The Heart of the Cooking Matter

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

As soon as I could reach the counters, my mom let me experiment in the kitchen, where I created memorable meals such as "Dino Dogs" (dinosaur-shaped Kraft pasta dinner with cut-up hot dogs) and the unfortunate "Kraft Single Melted over Cantaloupe" dish.

For a Valentine's Day kitchen experience, I suggested to my friends' 5-year-old twins, Connor and Evan, that we make heart-shaped pizzas together. Connor enthusiastically agreed to, while Evan was a bit more contemplative: "Yes, but I'm not going to eat it." Honesty, so refreshing.

First, let's get things clear: Evan hates sauce (just like his mother), Connor hates cheese and their dad can't eat gluten. Making pizza for this family is no simple task. So I stuck with simple ingredients: pre-made roll-out pizza dough, jarred sauce, mushrooms (as white as I could find them), pepperoni and cheese. When it came to the dessert pizza (topped with M&Ms, Cinnamon Life cereal and marshmallows) the picky little eaters had no qualms. Shocking.

I shaped the pizza dough into hearts on a cutting board, allowing the boys to fully apply the toppings before we all realized I hadn't floured the board. The pizzas totally lost their shape en route to the baking sheets. In the words of Evan, the end product "looks really awful."

But in the end, Evan ate his pizza, while Connor abstained. His mom asked me to sneak cheese onto his. He's no fool. After one look at the finished product, Connor announced: "I'm only going to have applesauce. You can have my chef-made pizza."

The dessert pizza - melted chocolate chips as "sauce" atop regular pizza dough, with sweets on top - didn't sound very palatable. But when I suggested this out loud, both boys decided that nothing with treats on top could be gross. The final verdict: chocolate and M&Ms are really good together.

I'm not sure how many times I told the boys that the just-out-of-the-oven baking sheet was hot and to be careful as they placed M&Ms atop the dessert pizza. Twenty? Thirty? I hovered nearby and used my arm as a guard rail any time one of them reached across. I looked away once - to grab more candy - and Evan somehow touched it. I have no idea how. I was 2 inches away from him. I looked away for a second.

I grabbed an ice cube and paper towel for the child, wailing in his father's arms at the kitchen sink, finger red and throbbing. My heart hurt as much as his finger.

I held the ice cube to Evan's finger and pushed up my sleeve, showing him the burns from my own cooking misadventures the week before.

I've moved on from microwaving fruit and Kraft singles, but some kitchen lessons are harder to retain, no matter how many times you learn them.

- Jill Moorhead doesn't have children, but borrows her friends' kids with a dual purpose: to actually see her friends, and to find ways to spoil their offspring.Follow her adventures with food online