Note- This essay was published this time last year in a beautiful, independent, online magazine in Europe that sadly has since ceased publication. In order to read it, you had to buy the magazine. Posting it here for those who didn't get a chance. I found it wandering through the folders on my computer. I'm looking for bits of projects to dive back into, which means it's summer and oh my is it nice! Since writing this piece, just a year ago, the child who had mastered mac and cheese and smoothies, is now making full dinners, often greets us with fried eggs in the mornings, and seems to find comfort, much like I do, in what making good food offers.
“I’m cracking the eggs!” both kids shout in unison, pushing their way to the fridge. We settle on each cracking one. One child is in charge of the dry ingredients, the other the wet. One stands on a chair, the other reads our directions. Extra chocolate chips are tried, just in case they don’t taste good, and we ignore any worries about raw egg as beaters, spoons, and bowls are “cleaned”.
How many times have one or two of the kitchen chairs been dragged across the floor; I couldn’t begin to count. We have been cooking together since they were able to stand still on a chair. As toddlers, they were eager to help, to stir, sift, measure themselves. Now there are days when they are eager and days when they help because there is raw dough to be munched on or they are “starving” and want to pick at ingredients before dinner is served. There are days when this help is hard. It of course comes with a lot more mess, food on the floor, on me, and many an eggshell bit racing away from my fingers, but I want them to taste foods they wouldn’t if I just put them on the table. I want them to know they don’t have to rely on fast food or microwaves when they’re older. I want them to know food, be able to identify an eggplant and sprout, know what a vegetable tastes like raw and then cooked, find success in making rather than buying.
Shortly after my daughter was born, my four-year-old son and I started to put together a cookbook. By cookbook, I mean I red binder with plastic inserts, and a cover that simply read Clark and Sophie’s Cookbook. It was simple, but I envisioned us adding to it here and there, creating a sort of food story of their time in our home. Inside we began by adding two new recipes we were trying on my maternity leave: breads made in the shape of bears and mac and cheese served in muffin tins. These, the brief moments he and I shared while his sister napped, were my attempt to create a little normalcy and connection at a time when I knew he was feeling the changes in our home.
Lately, this same child who loved making bread bears as long as his hands didn’t get messy, doesn’t want help while he cooks. He prides himself on being able to make extra cheesy mac n cheese and the perfect smoothie. I watch him pull out the red binder, read over the recipe, and gather supplies. No longer is he worried about being burned while draining the pasta. No longer do I worry (as much) when he grabs for a knife. His sister and I wait while lunch comes together and each time celebrate, along side our chef, the perfect meal. While I love this autonomy for him, the many things cooking teaches (math, reading, science), and the fact that in ten years when he’s possibly on his own, he’ll have what is in my opinion one of the most important life skills under his belt, there are things about teaching a child to cook I wasn’t expecting.
Generosity has been found. He wants to make his sister lunch, asks to bake bread for his best friend’s family, gifts us chocolate pudding for holiday dinners, and he has a new sense of appreciation for what it takes to make good food “appear” on the table. He’s no longer as quick to turn up his nose at something I’ve made or refuse to take a bite.
Cooking and the final result good food carry with it a true sense of comfort for me. Watching my children find this same love, even when I’m not wishing for help or wanting to drink another smoothie, is truly a gift. The mess that’s left, not so much, but we’ll work on the joys found in cleaning another day. We’re too busy cooking right now.