Winner: Kids do the darndest things in the kitchen

This week's champ cooks with her 4-year-old, who may or may not be actual help

By Lucy Mercer
Published January 12, 2010 1:20AM (EST)

This winning entry for the Salon Kitchen Challenge -- in which we asked readers to welcome the new year with a breakfast to linger over -- comes to us courtesy of Lucy Mercer. Check out this week's Challenge here.

Today, we mark a new year with a breakfast of yeast-raised waffles, warm fruit salad and brown-sugar bacon. I'm a conscientious cook and want to be sure that all food groups are covered: sweet, salty, fruity and porky. Yes, it's going to be a good year.

Despite hopes that my youngest will sleep in this morning, my first Saturday off since before Thanksgiving, 4-year-old Lindsey is awake and full of energy. She's a helper, constantly reminding me that she wants to do and try everything. Especially if it's electric and has a button. ("Ooooh, the waffle maker! Does it have a button?") We've taken to hiding flashlights from her, because she plays with them, leaving them upside down, turned on. During a recent power failure, we managed to find a dozen flashlights, but not one worked.

This morning, she stirs the waffle batter, beating out the bubbles to a smooth consistency. Then it's time for the bacon, a task that I'm not too sad about handing over.

"Let me do it!"

"But do you really want to touch cold, slimy bacon?"

"Yes, I want to do it!" Well, if you insist ...

And so she does, stretching each piece in the pound to fit on the rack suspended over a foil-covered baking sheet. I pull out the brown sugar. "Let me do it! Give me a spoon!" And so the brown sugar is liberally poured over the bacon before I slide it into the oven for a half-hour's crisping. Thirty minutes filled with pleas to be the one to pull the hot pan out of the oven. "But Lindsey, the pan is hot. And heavy. Let Mommy."

"Let me do it!" No, I don't think so.

I distract her with the next step, opening the cans of fruit for the warm fruit salad. (I know: can opener in the hands of a 4-year-old! Get DFACS on the line.) We've been at this game for awhile, and she gives up the job early in the attempt, settling for emptying the fruit into the strainer suspended over a bowl. And she wants to be the first to sample the fruit juice. I catch her later, dipping her cup directly into the bowl of leftover juice. Then I hear, "Mommy, mommy, mommy."

And again, "Mommy, mommy, mommy."

"What do you need, sweetpea?"

"Mommy, I love you."

And I could end this story here, with a halcyon glow of promise and hope. But later, when I pull out the breakfast plates, she says, "I don't want a plate."

"But you need to eat on a plate. Waffles with syrup are messy. "

"I don't want waffles. I want to dip my bacon in the syrup."

"What about fruit?"

"No fruit. Just juice."

So, here's to 2010, a year of promise and hope, and in September, a 5-year-old.

And later,

"Mommy, mommy, mommy."


"Is Christmas over?"

"Yes, it is, sweetpea."

"Because I love it."

Warm Fruit Salad

This is my attempt to add some nutrition to the meal. A warning to all food snobs: I am a heathen, I know, because the recipe calls for canned fruit. I suppose I could summon the energy to peel pears and oranges and pineapple this morning, but in the spirit of these lean economic times, I whip out the can opener and go to town. This is a dump and do recipe.

29-ounce can peaches
20-ounce can pineapple tidbits
15.25-ounce can sliced pears
8.75-ounce can apricot halves
11-ounce can mandarin oranges
1 small jar of maraschino cherries
½ stick butter
½ cup orange juice
¾ cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cloves

  1. Set up a large bowl and a strainer and grab your can opener. Put a casserole dish alongside. Open each can (peaches through cherries), drain into the strainer, then place fruit in casserole dish.
  2. Melt butter in saucepan, heat orange juice in microwave for 30 seconds. Add sugar to butter, followed by warm orange juice. Heat until bubbly, then add spices. Pour over fruit in casserole. Place in moderate (350 degree) oven until ready to serve.

Lucy Mercer

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Children Food Kitchen Challenge