Kids in the Kitchen!

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 keep 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 - whether age 54, 44, 13, or 8 - maintains a healthy obsession with food, the kid-oriented cookbooks seemed to hold no appeal for the kids.  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, who is good with flour, would join me in a heartbeat if she saw I was on a baking project, but had no interest in following 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 started happening.  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 now 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 - has been colonized for Projects.  Yesterday, 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.  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.


  • ellabee  on  6/10/2014 at 1:09 PM

    Yay! A most heartening story. And one with a takeaway: bourbon and ginger beer... ;>

  • hillsboroks  on  6/10/2014 at 4:37 PM

    I remember teaching my son to make scrambled eggs when he was about 7 or 8 years old. One Sunday morning he proudly woke us all up to say he had breakfast ready - scrambled eggs and toast. As he got older I found a book on kitchen science for kids that became his favorite. We had all kinds of experiments going on after school and in the summer. I was never surprised to see strange spots on the ceiling where his baking soda, lemon juice and soy sauce concoctions had blown the top off his test tube and all over the kitchen. He loved nothing more than to have me give him free rein with whatever was in the cupboards for him to mix together and see what happened. Once he reached his 20s he got interested first in vegetarian cooking, then Indian cooking and now he's doing Paleo stuff. But I think his interest in cooking stems from his early days doing kitchen science experiments for fun. If kids see the kitchen as a fun, non-threatening place, they will learn to cook real food eventually. By the way I started with the little Betty Crocker Cookbook for Kids that my grandmother gave me.

  • tsusan  on  6/11/2014 at 11:33 AM

    Ellabee, don't know where I'd be without that bourbon/ginger beer - oh, and a squeeze of lime. Hillsboroks, loved hearing about your son. Science experiments - some intentional, some less so - are all over our house! Do you remember the name of the kitchen science book?

  • hillsboroks  on  6/11/2014 at 4:54 PM

    Susie I can't believe we still have this book on a shelf with some of the other children's books. My son is 35 now and my daughter is 31. But I found the book that was so much fun and another one we used a bit less. Our favorite book was "Science Experiments You Can Eat" by Vicki Cobb and the other book was "Messing Around With Baking Chemistry" by Bernie Zubrowski. One of the favorite experiments from "Science Experiments You Can Eat" was the Red Cabbage Indicator. You grate some red cabbage for coleslaw and cover it with water until the water turns bright red. Carefully drain the water and save it. The cabbage then goes into coleaslaw while the red water goes into a series clear glass fruit jars or glasses. Line them up in a row on the counter and put a tablespoon of baking soda into the glass on one end and a tablespoon of lemon juice into the glass on the other end. You now have cabbage water litmus test solutions that can be used to test what is acid and what is basic in the kitchen. Let the kids rummage through the cupboards or refrigerator to find things to put into the glasses between the lemon (acid) glass and the baking soda (basic) glass of cabbage water and compare the resulting colors to the two end glasses. It is a lot fun for the kids and not too messy because nothing blows up. Plus you get coleslaw for dinner and the kids will never look at red cabbage coleslaw the same ever again.

  • jaelsne  on  6/15/2014 at 1:56 PM

    My daughter, now 19, treasures our copy of "Pretend Soup," and occasionally makes some of her old favorites from the book.

  • tsusan  on  6/17/2014 at 10:11 AM

    Thanks for sharing all your insights and memories! I'm going to order those food science books from the library today!

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