I was scouring Pinterest for recipes to make for my little family of three, and it dawned on me
I’ve really never cooked with the smallest member — my 2-year-old daughter Ruth. Sure, she’s been in the kitchen while I’ve cooked for her, but I’d never cooked with her.
This is why … I’m kind of a fanatic when it comes to cooking. Not that I have any intricate knowledge of the culinary arts (I just learned how to poach an egg last month), but rather, I feel an intense drive to not only make the food as excellent as possible, but to also have it all ready at the exact same moment. But a toddler does not a productive kitchen make.
With Father’s Day coming up, I figured now was a great time to put my weird neuroses behind me, and try something new with my daughter. We would attempt to recreate two recipes, and the artfully styled Pinterest photos that accompanied them (and yes, with a toddler co-chef). The main course was Mozzarella, Tomato, and Basil Pizza, as my wife and I started making pizza after our trip to Italy, but haven’t sat down to make one with Ruth. This would be a nice way to share it with her. And the dessert was Chocolate Semifreddo because we like making themed suppers.
I found that while cooking with my daughter, you have to give in and let it go (you’re singing the Frozen theme song, now, aren’t you?). I knew this going in. That doesn’t mean I was successful. I constantly had to curb my mild reprimands and urge to do everything myself.To commence our activity, we started with a few ingredients that are a must for toddlers: a step stool, good background music (for you, not her), aprons (forgot those this time, whoops), and a helper that can do dishes after.
First came the semifreddo (inspiration pictured below), and Ruth was pumped to see all the chocolate as I chopped the bars into chunks. Her toddler urges to spill, tamper, and whine were all subdued by the various samplings she took of the chocolate chunks. Which was great, because I could give my full attention to the heating of the eggs and sugar.
When it came time to fold the mixtures together, I had to again, let it go, and let Ruth’s poor whisking form have at it, whipping the cream and chocolate together quite messily — but she loved it.
I had to remind myself of my least favorite aphorism — it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. For me, it’s all about the destination and the time in between should go as freakin’ fast as possible. But not with my child. With Ruth, I must cherish the journey, the growth, the messiness.
When she whisked sugar, chocolate, and egg fluid all over the counters, I tried my darndest to embrace the mess and enjoy watching her try — she really loved whisking, messy or not, whereas I view it as a means to an end. Maybe I should try and enjoy each part of the process? Maybe then I won’t grow an ulcer by the time I’m 33.
Ultimately, for the semifreddo, having those chocolate chunks as a useful distraction for the more complicated culinary moves was crucial. We popped the stuff in the freezer and moved on to making the pizza.
The dough was a huge success for Ruth. She could mash it, roll it, pick off bits to sample (gross, but she loved it). Plus, I could pretend like I was a real pizza mensch and flop the dough around like a pro. Letting Ruth place the toppings worked well too, as she made her very own pizza decorations and could feel ownership of our pie.
“Decorate” is a term very familiar to Ruth and it helped offset her desire to just eat the raw pizza.Now it was time to enjoy the food! Partly relieved to be done trying to simultaneously cook and wrangle Ruth, it was a nice respite to sit back and chow.
Of course, our pizza didn’t look quite as nice as the pizza from the Pinterest post, due to a 2-year-old’s meddling, but overall, the recipe turned out as expected.Once I popped them in the oven, I flipped the oven light on so Ruth could peek at the “za” as it baked. Around this time she started asking for salami, or peanut butter, or anything to eat for dinner. All this cooking made her hungry.
This is a nice opportunity to teach your child about the virtue of patience … or you could just give her some apple slices like I did.For the pizza (inspiration pictured below), I have my own dough recipe that I got from my favorite cookbook. I figured that I already knew exactly how to make it, so why not just use it since I’ll also be wrangling my daughter?
The toddler loved it. Ruth could use her hands without reprimand and eat her slice however she wanted. She likes to pick some tomato off, nibble on some cheese, take a bite of crust. She’s a roundabout pizza eater and enjoyed pointing out and naming all the ingredients we’d put onto the pizza.
However your pizza turns out — in our case, it was delicious — you’ll always have the time you spent together in the kitchen. As we ate, I talked with Ruth about all we did. Remember the whisks, Ruth? Ruth: “I spilled the flour!” It was nice to see her take away the concept of waiting for the pizza to cook. She’d tell me, “We have to wait,” while the pizza baked in the oven as if I was the one begging for a snack in the meantime.
Then came dessert. We got the semifreddo looking pretty close to the Pinterest photo, if I do say so myself. Though it didn’t scoop easily into a cone, with some effort, it could be fitted nicely into a cone. A spoon straight to the frozen container also works just fine.
The activity turned out to be the perfect father-daughter experience we needed. Cooking with a toddler is messy and stilted, but it’s quality time to chat, teach, and even learn from the child — why not take another sample of melted chocolate? It’s experiences like these that remind me that I need to slow down, embrace the mess and chaos of toddler-dom, and enjoy this tiny creature in all facets of our life together.