I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. It's one of my favorite holidays because it's family and food-centric, and I love sharing food with my family. Even as a young parent, when we didn’t always have much food, we made the best of what we had and enjoyed preparing it together. It was as much about the cooperation in the kitchen and dance of multiple people of various ages making the meal as it was about the finished product. My daughter recently told me that a friend asked her how old she was when she learned to cook. Her answer was that she couldn’t remember not cooking. There are lots of easy ways to cook with your kids.
I had just turned twenty-two when she was born and was living on the West Coast, far from any family or friends. My husband went to work each day, and I set about learning to be a mom. From the time she was born, she spent her time with me in the kitchen. As an infant, she sat on the table in her little seat, and watched me as I baked bread, made soups and learned to cook. It was just the two of us, and I love to chatter, so I would narrate the day explaining the entire process aloud. When she was able to sit-up, I gave her a bit of flour on her high chair tray or other harmless ingredients to play with to include her in the process. Pretty soon, she was cooking, stirring the batter and adding the pre-measured cups of flour or sugar. She graduated to pre-measured teaspoons of vanilla and pretty soon she mastered egg-cracking. It wasn’t difficult to teach her if I wasn’t feeling rushed. When I took the time to show her and include her, it made my life so much easier, the jobs often went quicker and our time together was fun and utilitarian. She learned how to cook, and I learned how to include my children in kitchen tasks, including licking the beaters clean. We always cleaned up as we went along, finishing the last bits immediately afterwards. That way the cleaning became part of the recipe.
I cooked with my other children, grandchildren and whatever children happened to be visiting, too. Pancakes are a lot of fun to make. They’re easy prepare and hard to ruin. Depending on your child’s age, they can stand on a chair or sit on a stool near the stove close enough to see the griddle but far enough away to be safe. I often make animal shapes with the batter – a cat’s face, a turtle, a rabbit. After they’ve been flipped once and cooked on the second side, you can put eyes, nose and a mouth by dripping a thin line or dot of batter onto the cooked side and flipping it once more. For fun, ask your child what animal they want and go for the challenge. I’ve had some crazy requests like a rhinoceros and a giraffe, but no matter what they looked like to me, the kids always seemed to see the shape they asked for, though I must admit, I sometimes asked for a second chance. Eventually, they learned to do the flipping themselves.
With the winter holidays coming up, it's a great time to bake some cookies. I always try to include the young ones in the decisions about what to make. As adults, we're sometimes creatures of habit, making the same recipe every year. When I started letting my children have a say, I discovered lots of new recipes that have now become favorites. There are lots of great cooking magazines and cookbooks at the libraries and online. Why not go browsing together, drooling over the yummy treats? Even if I don't plan to make all of them, I love finding out what appeals to each person and our kids want to know what we like as well. Also, don't forget ... music makes everything a little better.