The smell of baking got stronger and warmer and browner.

Maybe it’s a rainy day, maybe there’s rugby on we want to watch in the background, maybe I’m just too tired to leave the house but I need to find a way to keep M busy. Often my solution is to go to the kitchen and start baking. And in M’s own words he is turning into quite a good cooker.

M’s absolute favourite kitchen activity is to whip out the cookie cutters. I often do a double batch of dough and have some in the freezer ready for another day (see, sometimes I am organised!). He still needs a bit of help, and the cookies can get a bit ripped or squished; the teddy bear biscuits in particular tend to lose limbs during the process.

He can, under guidance, tip measured ingredients into bowls for mixing. He’s learning how to crack eggs, how to grate cheese and carrots, and we even let him do some chopping with a knife. I’ve been meaning to buy him one of these knives for kids but my to-do-list is quite…long.

I love having him help me in the kitchen; I used to love helping my Mum. She was an amazing cook. Because my sister has a long list of food intolerances (way before they became fashionable) bought biscuits were a ‘treat’. Mum somehow found the time to bake goods for our lunchboxes. If Mum made pastry there was always enough left over for us to play with, and maybe even a few raisins to stud it with before baking our creations. We learnt how to avoid overmixing muffins, test a cake was done, and whip up the perfect kiwi pavlova.

It is only now that I have M helping me that I see everything that my mother was teaching us.

‘And now we roll the dough into a rectangle. That means two long sides, and two short sides.’
Click. My mother was a high school maths teacher.
Geometry, measurements and ratios. Baking is basically maths.

Teaching our children shouldn’t be about being perfect. It’s not about instruction, or testing. It should be something we just do. Because children just learn. They absorb everything. They’ll do it whether we consciously teach them or not. Every day, every minute they spend with us they are learning. It’s a scary thought. Then I console myself with the thought that I am not trying to teach my son to be perfect. I’m trying to teach him to be human. That it is ok to make mistakes. That sometimes people get grumpy. That we can apologise afterwards. That we love each other, even though he doesn’t nap, and it’s getting late, and I’m tired, and can he just go into the bathroom and brush his fucking teeth?

After I started writing this (yeah, it takes me a looong time to type one-handed with a feeding baby), I saw an article about how to cook with your kids. I clicked. I’m a good blogger I thought. I’m doing ‘research’. I kid you not, the first three or four bullet-points were all about ensuring your kitchen was safe. Make sure any electrical cords are coiled tidely. Make sure anything sharp is out of reach. Make sure you’ve got everything out and ready, and a clear space for utensils once they are dirty. What are the kids doing while you spend half an hour fretting about what to do with your kettle cord? Playing nicely? My kitchen bench is half-pantry overflow, half dirty dishes, half crumbs (wait, that’s too many halves, what would my mother say?) I’d never get anything done if I had to organise a perfect cooking space first. Besides if I don’t teach my son that knives exist and you really shouldn’t touch the pointy metal bit, who will? So for now, I’m just going to leave it dangerously within reach.

My baking certainly isn’t pinterest-perfect. I don’t buy into the ‘clean eating’ that has become so popular. Our cakes are #loadedwithgluten #fullofrefinedsugar. Partly because sugar, is sugar, is sugar. And partly because while we do OK, it’s just way too expensive to use only ground almonds and maple syrup instead. Who knows what the future will be like for my children; what food security they will have. I imagine they will have years that are ‘leaner’ than others. It’s more important to me that they learn the basics of cooking, so they are able to make a cake for a special occasion or cook a nice dinner to impress a date, than feeding them some ideal diet now.

Sometimes we have spills, and mess. Sometimes it takes M ages to individually place every potato wedge I’ve chopped on to the tray, while I fret because I know he’ll be complaining he’s hungry before they’ve cooked. Sometimes he eats way too much biscuit dough. Sometimes I get exasperated at his insistence he can do everything himself, because he can’t, because he’s three. But we keep getting the measuring cups out, and going back to the kitchen; it’s hard not to enjoy his enthusiasm.

So, I’m grateful my mother took the time to include us in the kitchen. Because even though I don’t remember the cake crumbs and fingerprints all through the icing, or the half cup worth of flour I inevitably left my mother to sweep off the floor, I remember the time, the love, the life skills. Gifts that are worth passing on to her grandchildren.

#nailedit
#nailedit

Nu er det Jul igen

It has been an effort to prepare for Christmas this year. Well, Christmas usually takes a lot of work, it is just this year I have struggled to motivate myself, and feel the Christmas spirit. Not that that’s surprising. We will be having a winter Christmas, just the three of us. And it is my first Christmas since Mum died. And I’m pregnant so I can’t even drink, or eat fancy cheese. For much of the last couple of months it has felt easier to bury my hand in the sand and pretend it would just be an ordinary winter day.

Then Christmas lights started to appear, on shopping streets, and in neighbourhood windows and balconies. My son loved them. Then they had a Christmas party at his daycare, with a tree and Julemand (Santa). Sure, I’d picked up a few things thinking we’d give him some presents. I hadn’t planned to skip Christmas entirely, I just sort of hoped it would come and go of its own accord. Now it became clear that M had some idea that ‘Christmas’ existed. What exactly he thinks it is we don’t know, but what I did realise was that while he is young, Christmas will be what we make it.

So this year I’m giving him Christmas.

We’ve bought a tree and decorated it together. The first Christmas tree R and I have ever had (pot plants don’t count). Mum loved decorating the tree every year. It was bittersweet, enjoying M’s delight over the process, knowing how much Mum would have loved seeing it. M loves to switch the tree lights on in the morning, and when he gets home from vuggestue. And to pull decorations off, and put them back on again.

Last Friday I finally baked a Christmas cake. I’ve bought a leg of lamb, and sweet potato, even though I know it won’t be anything like proper kumara. I’ll make pavlova, stuffing and gravy. And just to prove I’m not doing things by halves, I’ve even made an attempt at the traditional Danish rice pudding, risalamande. M and I will make cheese straws for nibbles. Lunch will be late and M will be overtired and hungry by the time I get a roast on the table. I’ll drive R mad by playing terrible music; it’s not Christmas without Boney M.

I know this year I’ll miss Mum terribly. We all will. Although he is only little, too little to really grasp events, this last year has been tough on M too. He is going to have a great Christmas day, and then we’ll do it again next year, and the year after. Because traditions, and celebrations aren’t something that just magically happen. My parents made them happen, even when times were tough. Now it’s our turn.

Happy Christmas everyone.

Lemon juice and sugar

I’ve been having one of those weeks where I really miss my family and wish I could be closer to them. Many of you readers will understand why. You will also know that we are a family that enjoys food; not so much as a solitary pleasure, but as a communal gathering, cooking and eating together. So I have taken some comfort in making and eating one of my earliest food loves, my Gran Joy’s Lemon Honey.

I used to love going to stay in Auckland, although the long drive from Wellington to Auckland was not so great. I have so many lovely memories of their home. Hot Auckland nights tossing and turning in the back bedroom I shared with my middle sister. Star-gazing on their balcony with my Dad. Hours spent at the beach, and hours spent trying to wash off the sticky sand. The year my sister got roller-blades for Christmas and we rushed outside to try them out on the hills of St Heliers. Gran’s clashing pink and apricot kitchen with its old fashioned bean slicer. Grandad’s bread, Gran’s preserved fruit, meringues, and always, always, jars of lemon honey. I suspect Gran made a big batch in advance of our arrival, as I at least slathered my bread with it.

Tasting the same food I ate all those years ago isn’t just about my memories. It gives me a sense of my place in the world. Lemon honey, Gran Kath’s apricot slice or toasties, my mum’s fish pie, and scones. These aren’t just recipes to me, they are stories. They tell me the story of the women who came before me: the tastes they enjoyed, the ingredients available to them, and the kind of cooking they could do with eyes on whoever was scampering at their feet. Once I was the child coming hungry to the table. Now I am the provider. I watched my son lick the lemon honey off the top of his crumpet and knew the next generation of lemon honey lovers had arrived.

Gran’s recipe is a simple, economical, homely recipe, perfect for someone with an army of kids to feed on a budget. I’ve seen lemon curd recipes in fancy cookbooks, they all use four or five egg yolks. I’m sure they taste delicious, but it’s just more bother. She always made it one jar at a time, straight into the fridge, so no messing around with sterilising equipment either. It’s super simple, as long as you don’t let the temperature get too high and ‘scramble’ the eggs. But it wouldn’t be Gran’s lemon honey if you didn’t find at least one string of egg white somewhere. Lucky you whoever finds it. I always used to love that bit.

Joy’s Lemon Honey
Juice and rind of two lemon
2oz butter
1 teacup sugar (a scant ¾ cup, but I like the old-fashioned name)
1 egg

All ingredients into a double boiler over barely simmering water. Stir over low temperature until it boils and thickens. Pour into clean jar and keep in the fridge.