When my friend Chuck Williams told me that being a good cook is something that happens by just cooking, I nodded my head so hard my stripes got all squiggly.
If anyone knows about cooking, it’s Chuck. He’s 99 years old—and cooking is something he’s done ever since he was a kid. Today, Chuck is the author of lots of cookbooks and the founder of a very cool kitchenware store called Williams-Sonoma.
Chuck first started learning to cook back in the early 1900s, when he spent lots of time in the kitchen with his grandmother. In those days, people didn’t have microwave ovens or electric mixers or even many real cookbooks. So how did kids learn to cook?
“I learned to cook by watching my grandmother and listening carefully to everything she said,” Chuck told me .
“I helped her in the kitchen every day. I watched and I listened and I asked questions. One of my favorite things was making pies with her. After she finished trimming the crust, she would give me the scraps and let me try to make my own pie.”
“Did you ever make mistakes?” I asked. (This is an important question, because zebras tend to be all hooves in the kitchen—and make lots of mistakes!)
“Of course,” Chuck said. “That’s how you learn. Your mistakes teach you how to do things right the next time. And there are times when a mistake leads to a wonderful discovery in the kitchen. Often times a mistake can turn out better than the original.”
“But what do I do if I make a mistake and it doesn’t turn out to be anything except a big mess?” I asked.
I was thinking of the first time I tried to make an omelet, which is one of the first things Chuck says kids (and zebras) should try to make when they’re learning to cook.
Unfortunately, my omelet ended up looking like a globby yellow UFO—but at least my cat, Whitefoot, enjoyed it.
Chuck laughed. “If you make a mess, you clean it up. And then you try again. It’s all about practicing. You just keep cooking—and one day you discover that you really know how to cook.”
Zebras love discovery, so I decided to practice my kitchen skills until I made something wonderful.
And what is ZeBest way to practice? By cooking and baking for Chuck!
Every chance I get, I make up a new recipe for him. The things they all have in common are stripes–and being made with lots of love.
Since ZeGrandma lives far away, I imagine that I’m in the kitchen with Chuck, watching and listening and learning.
The more I practice, the more fun I have. I love cooking, baking, tasting and sharing—I feel as though I could stay in the kitchen forever.
And that’s a great thing. Because Chuck’s advice for a long and happy life is this: “Love what you do—and always eat well!”
Recipe: ZeBot’s Striped Chocolate-Cherry Blondies
Whenever I bring these to Chuck, he smiles and says “I love these because I can tell that they’re really homemade.” Actually, they’re hoofmade – with lots of love!
What you need:
1/2 cup butter (this is the same as 1 stick)
2 cups dark brown sugar
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp. milk (either whole or 2% milk works best)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 cups of semisweet chocolate chips to mix in + 1 cup more for melting
1 cup dried tangy cherries (Chuck and I like Montmorency)
Extra Secret Ingredient: Lots of love!
What you do:
Before you start baking, please get all your ingredients ready, grease a 9″ x 13″ glass baking dish, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
1. Cut the butter into little slices (about the thickness of your finger).
2. Put the butter slices in a Pyrex (a kind of glass especially designed to stand high heat) measuring cup or a small glass bowl, then cover with a saucer (this will keep butter from splattering when you melt it).
3. Microwave the butter for about 1 minute (just till it’s melted).
4. Pour the butter into a big mixing bowl, then add the brown sugar – mix it all up with a big spoon.
5. Add the eggs, one at a time (remember to break open their shells first). Stir up the buttery sugar and eggs really well.
6. Stir in the milk and vanilla.
7. Dump in the flour, baking powder and salt, then mix it all in. There should be NO white clumps or streaks in your bowl. Stripes are great, but we don’t want them here!
8. Stir in the chocolate chips and dried cherries.
9. Use your spoon or a rubber scraper to get the thick batter happily settled in your greased baking pan. Be sure to spread it so the surface of the batter looks nice and even.
10. Bake for 30 minutes, take the blondies out of the oven and let them cool.
11. To make zebra stripes on your blondies, ask an adult to help you melt some semisweet or milk chocolate chips (on the stovetop or in the microwave). Then use a spoon to drizzle the melted chocolate onto the pan of blondies.
12. When the chocolate isn’t gooey anymore, cut the blondies into squares. Save a couple for yourself, then put the rest on a pretty paper plate and give them to your favorite human (or zebra)!