SUMMER 2011. GRAPE TOMATOES. 08.26.11
Before a room of bright-eyed conference-goers, a well-known figure in the food writing community delivered a captivating keynote speech in which she announced she hates cooking with kids. Nervous peals of laughter filled the room in response. I could relate to her sentiment, something I’m not proud to admit, and laughed right along with the rest of the pencil-and-pad wielding writers in the room. “It’s just such a mess,” the mother of three continued, and I agreed. Yes, it’s a disaster. And though I love time spent with my boys in the kitchen, I must steel myself each time, quietly working to remain calm as oil spills creep along my counter or eggs roll in slow motion to the hard tile floor. Of course, all of this can be cleaned up. In the wise and true words of my friend Chris, “just about everything cleans up.” Right you are, Chris.
Aside from the mess, there are the arguments over who does what. Certain tasks are ill-suited to the kindergarten set – handling sharp knives, working over a hot stove. But other jobs are simply done more quickly and easily by an adult. I like to allow my oldest, nearly 6, to be in charge of the relatively-safe dry ingredients. We count the cups or teaspoons and I let him use a dull butter knife to level and if a cup of flour ends up down his front or on the floor instead of in the bowl, I try like hell not to show my frustration. “It’s okay, sweetie, let’s get a sponge. And the vacuum.”
One of the easiest ways to get kids interested in food is to invite them into the kitchen. I recall a song from “Free to Be You and Me” – a favorite to this day! – about the kind of help “we all can do without.” But, it’s not always about making it quickly or perfectly. No, it’s about the process and time spent together. It took a long time to make these empanadas since I let the kids roll out the dough and seal the edges, but it was a relaxed Sunday. When I can swing it, I try to remember it’s about learning through showing and not simply telling.
Whether you’re enjoying a few more precious days of summer or already have a week of school under your belt, you won’t want to miss my school lunch round up. In addition to my ideas for making school lunch more fun, this week’s recipes go easily from dinner table to lunch box. As is the case with cooking, kids are more likely to be interested if you let them take part in selecting foods and making their own lunches.
I suppose one day far sooner than I’d like, when my boys are off at college or in their own homes urging their own little ones to try just one bite, I’m going to wish for the days when tiny hands created gargantuan messes in my kitchen. Or I’ll think back to the days of packing one school lunch after the next, eager for new inspiration. And what I’ll remember won’t be the sticky counters, splattered back splash or rejected sandwiches, but the smiles and the accomplishment at having made something together.