Li’l Chefs Are Shining Stars on Presidents’ Day Weekend 2014

By Paula Gottlieb Herman

Thank you to all the li'l chefs and their supportive families who participated in our 2nd Annual Lend a Helping Hand Baking Workshop with LilChefs.com Special Events on Sunday, February 16th! We are also so grateful to The Ronald McDonald House of Long Island for giving us this amazing opportunity to provide delicious treats to their families, as well as the informative house tours they led. A special shout out to Tara Conry, Newsday reporter, for seeking us out and spending 2 1/2 hours capturing the event for Monday's printed edition and Long Island Now blog. Click here to see the full article and community comments from around Long Island.

In honor of Presidents' Day Weekend, our menu consisted of baked goods that were red, white & blue.  But, that didn't include the use of food dyes and additives. Instead we used farm fresh blueberries, strawberries, milk, eggs, vanilla, and white chocolate chips. Each of the two groups had 90 minutes to mix, measure, and fill up baking trays with batter to create such items as Strawberry-White Chocolate Mini Muffins, Blueberry-Orange Mini Muffins, and Chewy Cherry Bars (in honor of George Washington).

Baking delicious muffins and bars for the families staying at The Ronald McDonald House of Long Island was only one piece of this puzzle. It was also so special to see our families from Oceanside, Manhasset, Plainview, and Commack arriving with non-perishable food to donate to the house pantry. Another highlight was having the kids decorate a get well poster with their own original artwork as well as stickers I provided with inspirational words like "Love," "Believe," "Missing You," and "Inspire." Continuing the spirit of paying it forward, we also donated silver tone decorative platters, baking trays, and cooling racks to the house for future li'l bakers to use and to display their masterpieces on.

Teaching these kids about volunteerism at such young ages was so important to me. These are the life lessons of giving back my parents instilled in me. I remember some of our Thanksgivings spent at the Bowery Mission in Manhattan making holiday dinners for hundreds of people down on their luck. I also remember my Dad and I dedicating our time on various weekend mornings to clean up our community in Brooklyn with H.E.L.P. (Highway Environmental Litter Project). Working as a team to provide meals or to beautify a park was very rewarding and meaningful to us!

Now, here I am encouraging these young chefs from ages 6-13 to be passionate and excited about baking for other families. When finally allowed to sample a muffin or bar of their choice, Chef Isabella, 9, said the muffin “was the best thing she ever ate.” I heard moms and dads say how proud they were of their kids and that after this positive experience, they will do more baking with them.

But, my best moment during the four-hour event came between the first and second session when I was alone resetting the kitchen while the next group toured the house.  I noticed a little toddler in her dad's arms eating one of our Strawberry-White Chocolate Mini Muffins. When I walked over to them, she was smiling, giggling, and loving every bite. Dad said that she just ate three of them, and he was thrilled, since she hardly eats anything these days. They are from Belize, and his daughter is set to have open heart surgery later this month. It made me so happy to know that the recipe I showed the kids how to make brought this little warrior some comfort even if for just a few fleeting moments.

Our muffins transcended language, culture, and geography. Their flavor or texture or perhaps their compact size made a beautiful little girl and her dad, who are far from home, forget their issues and connect in a very special way. I made sure to give them a copy of our LilChefs.com Special Events’ cookbook that we created for our volunteer bakers. Now, they will also have access to all the recipes we baked at the house that day.

I hope that when they are back in Belize, the family will recreate our recipes in their home kitchen, remembering the sweet time we shared together. I know when I bake my next batch of Strawberry-White Chocolate Muffins I’ll think of them.  I’ll also lovingly remember the li’l bakers who mixed, measured, and created trays of yummy treats not for themselves but for others who “deserve a break today!” (McDonald’s slogan from 1971).