Saturday, January 24, 2009

I can do it!

Today was our second class at Young Chefs Academy in Round Rock. Grace was very excited to be going back this morning. We have talked a lot about our class over the last couple of weeks. Grace already has plenty of enthusiasm for spending time in a kitchen, which is something we have been instilling in her at home for some time now. This week, even though this was just our second time in our class, it was a joy to see her confidence grow.

When we walked in the door, Grace was still a bit timid, clinging to my leg. She was happy to be there, but she just still needed a few minutes to warm up. By the time Miss Lesley Ann got us into the kitchen, and I got Grace's jacket off, she was already starting to warm up. This was familiar now. Miss Lesley Ann helped her get her apron on, and then it was off to wash our hands. Unlike last week though, I didn't have to take her. She had confidence in where she was, and what the routine was. Miss Lesley Ann was no longer a stranger and the only "unknown" was what fun stuff we were going to make today.

We started out making homemade tortillas from dough that was already prepared. That meant we got to get right to Grace's fun part, which is rolling out the dough. Once the rolling pin was in Grace's hand, we heard the words that bring joy to parents verywhere, "I can do it!" We rolled out our tortillas and then while those cooked on the griddle, we turned our attention to making salsa.

As much as I love to cook, and as much as I love to share that love with Grace, it would have been YEARS before I would have given Grace a kitchen tool and asked her to cut up the strawberries. After all, every parent knows you can't trust a 2 year old with a knife!

This precise moment in time is where the skill and tools at the Young Chefs Academy joins the confidence of a little girl who says "I can do it!" The result is something truly special. As you can see in the picture above, we didn't exactly hand Grace my sharpest chef knife. This is a place where kids can learn how to use tools that are designed especially for their little hands and their open hearts. It’s amazing what a small pizza cutter with a nylon blade can enable a child to do.

Grace also got to help with a kitchen tool that she hadn't ever seen in our kitchen. She helped Miss Lesley Ann turn the handle and watched in awe as the apple corkscrewed through the machine and emerged peeled, cored and sliced. Then, with pizza cutter in hand, it was back to chopping, this time the apples. Grace did really well! Of course she needed help, but for once, it was Daddy helping her cook instead of Grace helping Daddy. We also mixed a dressing made from orange juice, orange zest, apple jelly and brown sugar.

One of the things that I have really enjoyed about these classes is that the recipes are recipes that we will definitely use, probably over and over again. Anyone that knows this family knows that the summers are all about weekends and nights in and around the pool. The grill is almost always fired up, usually cooking up fajitas. Over the course of the summer, it is no exaggeration to say that I will make homemade salsa dozens of times.

This apple strawberry salsa will find its way into the assortment of tomato and mango salsas that we make all the time. And I know that Grace will be excited to get to make "her" salsa. Next we turned our homemade tortillas into cinnamon sugar chips! And while our chips were baking, we got to start tasting. Grace LOVED the salsa. Grace must have eaten 5 or 6 helpings of the salsa. And while she did like the tortilla, and the cinnamon sugar chips with her salsa, she was just as pleased to eat the salsa all by itself.

Last, it was time to clean up. We took our apron off, put it in the hamper, washed our hands and cleaned up our area. I don't know what we will make next time, but I will be excited to see Grace's confidence grow, and I know she will have lots of smiles and giggles to share. I also know that I have a greater confidence in what Grace can do. Over the last couple of weeks, ever since our first class, when Grace is helping me in the kitchen Grace has been more "hands on". She and I have both learned that "I can do it!"

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Learning to make things grow

Grace is Granddad's girl when he is not at work. Given a choice, she would rather be with Granddad than just about anyone, especially if he is going to be outside! With the warm temperatures in Texas this week (it is supposed to be about 75 degrees today), it is a good time to be working in the yard. Granddad built a raised bed this winter and now it is time to get the bed ready for planting.
There is something truly special about watching a toddler as they explore their new world. Today, she may just be playing in the dirt, but as the year progresses, she is going to get to see the planting of seeds and bulbs, followed by the sprouting of new plants and hopefully, the harvest of fresh veggies and herbs! Best of all, she will be able to share all of this with her Granddad. That is something absolutely priceless. I can think back to my childhood, spending weekends and summers with Pa, there were a lot of weekends that we worked really, really hard. Whether it was planting seedling trees, tilling a new garden, digging out the spring to make a new well or clearing the undergrowth, no amount of hard work, srapes or bruises from those weekends was enough to keep me from going back the next weekend.
I learned a lot during those weekends and summers. Many of the practical lessons that I learned then, I have long since forgotten. There have been several occasions where I have wished that I could remember the "how to" lessons Pa taught me. I know that Pa always knew the right way to do just about anything, whether it was mixing concrete, picking the perfect tomato, navigating the Illinois River in a canoe or laying a tile roof. But he also knew the right way do things when it came to making a grandson feel special, needed and most of all loved. One day, Grace may look back and wish she could remember how Granddad built his raised flowerbeds, but I know she will never forget how much she loved spending the day with her Granddad.
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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Grace's first class at the Young Chef's Academy

For months Brenda has been on the email distribution list for the Young Chef's Academy here in Round Rock. The YCA is a fun learning center for kiddos, helping kids get comfortable in the kitchen, and finding the joy of cooking. They have group classes for 3 years old and older. What a great way for kids to learn and develop skills and creativity that they can use in a practical way for their entire life. We have been anxiously waiting for Grace to turn 3 so that we could see if Grace was truly interested in cooking. Grace has been "helping" me in the kitchen since long before she walk or talk, but we weren't entirely convinced that she was interested in cooking or just interested in playing with Daddy. It is probably a good mix of both.
In a recent email from the Young Chef's Academy, they announced that they were going to offer a Big Chef/Little Chef class designed for kids from 2-5 years old and a parent. I hope that this class is successful, because Grace had a great time. We were fortunate though today, because Grace was the only kiddo. Evidently they have responses from several families, but we were the only ones who could make it today. What a fun time we had. Grace got to make English muffins with honey orange butter. Since Grace was the only kiddo, we got lots of dedicated attention, which was helpful in letting Grace warm up to the new place. By the time we were done she was ready to come back again.
Grace helped scoop and stir the dry ingredients. She was pretty shy and wasn't sure she wanted to help. But by the time we got to mixing the wet ingredients and beating the egg, she was starting to open up a bit.
Then she helped roll out the dough, which required us to use all our muscles! Then it was time for her favorite part, which was cutting out the muffins with the cookie cutters. We used the circle, since the theme for the day was "Cooking with Circles". We also got to use a heart shaped cutter.
While Miss Leslie Ann was cooking our muffins on the griddle, Grace helped clean up the counter tops. And when we were all done, it was time to try our muffins. While Daddy loved the orange honey butter and the strawberry butter that we made, Gracie enjoyed her English muffin plain. We can hardly wait for 2 more weeks when we get to go back again! I also added a link to YCA here on our blog. They have franchises all over the country and I am a big fan!
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Thursday, January 1, 2009

2009 - Off to an organized start

Ask Brenda, I am on a terror in this house. Its been slowly driving me insane, general clutter and unfinished projects sitting EVERYWHERE!! Our poor office, well... it was supposed to be an office when we moved into the house. What it really has functioned as is a catch-all. We never even wanted the door open to that room. We just closed the door, trying to forget that it was even there. That room was the final resting place for many, many projects. That's where anything that was broken, incomplete or out of season went to die. With the news of Hailey Michelle Cornish's impending arrival, our guest room needs to become a nursery. Our office needs to become an office/guest room. There is no way we could hope to have that room perform 2 functions when it was unsuitable in its current single function. Two days, several storage bins and a couple trash bags later, it is a nice, clean and functional space! There is even room for a bed and perhaps a writing desk that currently resides in the guest room. I am a long way away from finished, but man, its an awesome start.

I spent Christmas night organizing the pantry and laundry room. Next up is the hall closet and garage. Our hall closet is a deep closet that extends back below the stairs. Its supposed to be a walk-in closet. Today, not so much. Whatever you can reach from the door is pretty much what you have to work with. I am trying hard not to be too anal about things, but what we have been doing is definitely not working!

We have also managed to get the house undecorated. Although the tree still needs to come down (its bare and ready to be disassembled), everything else is packed up. Before we leave for Houston on Friday, I hope to have it all back in the garage. It will be nice to come back home on Sunday to an undecorated, organized and clutter-free home.

Happy New Year everyone. May God's richest blessings be on you and may your richest blessings be on your loved ones this year!