Cooking turns little wild animals into good (enough) children

tom-wilkowske3Ah, summer vacation. Only two days in and I’m going bonkers. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids. But I can’t get any writing done, much less thinking.

One great strategy to keep those little rascals busy is to let them cook.

I use the term “cook” in the broadest sense. I have to; I have three kids.

For Nina, 5, cooking is spreading peanut butter and jelly on a tortilla and making her very own PBJ burrito. For Isaac, 10, cooking is figuring out the logistics of cooking a “real” package of ramen. No “for dummies” microwaveable ramen in a cup for him, no sir. It’s all about figuring out how much water to use, what size pan, what to do in what order, how do you tell its done — all foundational skills for any cook. For Sophie, 14, the vegetarian, it’s learning she can follow a recipe and make a good pasta in cream sauce from scratch — way better than the “Pasta Sides” in a bag she used to like (and later nicknamed “Pesticides”).

A few years ago, my family discovered Mollie Katzen’s book, “Pretend Soup,” a collection of easy, kid-tasty, kid-friendly recipes. More than that, it introduces kids to the joy of making their own food. It teaches them skills and invests them in the outcome, making them much more likely to try new foods. It broadens their world.

The point is, it has to start somewhere. It starts in a messy place where mistakes are made, eggshells are left in the dough and flour is sifted over every surface of the kitchen. For me it started with my mom letting me stir oatmeal, and later, scramble eggs.

I has led to me winning a job as a food writer and a role cooking most of my family’s meals all these years, along with kudos from church potluck ladies and dinner party guests. chocolate-chip-cookie2

Cooking focuses the mind. It is something to do with our time on this Earth. It is a journey that imposes structure on the chaos of the universe and summer vacation. And it has a payoff: something to eat at the end.

Upstairs now, the journey includes cookie batter spattering on the kitchen walls (add more flour), some shouts, someone falling down giggling and someone else vowing to make his very own batch of cookies, no sharing a batch, no sir.

Then, cookie time. Silence, munching and in a few minutes, the giggling starts again.

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