We had a good day today. Some friends were out of town and we got to spend the day with their three children (9, 7, and 3). At some point during the day I thought I could blog about this and I asked the kids, If you were going to have a secret name--like if you were playing spies--what name would you pick? Like Dancing Girl or something. "Falcon Claw, that would be good," said the 9 year old. The three year old, who was having a moment of partial lucidity in the midst of a 2.5 hour nap, said "Nothing. I don't want anything." So I'll dub him Young Friend. And we'll go with Dancing Girl for the friend in the middle. (And I hope their mother, who is a lurking reader of these posts, doesn't mind the pseudonyms!)
We cooked a lot: we had Pretend Soup, Curious Girl's new cookbook, so that the kids could be head chefs as we made quesadillas for dinner (Pretend Soup has pictographic recipes so everyone can "read" directions--this is a must-have for cooking kids, not b/c of the recipes but b/c of the pictographs), and Falcon Claw had his own new cookbook out, Emeril Lagasse's There's a Chef in My Soup. The granola version of the indulgent babysitter is one who says "sure, we can cook another recipe from your book," every time the child proposes one. So we cooked egg salad, oven baked french fries (which were truly amazing; I'll post the recipe tomorrow), and big chocolate chip cookies from the Emeril book. And we baked whole wheat bread from New Recipes from Moosewood. Somewhere along the line Politica painted Dancing Girl and Curious Girl's nails (5 colors per hand!).
The funny thing about all the cooking was the different household norms. The children all have pretty similar temperments and play together beautifully. But our friends' children are considerably tidier than Curious Girl (even factoring in that two of them are older). This was their first experience with bread baking from scratch and at first they were taken aback by the profligate use of flour. "It's messy!" said Falcon Claw. "You're wasting!" said Young Friend every time flour fell on the floor. But they got into the kneading and we had lots of fun making predictions about what the dough was going to do every time it went into the oven to rise and finally bake. And we had lots of math practice, since we couldn't find measuring cups the right size, and thus had to figure out how to measure a quarter cup using a half cup measure, or how to get a half cup using quarter cup measures. And we had opportunities to problem-solve: if you want to make chocolate chip cookies, but you can't find chocolate chips (but do find a bar of baking chocolate), what do you do? (answer: take a can of baked beans, put the chocolate bar in a baggie, put the baggie on the floor, and bang away with the beans. Smashed chocolate makes great cookies). I was amused by the running conversation regarding messes. While Curious Girl was all about taking the flour to make "sand castles," Falcon Claw had a running commentary. "It's OK to make a mess, because we can clean it up. When you make bread, you have a flour mess. But it's OK. Messes happen when you cook. Even for professional chefs." I loved listening to the running adaptation to this new situation; they were so game to try things my way.
Flour mess angst aside, our young chefs were very, very proud of their work. The food was great! We had great mealtimes because everyone had had a hand in the food, literally. And the friendship was wonderful. Towards the end of the evening Falcon Claw and Dancing Girl were inventing all kinds of games to keep Young Friend and Curious Girl entertained--they had cool scenarios and jumping patterns lined up (something about imaginary tokens conveying the right to jump X jumps along this pile of pillows or Y jumps along the other. It didn't make too much sense from an adult perspective, but it was clearly loads of fun for the kids). It made me happy to see the four children having such a good time, and it was fun for us to see the kids without their parents. I realized that Dancing Girl is really a pretty good artist, and I realized how much Falcon Claw likes to cook. And Young Friend and Curious Girl are just fun to watch. It was a good day, and I'm tired. Happy tired.