Cooking with Children: Teaching Skills and Vulgarity

Big gold eyes stared at me from the darkness.  Unblinking, full of misery—the stare of determination. His breath was held, as he waited for my response. I gave none. Finally, he folded. Give me the cheese, he said with his eyes.

Teaching Children Cooking
In case you wondered what I look like, here is my self portrait—forty-one eyes.

“It’s been a long day,” I said, “You’ve got dog food you know.” The house is very quiet now, so quiet I can hear the summer insects singing through the walls. Everything has its balance. Twelve hours ago it was all noise.

Scout Meeting Number Two

Today I handed over my newly cleaned house on a silver platter to our Spiral Scouts circle. As their fearless leader, I ushered seven kids under seven into the dining room to continue work on our cooking badge. I got lucky. The first badge my circle is working on is something I enjoy teaching children.

As per the badge requirements, the children are learning the seven-year-and-younger version of self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency began today with making a side salad, largely because I could incorporate a bunch of physical skills into it.

The Procedure

My dining room table would have looked very elegant set up with various shining metal bowls of water for washing the lettuce leaves, if it were not for that ugly red bowl. Scouts’ dues don’t exactly pay for beauty—they barely pay for lettuce.

Teaching children cooking
That blasted red bowl…

After washing the leaves, the scouts had to break them into appropriate sized pieces and put them in their own bowl. I should have gotten pictures of the salads. There were many almost intact lettuce leaves. I heard one parent saying “Are you going to fit that in your mouth?” The kids either learned to break salad greens, or learned how to have vulgar eating habits. Either way.

Teaching children cooking
Banana-Split Carrots and Tomatoes

The children then traveled to the west side of the dining room table, where I had put seven carrots in a pretty little banana-split dish. Who makes banana-splits in a fancy dish? Clearly, it was made for holding carrots. Reverse psychology—now I really want to make a banana split in that thing. Anyway, the kids then had to peel their carrots, and grate them over their salads. This, thank goodness, resulted in no skinned-knuckles. I heard more than one parent say “Now we don’t want any thumbs in our salads.” I love these people.

Teaching children cooking
The Aftermath

Then they added a few cherry tomatoes, and moved onward to the east end of the table, where I hovered over the bottle of expensive olive oil. It was time to make my standard vinaigrette, which was almost guaranteed to repulse any child, but did require a great deal of measuring and pouring for practice’s sake. The children poured their olive oil and balsamic vinegar, measured out their sugar, salt, and garlic, and then got to shake the mixture up in a mason jar—the fun part. Miraculously, three out of the seven children (including the refined taste buds of my son) actually liked the vinaigrette. The other children were given your standard American ranch dressing to mask the garlic/balsamic vinegar.

Teaching children to cook
And then the return of quiet, to balance it all out.

Then, all restraints gave way. The children ran circles around the house like screaming banshees, just blurs of the same colored polo shirt uniform. Another scout meeting under my belt, complete with a side salad.

I gave the cheese to Big Dog. Those sad gold eyes—he’s too good.

The Voice of a Scout Leader

I have finally found a proper use for my God-given talent. That’s all we want, isn’t it? The artist in all of us wants our talents to shine. My talent has been underappreciated or misunderstood for years. What is my talent, you ask? I am loud.

Loud Dinosaur
A fellow loud creature.

Mind you I can be very soft spoken should the mood inspire it, but I prefer to exercise my full volume. For what I lack in physical size, I make up for in noise. Should I ever be attacked, I could probably reserve the finger-breaks and throat-bites for last resort self-defense, and instead deafen my attacker with one well projected scream.

Putting a Voice to Use

Today at my first official scouting meeting as leader, I discovered my voice’s purpose. Do you know how hard it is to wrangle seven kids under the age of seven? And just imagine all of those kids very excited to see each other. It is challenging—for someone less loud than me.

We got to test run our opening ceremony today. I wrangled the children into a circle, all silent eyes on me, as I passed around some rocks painted with the elements. “Air is for new knowledge,” I began with the yellow stone with the air symbol drawn on, and the kids artfully worked together to pass it around. The rock passing went so smoothly I’m suspicious that this little ritual will collapse into chaos at the next meeting. Once we passed around fire, water, earth, and spirit, I handed out one fat round stone that represented our group. All the kids had to say their “vow” as it was passed, and of course none of the kids had memorized it yet. I’m proud to say I memorized the vow in one sitting, despite my thirty-two year old brain.

Little girl
A golden raindrop, before all the excited energy turned her to hail.

“I make this vow,
To remind me now,
To be kind and good,
Like a Raindrop should.”

Don’t hate our scouting group because the little scouts are called Raindrops.  I didn’t make it up. These kids are far from gentle, silent rain. We should call them hail—loud, tough, but still beautiful, hail. But guess what is louder than hail? The scout leader that ushered them all into the dining room to begin work on our cooking badge.

Loud Activities 

As per the outline of the badge, these kids had to learn about kitchen safety. My co-leader led them in to stand near the stove, while I self-consciously looked around at my “lived-in” kitchen. He began the discussion on safety, taking in the input from the kids. The most noteworthy idea brought up by a child was the topic of houseflies. “They poop on your food,” the boy said. I don’t think that is quite what happens, but I didn’t want to dissuade the boy from his disgust. Who knows, maybe he finds fly poop more disgusting than fly eggs, or the bacteria of roadkill transferred from fly foot to human food. Once they were done, I clapped my hands, and as the designated Loud Scout Leader, I brought the children to my part of the activities.

I had set up little cups with mystery foods inside. The first set was composed of the tastes sweet, salty, sour and bitter; the second set was the textures hard, soft, chewy, and slimy. I had the children close their eyes while their parents fed them the mystery foods, and the children guessed what the taste or texture each food had. I might have a mean streak, because I could have probably found some sort of candy to cover “sour”, but I decided to use lemon juice. I did warn them to take a small sip, and then in good humor took in all the puckered, sour expressions on the kids’ faces. They were unsuspecting after having been fed sweet chocolate and salty pretzels, but they plowed onto the next one—such good sports.

Grasshopper
The invertebrate scout, participating through the window.

Then it was time for the closing ritual, and everything fell into chaos. No amount of loudness was going to contain the energy those kids had after completing their first scout meeting. They ran circles around the rooms, a tornado of hail/raindrops exploding toy order, but not fully defiling my house. It was a success.

My voice was exercised. I feel vital and fresh. I think this scout leader role might just suit me and my voice.