I remember going for a walk with my aunt once. We walked over the cliffs, and to keep her two younger children engaged and more importantly walking, she cooked an imaginary cake. We pulled the seed heads off tall grasses and threw the sugar into an invisible mixing bowl. We cracked acorns for eggs and blew dandelions for flour. We put the cake under a gorse bush cooker and by the end of the walk we pulled it our from between a gatepost. And, here's the best bit, when we got home, there on the centre of the table was a floral plate with a marzipan topped Battenburg cake on it. I was just old enough to know the ruse, to know that Battenburgs only came from Asda, but I was young enough too to get caught up in the magic of an imaginary cake becoming real.
So earlier today Max was asking if we could do 'pretend cooking with real ingredients'. I think he worked out that cooking up the left-over turkey from Thanksgiving was as much real cooking with real ingredients as I was going to manage for one day. There are lots of things I've been saying 'yes' to recently that I perhaps wouldn't have a few months ago. Yes, because Jack is crying, yes because I can't think straight, yes, because otherwise it always seems to be no. So letting Max have a few things from the cupboard to cook something 'pretend' felt fine. I'm happy to encourage anyone in the kitchen - you never know, in a few years time it might pay off! So while Oli napped and Jack nursed, Max took ownership of a small casserole dish and some select spices. We talked about what might go into the making of a cake and decided that a pretend cake could have a pretend egg, not a real one this time. But this boy had planned on making his pretend cake with real ingredients and he had the contents of the cupboard in mind. He was very tacit about the whole thing though. He came over to where I was sitting and asked if I could open a packet of mulled spice. I thanked him for asking and gave him a clove. Then he came over and announced his cake needed some chocolate. Ha! Of course it did. Dom dug out the cooking chocolate and gave him a square of it. I assumed it would go straight in his mouth.
Jack stopped nursing, Oli was up from his nap and it was time for the beach. The casserole dish sat on the kitchen floor, the contents marinading while we got some fresh air and tried to avoid wet feet in the surf. A few hours later, back home, supper has been eaten and we are closing in on bathtime. On the sideboard there is a small casserole dish, half full of water. It smells mildly of cinnamon and has a brown scum on top. There's definitely a few broken lengths of spaghetti in there and a dash of milk. I think there's some flour and there's even that square of cooking chocolate. I accept the amount of work that has gone into it and know I'll have to wait a bit before I can reclaim my dish. Anyway, I'm back nursing Jack again and Dom takes control of Max and Oli, but with one eye on the cricket.
When I come downstairs half an hour later I find Max buttering a 9 inch by 4 inch cake tin. Oli is watching his brother in awe, encouraging this gastronomic feat. Oli mostly likes 'Unny' these days (that'll be honey to you and I) but he looks like he has complete confidence that this brown scummy water could indeed become a delicious chocolate cake. Australia have dropped a catch Dom tells me. He assures me England have a chance now. I watch Max, face contorted, waiting for the mixture to spill across the floor. But no, he pours it into his greased pan and it is me that encourages him to put it in the oven. I twist some knobs and turn a dial pretending to turn the cooker on.
Later, far too late in fact. and in spite of my eyes being hot with tiredness, in spite of the laundry that needs hanging up, in spite of the bottles that need sterilizing, the dishwasher that needs emptying, in spite of my hair that needs washing, I know a cake needs baking. I wash out the scummy water and make the quickest cake I know, a banana cake in a bread pan, and wonder if the magic will live on!