Starting Early

I joke a lot about having our 8-year old son work in the kitchen. It usually begins with some seemingly daunting task like hulling 20 pounds of strawberries and ends with some remark about child labour. The funny thing is that I’m not joking. I am dead serious about encouraging parents to have their kids cook with them.

The Kid, age 2, seasoning ribs.

The Kid has always hung around the kitchen. When he was about 6 we decided that he would be an active part of preparing family meals. We established a weekly Kid-led dinner night: he’d come up with a menu, we’d look in our cupboards and fridge and figure out what ingredients we had and what we needed to buy, we’d shop together and then we’d cook together.

Gradually this novelty night has evolved into the Kid pitching in at almost every meal from making pancake batter to peeling and chopping onions to concocting his own seasoning for steaks. And he does it all with pride, knowing that he’s contributing to our family.

Doubtful about having kids in the kitchen? Here are a few benefits of cooking with your kids (there are many, many more):

  • You are spending time with them. There. The argument about not having time to be with your kids is out the window.
  • Kids need to learn the basic life skills of choosing healthy food, cooking it and enjoying it with others. By cooking regular meals with your kids, you are giving them valuable tools for self-reliance.
  • You are capturing and utilizing teachable moments. Imagine all the discussions you can generate about food: taste, texture, smell, math, chemistry, biology, where food comes from, how food affects us…
  • Your kids make a mess. Then they learn how to clean it up. And you get to practice patience, tolerance and letting go.
  • Kids are more likely to try new foods (or old foods that they thought they didn’t like) if they are involved in preparing it. Sounds like a cliché but it works.
  • Kids build a sense of pride and accomplishment when they can say that they took part in making and sharing a meal.
  • Although it initially seems like a lot of work and things take 20 times longer to do, kids will eventually be able to truly contribute and help in the kitchen.
  • You get to engage, build dialogue, community and an incredibly special bond with your children. And isn’t that exactly what parents want?

Cooking Therapy

When we are emotionally distraught we all do different things to comfort ourselves. Some of us spend time with loved ones, some of us spend time by ourselves. Some of us write, talk, shout, scream, swear. Yet sometimes we still feel helpless.

This past week, dear friends of ours found out that their preschooler has leukemia. Their world has been turned upside down in a way that I cannot imagine. My heart is broken for their wee one and for the pain they, as parents, are going through.

I feel completely and utterly helpless so I find myself in the kitchen doing what I do best: cook. I’ve been cooking a few meals and baked goods to bring to our friends. It’s the only practical thing I can think of doing. Yet I feel that it’s not much, certainly not enough.

At the same time, cooking is, selfishly, my therapy. While I plan and cook, I meditate and think of our friends and channel my energy into something positive. It’s my time to process what’s happening. My way of empathizing though I truly have no concept at all of what they’re going through. The energy I spend making a few meals is absolutely nothing compared to what they face.

So with every knead, simmer, slice and stir, I am thinking of you, Miss Cutie Petootie. You will pull through and we’ll dance and jump and giggle and play together again soon.

Making Peace with Red Velvet

There are a lot of things in this world that I don’t understand. War. Violence. Racism. Cats. Golf. Red velvet cupcakes.

For the life of me, I do not understand the appeal of the red velvet dessert phenomenon. The thought of eating something artificially dyed with God-knows-what food colouring makes me cringe. The often used flavouring of a wee bit of cocoa is barely detectable and is, frankly, disappointing. “Oh, but they’re so pretty!”…it’s totally fake, sister! You can’t fool me.

So when I was reviewing the brilliant new book, Roots: The Definitive Compendium with more than 225 Recipes by Portland author, Diane Morgan, I was intrigued to find a recipe for red velvet cupcakes. In which section you may ask? The beet chapter, of course. Instead of using a bottle of red food colouring to taint the cupcakes, the recipe calls for puréed roasted beets. Clever.

I was glad to see an alternative to the usual red velvet cupcake recipe but wasn’t planning to make them until the Kid got a hold of the book and talked me into making them for Thanksgiving guests. “Beet red velvet cupcakes! The red is completely natural! Our friends won’t even know! Get it, BEET red velvet!” followed by a peel of 8 year old laughter.

The recipe is deceptively easy. Roast the beets to conserve their deep, rich colour. Peel then purée them and add them to a very simple cake batter that doesn’t even require a mixer. Bake into vibrant magenta fluffiness. No food colouring. Nothing artificial.

The proof in the pudding was when I served them to our friends. The kids flocked to the cake stand and started chowing down. No one thought twice about them until our kid spilled the beans and told everyone they were BEET red velvet cupcakes.

Often it’s best just to stay quiet and keep the peace.