Well the days of "Explorative Cooking" are back with a bang! "Explorative Cooking" is a new term that has been coined in our home to describe the type of cooking activities that the sisters started some time back. As with everything else they got a sudden intense passion to try out "cooking"..they would come in the kitchen and literally attack my masala dabbas and fridge and create all sorts of dishes with it. As an adult my first reaction was to say "NO" to the kind of things that they would want to cook with but later on realized that I cannot expect them to understand what goes into sensible cooking..for them the kitchen and its materials is just one huge Lab which they are exploring..hence the name Explorative Cooking!
Explorative cooking can be hard on the watcher..Chellu would take an utensil and mix all the masalas, date syrup, salt, sugar, neem leaves & so many other things ..sometimes even washing soap & what not! I had a hard time trying to make sense out of the amount of wastage but then realized that this is our "Cost of education"!! It all actually started with her wondering about the effect of putting soap water mixed with chai powder ( boiled one) in the freezer? This led to a series of other experiments , mostly with mixing and observing. They would also time & again want to do other kitchen chores like chopping, peeling, making chappati atta, washing vessels, pocha etc etc.. They also went through a stage of wanting to observe everything on the gas by standing on the platform.
The boiled & filtered chai powder is one of their favorites. Many afternoons have gone in playing "chai chai" with the same! They would pretend like making chai with the chai pathi , filter it, pour it in glasses & serve me.
One of the interesting things that came up from explorative cooking is learning to read!! Ya learning to read. I made up a game where Chellu would make her "exotic fish food" & come to my house to sell it. The problem is that I cannot understand the spoken word..i can only write but cannot read. So when she comes into the house I ask her about the ingredients and she starts listing the items. I act like I don't understand anything she says..Instead I list 5 to 6 words for every ingredient she is explaining about..she attempts to read it and will tick the right word..Wow this game had really helped us in making a huge, quantum leap in Chellu's reading skills. We used to even extend it to learning about numbers by making our own visiting cards ( writing numbers) , calling each other on the phone ( number recognition) ..throw in marketing skills, communication skills, pricing , customer satisfaction too..And the best part is Chellu dosen't have a clue about the huge amount of learning she is doing!!
Off late her cooking inventions have been orange dosai ( cutting orange peels into tiny pieces, mixing it with the dough & making dosas out of it, colored ice- this is basically all sorts of juices poured in to the ice cube containers , including ketchup ice! Both these inventions have been a huge hit with her dad liking the former & her friends liking the latter. In fact when she has a play-date Chellu will always remember to make the tasty ice-cubes in advance for her friends.Recently she had also made kothmir chutney by pounding kothmir & mixing salt to it.Helping me with fruit-milk shakes is another of Chellu's favorites...Its a pleasure to watch her cut strawberries into thin slices for the milk shake..I've also realized that she loves the "serving" part of it. she will choose good-looking glasses and also arrange them on a nice serving plate & bring it to us..
Last weekend the girls tried something truly novel. Cooking with mud! Shankar was doing stuff with his urban permaculture experiment & the mud sacs were opened for it. Th girl pounced on the mud sac & decided to cook with it. While Chellu made mitti ka chappati, Kunju made mitti ki dal & mitti ki soup. They had such a blast getting their hands dirty..Truly nothing can substiture mud when it comes to super fun!
Cooking is always such a hit with my girls. I realized that I need to take a step back & not try to judge what they do logically..At this stage its purely experimentation for them. They are learning about various ingredients & trying to see what happens when such & such a thing is done..Isn't this truly science? when the mind evokes Q & the hands goes about trying to find a solution? I've been slowly trying to nudge Chellu towards cooking only with eatable stuff so that it can be consumed at some point of time..
Her most recent invention has been chocolate yogurt ( yogurt mixed with cocoa-powder). And making cultet impressions with cookie-cutters.
Im enjoying every bit of all this explorative cooking. In fact its a pleasure to watch them experiment & come up with novel ideas of food. I've realized that helping out in the kitchen is is a matter of great pride for them. They want to be my by side doing the same things as me. Watering it down only puts them off. Whether its mixing newly fermented idli/dosa atta or pouring them into the idli plates or serving or making chappati atta/ rolling out chappattis or any of the innumerable stuff related to the kitchen they are always game. And this is the same w.r.t everything else. I think the concept of toys is a very recent phenomenon. When I watch my girls I've realized that they spend very little time with toys compared to what they would like to do with real-life play. Even when they are playing they like toys that imitate real-life like washing m/c, kitchen, dolls ( for babies)etc..the other ones get an occasional glance. I had read somewhere that pre-industrialization (& even now in rural settings)children used to help around a lot with house-hold chores. They probably never had issues raising 10 kids becoz the kids were involved in activities throughout the day like farming etc..
Another book had said that letting kids do house-hold work improves their self-esteem . It gives them a great sense of importance. But sadly our present culture "waters-down" or " dumbs-down" everything for them. Anyone who watches me hand over a real kitchen knife to the girls is shocked. But the truth is that even 3 yr old Shreedhari has never hurt herself with it. The other day I watched Chellu break coconut shells ( the green part) with a huge arruvaal ( English version??) . She fixed the aruvaal on the shell , lifted it all the way up & then banged it on the floor to break it open. Ofcourse Shankar was by her side. And Chellu was enjoying every bit of it.
And this is one of the biggest advantages of HSing..the fact that something can be done then & there when there is an interest. No "later ons" or no " this is not allowed". Everything is learning & that too "on-time".
Personally I keep checking with myself to let go more & more & allow the girls to do whatever they want in the kitchen. Never look at it as frivolous..Who knows what lies beneath this burning interest? Chellu always keeps saying that she would like to be a "cooker" when she grows up !!