Friday, July 15, 2011

In a World Where Art Class is Cooking Class

No matter how much I might like to be, I am not an arts-and-crafts sort of person. Elbow macaroni is meant to be eaten, not glued to paper plates or strung in a necklace, and I do not think I am even capable of summoning the patience needed to make a placemat out of construction paper strips. The extent of our art projects does not generally go beyond a box of crayons and the occasional sticker.

At our house, we work in a different medium, one that I think is just as interesting as paints and glitter and slightly more functional. When I want to engage my preschooler in a creative activity that does not involve the possibility of marker drawings on my walls, we make a mess, and usually something edible, in the kitchen.

Our daughter is at the age where she loves to help but is not much help. She drags a dining room chair over to our center island and demands to pour and mix while I measure and chop. The majority of the flour does end up in the bowl when I pass over the measuring cup, but as we progress, the mechanics of making food always become less interesting to her than inserting a licked finger into the sugar and pressing little indentations into the butter.

The end results are sometimes better than others, but the journey there is always a success. Perhaps baking and cooking are not traditional "art forms," and perhaps when she gets to kindergarten she will be a bit perplexed by Elmer's glue. She will, however, have an early understanding of the lovely precision of baking -- instilled by a exacting mother -- and the way that a proper order and careful attention to measuring can result in a baked good with excellent texture. She will also understand the artistry of cooking -- demonstrated by an inventive father -- and how the blending of experimentation and knowledge can produce profound meals.

I never want my daughter, or my sons, to have memory of a time when they were not allowed to help in the kitchen. Even our toddler, who is currently one percent helpful and 99 percent destructive, stands at the island and munches on Cheerios while we work. They will be trained as artists from the beginning, but their tools will be spatulas and wooden spoons, and someday, paring knives and zesters.

My daughter will never present me with an elbow-macaroni necklace, and she will probably never see a watercolor paint until she gets to school. Instead, she will, with flour smudged on her pretty face and batter glommed in her hair, eat a chocolate chip cookie that was the product of her mildly dextrous mixing, baked while she traced designs in a pile of sugar spilled on the counter. To me, that is the best kind of artistry: the kind you cannot hang on the fridge.

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