included tools not found in most kitchens like an ISI Whip or a Flux Capacitor…at least it may as well have called for one.
We tried to find what we needed. We even called every Brookstone in a 25 mile radius looking for the Molecular Gastronomy kit…And, some super gourmet organic-y food specialty store in Kentucky in hopes of finding any one of the necessary ingredients or tools. But, no go.
So…as we had no ISI Whip we improvised and used a medical syringe to create mozzarella balloons. In the end, the cheesy balloons were as simple as heating up the mozzarella in simmering water. Then wrapping the malleable cheese around the tip of a syringe and inflating the cheese with air. My nephew initially wanted to use my brother’s bike pump – but, if you’ve seen ‘This is 40’, you know no self-respecting 40-something biking enthusiast father would allow that.
These were pretty cool. In the Molecular Gastronomy recipe, one can fill the balloons with herbs, spices or other tantalizing aromas by infusing them through the ISI Whip….We were just happy to inflate the cheese and then proudly display the inflated cheese creation.
I like that the little people are like real people now. I’m a little biased, and they really are challenging, interesting, interested, funny, smart, creative great kids. In total over the course of three days, we made over 10 culinary creations. And, even though every dish might not have met the artistic, scientific, dramatic challenge, cooking with these two was really a ball.