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Introduce Your Kids to the Kitchen

Willa had a problem. It was her six-year-old son, Danny, who would climb the walls when there was no one to play with. "The racket was driving me crazy," says Willa. "Yelling, crying, stomping. Even TV wouldn't calm him down."

But as a stroke of good luck, Willa unwittingly discovered how to stop the screaming. It happened one weekend when she was baking a pie. "It was a Saturday, very drizzly and rainy. Danny was moping around until he came to the kitchen," Willa remembers. "I was baking a pie and I think it was the scent that drove him there, but he started hanging around, asking questions, and before I knew it, we were baking the pie together. It really did the trick. And all this time I had tried hard to keep him out of the kitchen!"

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Short and cold wintry days can make for grumpy kids. And it's difficult to come up with creative ways to keep young ones busy indoors. But a well-supervised kitchen (with the rules clearly spelled out) may spark an interest you never knew your child had, and help her learn in a more engaging setting than a classroom. "Cooking and baking are wonderful activities for children for a variety of reasons," says Elaine Cohen, author of Super-Duper Cupcakes: Kids' Creations from the Cupcake Caboose. "The process of cooking is fun, but it also develops math and reading skills—we learn how to measure ingredients; follow a recipe's instructions; and see ingredients transform from many independent items into a single one."

And not to be lost in the equation is the sense of satisfaction a child gets by creating something from scratch. According to Elaine, "Not only does food nourish the body, but the process of making food is nourishing as well. It's 'I'm cooking something yummy. I'm doing something good for myself.' And that feels good."

First-time mom Melanie agrees. "Sally was really good at making messes, that's for sure. So it was a great idea to channel that energy into making something that didn't have to be scrubbed off the walls. And I have to say, my 5-year-old has a knack for oatmeal cookies."

But what if you're concerned about all those pies, cookies and cakes? While it's no mystery that sweets are more likely to keep your child interested in the kitchen, there are organic alternatives. "Cupcakes are really great when they're made from organic ingredients," says Elaine. "I suggest using organic milk and butter and farm-fresh eggs. Markets also sell organic sugars and flour. I can taste the difference when organic ingredients are used, especially the organic butter in buttercream frosting."

And how can you get your child's creativity going? Elaine has this tip: "Whenever I host a cupcake decorating parties, for friends or clients, I decorate a few cupcakes to show the children samples what they can do. I have found that most of the kids riff off my ideas and create their own marvelous decorations. I don't think I'm the first to discover that children are amazingly creative and imaginative."

Want to get cooking? Go to the next page for a recipe on cupcakes and frosting!

Organic Vanilla Heaven Cupcakes

Recipe from Super-Duper Cupcakes by Elaine Cohen

Ingredients:

1 cup organic milk, room temperature

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3/4 cup free-range or organic egg whites (from about 6 large eggs), room temperature

1 teaspoon pure organic vanilla extract

2 1/4 cups cake flour (or all-purpose flour)

1 3/4 cups organic sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted organic butter, softened and cut into 12 pieces

Directions:

Adjust oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pans with bake-cup liners.

Pour milk, egg whites and vanilla into a medium bowl and mix with a fork until blended.

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer at the lowest speed. Add the butter pieces; continue beating at low speed until the mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no powdery ingredients remaining, about 1 minute.

Add all but 1/2 cup of the milk mixture to the crumbs and beat at medium speed for 1 minute. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of the milk mixture and beat 30 seconds longer. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl. Return the mixer to medium speed and beat about 20 seconds longer.

Pour the batter into muffin cups so that the cups are about 80 percent full. Bake the cupcakes for 15 to 17 minutes. Insert a toothpick in the center of a cupcake. If it comes out clean, it is done.

Transfer the muffin pans to wire cooling racks or away from the hot oven. Let them cool for 10 minutes. Remove cupcakes from the pan and place on racks or plates to continue cooling. Be sure to cool cupcakes completely before frosting, about 1 hour.

Makes 18 cupcakes.

Organic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Recipe adapted from Super-Duper Cupcakes by Elaine Cohen.

Organic food coloring can be added to make this frosting any color.

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Ingredients:

1/2 pound (2 sticks) organic unsalted butter, softened

1 pound (4 cups) organic confectioners' sugar

1 tablespoon pure organic vanilla extract

2 tablespoons organic cream (or milk)

Pinch of salt

Directions:

Beat the butter, confectioners' sugar, vanilla, cream and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer at low speed until the sugar is moistened.

Increase the speed to medium and beat, stopping twice to scrape down the bowl, until creamy and fluffy, about 1 1/2 minutes.

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