Words by Paige

A place to retreat for a little refreshment and encouragement

The Substitue

This week inspiration struck while I was out at Barnes and Noble with my kids - to write a cooking memoir for kids. It didn’t come randomly though. Here’s how the events unfolded…

After confessing to my husband that I was feeling anxious and guilty about the fact that my kids hadn't started their summer reading yet he suggested the brilliant idea to take them to Barnes and Noble to pick out a book to read. Side note - I want them to be reading books that are on their school's reading list since they are not going to be given a summer reading assignment this year but I am still working on getting that info. So this is the plan for now.

I told my kids that the assignment was to pick out a book that was on their grade level. My oldest chose a Star Wars book while my youngest, who has recently resurrected his love for cooking, choose all cookbooks. I don't know why exactly but I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of him just reading cookbooks for his daily reading. I felt like he should be reading a chapter book of some sort. Maybe it would have been ok to just let him go with the cookbooks but then again my resistance to them led me to the inspiration.

As I pondered what to do I remembered the book that I recently had been taken away by; "Save Me the Plums" by Ruth Reichl's. It is her food memoir. So I went to the costumer service desk to ask if there were any food memoirs written for kids. I thought, "If you want to cook, wouldn't it be interesting and possibly encouraging to read about those great chefs that have gone before you?" I was saddened by the news that the costumer service rep knew of no such books.

How is that possible?! With all the great reads out there today, are you telling me know one has thought to write a book FOR KIDS that inspires cooking other than cook books for kids?! Now, I am still on my search because I am not ready to accept the fact that no human being in over 2,000 years of living on planet earth has put this idea to paper. Or maybe they have but it's been rejected.

Later that evening, my son came to me to confess that he was board and asked if he could make brownies. At first I resisted because I was very tired. I had not slept well the night before and I had just finished cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. Upon my hesitation, my son, with his ever-increasing persistent personality, said that he would do everything himself from finding a recipe, to baking it on his own and cleaning up. After pondering the offer for a moment and meditated on the thought I had read in a book earlier that day about what good can come from kids being left to figure things for themselves (FYI the book is one I have mentioned in other blog posts. It is called "Live Love Now". I highly recommend it!) I chose to say yes.

My son bounced off in excitement. He came back periodically to verify that we had all the ingredients needed for a recipe. The first recipe he found was a no go because we didn't have any cocoa powder. Confession - I was secretly a little happy because I thought that would deter his efforts. I think I was also secretly worried that I would have to help him with the entire process and didn’t know if I could muster up the energy for it.

Not to my surprise though, he continued his research until he found a recipe that had all the ingredients we had in out house. The recipe he chose was one that called for "chocolate buttons". We didn't have those but we did have Hershey's chocolate bars. I had been saving them for a s’mores recipe I found a couple of weeks back. He said, "I know you were planning to use these but I won't need all of them, just these four." Again, I chose to say yes. I didn't know when I would be making the recipe anyways and I could simply add chocolate bars more to my grocery order to have more in stock for later.

My son got started and I continued my work on the computer. He continued to ask me a few questions here and there. One was what he could use to bake the brownies in. I got a glass pan down for him to put the batter in. He mixed everything together, poured the mixture in the oven to bake it and set the timer.

Since I was now in the kitchen putting dinner on to plates I watched him put the pan into the oven. I noticed that the batter looked pretty liquidy. I wondered what could have caused it but I didn't say anything. I thought, "We'll just see how they turn out. If they're bad I don't have to stress about the temptation I will face to not eat the entire pan myself. Ha!"

We sat down to eat dinner - a pot roast that had been cooking in the crock pot all day. After eating for a few minutes my son confessed that he had to use a few substitutes in the recipe. My thoughts traced back to the appearance of the batter. "Ok, now it makes sense" I thought. I asked him what he substituted. "Well, he began, "you know we didn't have chocolate buttons so I used the chocolate bars instead." "Yes" I replied, recalling that maybe it was those bars that caused the texture of the batter to change. I did recall noticing that the chocolate looked a little bubbly when he was melting it on the stovetop with the butter before adding it to the dry ingredients.

"What else did you substitute?" He was a little shy to say that he had to use powdered sugar instead of regular. I was surprised; too, because I knew that was an ingredient we had in the cabinet. "Why?" I asked. "We only had a little bit of the regular sugar left. I knew you were tired and I didn't want to bother you so I just chose to use the powdered sugar instead." I felt bad. I wouldn't have minded if he asked me if we had more sugar. Turns out it worked out for the best.

We finished eating before the timer went off so naturally my son jumped up from the table to go play. I could smell the brownies baking. After he left the kitchen I quickly checked on them. They were still liquidy but I left them alone, again hopeful that they wouldn't turn out even though I felt guilty that he thought he couldn't ask me for more sugar. I felt selfish.

Once the timer beeped my son came running in the room to check them. They continued to have a liquid consistency so I told him he should let them bake a bit longer. Side story - our oven is a menace. It is a six-burner gas oven. When people come over it is always a focal point of conversation. "Wow, you must be able to do a lot of great cooking with this thing!" they’ll say. I sigh. "Well, sort of" I reply disappointingly. The burners are another story for another day but the oven itself is tricky; the main part that causes the oven to heat up needs to be replaced. Appointments have been made. Service people have come out to diagnose and work on it. Parts have been ordered. Then Corona hit. Now we are on hold for a new part that causes the oven to get to the proper temperature. All that said, things rarely bake on the temperature given in a recipe. The oven dial is almost always turned to 425 - 450 degrees and the items baking are always checked a little before and after the prescripted time. The brownies were not different. So the persistent liquid consistency only concerned me a little because I knew about the wacky temperature characteristic our oven had. I checked the brownies again on my own and, to my somewhat surprise, the consistency of the brownies was starting to come together nicely.

After then next timer beeped I called my son into the kitchen to check them again. They tooth picks we used came out nearly clean. The brownies were ready. He pulled them out of the oven with eagerness.

Next he somewhat frantically searched for the right kind of knife to cut them. "That will help them cool faster,” he said with excitement. I watched him cut them noticing that the texture still had something different going on; what appeared to be small holes throughout the sheet of chocolate fluffy goodness was ever-present. I don't recall if he said it or if I just thought it but either way his confession of the sugar substitute came back to my mind.

As we waited for them to cool I shared with my son about my disappointing discovery for the day, that there were no food memoirs written for kids. He didn’t seem to be bothered by this travesty. I continued to share my concern that I felt like these needed to exist in the world. I am curious if he will be a chef when he grows up and I would love to note how that process unfolds for him. So asked him if I could write about his baking experiences. He said yes.

Upon my excitement, we began to discuss other baking ideas. He requested to make my mother-in-law’s famous rolls. I told him maybe he could do that when we visit her this summer.

After our discussion I decided to call my mother-in-law to share his request. She, of course, said yes and joined in our excitement. I shared with her about the adventures of our day and we caught up on life’s recent events.

As we chatted my son brought me one of the brownies to taste. After sharing my graduate for his thoughtful service I took a bite. It was moist. It was soft. It was chewy. It was fluffy. It was a tiny bit crispy but just enough that it only existed around the edges. I felt like I could taste the texture of the air holes that I had noticed earlier. The space that the air created made them taste amazing.

I walked into the other room to tell him my review of his efforts. “These are amazing!” He smiled and said, “It’s the powered sugar.” “You’re right!” It was that sugar texture that changed the entire texture of the brownies and made them amazing. I ate three more before I went to bed. I couldn’t get enough of the tasting experience the texture gave these brownies!

I look forward to more of his baking adventures and what he will discover next! I also look forward to sharing it with you. Until then, try something new, use a substitute if necessary and see how it turns out. It may just take you to a place of bliss you didn’t know existed!