Cooking with grandchildren: Make the kitchen a classroom

Cooking with grandchildren: Make the kitchen a classroom

Each year, families spend a lot of time in the kitchen together during the holidays. These moments not only make happy memories, but can be teachable moments as well, where grandchildren can learn valuable knowledge about the world around them.

Cooking and baking can be enjoyable pastimes for grandkids and grandparents who incorporate science in fun, interactive ways, ranging from the basics of measurements to thermodynamics and beyond. 

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Pleasing a picky eater—or trying to

Bubby is a picky eater. The pickiest, finicky-est little eater I've ever met. That fact has been on my mind lately as I consider the places we'll visit, the activities we'll do, and the food we'll eat when Bubby and Baby Mac stay at Gramma's house in a couple weeks.

I can come up with places to visit. I have no problem figuring out activities to do. Food, though? Well, that's a whole other realm, one in which I'm not as savvy as I thought I might be.

When I visited Bubby and Baby Mac a few months ago, Megan gave me free reign to come up with the meals on my own, with no dictation from her. She did, though, offer a few chuckles when I told her my menu plans. "Well, if you can get him to eat any of that, I'll be the first asking for the recipe," she said in a knowing tone.

I wasn't offering up weird things. In fact, I thought I'd chosen far more kid-friendly fare than what health-conscious Megan typically offers.

Bubby still hated most of it.

My hot dog loving grandson balked at the pigs in the blanket, tearing off every bit of bread while saying, "I only like my hot dogs plain, Gramma." Bubby also loves ham and cheese sandwiches as well as grilled cheese sandwiches. So I figured we'd have grilled ham and cheese for one dinner, to which he very quickly and very adamantly made it clear he does not love grilled cheese sandwiches anymore. "I only like ham, cheese, mayo on white and not grilled," he let me know.

Considering such complaints, I immediately altered my plans for most meals with Bubby. There were a few things, though, did work, were eaten, were enjoyed. Here's are the minor successes I had and the things I'm considering serving again when Bubby visits this month.

Fish soft tacos. Not what you'd imagine a finicky kid eating. Because Bubby loves fish sticks, though, it was simple enough to bake up some fish sticks, throw a few on a tortilla with some shredded cheddar and cubed avocado and viola! Fish tacos. Sure, tomatoes and lettuce would have been nice, but although Bubby loves avocado, he doesn't care for lettuce or tomatoes. Go figure. At least he ate a couple tacos his way. Success!

Triple P kebobs. What? you may ask. Well, Bubby does like pork and pineapple and peppers. And alphabet activities. So I threw the three foods starting with P on a skewer and broiled them. Then I scooted them off the skewer for Bubby to eat. Turns out he no longer likes pineapple but he does like pork and peppers. (See what I mean? Odd child likes peppers over pineapple.) Sort of success...which was good enough for me.

Grape skewers. Continuing the skewer theme, I'd pinned on Pinterest an idea for putting grapes on skewers and freezing them for a frosty and nutritious snack. We packed them for a picnic in the park. They were a perfect complement to the peanut butter sandwiches (no jelly; crusts cut off!) we also packed. Success again!

Colored pasta. Megan eschews anything with carbs, so Bubby rarely gets pasta. I was pretty sure he'd like to give it a shot—the kid did once upon a time like mac and cheese—and there'd be no denying the allure of colored noodles like ones I'd seen on Pinterest. So I boiled up some rotini, drained and splashed with a bit of EVOO, divided it between baggies, squirted a different food coloring into each baggie, squished the noodles around until fairly evenly coated, then returned all bags to one happy and colorful pot. Success! Bubby liked it, he really liked it. Because he liked it, those colored carbs were served as a side for more than one a lunch. (Though that's one recipe I'm pretty sure Megan hasn't repeated since I left, considering the whole carb thing and all.)

My other culinary successes with Bubby had to do with snacks. He's not quite as picky when it comes to those, so my regular ol' Muddy Buddies recipe was well received. And eaten. Believe me, with cereal as its base, I considered serving up a cup of Muddy Buddies for breakfast. I didn't, though. I promise.

The other sweet treat Bubby (and Mom and Dad) loved? Confetti popcorn! This stuff is so good, my friends. So good that after seeing how simple it is to make and how quickly Megan and Preston Bubby ate it up, I made a batch when I got home. Jim and Brianna ate it just as quickly as the desert dwellers.

I found the recipe on Pinterest and it goes, pretty much, like this: Pop enough popcorn to make about nine cups or so. Add salt if you want, and set the popcorn aside in a BIG bowl. Melt six ounces of white candy coating, such as the blocks you get in the baking aisle, or you can use white chocolate chips. Once melted, pour over the popcorn and stir carefully and quickly to coat popcorn evenly. Once coated, sprinkle confetti/candy topping (for cookies and such) on the popcorn. Then spread popcorn out on waxed paper to dry, adding a little extra confetti if desired. Eat once dried...or while drying, if you can't resist. Yum! Success!

Other than repeating those things, I'm still considering what to make for Bubby while he's here. Megan and I have tried pretty much every kid-friendly food you can imagine plus several non-kid-friendly for good measure. But if you have a secret dish or delight you found works with the pickiest of the picky, I'd love to hear it. I'm hoping to get a few more successful meals under my belt this time around.

Today's question:

Got picky eaters? Got picky-eater pointers? Do share!

Some day is now

Like many mothers, things I wanted to do and achieve for myself during the childrearing years were put on the backburner in favor of what my kids wanted, what they needed. In a busy nest filled with babies to birth and bathe and feed and teach how to fly—protecting and doing my best to form them into fine, functioning, happy, kind and compassionate contributors to society—there was no time to consider much less execute my plans for personal goals. So they were set aside, placed on a list of things I'll do some day.

Some day arrived last Saturday. With a nest that's been empty for some time now, I finally—finally, I say—plucked one of the items from my "Some Day I'll..." list, gathered the goods, and accomplished something I had been wanting to do for years.

I made bagels.

Homemade bagels.

From scratch. The kneading, the forming, the boiling, the topping with yummy cheeses and cinnamon (not on the same ones, of course), and the baking to golden perfection. I did it all.

Yes, indeed, I made bagels.

And yes, indeed, they turned out awesome.

So awesome, in fact, that I called Jim out of bed earlier than he wished to be called on a Saturday morning. "Come look at what I made for breakfast," I coaxed him. "I'm so proud of myself! You will be, too!" And he was.

I texted my three daughters with photos of my achievement. They oohed and aahed and said "Yum!" and Brianna texted, "Can I come over for breakfast?" And she did. And I shared.

And I grabbed my camera to share my bagelicious beauties with you, too. 

See what I mean? They look good enough to rival those we spent years and years purchasing from the bakery, the bagel shop. I can honestly say—and Jim and Brianna concur—they tasted as good as they look. So not only will I share with you the photo, I'll share with you the recipe, too.

This is a combined recipe, a melding of one from Taste of Home Cooking School Cookbook and the one included with my bread maker. Yes, I used the bread maker for the kneading, so this recipe is geared toward placing the ingredients in that, but you could surely make them without one.

Homemade Bagels

1 1/4 cups warm milk

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 egg yolk

4 cups bread flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast or bread machine yeast

Melted butter, for brushing on tops

Toppings such as cinnamon sugar, cheese slices (I used cheddar, colby/jack, and pepper jack), poppy seeds, sesame seeds, onion bits, if desired

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place all ingredients except melted butter and toppings in machine in order listed, making a well in the flour for the yeast. Let the machine knead the dough one time (about 10 minutes), then turn off machine and let dough rise 20 minutes in the machine.

On floured surface, divide dough into 12 circles. Push your thumb through center of each circle to make the hole, and stretch to form bagel shape. Place circles on a well-greased baking sheet, cover, and let rise for 15 to 20 minutes.

In nonaluminum pan, slightly boil two inches of water. Slowly submerge three or four bagels at a time into the water. Cook for about 30 seconds on one side then flip and cook about 30 seconds on the other. Carefully remove bagels with slotted spoon and place on wire racks to let excess water drip off.

Place bagels back onto well-greased baking sheet. Brush tops with butter then add toppings, if desired. Bake 8-10 minutes or until slightly browned.

Makes 12 medium bagels (though I ended up with 13 because one of the 12 was huge so I divided it)

A little time consuming, yes. But hard? Not at all. And definitely worth it. I kept asking myself—after Should I have another...and another?—why in the world I didn't try making bagels sooner. Like when my bagel-loving daughters were still at home. They shouldn't have been placed on a some day list, they should have been made now, even back when the now seemed so impossibly busy.

Those boiled and baked delights have me looking at my some day list in a new light. In a nest emptied of kids but filled with time and possibility, there's no stopping me now. That's the kind of wild woman I've become, by golly—a wild, homemade-bagel-making woman, that is.

Like I said: There's no stopping me now.

Today's question:

What's your favorite kind of bagel? Have you ever tried making them yourself?

Tried-and-true treats

I spend a lot of time gathering ideas for activities I can pack into my grandma bag and tote to the desert to entertain my grandsons. I have a Pinterest board filled with elaborate GRAND ideas, and I have a bookshelf packed with even more.

Sometimes, though, falling back on the tried and true is just as much fun. And just as much fun to photograph, too.

I'm speaking specifically about Rice Krispies Treats, which Bubby and I made together last time I got to be grandma-at-the-wheel at his place. It made for a surprisingly simple and sweet time, largely because I had the process down pat.

If it's been a while and you don't recall the recipe for the easy-peasy treats off the top of your head, the ingredients are:

• 3 tablespoons butter or margarine

• 10-ounce package regular marshmallows (or 4 cups miniature marshmallows)

• 6 cups Rice Krispies cereal

Because sprinkles—on cookies, ice cream, cakes, you name it—are a favorite of Bubby's, I jazzed up the process by including a shaker of various sprinkles for Bubby to shake on top of the treats.

Megan thought making the treats in mini-muffin cups would create perfectly portioned servings for Bubby. So we washed our hands, I sprayed the muffin pan plus a dish for the remaining (the recipe makes a lot), and we set to work.

First, Bubby dumped the marshmallows into the bowl.

I added the butter and set aside.

Bubby then dumped the Rice Krispies into another bowl.

Together we watched the marshmallows and butter melt in the microwave, stirring occasionally til smooth. Then I stirred together the fixings and quickly pressed it into the muffin molds and dish. Bubby immediately got to work at the shaking and sprinkling.

The final step was one that must never be forgotten when preparing food with a grandchild: licking the spoon...or the beaters...or the bowl. In this case, it was a spatula, and Bubby clearly mastered the step.

Still sticky and sweet, we were ready to share. Voila! Rice Krispies Treats!

Fun to make. Fun to photograph. And especially fun to eat.

Today's question:

When did you last make Rice Krispies Treats?

This post has been linked to WOW Us Wednesday.

Cooking up memories

For many people, regardless of age, their memories of Grandma have her firmly positioned in the kitchen, cooking and baking up goodies that will forever hold a place in the hearts and tastebuds of her grandchildren.

I don't have such memories. I don't recall a single dish made by either of my grandmothers. I'm certain they cooked and baked and canned and did all those other culinary things grandmas do, but I don't remember any of it. I don't remember the taste, the aroma, the aprons worn, the utensils stirring, the old-fashioned appliances whirring.

My one and only food-related memory of a grandmother is the billions of blueberries my siblings and cousins and I would pick for my grandma on my dad's side, handfuls of them dropped into plastic ice cream pails alternated with handfuls of berry goodness popped into my mouth when I thought no one was looking. I clearly recall the buckets upon buckets of berries, yet I remember not a single instance of eating any blueberry goodies once the buckets were turned over to Grandma.

I want things to be different for my grandchildren. I want Bubby -- and Birdy and all others to come -- to have cherished memories of my cooking, my baking, my physical manifestations of love and adoration served up every time we were together.

I want my grandchildren to think of Gramma each time they smell cookies baking in the oven, each time they spread their peanut-butter sandwiches with jelly, each time they order macaroni-and-cheese from their favorite diner.

Bubby is not yet three years old. In those few years, we've been fortunate to share food and fun in the kitchen. I've had him help me bake chocolate-chip cookies. I've gifted him with my Christmas Spritz. I've treated him to jars of my homemade pomegranate jelly. And together we made dinner mints for Thanksgiving.

Thankfully, there's more to come soon. In exactly two weeks I'll be spending five days in the desert with Bubby. While there, I plan to bake for him my version of his current favorite dish: a super-easy, extra-cheesy macaroni and cheese.

For the visit, I've purchased a special grandma apron to throw into my Grandma Bag, and I'm mentally compiling a list of other goodies from my reportoire Bubby might enjoy while I'm there.

As a grandma who remembers very little of her own grandmothers, I say it's never too soon to start cooking up some memories.

Consider the cooking begun.

Today's question:

What food do you most associate with your grandmother?