By Alicia Beach
My parents are determined that us kids come out of our childhood able to make a meal. So we take turns cooking. In fact, we do all the cooking, even when we have company. My mom and Dad do prepare the occasional meal – My Dad makes really good Thai food, and Mom generally oversees Christmas dinner, for example. But other than that, there’s a bunch of teens and preteens making every single meal. There’s a schedule of who cooks when, a fridge and pantry full of fresh food, and plenty of expert cooks (Namely my mom and older brother) to give occasional advice. With chefs of all ages and stages, it’s made for some interesting times.
Like the month where we had spaghetti at least four nights a week, because that’s all my little brother knew how to cook. And then there was the curry craze and a slightly less upsetting macaroni phase. (Let’s just say there are a lot of onions and spice in curry!)
Now, I’m not saying I didn’t have any cooking catastrophes of my own… but those I’ll reveal later.
My parents throw-ya-under-the-bus tactic works fairly well. On your thirteenth birthday you receive the standard coming of age speech: This is a fridge, this is a stove, and this is a cookbook. The fridge contains food, the stove is hot… and I’m just kidding. They ease us into it from a young age. Cookies is usually a first. Small hands muscle a fork through the thick batter, and tiny tongues lick the spoons clean… and the bowl… and the counter. Later you might stir the oatmeal once in a while, grate cheese, or peel some apples for a pie if your hands are strong enough to handle the peeler. Eventually you graduate to the honor of making something simple for lunch, maybe tuna salad, sandwiches, or rabbit food (what my Dad calls carrots and apples and such). When you are tall enough – and decently responsible – it’s time to start using the stove to concoct whatever flatters your fancy for dinnertime. Pasta, casseroles, eggs and bacon, and chili are all popular first meals for a novice chef.
I’ll remind you that whatever is made has to feed eleven people! It takes triple an average recipe – not to mention we make everything from scratch, and often make up recipes as we go – and therefore meals require triple the prep. We’ve all learned to chop, stir, and spice quite efficiently. My sixteen year old sister can whip up a turkey dinner like nobody’s business, and my fourteen year old brother puts together casseroles and stir fry in no time.
I’m the baker around here. Frankly, I like sweet things, and even more, sweet things made from scratch, hot from the oven. Cookies, muffins, birthday cakes (do the math and you’ll realize how many cakes we eat in a year), pies, and bread.
There is a lot of frustration and emotional trauma in my history when it comes to my bread. Looking at it, you would never know – it rises beautifully, it’s fluffy, crispy and golden brown on the outside, and as an added bonus, made of healthy whole wheat. The house gets that amazing sweet smell while it bakes, and when it comes out of the oven? Spread on a little fresh butter from Lily the cow, and homemade apple jelly off the farm… delicious, satisfying, and uniquely ours!
But you’ve got to understand the trials I’ve gone through to get to that point. And how much I put my poor family’s digestive system through.
Week one: Flat and gooey inside.
Week two (part one): Flat and unsalted and remarkably rock-like.
Week two (part two): Puffed up beautifully. Fell flat while baking. Spread tomato sauce on it and called it pizza.
Week three: Tasted like sand…
Week four: Hollow inside, strangely sour.
And so on, until my family had eaten nine batches of failed bread, one after the other. (It’s the trademark Beach persistence that made me keep trying!)
Sure, there were a couple okay loaves in there, points of light in the endless, doughy tunnel, but nothing truly palatable.
And then came the afternoon. The day where the dough came together and just felt right. I kneaded it, watched it rise, and then I determinedly punched it down, popped it into the oven, set the timer, and collapsed into the nearest chair.
And it worked. It rose and stayed that way, Sweet, fluffy, and all things bread should be.
There was probably some dancing, and spatula waving, and maybe even screaming (Hey, I’m a teenage girl!), and there was definitely a scandalous amount of butter being passed around.
It was a delicious victory, and well worth the effort!
Moral of the story? Don’t give up! Had some sort of terrible mishap? Keep cooking! It’s one of the most fabulous skills you could possibly have, and even if it takes nine or ten tries, you’ll have something delicious at the end!