“I want to make something for mom,” Charlie said. “Something special. A surprise.”
“Well, we have lots of materials for all sorts of crafts in the closet.” Isaac started counting things off on his fingers. “Colored paper, yarn, googly eyes, glue, glitter…”
“No, no, no.” Charlie waved his arms. “I want to make something in the kitchen. Something yummy, like on the cooking shows.”
“Ah. What recipe would you like to make?”
Charlie frowned. “I can’t tell you. Then it wouldn’t be a surprise.”
“I thought it was a surprise for mom?”
“Nope.” Charlie folded his arms. “I know better. The best way to keep a secret is not to tell anybody. Besides, if I tell you what I want to do, then you’ll want to help. If you help, then it won’t just be from me.”
“I could be your helper. Real chefs have helpers in the kitchen. They chop things and use the stove and such.” Isaac smiled. “It would still be you in charge, so the surprise would come from you.”
“I’d be in charge?”
Isaac nodded. “Of course.”
“And you would listen to me and not try to change things?”
“Unless it was something dangerous,” Isaac said. “I am a dad, and safety rules are important to dads.”
Charlie sighed. “Fine. You can come. But it’s my idea, so I’m the chef.”
“Okay. Let’s go.” Isaac and Charlie went to the kitchen. Isaac took two aprons off the hook. He gave the smaller one to Charlie and put on the other one. “What are we going to make?”
Charlie took down the family recipe book. “Hmmmm.” He flipped through the pages. “None of this is special. We’ve tried all of it before. I’m going to make something new. Then it will be a big surprise.”
“Making up a new recipe can be difficult,” Isaac said.
“I can do it.” Charlie tugged on his apron. “See, I’m wearing an apron. I’m a chef. I’ll just look at what ingredients we have. Then I’ll decide what to make.”
Charlie found eggs and butter and cocoa powder and peanuts and oranges and celery. He found flour and pepper and salt and cinnamon sugar and chili powder and milk. He found an onion, but he put it back. “No onions,” he said. “Not today.”
He looked at his collection of ingredients. “I think I’ll make a cake. You can peel the oranges. I’ll start mixing things.”
“Do you want me to preheat the oven first?” Isaac asked.
“Yeah. Put it to cake temperature. I’ll get out the mixing bowl.”
“We should probably wash our hands,” Isaac said.
“I was going to say that. I didn’t forget.” Charlie turned and headed to the sink instead of the cupboards.
In the big plastic mixing bowl, Charlie mixed the flour, milk, cocoa powder, peanuts and spices. The eggs didn’t crack very well, and he spent a lot of time trying to get the bits of eggshell out. “I can’t see the eggshells in all this flour. You should have cracked the eggs.”
Isaac looked over his shoulder. “I think you got them all.”
Charlie frowned and pushed his wooden spoon around in the batter. “I guess so. What’s next?” He looked at the ingredients. “Did you peel and mash the oranges?”
“I just peeled them, but I didn’t mash them.”
“Could you mash them? And chop up the celery?”
“Of course.” Isaac started mashing and chopping. Charlie found the cake pan and smeared the inside with butter. When Isaac was done, he brought them over to Charlie. “Now what?”
Charlie pointed to the plastic bowl. “Put them in there. After I wash my hands again, I’ll mix it all up.”
Charlie stirred the batter energetically and poured it in the pan. Only a little bit spattered over the sides. “Okay. You put it in the oven and set the time,” Charlie said. “When the timer goes off, we can check it.”
“After it’s in the oven, we can clean up a bit,” Isaac said.
It took a little time after the cake was brown for it to stop being jiggly. It puffed up a lot, but then deflated pretty soon after they took it out of the oven. Isaac set it on a potholder on the counter.
“Should we taste it?” Isaac asked.
“No, it has to be a surprise,” Charlie said. “We’ll wait until Mom gets home.”
“Let’s make dinner while we wait. What should we make?”
Charlie grinned. “Spaghetti! I’ll go get the noodles.”
By the time Marianne came home, dinner was waiting on the table, the dirty dishes were washed, and Isaac was lighting candles. “What’s the occasion?” she asked.
Charlie jumped up from where he was sitting and hugged her. “It’s a surprise for you, mom.” He looked up at her and grinned. “Do you like it?”
“Of course I do. Let’s sit down and eat, and you can tell me all about your day,” she said.
“We have cake for later, too. It’s my recipe, because I was the chef today.”
“I’m sure it will be wonderful.”
It wasn’t. Not really. The flavor and the textures just weren’t very cake-like. Charlie took one bite and spit it out. “Don’t eat it,” he said. “It’s awful. I’m sorry.” He looked close to tears.
Isaac and Marianne each took a bite.
“It’s different,” Isaac said. “But it’s not awful.”
“It’s my surprise cake, and I love it,” Marianne said.
Charlie frowned. “You don’t have to eat it. I know it doesn’t taste good.”
But Marianne ate every bite. Isaac hid most of his in his napkin. Charlie threw his away and ate a Popsicle.
“Did you have fun being a chef?” Isaac asked later at bedtime.
“Yes. But next time I’m going to taste what I make before I give it to someone.”
“Or you could use a recipe that you know will turn out well.” Isaac sat in the chair by the bookshelf in Charlie’s room and opened up the book they were reading.
“I think I’ll be fine. I’m a chef,” Charlie said. “But next time, you can crack the eggs.”