Decades ago, when I was in elementary school in Denton, Texas, like a lot of kids I came home after school and went straight to the kitchen.
But I didn't just open the refrigerator door and stare at the contents; I tied on an apron and started baking.
I had two cookbooks by the time I was 12 -- a red-and-white checked children's cookbook by Better Homes and Gardens, and "Betty Crocker's Cooky Book," which I still have today. My specialties: chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies and peanut butter cookies, along with fudge that I'd make from my mom's New York Times cookbook. I remember feeling so grown up using a candy thermometer.
Thank goodness my father was a dentist.
Last time I was home, my 12-year-old nephew, Logan, made a surprise for his father's birthday -- a crazy-sweet cookie made with M&Ms, peanut butter and marshmallows, if you can imagine -- from his very first cookbook. I've taught him, along with his sister, Landrie, who's 7, how to make pizzas and roll out the dough, and we've often made cookies together, too, but this was the first batch that he made all by himself.
(Landrie, by the way, is still wearing her chef training wheels, but she's quickly perfecting the Easy-Bake oven confetti cakes.)
They've already learned how satisfying it is to make something yourself -- either for yourself or to share with your friends and family -- whether you're 7, 12, or, in my case, something -- ahem -- a little beyond that.
Since the after-school lull is prime baking time, when the kitchen is still quiet before the dinner rush, I've come up with a few recipes that kids can make on their own. Before starting on their math homework.
>Fruit-at-the-Bottom Yogurt Pops
2 cups plain yogurt
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
24 frozen raspberries (see note)
In a medium bowl, whisk together yogurt, sugar and vanilla.
Pour into the ice-pop molds only until 2/3 full. Now add the raspberries, gently pushing them down into the yogurt mixture. Make sure there's enough yogurt mixture to "hold" the raspberries and that it comes all the way up to the top (if it doesn't, just spoon a little more yogurt mixture into the mold).
Slide into the freezer for a few hours.
Note: You may use any fruit that you like, but blackberries, blueberries and small strawberries work best, because you don't need to cut them up.
Per yogurt pop: 141 calories, 2g fat, 24g carbohydrates, 7g protein, 7mg cholesterol, 86mg sodium, 2g dietary fiber, 13 percent of calories from fat.
>Peanut Butter-Banana Smoothies
1 frozen banana (see note)
1 tablespoon smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup milk
Break up the frozen banana with your hands into 3 or 4 pieces and put in a blender. Now, add the peanut butter and milk. Cover, and blend for a minute or two until it's smooth and creamy. Pour into a glass and enjoy! Makes one smoothie.
Note: No frozen bananas? Simply use a room-temp banana and add a cup of ice.
Per smoothie: 265 calories, 11g fat, 37g carbohydrates, 9g protein, 9mg cholesterol, 137mg sodium, 4g dietary fiber, 35 percent of calories from fat.
>Mexican Pita Pizza
1 piece pita bread (unsliced and left whole)
1/2 cup refried black beans
1 tablespoon salsa (mild)
1 tablespoon shredded cheese, such as cheddar, Monterrey Jack or a mix of the two
1 teaspoon cilantro for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to broil. First, toast the pita bread so that it's more like a pizza crust by placing it directly on an oven rack and setting the timer for 30 seconds. When the buzzer goes off, put on a baking mitt and use long tongs to flip the pita bread over to the other side. Set the timer again, but watch carefully -- this side may take less than 30 seconds to toast.
Using the tongs, take the crispy pita "crust" out of the oven, place it on a cookie sheet, and carefully smear 1 tablespoon of refried beans all over the surface. Add the salsa, and sprinkle the cheese evenly over the pizza. Sprinkle the cilantro on top, if you'd like.
Slide the cookie sheet into the oven, and set the timer for 1 minute. Again, watch carefully, because you are just melting the cheese. When the buzzer goes off, use a pot holder to pull the hot pan from the oven.
Use kitchen scissors to cut pizza into 6 pieces, and share, if you'd like. Makes one pizza; serves 1-2.
Per serving, based on 1: 335 calories, 4g fat, 58g carbohydrates, 15g protein, 7mg cholesterol, 973mg sodium, 8g dietary fiber, 12 percent of calories from fat.
>Cinnamon-Apple Muffin 'Pies'
4 slices white or wheat bread, crusts removed
1/4 stick butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled and cored
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With a rolling pin, roll out each piece of bread as flat as you can. Set aside.
Melt the butter in a glass dish in the microwave for 10 seconds. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and cinnamon. If the peeled apple pieces aren't already cut in bite-size pieces, carefully do this. Pieces should be a little less than an inch -- you want to be able to easily pile them into the muffin tins. Put the apple pieces in a bowl and squeeze the lemon quarter over them and toss with a spoon. This will keep the apples from turning brown.
Take a brush, dip it in the bowl of melted butter, and "paint" the four muffin tins with the butter, making sure to go up the sides. Now, very gently press each piece of bread into the buttered muffin molds (there will be extra bread sticking up on each side; don't worry about this).
Pour the brown sugar-cinnamon mixture over the apples and toss to coat. Now add the melted butter and toss again. Divide the apple pieces among the four muffin crusts. Slide into the oven and set the timer for 20 minutes. Eat these warm or cold. These are great served with vanilla ice cream. Makes 4.
Per serving per "pie": 170 calories, 7g fat, 26g carbohydrates, 3g protein, 16mg cholesterol, 210mg sodium, 3g dietary fiber, 35 percent of calories from fat.