I cook in Lucy's pre-k class every Monday. Last week we roasted pumpkin seeds. This week we make pumpkin pancakes. Before that, we made meatballs. We cook everything on an electric flat top, circa 1970.
The group, which changes every week, has about 20 minutes to make a snack for all 20 kids and teachers eat, too. The snack will sit 15 minutes before it is passed out. We have a hot pot, electric flat top, microwave and a hot plate to cook on. There is a fridge.
Picture it, six eager 4 year olds gathered round a boiling oil spurting frying pan, and dipping their fingers into raw meat and eggs. It's not a cooking class it's a tragic episode of Grey's Anatomy.
Some things about 4 year olds and cooking:
1. When cooking in a pre-k class you are always just one recipe step away from everyone losing their shit. Believe it or not, just cooking pumpkin seeds in oil and dousing them with salt is like a huge endeavor for a group of kids.
Even though, the temptation is to do something amazing and complicated with the kids, like making head cheese or flambeing something, or adding an extra step like beating egg whites until they're stiff (for pancakes), they can just hold it together long enough to put a few ingredients into a bowl before they start hucking hot, oily pumpkin seeds at each other with spatulas.
2. Kids pick their noses and cook at the same time. They just do. Do not question or leave the frying pan to grab the kid a tissue. Someone will nearly set themselves on fire half way to the tissue box.
3. Most 4 yr olds cannot recognize garlic and onions by sight or smell. No judgments on other people's kids, just sayin' I baffled them with my fresh produce.
One kid was able to identify Worcestershire Sauce as "barbecue", so that's something.
4. There's always one kid... There is definitely one kid in the group that is DYING to touch the hot griddle. DYING. I see her leaning in, putting her face super-close to the oil and dangling her fingers over the heat, sort of playing with the idea of slapping her whole hand onto the flat top.
This is the kid who is going to grow up to have unprotected, drunk sex with rock stars in bad hotel rooms. I kinda love her.
5. Someone will cry. It might be me. In the girls bathroom. It's junior high all over again.
6. Prepare for your kid to secretly hate that your being nice to other people's kids. Or not so secretly, as Lucy informed every kid in the group that she gets to do every step of the dish and do it first because I'm her mom and she's done all this before.
And that's when you realize the problem kid in the cooking class is the one you brought into the world. And so I'm not just cooking with the kids and preventing them from scorching themselves with burning oil or making sure they don't impale themselves on a fork. No, I'm making sure my daughter doesn't go all Kim Jong iI on the more good-natured, better-raised children in her class.
7. There was an episode with cheese... I look away for one second to shut off the flat top after the meatballs are done. To provide a safe environment, of course. I am ever-vigilant.
But I took my eyes off the container of grated cheese. What was I thinking? For one second. One measly second. Next thing, I know 6 little fists have plunged into the cheese, shoving it in their mouths, throwing it in the air. There is a snow bed of cheese on the floor. It is a blizzard. A cheese orgy. There is fighting. Jockeying for position next to the container. Someone is shoved. A herd mentality has formed. One kid slips on cheese and risks being stampeded by the cheese freaks. There are nearly tears. Cooking in pre-k becomes a cage match of death.
Then, the head teacher, Lisa, steps in and in a nano second, order is restored. She shuts off the lights and the kids drop the cheese. They look at her and immediately put their hands on their heads. I do, too. I am in awe of her powers.
I crave that kind of power in the world.
8. I convince myself the teacher thinks I'm a crappy parent... I like to torture myself.
9. I pick raw meat out of a child's hair... Hey, it happens.
10. The kids want me back Well, yes. Of course. But Lisa will be picking cheese out of her radiators until March.
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds on an Electric Flat Top in a Pre-K Classroom
1. Remove seeds from pumpkins. You'll need two pumpkins for most humans but four if you are providing snacks for 20. Pumpkins look big but some are not so fertile in the seed department.
2. Separate as much pumpkin gunk as you can from the seeds by hand.
3. Take seeds and put them in a nice big bowl and add cold water. Most of the seeds will rise to the top and the gunk will sit at the bottom. Remove with a strainer.
4. I wash the seeds again in a strainer just to get any remaining gunk off. (If there is gunk om the seeds, it will mold over, so you want it off)
5. Spread seeds out over a tea towel and let them dry out overnight.
6. When you are ready to cook them, use a cast iron, regular fry pan or if you are in pre-k, a griddle. Heat pan. Add olive oil. I like my seeds nice and oily, so don't be stingy. Add the seeds and cook them until they start to turn a nice golden brown on one side and tumble them over to cook on the other side. This will take 5-7 minutes.
7. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel. Let the excess oil drain. Sprinkle generously with salt or any other herb, spice mixture you like. Can be saved in a plastic container for a week or so, but are better eaten warm and immediately.