(This post originally appeared on Eat Your Books 06/10/14)
Every once in a while I like to catch up with what’s going on with kids’ cookbooks. I’ve looked at cookbooks for little kids (both story-based and picture-based) and cookbooks meant for teens. And, of course, family cookbooks, which tend to train a laserlike focus on Getting It Done on a Weeknight.
Yet for a long time, I wasn’t finding that these cookbooks played much of a role in my own family. Even though everyone here – age 54, 44, 13, or 8 – maintains a healthy obsession with food, my kids’ cookbooks seemed to hold no appeal for the kids themselves. I’d leave them out casually in common areas, or read them at storytime, but that’s as far as it went. The little one is good with flour and would join me in a heartbeat if she saw I was on a baking project. But she rarely followed even a stripped-down recipe. The big one avoided the kitchen entirely unless something snackable was out, or he had to put away the dishes.
I had little interest in pushing them to cook, knowing that when you’re a kid, being forced to do something by someone who’s an expert at it is a pretty good recipe for hating it. I decided to worry about other stuff, like car repairs and tuition and blackfly aphids on my broad beans.
But recently, something happened. The 13-year-old’s school year finished in the end of May. His school tablet computer was returned to the school’s tech department, and he suddenly found himself at home, faced with what I call the Gift of Boredom. He mooned around the house awhile, draping himself over furniture, pestering me while I worked, dipping in and out of a Game Of Thrones book.
I explained that he’d be making his own breakfast and lunch (cries of protest!) but that I’d help him if he needed me. He quickly got bored of his usual breakfast – eggs, scrambled flat and hard, with bacon – so I taught him mine, okonomiyaki. It’s just an egg batter plus whatever vegetables you have around, teased into a chunky pancake and glazed on one side. He started by mixing the flour and leavening and gradually progressed to chopping the vegetables, flipping the pancake (using a tart pan bottom), and cooking the sauce. His surprise and pride when he tasted his first okonomiyaki filled my heart – but I played it cool.
We ate at the kitchen table, where this season’s cookbooks were piled high. On top was The Soda Fountain, just sitting there waiting for a bored teen’s eyes to fall on it. He flipped through the pages, chewing thoughtfully. “These don’t look so hard.”
I sipped my coffee.
“Mom, why do they call it an egg cream?”
“Dunno, what does it say?”
Then, “Mom, do we have citric acid?” Then, “Mom, what are blanched almonds?”
Before I knew it, my son who hates to cook had occupied the kitchen like it was the Western Front in 1945. This was a week ago. Since then, nearly every day has started with okonomiyaki. Syrup after syrup has filled the fridge. Dinner often ends with an egg cream. Ants have come exploring for sugar spills and the dishwasher’s running twice a day.
Meanwhile, the 8-year-old suddenly remembered about Pretend Soup, which I bought a year ago. Post-Its were affixed. Ingredients were requested. And so my precious Me Time at 5:00 – that is, me with my cookbooks starting dinner while listening to the news and sipping my bourbon/ginger beer – got requisitioned for Projects. One day, a noodle pudding. The day before, a homemade lemon lime soda.
I make faces. I nag people to put away their stuff. I swear when I’m trying to fit things in the fridge and there’s no room next to the mason jars full of syrup. And both sets of measuring spoons are now always dirty when I want them. But secretly, I’m overjoyed. Even if it doesn’t last – even if they grow up and go through a ramen phase or a bagel phase or a nothing-but-kale-chips-from-the-store phase – I still have a feeling that a seed’s been planted, somehow or other.
Just don’t tell the kids.