School holidays usually are an opportunity for families to come together and for parents to have a relaxed, enjoyable period of time with their children. Where school routines are forgotten, where home schedules become chilled, and adventures may be entertained.
At Ronald McDonald House in Auckland, families are not afforded the same luxury of a respite from the ongoing routine of hospital stays, treatments and operations. Parents attempt to keep a smile and brave face for the siblings who are also caught up in the daily routine alongside their brothers and sisters. Many have lived at the house for months, some for weeks and others just a few days. Yet, whenever I meet with them I am astounded at their smiles and hugs for me. I am blown away by children who have scars from procedures I cannot even fathom, who are excited to see me and who giggle as they wait to see what I am going to prepare.
Cooking classes at RMH Auckland have begun. With families coming and going as they venture to and from the children’s hospital next door, it is more of a protracted interactive cooking extravaganza. Children climb on chairs to get a chance to grate zucchini. Other’s want to use the same grater as me, so extras are found in the well equipped home style kitchen, to ensure all participants are accommodated.
Piles of cheese and zucchini grow as the children take to their challenge with gusto. We are preparing to make zucchini fritters – simple and healthy; quick and easy – an uncomplicated dish which can be a nutritious snack or meal. There are eyebrows raised as some mention they are not so fond of zucchini – “but you will love these”, I promise hopefully. And of course they do, the cheese, the subtle thyme and the simpleness of the dish is a winner.
The children even help to fry them and the adults are thrilled to see how everyone wants to munch on them. And how could you pass on that deliciously enticing aroma that has filled the ‘family room’.
But of course, it is the allure of cooking a cake in a cup that captures every child in the room. Those a little too shy before have suddenly found a shred of confidence at the promise they will produce their own little cake. And in a few moments we have a production line.
Tall glasses are found, ingredients are lined up and children wait patiently, accepting that they need to take their turn to carefully measure out their ingredients. Parents jump up to help and dozens of glasses full of cake batter are turned over to Christopher, my 11 year old son, who is ready to help with processing them all through the microwave.
Giggles abound as cakes explode like volcanos – it’s because we are Kiwi’s I explain to more laughter. The cakes are a hit and children start to experiment with different flavours – forgetting to eat as they are so much more enamoured with the process than the product.
Christopher is in the midst of it all, guiding younger ones and sharing flavour ideas with his peers. At one point I notice the cocoa powder and flour spread across the bench, on the floor and all over the children and I go to tidy up but the sheer delight in the faces of the youngsters stops me and I simply join them in their enthusiasm to continue to create.
Before long we are cooking fritters again so that a family can take some to the ward for a little girl who has missed the class due to surgery. Photos are snapped, certificates of achievement signed and food abounds. I am happy. Today was about creating. It was about involvement. It was about fun and it was all about process.
Thank you to all of the children who came with such positive energy. I can’t wait to come back and do it all over again.