Cooking With Saya

It's Sunday and time for the longed for iChat. Something always fouls it up, but we all love it just the same. Today the transmission from Los Angeles is a bit blurry because my son's camera is on the fritz. And from our end there is no sound and no way we can figure to unmute the transmission. Still, I see my almost three year old grand daughter. Her strawberry blond hair is done up on top of her head. She's wearing a darling red dress which we are told her dad bought for her on a trip the week before. In the crook of her left arm she's holding a bright yellow bowl and in her right hand a whisk with which she's beating something liquidy in the bowl.

(We rig up the cell phone so she can hear her grandfather and me.) We tell her how lovely she looks and how happy we are to see her. (It's been a week since her last visit to us.) "Mommy and I made muffins this morning!" she announces. "When I come to D.C. we have to make muffins."

We made cookies on her last visit -- oatmeal and they were delicious. When she visited us in Florida a few months earlier, her trip was so short and jam packed with events we could only cut shapes in pound cake with a cookie cutter and decorate them with frosting and sprinkles. But she's very big on baking everything from scratch now that she's almost three. She pays close attention to the measurements, the order of their addition to the mixing bowl, the process by which the ingredients meld together into batter, and then the batter's placement on the bake ware for cooking.

We started cooking together over a year ago when her beloved maternal grandmother had to make an emergency trip to Japan. That grandmother (Mitzi) has been with Saya almost every day of her life and the two are very attached to each other. It was obvious that her absence would be deeply mourned by Saya and equally obvious that it was hard to persuade her that Mitzi would be back in two weeks -- an unbelievably long time for one so beloved to be gone when you are not yet two.

I traveled out to California trying hard to think what I would do to distract her from this pain and hit upon the notion of cookie decorating, bringing with me some thick, durable cookies, frosting packets and lots of sugary decorations to go on top. Saya held together well enough during the early part of the days of my visit but by late afternoons as the sun went down and we waited for Mommy to come home from work, her courage failed her and she'd get weepy. Out came some cookies and the decorating gear. Up she climbed on the learning tower so she could reach the kitchen counter, and as tears rolled down her face into the frosting, she helped me. I can't say the ratio of decorations which made it to the frosting versus those which went straight into her mouth, but the endeavor seemed to take the edge off her grief until Mom's return home each evening , and after a few afternoons of this, it definitely seemed as if there were  no longer any salty wet puddles on the frosting either.

I cooked with her father, too, when he was her age. In fact, the aprons she wears are the ones he wore and I saved for the next generation. He wanted to talk when I got home from work, and I needed to make dinner. So he became my sous chef, at first using a plastic knife to cut the mushrooms and celery and later handling more complicated tasks.

He learned about measuring, emulsification, the properties of various ordinary foods and how they interacted with each other and with heat and under what conditions. I used to kid him that he was so good in chemistry because of our early cooking days together.All children, I think, like to master what they consider adult tasks.

Well. We'll see her again in person later this month when we fly out for her birthday. Last year her mother ordered an Elmo cake from the bakery and as party favors the two of us made and decorated 3 inch tall three tiered cakes which we put in tiny cellophane topped boxes, secured with seals Saya had drawn on. This year, the party will be at the aquarium and the three of us are going to cook together to  make a sand castle birthday  cake and palm tree and flip flop sandal cookie favors for the guests.

If I could handle it, I'd take pictures to show you.

Anyway, that's our plan.