Today was the day of chocolate cake. It was also the day we had meant to say good-bye to Sarah, who sadly called in sick, and to our four headed to pre-k/kindergarten, who had a last minute chance to have a last official day of day care. Since I had promised the chocolate cake, I had to call Liana to come and help, or make the harder call to the mother of our four, and another mother of a two, who is catching up on work before the start of the semester, telling both their kids could not come today. Good news is Liana was free, as was her eleven year old son. More good news is that our eight and our eleven could get the cookbook from upstairs, read the list of ingredients, while I climbed on a chair to get things down and the littler ones washed hands and made the difficult decision of which apron to wear, purple, red, yellow, orange, green, blue, no fighting today, but lots of deciding. By the time we had the ingredients on the table, all the kids in the day care had arrived, twos, four, fives, eight, eleven, chairs full, and one little monkey or two sidling under the table to find a place between the chairs.

We took turns measuring and mixing, pouring and stirring, wiping the table, talking, organizing the work, our eleven and eight overseeing things while I ordered turns, asked the eleven to read the next step. We used Honest Pretzels, a cookbook for middle grade kids by Molly Katzen, with words and pictures designed for making this age group independent in the kitchen. The work was careful, if not enough for such a crowd. Slowly the youngest ones drifted away, the older ones staying to make sure every last bit of white was mixed into the brown and that the directions of stirring with a fork and a spoon in alternation were followed to a T.

We popped the cake in the oven, waiting to smell it baking, having enjoyed the scent of the vanilla, the eleven enjoyed the smell of the vinegar, not having bothered to taste the cocoa as these experts knew it would not be good without the sugar. The whole thing was mixed in the pan, heart shaped for our wishes to send our friend into the world with chocolate cake and love.

After lunch was eating time. Hard to believe that after we polished off bowls of maple and vanilla yogurt, carrots cooked and raw, frozen blueberries, and homemade buckwheat pancakes that we would have room for more, but we did. We sang Happy Kindergarten to our four, then to each of our fives, all here today and headed off to school next week, save one who starts this week and said good bye with his own chocolate cake last week. One five told me this morning he will celebrate his birthday right here, he emphasized this several times, and that he will have cake and trick candles, that won’t blow out. His birthday is in February. I didn’t burst his balloon. Another five told me last week she will help me plant the garden in the spring, as we were nibbling on tomotoes, the harvest of this year’s planting project, finally come to fruition, but the garden will go in in spring, and she will be in school. I tried to explain, but no matter, time makes no sense to a kid this age, experience will tell, and we hope very much that she will be back next summer to eat the tomatoes we will plant with our new crowd, and with the friends she’ll leave behind.

After the Happy Kindergarten song times five, we sang Happy Back to School to the Big Kids, and Happy Baby Time to the rest of us, as we are getting a whole new crop of lovelies.  We had our eight count heads, by this time past pickup time and with the big boys from upstairs in the crowd, and a parent, and the teachers, we were sixteen. Hard to cut a heart in sixteen pieces, but we did, and it was delicious.

This morning while others cleaned the table from the mixing of the cake, and while the cake was baking, one five who is an avid reader read the cookbook. Later as he ate his cake, he asked me to write down the recipe for him, as the cake was delicious. I told him I would send it on the computer so his parents could print it out. He wanted me to write it out on paper and hand it to him tomorow, sure his parents didn’t know how to print it. Here it is now. See if they do. If not, it’s back to paper and pencil for me and my five. Enjoy some chocolate cake at home to honor your special days. Make it with the kids, eat it all by itself or with a glass of milk, sprinkled with confectioners sugar or plain. Yum. Happy Kindergarten to our fours and fives, one last week of celebration and lap time and stories and dress up and building and transformers and art and mixed ages, then back to school and fall routines in day care and in school.

Made-in-the-pan Chocolate Cake

1 1/4 cup unbleached white flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup water

1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon cider vinegar or white vinegar

The directions in the cook book are much nicer for kids. I highly recommend the cookbook, especially for the step by step directions made into diagrams which are terrific for kids. My simplified version:

Preheat oven to 325 F.  Add dry ingredients to 8 inch square baking pan. Mix slowly, taking turns with a fork and a soup spoon, until it is completely and evenly brown. Make four dents in the mixture with a spoon, 2 large, 2 small. Add 1 cup of water to one of the large dents, 1/3 cup of oil in the other large dent, 1 tsp. vanilla to one small dent, 1 tsp vinegar to the other. Stir slowly with a fork in little circles to get all of the dry parts wet. Directions for mixing continue. Basically, you want to make sure it is well mixed, sides, bottom and all, then scrape the sides down with a spatula before baking 30 minutes, cooling 30 minutes, and enjoying it with your friends or family or by yourself if you are feeling especially indulgent, over time of course.

From Honest Pretzels by Mollie Katzen (of Moosewood fame)