by Beth Knorr, Market Manager
I think it all started when Maggie and I began watching old Julia Child shows together. We decided that we wanted to try to make those dishes together – they sounded so delicious, Julia made it look so easy, and Maggie was really excited to learn how to cook. Some of the dishes, however, were not things that we would realistically make frequently (chocolate mousse, as fun to make and delicious as it is, isn’t something in our regular rotation.) I really wanted to encourage Maggie to be in the kitchen on a routine basis to gain confidence in her skills. So, I started teaching her how to prepare the dishes she really enjoys eating. She mastered omelettes, and we focused on having everything at the ready (mise en place) since that process moves so quickly once you get going. She can now prepare a nice breakfast or a quick weekend lunch for her and her brother. We then moved on to pancakes, something we have nearly every Sunday morning at our house. There were some glitches with pouring the batter and flipping them in the very beginning, but she manages to do a great job with them now- she looks for the bubbles to burst on top before flipping, and does so decisively. We are currently working on meat sauce for pasta. She’s coming along nicely, although the onion dicing is still challenging, mostly because it makes her cry! Also, while cooking the pasta is pretty straightforward, the adults in the house still have to do the draining since the pot is too heavy for her to safely lift and drain. After one or two more “coached” sessions, I think she’ll be able to make a go of it on her own.
Overall, this method of teaching her basic dishes that she loves is working very well. I love the idea that she will, over time, be equipped to make all her favorite foods. We aren’t using recipes- and I go back and forth over whether we should be setting them to paper – mostly because I want to convey to her how flexible each dish can be, but also because I rarely make something exactly the same way twice. I think the methods and the processes are more important than the actual recipes at this point. Also, we’re not on any kind of time table for mastering a particular dish. We take the time she needs, and do it when she expresses interest.
The biggest thing I have learned about trying to teach a kid how to cook is to just roll with whatever happens. Having a no-big-deal attitude if something doesn’t go exactly as planned shows her that cooking isn’t stressful and that mistakes can be delicious. Maggie does best when she is the primary person in control, and I act as the coach. Like most kids her age she likes to be hands-on, so limiting my participation to quick yet clear demonstrations of new techniques or reminders of past ones seem to be most effective. These cooking sessions are also the perfect time to talk with her about why I do what I do, and why I think supporting local farmers is so important. We talk about who raised the chickens for the eggs, and talk about our visits to this or that farm. There are ample opportunities to convey the impact that good quality food has on our lives during this special time together.
As we approach the holidays, I’m feeling a bit stymied. We don’t have a “signature” dish for this time of year or any traditional family must-makes. We typically change it up from year to year. I’ve already learned from my past mistakes with the kids in the kitchen at the holidays. (My type-A tendencies come out in full force while making sugar cookies, which I learned very quickly the first time I attempted making them with the kids. They now get their own batch which they can destroy…I mean
decorate any way they see fit. It works much better that way.) While cookies are fun to make and certainly a holiday stand-by, I’m searching for that nourishing, comforting dish that will remind Maggie fondly, in years to come, of the holidays of her youth.
I’d love to hear about how you get your kids in the kitchen – during the holidays or otherwise – and what your favorite dishes to prepare with them are. And okay, inspire me with some of your traditional holiday dish love!