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Valentine's Day with kiddos: Lessons in love & kindness – and homemade shortbread.
“When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind. - Dr Wayne W. Dyer”
Last year, my daughter Greta’s second-grade class read the book Wonder together outloud, slowly working through the story of young Auggie Pullman, a ten-year-old-boy who endured 27 surgeries and a lot of name calling, all before entering fifth grade. The way he looks at the world is pretty special, but the way the world looks at Auggie isn’t always so kind.
Greta was so captivated by Auggie’s story that we decided to read it together at home, too. It opened up the door for many conversations about kindness – about how we treat others with love, regardless of the shape, or size, or color or their body or face or skin – no matter where they come from, whether they are different than or similar to us.
Auggies story, and these conversations, have stayed with us long past the closing pages of the book; I’ve seen the way Greta is the first to join anyone who is alone at a lunch table, to pat a classmate’s back as they’re holding back tears, or introduce herself to the one kid in the room that looks (or even just seems to feel) different. She’s kind to her brother whether he dons a sword, or wears her tutus and tells us he wants to be a princess when he grows up. She’s kind to the toddler with braces on his legs that we meet on vacation, the man dressed in paper bags struggling to get up the subway steps, the woman who shows up at church with three sweaters and seventeen scarves around her neck.
“You look beautiful,” Greta will say, sincerely, reaching out her hand to touch the woman’s arm. She seems to understand that our insides are almost always more alike than we see.
Partly, this is her nature – she’s an empathetic soul. I’d like to think that some of it comes from the way we parent her; I hope the language she’s using is the same she’s heard my husband and I use as we interact with others in the world. But I can’t help but think that Auggie has a lot to do with it too.
Stories are a great opener to talking about kindness with our children at home, but for very young children, like my son Mátyás, who is only three – choosing kindness requires daily, simple reminders, and sometimes experiencing kindness themselves can leave an equal mark. Baking, for example, especially with a sibling, is a great model for practicing kindness. You have to be kind as you wait for your turn with the whisk, you have to be patient and listen for instructions, you have to, often, ignore your instinct to stick a spoon in and take all the good things for yourself.
As a parent, too, I have to be kind (and extremely patient) while I watch flour or milk spill on the floor, for the one-hundredth time. I have to talk gently and lovingly when the whisk fights break out, or someone makes the kind of measuring error that requires us to start all over.
And then there’s the ultimate baking kindness: wrapping the beautiful thing we’ve made to give it away, to the lonely neighbor down the street, or the the family who just lost a child, or the person who isn’t feeling much love from the rest of the world that day. My children's instinct is to say “no fair, we don’t get to eat this?” but even that opens up the door to talk about how good it feels to give when you have something (love, a home, a hot meal, plenty) and others do not.
It’s a simple act, but one that I hope will stick with them. I learned it from my own mother, decades ago – the brownies she baked almost weekly were not always for us – in fact, more often they were for someone else in our community, someone who at that moment, needed our love.
This week, for Valentine’s, we have an extra nudge to show love to others. In our home, my kids have learned this isn’t a holiday about romantic love (though, of course, kids seeing their parents show love to each other is great too). They see Valentine’s Day as a moment to care for those around you – our classmates, our teachers, our friends and those who need a little extra kindness on their side this week.
If you’re looking to do the same, here’s a simple place to start:
THE RECIPE: Chocolate Dipped Brown Sugar Shortbread with Sea Salt
In a world of cake pops and over-the-top treats, this simple, press-in shortbread is an, “ahh, I can do that,” even for the most time challenged among us. You can package the shortbread plain, in a bag, with a heart-shaped tag, or dip them in melted chocolate for a extra love-filled finish. Let kids embellish as they wish, with hearts or sprinkles. The ultimate act of kindness comes when they share it with someone else.
10 tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup All Purpose or All Purpose Gluten-Free flour blend (Cup-for-Cup or One-for-One brand)
4 oz bittersweet or semi sweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon butter (salted or unsalted)
sprinkles or maldon sea salt, for garnish
Cream 10 tablespoons of butter and both sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add the vanilla; stir in the flour until just incorporated. Press into an 8-inch round cake pan, making an even layer (cover with wax paper and press a small pot or flat, sturdy mug base across the top to help you make a more even layer).
Score the dough deeply across the surface to make 12 to 16 even triangles. Use a fork to prick the dough evenly across the surface. Refrigerate while you preheat the oven (about 20 minutes).
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Bake the shortbread until light golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes, making sure it doesn’t get too dark. Remove from the oven and cut along the scored lines while still warm. Cool in the pan before removing and separating the shortbread into pieces.
Meanwhile, melt the chocolate and 1 tablespoon of butter in a metal bowl set inside a pot with an inch or so of simmering water, so that the bowl is not touching the water; stir until the chocolate is glossy and smooth (taking care not to let any water drip inside the chocolate).
Drizzle the melted chocolate all over the top of the shortbread, or dip the cooled shortbread into the chocolate ⅓ of the way; lay on a baking rack to cool and let any excess chocolate drip off. When the chocolate is just shy of set, sprinkle with valentine’s sprinkles (for kids) and flaky sea salt (such as Maldon) for adults.
Let the chocolate set completely before wrapping and sharing.xxxxx
ABOUT SARAH COPELAND
Sarah Copeland is the award-winning author of the books Feast, The Newlywed Cookbook, and Every Day is Saturday (coming June 2019) which exemplify her standard for gorgeous photography, luscious recipes, and simple luxuries. The former Food Director at Real Simple magazine and a Food Network veteran, Sarah currently lives in the Hudson Valley with her young family, where she tries (and fails) at fruit farming and excels at hosting raucous, twinkly-light dinner parties for friends. Sarah is a long time friend of FEED and a frequent FEED Supper host. Learn more at Edibleliving.com.
Sarah's new books:
Photography credit: Amy Frances Photo