If you had asked my ten, fifteen, or even 20-year-old selves if I would grow up to enjoy cooking and write about my experiences in the kitchen, they all would have laughed at you. Even when I married my husband at age 26, the priest tried to squeeze "and cook for you" into the vows as a joke. Our guests erupted into giggles, and even then in the House of God, I could not make any culinary commitments. Growing up, I always viewed cooking as a tedious chore. It's amazing how much can change in 10 years.
And so, less than a week away from my 37th birthday, I found myself at Williams-Sonoma on a Saturday morning, watching my 6-year-old son roll out pie dough to make decorations for Thanksgiving pies. What the heck happened??
My own culinary adventures didn't really begin until my husband and I moved to the Poconos in 2005. Before then, my repertoire consisted of Rice-a-Roni, Lipton noodles, and recipes from a 4-ingredient cookbook. I eventually worked my way up to a 6-ingredient cookbooks. Not exactly the stuff gourmet meals are made of. But when we moved my full-time job because a part-time contract position because I wasn't commuting from PA to Jersey City on a daily basis, and I found myself with extra time on my hands. So I decided it was time to learn to cook, and Rachael Ray was my first teacher. I became a student of Giada DeLaurentiis. The next thing I knew, colleagues at my new job were jealous of my leftovers, calling them a gourmet lunch. Somewhere along the line, I became a good cook.
And then I became a mom. Suddenly it wasn't just about eating a meal. It was about nourishing a growing boy. I became more selective in what I cooked, making sure I used as many fresh ingredients as possible. And he became my first audience, sitting in his high chair, eyes on me, as I explained what I was making for dinner and why I did it the way I did. I credit those early days for his current culinary interest. Well, that at the Food Network. (He wants to compete on MasterChef Junior and Chopped. He wants to be a judge on Cutthroat Kitchen.)
So last week I let him cook dinner. He has helped me in the kitchen plenty of times before. We've made ice pops, lemonade, pickles, and had Kid Cook Saturdays last winter. But this time he did the bulk of the work under my supervision.
He made an easy chicken marsala recipe, the kind you find on a can of cream of mushroom soup. He pounded the chicken and browned it in butter. He measured out the marsala wine and deglazed the pan. He added the soup and whisked until it heated through. When he added the cutlets back to the pan he said to me, "Mommy, we should add those juices, too, for flavor." I taught him how to bend the asparagus so the fibrous ends snap off. I let him drizzle on the olive oil and sprinkle the grill seasoning over the stalks. No measuring spoon! Just knowing by eye how much is the right amount. The pride beaming from him over his meal could have lit the night sky.
I don't know if he will compete of MasterChef Junior or Chopped, or be a judge on Cutthroat Kitchen. But I do know he will eventually leave the nest and be able to cook for himself. He won't fall into the unhealthy habit of processed and fast foods. And he will continue to experiment with his palate way beyond the fare we are conditioning children to eat today -- hot dogs, chicken nuggets, pizza, burgers, grilled cheese, and macaroni and cheese.
And maybe, just maybe, he'll sit his son or daughter in a high chair and narrate the making of a meal. Maybe he'll roast asparagus and explain why Grandma like grill seasoning best. Maybe he'll insist on as many fresh ingredients as possible, having learned cooking is not just a chore, it's how we nourish our body and soul, and pass it on.