When I thought about having kids, one of the things I looked forward to the most was having them help me in the kitchen. Some of my best childhood memories were cozying up with my mom at the kitchen counter while she rolled out a pie dough or made cookies. I loved being covered in flour, the delicious smells of the warm oven, and (of course), tasting the batter at each stage.
With my crazy cake hobby that has developed in the past few years, my girls have had lots of opportunities to cozy up with me as well during my baking endeavors. They have licked innumerable wooden spoons and I try to invite them to participate with my projects…if my patience allows it. Unfortunately, when time is an issue (and it often is), I end up shooing them out into the backyard more often than having them step up to the mixing bowl. Sometimes your parenting expectations do have to compromise with reality- let’s be honest.
7-year-old Penny has especially become interested in cooking and baking lately, and has offered more and more help out in the kitchen. We have such an amazing experience as parents to watch our babies grow from being spoon-fed reliant creatures to full-blown little people who can make their own scrambled eggs for breakfast. Penny made us dinner the other night: Butternut squash mac and cheese (from scratch), fruit salad, broccoli, and cresent rolls. Not to be cliché, but it is absolutely true that children grow up so fast. I am often left shaking my head in wonder at these little people in my house and how they got there.
With Penny’s independence growing in the kitchen, she has been eager to take on projects herself. She is no longer satisfied just being “mommy’s helper”- she wants to be project manager and will invite me to help if needed. So when her daddy’s birthday approached, she wanted to take on the star baker role and give me a bit of a break. I was happy to oblige.
She began by creating a plan, following what she must have observed me doing before a big cake project. She chose a theme (a Tetris cake as requested by Daddy), created a sketch and broke down the steps for the project on her calendar. She counted down the days for “cake week,” asking me almost everyday, “Do I get to start Daddy’s cake yet?”
Finally the week arrived, and she could hardly wait to get started. I tied on her pink, ruffly apron and stepped back while she dived into the biggest project of her life so far.
She kept it simple and made a cake from a box- hey, it’s how I started and the directions are simple enough for her to read and follow almost completely by herself.
Opps! Too much oil…we are still learning how to read the measuring cups and fractions.
Daddy requested funfetti at the last minute, so she added sprinkles to her vanilla cake batter
We encourage her to learn how to use the oven, stove and knives safely. Trusting her with these items is so important in helping her gain confidence in herself.
Ramona is currently not very interested in helping in the kitchen (it comes and goes in phases)- but she designated herself at the “Official Taste Tester,” as usual.
While the cake was baking, Penny got started on her marshmallow fondant. A few marshmallows may have escaped into her mouth…and mine.
Cake is done! The Easter Bunny brought her some adorable kid-sized oven mitts, just perfect for the job.
After combining the melted marshmallows and powdered sugar, it’s time to knead…ok, and maybe play a little bit…fondant is really so much fun to work with!
We say it’s done when you spank it and it feels like a baby’s bottom. Is that weird…?
At this point, she had finished her cake goals for the day and went to work on another important project: saving the world. Penny had recently been made aware at school that sharks are becoming endangered because of cruel fishing practices. She immediately became very passionate about educating everyone, including the neighborhood, about this terrible injustice. So she created a sign and stood on the sidewalk to include the world on her crusade to help the sharks.
The sign says (if you can’t read it: “Save sharks! It ufeks (effects) the earth! Do not kill sharks! If we kill the food chane will be roiog (wrong)! Help the sharks! Help the sharks! Do not cut the fin off! By Penny. To the nabrhood.”
Thanks Penny, I’m sure the sharks appreciate it. And also, I will bring this up for the rest of your life.
Onward to the next phase of the cake!
Micah’s birthday was on a Friday so Penny had to do all the work on her cake after school each day. But as the reality of our weeknight schedule caught up to us (karate class, church groups, etc), I knew there was no way she was going to be able to finish it on time. So after considering that she has had nearly perfect attendance this year, I was good with pulling her out of school for a day to make this thing happen. She goes to a Montessori school, so they would practically consider this type of project as good as school anyway.
I was really impressed with how well Penny did with this tricky part- covering a cake with fondant can be a little overwhelming, but she was pretty confident because she had watched me do it countless times (a massively thick coating of cornstarch and powdered sugar helped too)
Creating details- notice her little sketched design to the right?
While Penny worked on her own project, I whipped my own little treat to drop off at Micah’s classroom for his students. I have to say, these cookies and cream cupcakes turned out crazy good.
Let’s take an honesty pause: these pictures make the whole process look not only adorable, but as if it were the perfect mother/daughter bonding experience. But children are complicated creatures and the days of “cake week” were also fraught with mixed emotions from Penny. She was dedicated to finishing, but she often mourned over her loss of playtime. She grew jealous at Ramona for having a playdate with a friend while she worked in the kitchen and dissolved into tears over her conflicted feelings. I nearly regretted my decision to give her the “treat” of skipping school and may have been less than empathetic at times.
But when I took a step back, I just realized she was simply going through the emotions that I always do when I take on a cake: excitement and inspiration balanced with some serious stress and a battle with the clock. I tried to breathe and have some grace.
Here she is struggling through the last day- she was so worried she wouldn’t finish by the time Micah got home, but once she rolled up her sleeves and started working, she really got into her zone. I think she always thought it looked so fun to make a cake when she watched in wonder from the sidelines. Now she really appreciates just how much work Mommy does to make a fancy cake.
Practice piping- she is a born natural!
The last step…
All done! Dressed up and ready to show off her masterpiece at our birthday dinner party with our friends, the Rydmarks.
We were celebrating Micah’s 34th birthday and she did the numbers in true Tetris style. I love how she made the little cue in the corner just like in the game.
Penny revealed her cake with great anticipation from her Daddy, and he gave her the perfect thrilled response. She grinned as he looked in draw-dropped amazement, assuring him that she did it “all by herself.” I can honestly look at her cake and say that I barely had any part (other than pitching in to dye the large piece of blue fondant- it takes some serious elbow grease). Even though she had bumps along the way, she walked away feeling accomplished with herself and her cake- which is way more important than all of the bursting pride we had for her on that day.
It really is incredible what children can do if you give them the opportunity.
I just can’t wait to see what else our little Penny Scout will do with this beautiful life ahead of her. Will she become a world-renown pastry chef? A major shark-rights activist? Whatever she becomes, I’m counting myself lucky to have such a determined, creative, and inquisitive daughter. Micah and I can only take a little bit of the credit- mostly I’m just thanking God for the gift of Penny and for the overwhelming and awesome responsibility to help shape the person she is to become.
Now remember everyone, if you see a shark: do not cut the fin off!