Cooking Lessons with Chicken Little

Clearly it’s an exaggeration, but it’s the nearest I can get to convey the abject panic in the kitchen. Kitchen’s are fraught with dangers for the unwary and the ever so slightly paranoid. The motivation is clear and present, the desire to create something yummy but the overwhelming amount of angst that swirls around the kitchen soon have us both heading up the vortex.

This is primarily due to my own ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time and feed the OCD beast within.

Throughout this exercise there is the underlying ghost of tactile defensiveness, the abhorrence of dirty hands. I think there may well be a smidge of this phenomenon in many of us. It’s the reaction we feel when the unexpected happens. We stroll along on our own sweet way, when out of nowhere we find something deeply offensive on our skin. The sensation is so vile that it shocks the conscience, enough to see your own hand in 3-D, ten times it’s normal size, pulsating and alien. It’s the same as being in a concrete car park with no leaf to act as a wipe, no grass to scrape it off, where your only option is to sacrifice your top or your trousers and remain half clad. It’s the preferable option. Slightly preferable to the temptation to chop off the appendage and run away because you forgot to pack your machete. Or at least that’s my interpretation of what I witness daily.

***

The oven farts as the temperature rises, “what is dat sound is being?”
“Oh it’s just the stove coming up to 325. It sounds like it’s about to explode but it won’t.”
“Itz gonna explode? Agh!”
“No, no , no, it’s just a figure of speech. Lets go and crack the eggs, your favourite bit. Stand on the step but don’t wobble or fall off.”
“I am fall off and be hurted myself?”
“No, no, no. Here, concentrate on the eggs. Crack them on the post in the middle of the Cuisinart as it’s less messy but be careful you don’t cut yourself on the blade.”
“I am gonna cut my fingers off?”
“No, no, no. Here lets grease the pan shall we?”
“Grease is dah disgustin. I don wan dah disgustin on my bread!”
It may be only 72 degrees in my Californian kitchen but the beads of stress make it feel like a tinder box. At each and every step we meet with the unexpected or rather the ‘not thoroughly researched and prepared in advance.’ His progress in the art of chefdom is hampered greatly but the adult sized disposable gloves that hang like condoms from each finger. I am now deeply uncertain if this compromise really is an improvement on the alternative two minute hand washing ritual?
As we spoon the mixture into the pan the whole kitchen looks like a war zone but his excitement is palpable. He smacks his lips with exaggerated anticipation and an air of mischief as a centimeter of tongue protrudes.
“You’re not supposed to lick the spoons with the raw cake mixture these days or you might get Salmonella poisoning.” I look at his little furrowed brow. A child who has only eaten real food for about 6 months of his little life, and maybe a baker’s dozen of eggs. Do I really want to wipe out his digestive system with raw eggs?
“I am gonna be poison?”
His eyes are on stalks having navigated the total nightmare of his mother’s death trap clangers. “Tell you what?”
“What?”
“Let’s lick the spoon and see if you get ill?” He looks at the smeared spoon just beneath his nostrils with the captivating combination of cinnamon, vanilla and sugar as fortunately zuchinni appear to have been overwhelmed by the other ingredients. “Do you think it’s worth the risk?” I watch as he squirms and racks his taut and tangled insides, both brain and body. “The hospital’s only a hop, skip and a jump away if anything goes wrong……” After much dog panting, eye squeezing and hand wringing he pounces, envelops the spoon with his mouth as little shivers, fire cracker through his elastic spine. I count, silently, although I’m not quite sure what I’m expecting. “Dat is dah greatest Chef’s triumph….even better dan Elephant Ears.”
“That good indeed!”
“Yes my chocolate chip zucchini bread is being manners from heaven!”

It’s cake actually, but that’s Americans for you.

Someone might be wondering where the other two were during this 30 minute marathon? That’s right! Electronics time was sacrificed in favour of cookery, although to be fair that probably added quite considerably to his angst.

My angst? Well I left out the fact that during this same period, with a cacophony of ‘electronic’s time’ musak, Mr. B was very kindly washing up in our very narrow galley kitchen. Mr. B, a Portuguese speaking Brazilian, had numerous questions regarding the English present tense imperfect. Thatcher had two accidents which needed attention, as puppy training can never be neglected. My daughter arrived home from work, hungry and determined to make cheese rolls in the very same kitchen. All conversational exchanges were fraught due to her waterlogged ears, a mild improvement upon water on the brain. It’s a miracle we all survived. And if that was you who kept phoning and leaving messages, then forgive me as I had the volume turned off.

p.s. I wrote that a week ago. I just thought you might be interested to know that he can now cook without using up a whole box of disposable gloves. I hope Mother Earth takes pity on environmental whores like me?

Here’s a “link” to the recipe we used for “Zucchini Bread” or rather Courgette Cake. We added a cup[ish] of chopped up mangled Walnuts and half a cup of chocolate chips. It’s very, very sweet.


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Autism and loss


If you have an autistic child, you lose a great many things. Parents of autistic children are martyr's of self sacrifice. I for one, would be the first to lie down and let my children trample all over me. [translation = deep proprioceptive input] Some of those sacrifices are huge and important. Other things are tiny and insignificant.

One of the most hugest things that I lost, by having autistic children, was the joy of creating a birthday cake, once a year for each child. Matching the cake to the child, chocolate for one, lemon for another and…….well no cake at all for him, come to think of it. To make the perfect cake to match the perfect child, is no mean feat. Although I fancy myself as quite a baker, if truth be told, I am but a mere amateur.

Once you have chosen the perfect cake, you have the delight of toying with the perfect frosting, the endless possibilities and combinations. The only greater pleasure in making the perfect cake, with the perfect frosting, is decorating the perfect cake perfectly. None of that shop bought rubbish around here, on no. We have far more exacting standards. [translation = self imposed]

It was alright when they were little. [translation = less discerning] I could make a cake shaped like a banana, [translation = a preferred food] or a house, [translation = indifferent] or an ark, [translation = animals are o.k. as long as you avoid bears] generic story book characters, [translation = as long as it's not associated with any specific illustration] But as they grew older, unless I could create a perfect replica of Thomas and his rabble or Pokemons and their gangs, then I'm afraid my efforts really wouldn't do at all.

Whilst it looks close enough to you and me, for other people, it was a travesty, a sham and an inferior interloper. No room for an artsy approximation. [translation = creative license withdrawn, and non renewable] No matter how hard I tried, I was always going to miss the mark. Unless it was perfect, [translation = uniformly manufactured] it was trash.

How does one solve such a difficulty? How can one advance one's cake making skills to meet ever higher standards? Will this be the end of life as we know it, if home made birthday cakes are allowed to slip away from our grasp? Will my psyche remain intact if I am barred from performing this act of maternal devotion?

Maybe.

The solution? Well for me, or for us, the answer was complete parental capitulation. Buy the cake and stick a plastic something or other on there. Result = perfection and perfect happiness. How does one cope with this change in events, this new status quo? Mourn the loss of love at this unique offering? Perhaps, but alternatively, I can count the hours of labour that I've saved, [translation = days] whilst I sit down and pretend to eat 'shop bought' cake with a happy person. [translation = but only after I've washed the plastic decoration to a sterile standard]

Afterall, cake is severely “over-rated.”
Now I know that there are a few amongst us, who are of a “scientific disposition” and doubt my powers of deductive reasoning, logic and conclusion.

For those who need such proof, I can only say that given my mathematical genius, I am happy to supply the proof that you crave so desperately, with the following formula.

If we allow for all possible variables such as ‘sweat of brow,’ strain on bifocals, challenge to fine motor skills of the elderly, permitting, plus or minus additional factors of grey hair, wrinkles and blood pressure, not to dismiss or in any way devalue the contribution of the co-efficient of excessive stirring causing pain to a factor of 3.33 recurring, recognised in the well known medical condition of housemaids’s knee, or should that be elbow[?] as a ratio against the happiness of a child, measured to a standard deviation, not to be confused with deviance, the result adds up……perfectly.

Please feel free to supply your own formula together with your workings in full by return.


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Let them eat brioche!

I am faced with a moral dilemma of gargantuan proportions. [translation = as well as a minor etiquette issue] Tis the season of school wind down when invitations proliferate. Kindly folk at the school wish to offer thanks to their volunteers and show their appreciation for inadequate services rendered.

I find this a particularly delightful element of the American psyche. British people generally believe that they have a complete monopoly in the polite department, in both quality and quantity. Yet I do not ever remember experiencing such an outpouring of well wishes for minor services. [translation = although things may have changed in that last couple of decades]

One of my favourite authors, “Mr.Bill Bryson” has also remarked, much more eloquently upon these perceived differences.

I now find that in addition to the above, I, as well as all the other mother's, have been invited to attend a 'Mother's Day Celebration' in Junior's class. I am led to believe that the sub-plot to this deal, is cake eating. I have two difficulties here. Firstly, following jaw surgery and an extravagant amount of elastic bands, I am unable to eat solid food. Secondly, even if I were able to eat solid food, 'cake' would not be high on my 'preferred' list of gastronomic delights. [translation = it would come directly after chocolate covered cockroaches] Whilst I am more than happy to bake cakes, decorate cakes and give cakes away, I cannot even recall when I last had occasion to force myself to consume the dratted stuff.

Cake by it's very nature suffers from several fatal flaws. Now don’t get all distracted here, as I know that the ghost of ‘fruit cake’ has descended upon my erstwhile little American pals. Perish the thought! [translation = for reasons that are still not entirely clear to me, just the words ‘fruit cake’ are a cause for gurgles of hilarity on this continent.] Ban the vision of fruit cake and replace with American cake e.g. ‘white cake,’ or pound cake, especially as the latter is available on both continents and is the same. For those who are not bakers, pound cake is not dollar cake here, as the ‘pound’ refers to weight, not the rate of exchange.

The first flaw, is that cake is sweet. This puts it in one of the highest categories of 'loathsome.' Additionally, cake is often smothered in a wide variety of sweet slime. [translation = frosting or icing, or sometimes both if you a truly unlucky] Slime of course takes the prime place on the 'loathsome' scale. [translation = slime and sweet combined, would trump the latter, so truly aversive as to be vomit inducing]

So what is a mother supposed to do in such situations? Refuse the invitation and avoid the whole issue? Attend, but refuse to eat the cake?

Tempted as I am by either or both solutions, I have to swallow my misgivings and attend anyway.

I sit on a chair the size of a Toadstool. To complicate matters still further, all my children are aware that I dislike cake. This particular son, favours chocolate cake with ganache, but never ventures from this preference.

We examine his cake offering. [translation = a muffin the size of Manhattan]
“It is dah big!”
“Indeed it is.”
“It is dah vanilla which is being dah white.” [translation = unnecessary, he is clearly bilingual]
“Too true.”
“Dah frostin is dah pink.”
“Quite so, the very worst colour in the entire universe.”
We continue to gaze at the confectionery piece. [translation = joint attention, a rare and truly under valued quality]
“I am finking.”
“You are? Thank you so much for telling me that! Can you tell me what you are thinking?”
“Dat maybe you are not liking to be eating dis.”
“You are such a thoughtful little chap. Thank you.”
Who would have guessed at the depth of his magnanimous nature? [translation = “Sally- Anne” can keep her dratted marbles]
“What we be doing about dis problem den?”
Self generated problem solving techniques! Be still my beating heart.
“Not a clue. A real toughy! Do you think we should throw ourselves on the floor and scream a bit?”
“No! Dat will not be dah helping. I fink we be needin dah compromise.”
It’s official, ‘compromize’ is now my favourite word, enough to allow a ‘z’ to take preference! What has happened to my child? Who has zapped him? What did they zap him with? [translation = undoubtedly self initiated]
“Maybe……maybe I am eating it for you?”
“Really! You'd do that for me?”
“It will be being dah new food for me I am finking.”
“I cannot believe your bravery, and all for me! Thank you.”

I watch him attempt tentative ‘eating.’ I resist the urge to nibble part of him and content myself with one hand entwined around his middle. He snuggled back onto my lap, his fingers tremble with the paper muffin case. [translation = tactile defensiveness people often hate the texture of paper, especially on highly sensitive little digits] I pull it off for him as he made his attempt and I don’t want to tempt fate. The muffin rests on my palm, a plate.

The tip of his tongue edges out to brush the frosting. He remains like that for some moments before he slowly retracts his tongue. As he does so a little electric current courses through his body and mine, but for different reasons. I break off a piece of the crumb, tiny and hold it for him. We repeat the exercise.

He turns sideways to tuck himself under my chin and wipe his mucky mouth and face on my pristine white T-shirt.

That’s it! I’m finished. [translation = done] Now I can die happy. [translation = all will be well]

Greater love hath no neophobic child, than to eat cake for his mum for Mother's Day. [Or any other day come to think of it]

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