Because bedtime was approaching, both my kids were suddenly hungry. It's funny how they are starving to death ten minutes before they are due to go to sleep, despite big meals and maybe a dessert, too. What amazing metabolisms they have.
Anyway, OH! I know what we were watching! Julia had wanted to watch a movie, so we'd pulled Ratatouille from the shelf over an hour earlier, and we were all watching the end of it. That makes sense. It has this effect on Alex….
Anyway, as the movie wound down, and the kids – influenced, no doubt, by all the cooking and eating on the screen, were hungry. I had no intention of getting up from my comfy spot on the couch, but before I could even say that, Alex OFFERED TO GET JULIA SOMETHING TO EAT. I ran down the list of acceptable snack items, and she chose one, and off he went, to get it. (A Go-Gurt.) He returned, yogurt-like-treat in hand, and presented it politely to Julia.
Then he asked me, "Mom, am I being a good waiter, or whaler, or whatever it's called?"
Yes, Alex, you're being a good waiter.
Then he went back upstairs to find something for himself. He was gone a little while, and I heard various doors open and close in the kitchen, and a scraping sound on the floor up there, but since it was Alex, I wasn't all that worried about it. And I didn't hear anything fall or break, either.
A bit later, he returned, with a little dish of raw walnuts in one hand, and a peanutbutter and jelly sandwich in the other. He'd been up there making himself a sandwich. He's never done that before (because usually I am the waitress/cook/dishwasher), and I just kind of stared. With delight and amazement. Really. He just…made himself a sandwich! No fanfare, no asking if I'd do it, no rolling on the floor wailing that he was hunggggggggggggryyyyyyyyyy or anything! (That's Julia's schtick anyway.)
He just…did it. YAY! I told him I thought it was great he'd made the sandwich and I was very happy, and he went a step further and offered everyone some walnuts.
Some days I worry that I'm screwing up my kids somehow…and then my son just goes ahead and makes a sandwich for himself, and I can exhale again. My son is taking another step into self-sufficiency!!! YAY!
Anyway, it occurred to me that it's time to get him (and Julia) into the kitchen on a more regular basis. Yes, they help me already, especially with the cookie-baking. And Julia's here in the mornings, so she's got more opportunity. But still. I need to make the effort to bring them in here and actually TEACH them stuff, not just let them help me.
So we made a date for Sunday morning to make pancakes. I figure the best place to start is with foods they already like to eat. Julia, for instance, can make scrambled eggs. Herself. The only thing I don't let her do yet is light the burner, and I stand there while she stirs the eggs in the pan. She IS only five, despite her occasional teenager attitude.
So – pancakes.
And that is how this post came about.
On Sunday morning, we met in the kitchen, my kids and I, and I put aprons on them and made them wash their hands. Julia brought a chair to stand on, and Alex brought the little stool from the bathroom (which he doesn't even need all the time, he's so tall, but it helps if he's stirring something in a big bowl. It just gives him that extra 5 or 6 inches above the countertop), and we discussed our menu.
Alex's favorite pancakes are blueberry; Julia's are plain. Alex likes maple syrup. Julia likes butter.
First news – we had neither blueberries nor syrup, and I wasn't planning to go out and buy any. So we needed to get creative and come up with something else. I poked around in the freezer to see what our fruit options might be. I found a half-used bag of cranberries. We also had a variety of fruit in a bowl on the table. Apples, pears, and some citrus.
By unanimous decision, we opted to use cranberries…and an orange (actually a blood orange), and I suggested we use the rest of the walnuts, too. Agreed! Time to get to work.
I gave Alex the cookbook with my go-to pancake recipe and had him just read all the ingredients so I could get them out on the counter. We'd worry about measuring them after. So he read, and I pulled things from the pantry and the fridge, and that was simple enough. Time to measure and mix.
I had Alex start by zesting the orange.
And we needed buttermilk for the basic pancake recipe, and we don't actually have any, so it was time for a science lesson as well. First, I had Julia hold this gorgeous measuring cup that Ralph gave me while we were in Maine. It's made in Italy, it's hexagonal and each of the six panels offers measurements for different things…flour, rice, sugar…then there's a panel that's just cups, another one with ounces and mililiters, and I can't remember the last one. But it's the perfect size for the total of 3 cups of milk I needed. Thanks, Ralph!!
More posing from Miss Candystripes….
And then some fun food science. I told them – in a very basic way – what buttermilk is and why we use it making pancakes (flavor, tenderizing qualities, it helps give baked goods rise), and then I told them that since we don't actually have any, we would make something like it. And then I had them smell the vinegar. Heh heh heh. Oh, they LOVED that. Then I poured milk almost up to the 3 cup mark, and then I topped that off with vinegar and a few seconds later showed them how the milk was already starting to react to the vinegar.
See, children? See how it's starting to separate? The same thing happens when you make cheese, kids! Isn't that cool? "Mom, what can I measure now?" Fine. Be that way.
Notice, though, that while I'd asked Alex to hold the spoon so I could take the picture, Julia had to get in there, too, so she's doing her Price is Right "Here is the lovely Frigidaire that could be yours!" gesture in the left portion of the picture.
They measured out dry ingredients in turns…Alex did the flour…
Oh, and here's the mise en place for the fruit and nut component. Blood orange juice, zest, and some chopped walnuts. I did the chopping. Not ready to deal with bloody little fingers just yet.
I poured melted butter into the egg yolks while Julia whisked. Julia was the one who cracked and separated eggs earlier.
Cranberries are sour!
And she stirred it together first.
Then we poured in the melted butter/egg yolk blend and Alex got a turn to stir. And then I folded the egg whites in and we were ready to heat up the griddle.
I brushed some oil on the griddle and showed Julia how to ladle batter onto the hot surface. And then I let her have a turn. She did well, so I let her have another turn with the next batch, just so I could get a picture.
While all that was happening, I also asked him if he wanted some sort of syrup on the pancakes, or if he was going to have butter. Since he doesn't like butter, he opted for a syrup of some kind, so we made a cranberry-orange syrup with the remaining cranberries in the bag, the juice of a tangerine (so okay, techincally it's a cranberry-tangerine syrup), a bit of butter, some sugar, and a little water. This boiled away while I finished cooking the rest of the pancakes and had the kids set the table.
I gave Alex the choice – a smooth syrup or one with the crushed cranberries in it. He opted for smooth.
In case you're interested, here's the recipe. The basics I got from The Best Recipe, put out by the fabulous Cooks Illustrated people. I've enlarged the basic recipe and, as you know, the kids and I added a few things.
Cranberry Orange Walnut Pancakes with Cranberry-Orange (or Tangerine) Syrup
(I make half the recipe as plain pancakes and half as cranberry-orange-walnut, because Julia doesn't like stuff in her pancakes. If you want to make them ALL filled, then either halve the pancake recipe portion or double the fruit/nut portions.)
2 7/8 cups milk
2 T white vinegar or lemon juice
6 T butter, melted and cooled
3 eggs, separated
3 cups all-purpose flour
6 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup whole cranberries, about half of them roughly chopped
Juice and zest of one orange (blood or otherwise)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1. Pour vinegar into milk, stir briefly and set aside
2. Combine dry ingredients; whisk together.
3. Combine cranberries, juice and zest, and walnuts. Set aside.
4. Whisk together cooled melted butter and yolks.
5. Pour soured milk and butter/yolk mixture into flour and stir until just combined. A few lumps are okay.
6. Whip the egg whites to soft peaks and fold them into the batter until mostly combined.
7. Heat griddle and brush with vegetable oil.
8. Ladle batter onto the griddle and cook pancakes until lots of bubbles appear on the top side and the bottoms are golden brown. Flip over and cook another minute or two to finish. Use up about half the batter this way for the plain pancakes, and then, when you are doing the fruit/nut pancakes, after you pour the batter on the griddle, sprinkle some of the cranberry/orange/walnut mixture on each pancake. Not too much or the pancakes will be soggy. You want enough so that every bite has some tartness and sweetness.
To make the syrup:
1 cup whole cranberries
juice of one orange (or tangerine)
2 T butter
1/4 cup sugar
about a cup of water
1. Combine all ingredients in a small pot on the stove and bring to a boil.
2. Continue boiling vigorously until the cranberries are very soft. Test the texture of the syrup by spooning some out onto a dish and letting it cool a bit. If it has thickened somewhat, you've got syrup.
3. You can serve as-is or, if you are like Alex and prefer a smooooooooooth syrup, pour everything through a strainer and press the fruit to get all of the liquid out. Serve warm.
The kids enjoyed the experience so much that we're going to try to make it a weekly event. Maybe another batch of pancakes next Sunday morning, maybe muffins, maybe something else. Who knows. But I'm really looking forward to it.
I think Alex is, too.