Monday, June 17, 2013

NaBloPoMo: Roots, Wings, and Chocolate Beet Cake

One of the first things a child learns in a Montessori classroom is how to use a work mat.  While selecting and unrolling a piece of carpet or fabric might seem like a trivial activity, the act of unrolling a work mat underscores one of the most important aspects of Montessori philosophy: responsibility for one's own work, and independence in its pursuit; or, more precisely, "freedom within limits."

Montessori children are taught to take their defined workspace very seriously.  The first time a teacher demonstrates this act for students, she will take the mat carefully from a bin, set it carefully on the floor or on the table.  The students who are tempted to shake the mat out in midair will be gently encouraged to follow her direction, and unroll it completely on the flat surface they have selected.  They are taught that when a mat is on the floor, they walk around it, heel-toe-heel-toe, being mindful that they don't step on it.  And when a child is done with her work, she re-rolls the mat, putting it away just as carefully as she removed it.  The Montessori work mat is a symbol of both responsibility and independence; its use, a ritual of reverence for both.

Today's NaBloPoMo writing prompt, which reminded us that "[t]he original quote about giving children roots and wings referred to the 'roots of responsibility and the wings of independence,' " was particularly apt for me, because today was my daughter's first day at the Toddler House in her Montessori school, and my first day, sort of, back to work.  I only went for a few hours, and she only went for an hour, but I found myself thinking a lot about those roots and wings, about what I've tried to give her over the past two years, and about how hard it is to watch her take this next step towards independence in the world.

As she grows older, she will ask the questions that begin with the work mat.  The questions that begin with this moment, and with every moment when she steps a little farther away.  Where do we fit into the world?   What work will we choose?  How can we try to ensure that we do good where we can, and that we not step on others' work-in-progress?

Going back to work, for me, is partially about remembering and testing the limits of my own roots and wings, too.  To whom am I responsible?  What are my contributions to the world, besides the ones I make through my children?  How do I define myself as me, in addition to the way I define myself in the context of my family?

This give-and-take, this push-and-pull, is probably the hardest thing about being a parent, and the hardest thing about being ourselves.

Which is why, at the end of the day, flying in the face of other things they will teach my daughter at her Montessori school, there will be chocolate cake on our table.

Chocolate Beet Cake
adapted from Nigella Lawson's recipe and The White Ramekins
Beets are some of the best kinds of roots there are.  Especially when paired with cocoa powder.

1 1/2 c. plain flour
2 T. baking powder
2/3 c. cocoa powder
1 c. superfine sugar
3 eggs
1/2 lb. beets
7/8 c. light olive oil or coconut oil
Preheat the oven 425F. Wash the beets, wrap them individually in aluminium foil, and place them in oven for about 45 minutes.  Let beets cool to room temperature.  When they are cool to the touch, you should be able to simply rub the skins off, and puree them in a food processor/liquidizer/blender.  Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375F.  Spray an 8" springform pan with cooking spray.  Line the bottom with a circle of parchment cut to fit inside the pan, spray the parchment, and dust the entire inside of the pan with a very thin coating of cocoa powder.

Sift the flour, baking powder, superfine sugar and cocoa powder together in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, oil and beet puree.  Fold the flour mixture into the wet mixture. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool completely on a wire rack.
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  1. Beautiful post. Oh, your writing is so wonderful. I'm so glad you are doing NaBloPoMo and wish you wrote every day of the year...

    I hate beets. But, I am tempted to try this. After all, my mom's best chocolate cakes involved mayonnaise and sauerkraut. I am not joking.

  2. This was such a beautiful post. My little one will be two next month, and her independence makes me proud and sad at the same time. She's no longer my little baby. I'm in awe of her growth, but sometimes I miss the days when she was content with me cuddling her in my arms. These days she wraps her arms around my neck, gives me a squeeze and runs off to her next adventure.

  3. Enjoyed your post. I have 2 sisters and one brother who teach elementary school and heard the style of teaching tossed around, but am glad you explained the premise. I have now can learn more about it. That cake looks fab. I love to watch Nigella!

  4. Roots and wings, roots and wings. I think about this too in my parenting. Sometimes they look for the roots more, sometimes for the wings.

    Thank you for the reminder.


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