The date: Last Sunday, April Fool’s Day.
The time: Too early.
The place: My Brooklyn kitchen.
It was a rare Sunday morning, meaning my two kids, my husband and I all slept past seven in the morning. I should say three of us, actually, as it was the sound of the fourth person in the house, my six year-old, that woke us all. We laid in bed, my husband and I listening for a minute, unable to understand what the noises were. Clang, twang, clang. “Julian, what are you doing down there?” My husband called out to my son, who was presumably three floors down from us in our Brooklyn brownstone.
“I’m making breakfast!” He yelled up.
We exchanged looks of pure panic and like man on fire, my husband catapulted himself from bed and raced downstairs. Just in time, too, as Julian had begun to saw through a mango with a bread knife.
We shared an uneasy laugh, scolding Julian for using a knife without a grown-up present, and also just relieved not to have to rush him to the ER on a Sunday morning for severing a digit.
“Do you want to make something together?” I asked Julian.
While this might sound ordinary, it was actually a big moment in our kitchen. Because Julian never, ever wants to help me cook. People always think that because I cook for a living, my children must love to help me out in the kitchen. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. They like the idea of helping in the kitchen, but when it comes to the actual measuring and mise-en-place, they loose interest faster than it takes for the oven to preheat.
So when, that April Fool’s morning, Julian said he actually wanted to cook with me, I jumped.
Before I had kids, I always envisioned this bucolic ideal of cooking with my children: a kid on a step stool, me in an apron, us whisking and sifting together, decorating holiday cookies and making morning pancakes. Laughter, joy, smiles, good times. But what do you do when reality and disinterest dash the dream? I’ve learned to accept that my kids just don’t like to help in the kitchen (and when I say kids, I actually mean just my older son, since the little guy is still a little too small to really help, though he is a master at stirring dry ingredients with a wooden spoon so slowly you wonder if it would be quicker to just stir them with chopsticks). It bothered me for a while, and when friends and others said to my son “Oh, you must love to cook with your mommy in the kitchen!” I learned to give a half smile and say sheepishly “we’re working on it” while ruffling Julian’s hair.
When it comes to kids and food, persistence is key: getting them to try new foods, new restaurants, new flavors. And as it turns out, persistence pays off with preening a kitchen helper, too. So when Julian said he wanted to cook together, I beamed with pride.
We decided on a breakfast loaf. Julian insisted on chocolate chips and to temper their sweetness, I decided on orange zest and ricotta. The resulting loaf was fantastic, with the crumb being moist and hearty, and the flavor not too sweet, making the bits of chocolate dotting a slice all the more rewarding.
Julian helped with the whisking, with the ingredient prep, and even with the cleaning up. Rhys, my two-year-old, was in charge of adding the chocolate chips (and we all know how that goes, one for me, one for the cake, three for me, one for the cake).
The loaf came out of the oven golden and perfect. And Julian refused to eat it. REFUSED!
I didn’t understand it, but I accepted it. And I ate the cake. And Rhys ate the cake. And Matt ate the cake. And Julian did not. And the next day, when there was a sad and lonely slice or two remaining, Julian tried the cake. And he loved it. He ate it with gusto and with the pleasure that comes from consuming something you created. It occurred to me that just as you can’t force someone to eat something they don’t want, you can’t force someone to cook. They have to want to cook, want to learn. And while the cooking bug might not bite Julian often, when it does, I’ll be ready and happy to lend a hand.
Julian’s Chocolate Chip-Ricotta Bread
Makes one 9-inch by 5-inch loaf
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature or nonstick pan spray
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar
- Zest of 1 orange
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/3 cup canola or grapeseed oil
- 3/4 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch by 5-inch loaf pan with butter.
- Whisk together the flours, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
- Use your fingers to rub the sugar with the orange zest in a large bowl until fragrant. Add the eggs, ricotta, and almond extract. Whisk in the canola oil and lastly the yogurt. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir the dry ingredients into the sugar mixture until nearly combined, then add the chocolate chips and stir until mostly mixed in. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.
- Bake until the center of the cake resists light pressure and a cake tester comes out with only a crumb or two attached, 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely before running a paring knife around the edges of the load and turning it out onto a plate. Slice and serve.