Every year it’s the same. ‘Mama, what do you want for your birthday?’ is answered with ‘for all of you to be lovely to me and each other for the entire day, and you could make me brekky…’ with hopeful eyes. This year surpassed my wildest expectations as my dear elder children (aged 11 and 10) made me (and Stuart and his parents) brekky, lunch AND dinner. And folks, it wasn’t tea and toast.
It was a beautiful Sunday and all I wanted to do that day was work on pig-proofing the fences in the first pig paddock.
And so when the kids started menu planning the night before I was delighted, but anticipated the need for a fair bit of adult assistance during the day. They chose their recipes from the wonderful Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Cooking with Kids, which does an excellent job of being thorough in its descriptions without being patronising or pitching too low. Every recipe we’ve used from this cookbook has been delicious!
Shortly after sunrise they were at work on brekky – baked eggs with spinach, herbs and tomato, served on the sourdough I’d made the night before. They had a little bit of assistance from Stuart with managing the 10-inch cast-iron frypan, but that was about all. And wait for it… Oscar roasted and ground the cumin seeds in the mortar and pestle. Most of my adult friends don’t do that!
The meal was delicious – truly great flavours and textures as one would expect from experienced cooks. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the skills, patience and love from my children and in heaven at the result!
Out to fencing we went, and the kids commenced almost immediately on lunch. They worked away cheerfully, only pausing to enjoy the luscious almond chocolate cake for morning tea made by Nana Ros with Atticus’ help.
If we thought brekky was impressive, lunch knocked me out. Oscar made falafels, once again toasting and grinding cumin and coriander seeds, and fried them beautifully as Antigone made fresh pitas – pointing out to us that she made the dough by hand as the stand mixer was full of dough for that night’s calzone.
They chose to make a selection of dips as accompaniments: hummus, guacamole and pico de gallo, all served beautifully on a platter with fresh capsicum and wedges of lemon. In fact, their presentation was as flawless as their flavours. Once again, I was blown away, as were Stuart and his parents.
Surely they couldn’t top all that with dinner? Well, in fairness, I wouldn’t say they topped it, but dinner was equally delicious – a herb and cheese calzone served with tabbouleh. The only help on this one was that I put a sourdough on for them in the morning with a little commercial yeast to speed the rise. As the adults were still working outside through until dinnertime, they had no help at all with dividing, rolling, filling and cooking the calzone, nor with cooking the bulgur.
As we sat there sated and raving about their efforts for the day, my awesome pair hopped up and quickly whipped up some lemon crepes for dessert. Yes, I’m serious.
To what would I attribute this display of skills and showering of love from my much-beloved children? I can give the obvious answer that they’ve cooked with both Stuart and me since they could stand on a chair at the butcher’s block, and that in our house cooking is definitely a way to show love.
But a really important ingredient in their success had nothing to do with me – and that’s Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Kitchen Garden program (and no, I don’t work for them!).
We tried to get the program into our old school but a resistant Principal (thankfully now retired) thwarted the Council’s best efforts. But at the kids’ new school there is a thriving kitchen garden program with wonderful teachers. Oscar and Antigone had each had one class before my birthday. One class was all it took for their confidence to click – and I think the fact that Oscar’s class had made falafels and tabbouleh that week gave the level of familiarity he needed when they searched the recipes. But they’d never made baked eggs, I can assure you, and we’ve always made calzones together, as we have pita (and other) breads. They’re dip makers from way back, but new users of the food processor, though I saw no signs of uncertainty!
So was this the best birthday ever? It just may have been (though last year’s Gala de Tammois was pretty amazing too…). I was well worked, well fed, and well loved, with the added feel-good bonus of thinking I must have done something right to get such great kids. What a perfect balance, making for a very very happy day.
I am one lucky Mama. Thank you, Jonai kids!