Uncategorized

Teaching kids to cook is always a recipe for drama – Tricks and Tips

Teaching kids to cook is always a recipe for drama

My parents, Nurse Vivian and Hap, got married on Nov. 8, 1947, in Sacred Heart Church. The next day, they drove off for their honeymoon, first at Buttermilk Falls near Ithaca, N.Y., then Niagara Falls. Family story goes that Brother XX was conceived at Buttermilk, as he was born nine months and 11 days after the wedding.

Upon their return to Glendale, N.Y. (this was a few years before the move to South Ozone Park), my mother started in on her new role as full-time nurse/full-time homemaker. First order of business: cooking dinner.

Nurse Vivian had been the second daughter in a large working-class Irish family, many of them employed by the coal-smelting furnaces of Johnstown, Pa. The town was inundated by floods twice, and Grandma Wise never quite got my mother to stand still long enough at the stove to teach her as much as how to boil potatoes.

But Nurse Vivian was a modern woman of the postwar years, so she got herself a recipe book. The first chapter was “Les Pommes d’Amour” (tomatoes). Day one: spaghetti with tomato sauce. Day two: fried green tomatoes. Day three: German onion and tomato pie. On the fourth day, when Hap walked in the door at 5:30, sat down and faced a plate of stewed tomatoes, he muttered, “Vivian, I think you got the tomatoes down.”

It would be 15 years before she served him another love apple.

By the time I was 14, Nurse Vivian was still working full time in Dr. Rizzuto’s office, which meant that I cooked dinner. Brothers X and XX both had done their time in the kitchen, and in fact, X worked as a short-order cook for a while.

Most nights I stuck to the script. If there was ground beef, I made meat loaf. If there were pork chops, I’d whip up gravy. There were only a few outliers, like the day I found Nurse Vivian’s recipe book and decided to try vichyssoise. I served it in chilled bowls. Hap took one sip, put the spoon down and said, “This is soup. It’s potato soup. And it’s cold.”

Segue to the Outer, Outer, Outer, Outer Excelsior, 2022. Like my mother, I have a full-time job, and both of my sons passed 14 a while ago. So my husband, Brian, and I decided that this would be the summer Zane and Aidan learned how to cook. (Yes, yes, that’s right. It’s a long story, not yet to be told, Zane is home for now. All. The. Time.)

We started with chicken and rice, a simple dish that my co-worker Phyllis taught me, just five ingredients. Took a while to convince the boys they first had to wash their hands, but before you knew it, we had a meal.

But having the boys participate in the culinary process produced a change in tradition. It used to be we held hands, said grace, then toasted to “the best boys in the world.” After that, it was every man for himself, with me finishing first.

The new adventure into the land of Gastronomy, however, inspired Zane to add a step. Before a fork is lifted (or, in Aidan’s case, a spoon), Zane takes a photograph of his plate, then posts it. Every night, whether we are he eating boeuf bourguignon or frozen pizza, he stops and posts.

When I was a teenager, we had TV dinners. Now we have Snapchat suppers.

Before I take my first bite, I hear his iPad’s pings and swooshes and I’m wondering how many “likes” my meal is getting today. It used to be the boys complained if I cooked vegetables. Now Zane cares only that the meal be photogenic. He needs contrasting color. He needs drama.

If he can find no drama, he creates it. Tuesday, Zane opened the oven. He snapped a shot of the cauliflower and typed: “White people’s broccoli.”

Yes, yes, I went to foster parent class. I knew he might need to express such things once in a while. In order to support his cultural identity, I added: “And with it we’re having white people’s yams (mashed potatoes) and white people’s steak (baked chicken).”

“No, Dad,” he rolled his eyes, “Steak is white people’s steak. Chicken is the people’s chicken.”

Two, I decided, can play at that game. We cooked one recipe after another: Garlic Chicken. Chicken and Dumplings. Sweet ’n’ Sour Chicken. I waited. At last: “Dad, I think we got the chicken down.”

“All right then, Zane,” I said. “Let’s move on to tomatoes. Or as your grandmother would call them, les pommes d’amour.”

Kevin Fisher-Paulson’s column appears Wednesdays in Datebook. Email: [email protected]