Cooking Lessons

Back in December, the week before winter break, the 10yo decided to start cooking the family dinners. I know! My eyes totally bugged out of my head, too!!

Intriguingly, she came up with the idea all on her own, completely out of the blue, and (rather shockingly, as it had been on my mind for a while) not as a creative consequence I’d (brilliantly) concocted to illustrate for her how insanely maddening (and infuriating, provoking, exasperating, harpy-shriek-inducing… well, you get the idea…) it is to spend a considerable amount of thought in planning, and time cooking, wholesome (and delicious, dang it!) meals for the family, only for the kids to whine about and bemoan whatever (okay, vegetable-laden – five servings a day, people!) dish was put on the table (you’d think I was serving poisoned frog livers and botulism-infused cat tongues if you ever witnessed the melodramatics my kids perform in my dining room at least several nights a week; we’re talking Academy Award winning theatrics here…) and refuse to eat – or even try – a single bite of that evening’s dinner (which, I swear, has never involved frog livers or cat tongues; not even on Halloween).

No, one Friday morning she woke up cheerful as can be (such lovely mornings, when the kids wake up happy… and so rare…) and informed me over her bowl of cereal that she would be cooking dinner that night. I sipped my coffee and waited for her to blurt out, “Just kidding!! Hahahaha! Was that a good joke or what?!” but, no, she was serious. As I already had three more nights of meals planned (and the corresponding groceries purchased, which I didn’t want to go bad), I convinced her to wait until the following Monday, when I would return to the grocery store and could buy the ingredients she would need. Also, I convinced her to cook for only three nights the following week, rather than all seven as she was adamantly planning, as we were leaving for my mom’s house for the Christmas holidays on Thursday and I thought she might not want to delay our trip to Grandma’s just so she could cook four extra meals; she graciously agreed, but explained that she would be taking over the cooking duties upon our return home post-holidays. Hmm… I doubted she’d even remember her resolution over the weekend…

But, sure enough, on Monday morning, as I was writing out the grocery list before taking the kiddos to school, she ticked off on her fingers the three meals she was planning and the ingredients she would need. I listened to her… Nodded… Pursed my lips together tightly so as not to say anything… Nodded some more… and quickly texted Bill to make sure he ate a big lunch. With meat. And vegetables. Because he SO wouldn’t be getting those at home. No, according to my daughter, veggies are an obvious threat to humankind and a thoroughly non-essential food group; her plan: carbs, carbs and nothing but carbs, baby!

Day 1: Bean and Cheese Quesadillas. Does taco sauce count as a veggie?!

Day 1: Bean and Cheese Quesadillas. Does taco sauce count as a veggie?!

Day 2: Blueberry Pancakes (from scratch!). For the record, these were AMAZING. We need to triple the recipe next time...

Day 2: Blueberry Pancakes (from scratch!). For the record, these were AMAZING. We need to triple the recipe next time…

Day 3 of 3 nights the 10yo cooked dinner for the family: her homemade "Marvelous Mac n Cheese." Her choice. I sneaked in Beecher's Cheese. But she said NO when I suggested peas! Veggies are highly overrated anyway, right?!

Day 3: Her homemade (and self-titled) “World Famous” Mac And Cheese. I sneaked in Beecher’s Flagship Cheese (yum!), but she said no when I suggested adding peas. Ah, well… It was worth a try!

Here’s the thing: each meal she made was delicious. And fun. And she was clearly so proud of herself that, once we did get home from Grandma’s house, I let her keep cooking. No, I didn’t let her take over all the cooking duties, as she’d earlier insisted (though it was really tempting!! But really… how many nights in a row can a family survive on blueberry pancakes for dinner?), and I did insist that her meals needed to start incorporating vegetables (she rolled her eyes, and begrudgingly agreed), but she thought that cooking once a week would be okay. For now. Her 6yo brother, Liam, had very thoughtfully given her a kid-friendly cookbook for a Christmas present (and wow! – even from one of my favorite cookbook authors! what a smart kid!! – okay, okay… so I was more than a little involved in picking out the present, but I really didn’t think she’d appreciate the Lego set he picked out for her nearly as much as he would appreciate it…), and she pours over that every week when I ask what’s on the menu. For the last two months, she’s been wowing us with her culinary talents, and cooking up a storm for us.

The 10yo made mini-pizzas for dinner! The college menu planning is now complete - eight years early!

Mini-Pizza Night! They took TWO HOURS to make, but hey, they were good and her brothers were VERY happy.

And every once in a while she makes a meal with vegetables in it – though not always on purpose! The look of surprise on her face when I started pulling out onions and celery and carrots and zucchini for her Macaroni Minestrone recipe (she reads recipes a bit more closely these days!) was truly priceless. But the best part of that night (and perhaps it’s unkind of me, but there you have it): when Paisley served Liam his soup he stuck out his tongue in protest… and she almost slugged him! I couldn’t help myself. I snickered. I did! I snickered (but behind my hand), and gently pointed out how, um, yeah, it’s kind of frustrating, isn’t it, when someone insults your cooking without even trying it? She didn’t reply; she just stared at me (rather coldly – I think she could tell I was gloating, even if I was trying to hide that fact) while she (rather defiantly) chewed a mouthful of vegetables (rather unhappily). But she did it! She ate some veggies. And she didn’t DIE a slow and tragic and painful death.

She still prefers carb-happy meals (and really, who doesn’t?) with no veggies in sight; her “world famous” mac and cheese has made a second and third appearance (I’ve started sautéing spinach with garlic as a quick green side for mac n’ cheese night – not that any of the kids eat spinach), her brothers were quite ecstatic about mini-pizza night with homemade crusts (the only green in sight: the bell pepper slices I put on my pizza; and technically, bell pepper is a fruit), and a couple of weeks ago she made a very tasty cheese lasagna with one of her school friends (again, sans veggies; unlike Congress, I don’t count tomato sauce as a vegetable). But she’s made the veggie-heavy Macaroni Minestrone twice now (it really is good…), and I think everyone enjoyed the night she made vegetarian fried rice with carrots, broccoli, peas, and even water chestnuts (!!), and just last week she asked to make one of her favorite recipes from my own repertoire, Strawberry Asparagus Pasta, which was so good that there were no leftovers (well, except for all the asparagus left on her plate that she refused to eat… them being veggies and all). And, okay, she doesn’t always eat the veggies on her plate, but at least she cooked with veggies… so we’re making some kind of progress, right?!

So, yeah, I might have to spend twice as long cooking a meal with my daughter as it would take on my own – while I show her how to knead pizza dough without dropping it on the floor or wait for her to (slowly, slowly, oh my good gracious, painstakingly slowly) peel a carrot or two – but she’s getting the hang of food preparation, and in a couple of years, honestly, she should have enough experience to whip up her favorite Greek Pasta Salad without me around (and without cutting off a finger – perhaps the only real goal I have in these early cooking lessons at the moment). And I’m looking forward to teaching her brothers how to cook, too, when they hit age 10. Can you imagine? Three nights a week where, once I teach the kids the basics, I don’t have to cook?? Maybe I can actually get to all those projects that are piling up around the house (oh you know, like finally completing any of the children’s baby books or framing that poster in the dining room that’s been sitting on the buffet table for the last six years and counting), or – better yet! – just sit around reading a book (how decadent!), while they serve up some delicious, healthy meal for everyone?! Whoa… I am loving this plan… Heck, why do I even care if my daughter cooks with veggies?? Just so long as she cooks… am I right, or am I RIGHT?! Now that I think about it, I could totally survive off blueberry pancakes every night!

Now, if only I can convince her to stick around for the cleaning up part…

11 thoughts on “Cooking Lessons

    • Thank you! But I confess, it’s sometimes very (very very very very) hard for me to give them this type of independence… especially when it involves a bigger mess to clean up in the end! But so far, this particular activity is working out okay. 😉

  1. OK. I have been wanting to ask this for awhile… would you (and Paisley) ever consider sharing your go – to recipes? You can send them to me on my gmail if that is easier 🙂
    Martha O.

  2. Good for both of you! My three kids can all cook, but it was middle son who really took it on with a love and sense of adventure when he was given a cookbook at the age of 7. At ages 27, 22 and 20, they are now all healthy, independent and inventive cooks. Enjoy!

    • Thank you!! You give me hope!! And honestly, I’d love it if one of my kids grew up to be a fantastic cook – especially if I get to enjoy their edible creations! Personally, I rely far too heavily on recipes and cookbooks; I always wish I was one of those Food Channel people who could just open my fridge and concoct some magical deliciousness for a party of 20 with just a jar of mustard and some wilted iceberg lettuce!! 🙂

    • Mmm… baking… That’s more fun, really, as it usually involves some level of sugar!! Paisley’s decided that for this week’s dinner she’ll be making baked potatoes (with the works) and apple pockets – which are basically mini apple pies… So, now it’s dessert for dinner… I don’t want to admit it, but I really like her style! 😉

  3. Well you perfectly described our dinner times and my secret fantasy. My daughter has shown interest in cooking but as much as I hate to admit it I think I’m less than encouraging because of the increased time and mess involved. I’m really trying to work on that.

    • It *is* true that cooking with the 10yo is a very slow process that is more than a little challenging for me to handle with patience and encouragement… I’m just hoping I get all the time back with interest: you know, in that idyllic future where she’s making all the family delicious healthy meals while I sip champagne, nibble on chocolates, and catch up on the People magazine I’ve just stolen from the hairdresser. 😉

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