Thursday, June 09, 2016

Baking Bear is the best bear ever

The blurry blob is dough. We're playing catch while waiting for the oil to get to temp.
He is fussy about his images, and doesn't want them on FB. He doesn't like me talking about him.
So don't look at him. Look at the blob of dough. Don't see him. And for the love of my blog,
don't tell him I wrote about his baking day!
I’ve been meaning to talk about Sunday, because it was a great example of how Bear is a self-learner. He learns best by exploring and doing. Show him a how-to video on something he’s interested  in and he’ll do it, make observations, discuss it, and maybe try it again. Things he’s done on his own: Making butter candles. Using silverware to balance a glass precariously. Making butter.  Creating a card game system. Making medieval swords and weapons out of swim noodles, duct tape, and fabric. Create a solar power source (one of those kits - he’s done a bunch of them for fun). Waffles.

Give him something he can put his hands on and take apart or put together or build. Show him the night sky. When he gets interested in something, give him the tools. When he shows you his drawing, look at it closer. It’s not a drawing. It’s an entire world complete with environment, resources, predators, and culture complete with tools, cookware, weapons, buildings or tents, and style of clothing.

But don’t ask him to do homework. Or write an essay on what he knows because he can just tell you. Or judge his work in comparison to others. Or tell him he is so smart he could do so much better in school. Because that means grades and he’s too smart - he knows they are meaningless. One of his teachers this past year, my favorite kind of teacher, the kind that doesn’t believe grades matter nearly as much as inspiring a child, and who works to inspire rather than get results, told me my Bear loved Science.
“Don’t you see that?” he’d asked me.
“Umm… yep.”

And I did, when I thought about it. When our conversations started revolving around exo-planets and the mass of stars and what really happens when you get too close to a black hole, and do any of you understand how ridiculously small we are compared to the wonders of space? My son does.

My son also enjoys to bake on occasion - the occasion being any time his desire to try a new recipe matches the availability of flour, butter and salt in our house.

So Sunday.

He wanted to fry donuts, and found the recipe through his favorite food YouTuber, Nerdy Nummies or something. We went to the store together with the list. We got the ingredients and then I pretty  much left him alone, just checking in now and again. Mostly, leaving him alone. He enjoys baking. I do not.
Due to his shyness around cameras operated by
me, I've got mostly sneak shots. Here he's in
the process of mixing with a friend's help.

I am absolutely the worst person to teach him how to bake because everything about the process requires a constant state of awareness and a technical accuracy in measurement. I don’t really know the meanings of strange phrases like ‘beat until eggs are thicker’ even though they always are runny, and the reason why it’s important to sift flour when sifting flour is called for. Also, it requires a lot of ingredients, bowls, kitchenware, pans, pots, things… and when it’s all done, the kitchen is covered in flour and someone has to do all the cleaning. I also get really bored after I bake the first two cookie sheets of cookies. The thought of filling out just one more cookie sheet becomes overwhelming and exhausting and I need to lie down and take a nap instead.

I am also absolutely the best person to teach him how to bake because I have absolutely no expectations on how a proper baker should bake, so he can do it his way, free of my preconceived notions. I have no ‘just so’ way of storing any ingredients. I have no preferences on baking materials or ingredients or techniques or even opinions. I know just enough to help him with the really tricky questions: ‘how will we know when the oil is 350 degrees?’ ‘there will be teeny bubbles. Also, the candy thermometer.’ ‘What is that strange popping sound?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘maybe we should turn the heat down and move the pot off the heat?’ ‘yeah, it’s kinda scary.’

The actual doing, it’s all him. He made the dough and I secretly suspect he didn’t mix all the ingredients equally, but I didn’t jump in and do it for him. I didn’t even tell him about it after. He made observations to me on what he needed to do next time to make the donuts better. (we need actual donut cutters. A stronger pot. etc.)  He knew there were multiple steps and it would be a long process. He was patient while the dough doubled. He was patient while the donuts proofed for another 20 minutes. (I was not. Seriously. The kitchen was a disaster, and it was taking forever, and I really wanted a nap.) He followed the recipe. I don’t even know what the steps were. He did some things brilliantly. Others, well. It’s hard to mess up fried donuts, but we both agree we don’t have the right tools for decorating.
Next time, I think I need to spring for proper decorating tips.

The thing that struck me is how capable in the kitchen he is. He planned things carefully. He pre-watched the video so many times he knew how the flow of the process should work.
Things we learned together:
Stainless steel makes too many scary sounds when oil gets really hot.
Hot oil really hurts when you get it on your finger, but sucking your finger makes it go away.
It really only takes a minute or so to get a nice brown donut.
Everyone wants to eat your food, no one wants to help make it or clean up after it.
Playing with dough is fun.

At one point, while he was waiting for the oil to get to 350 degrees - now? now? How about now? - we were both kinda stuck in the kitchen area, not able to leave hot oil on a stove, but not able to really do anything else. He picked up a ball of dough that was leftover and too tough to use, and started tossing it. He commented on its texture. The sound it made when it hit his hand. How stretchy it was. How we could catch the ball sometimes by poking a finger in it so it wouldn’t drop. How he’d like to try that homemade cinnamon play-doh recipe I used to make when he and his brother were toddlers.

And then we were playing catch with the ball of dough because it was just the right size - a soft, squishy combination flour, salt, butter, sugar and egg. If you can’t imagine playing catch with a ball of dough, trust me, it’s fun.  He made up a game, because 12 year old boys love games, and we had to catch it one-handed only.

Catch is a great game. You toss a ball casually back and forth and eventually someone starts talking. Since my son is in this separate-from-the-mom phase and also  notoriously incapable of remaining silent, it didn’t take long for him to chatter at me about all sorts of the nonsensical things that are so important to a 12-year-old. And this is why the ball of dough was perfect. No one had to ‘do’ anything. We didn’t have to find a ball. Get a glove. Go outside. Put on sunscreen.  We lobbed a ball of dough back and forth chatting while the oil heated up (really slowly).

Then the donuts were done and glazed and delic.
Then the donuts were done, and he made sure there were enough doughnuts for everyone, with an extra for him. He cleaned (mostly) the kitchen. It energized him. He wants to do more.

And I saw my Bear. I saw the Bear his friends see, his teachers see on a good day, his father sees when they’re playing video games or talking, like they are now, about how science fiction fires up the imagination to think about what is possible. His father is determined Bear be confident enough to pursue a life of creative endeavors in science, baking, art, professional YouTubing, whatever, because Husbear and I both agree this kid is amazeballs, and the absolute worst thing to happen to him would be encouraging him to lead a life of conformity in a 9-5 world that wouldn’t begin to understand or care about this amazing, beautiful, soulful child.

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