By Shaunda Wenger
I used to believe nothing beat home-cooking. Literally. I actually enjoyed cooking for the home, where my meals matched the table setting and window treatments. But new factors, armed with whisks, pastry blenders, and spatulas, now creep into my kitchen. They occupy the chairs around me, take up prime parking space in front of the mixing bowl, and spoil my attempts to create an edible symphony.
Meet my two-year-old perched on the counter. He claps his powdered hands together, dusting flour into the toaster. Of course, he's thrilled. He's making snow.
His four-year-old sister, Joanna, occupies the chair to his left. She scoops up her ninth spoonful of dough and voices her wide-eyed approval, "Mmmm!" Earlier she suggested, "Let's bake some cookies!" Now it seems Joanna's interests lie more in tasting than baking.
I stand between them and the pre-heated oven and desperately shovel rolled-and-cut cookie dough onto baking sheets. I silently debate whether it's good or bad that we'll end up with only half of the cookies we expected. I conclude it's good, since my hips and I prefer cookies after they're baked, unlike my children.
Inhale and exhale. These cleansing breaths aren't listed on the recipe's instructions, but neither are my children, and they're completely immersed in it. I'd wanted beautiful Christmas cookies, the kind that would put Betty Crocker to shame. I should have known I'd be sabotaged.
My three- and four-foot-tall bundles of creative energy have different agendas. My son molds the dough into snakes and relentlessly wields a pumpkin-shaped cutter. (I hadn't thought ahead to set aside the out-of-season shapes). My daughter decorates the cookies before they're baked.
"So much for tradition," I say, and resume my breathing. Inhale and exhale.
Eventually, I realize giving up impressing Betty Crocker is easier than coaxing my son to make trees, bells, and reindeer. Reluctantly, I give my son his Easter-egg cutter and my daughter the sprinkles.
Dismiss Betty? Well...I'm not that radical; the restraining order is only in effect when my children enter the kitchen. At least she's gracious; when she's properly shuffled out the back door, she takes stress with her.
We do invite her back occasionally, which leads to exceptional moments every now and then. For example, shortly before the cookie endeavor, Betty supplied me with some soufflé recipes. Joanna began drooling over the word. It floated off her lips as she danced about the kitchen. Knowing that she'd never tasted or seen a soufflé, I got out the egg beaters. If my efforts failed to deliver perfectly risen eggs, she'd never know.
Transforming egg whites into fluffy clouds thrilled Joanna. She folded in chopped spinach and shredded cheese with such tender care I forgot my breathing ritual--until we shut the oven door. Joanna's new-found maturity evaporated along with her grace. She sprang about yelling, "Soufflé! Soufflé!"
Unfortunately, my gasp of air lacked any cleansing properties. Instead, it sent me into a fit of coughs and sputters. I waved my arms and tried to say, "Stop!" for fear that her jumping would cause the risen eggs to fall.
Despite my fears, I admit our meal did resemble something eggy. Perhaps we discovered a Betty Crocker secret: cookies, cakes, and other bakeables can withstand haphazard procedures.
Or could I be raising culinary geniuses? I'd ask Betty, but she might say I just was not cursed with picky eaters. It really doesn't matter. Raising kids has led me to believe if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. And nothing beats home-cooking.
Shaunda Wenger is a mom and a freelance writer in Nibley, Utah. She is co-author of "The Book Lover's Cookbook" (Ballantine Books)
* Shaunda and her kids bake with pasteurized egg products. If you use raw eggs, don't let your children eat the dough until after baking.