I love to cook. As a kid, I stirred dough, cut vegetables and washed dishes daily (not necessarily as a volunteer; I was drafted by my mom). My mom believed in equipping me with the ability to care for myself. So she gave me as many chores and responsibilities as possible (though I suspect that her teaching me to care for myself was as much about employing me and my siblings to help her survive the mothering of five kids as it was equipping me for adulthood). I was small when my mom announced it was time for me to do my own laundry. When my friends’ moms were loading up their dresser drawers with neatly folded, clean clothes, I was dragging my wrinkled clothes out of the dryer and schlepping them upstairs to my drawers all on my own. My mom made sure I could sew on my own buttons, patch my own pants and clean all parts of a house long before I ever hit my teens. She taught me how to follow recipes, cook rice and bake cakes. She taught me single and double crochet stitches, the whip stitch for hemming and how to embroider. I can’t say I loved any of it except for the cooking (and maybe the cleaning). Cooking was the one thing that really stuck.
By the time I left home, I was adept at cooking with and without recipes and eager to explore foods that would exceed the comfort foods of my youth. In my own cooking, I would put an end to jello salads, casseroles and any recipe that called for condensed cream of [fill-in-the-blank] soup. I would play with more exotic blends of ingredients, homemade sauces, rich stocks and fresh herbs. I found that cooking (and cleaning for that matter) suited me more than other household responsibilities, appealing to my type-A bent better than sitting in a chair sewing. (Besides, sewing was really annoying to me, and I always managed to sew something upside down and would have to rip out stitches and start over, something that brought my temper to a boil.)
As a mom myself now, I’ve made a resolution specific to this summer: I’m getting all four of my kids in the kitchen, stirring and chopping and washing dishes like I did. Unlike my mother, I have not given my kids nearly the amount of responsibility I had. Their schedules during the school year are packed; and between soccer and baseball games, piano lessons, youth group, FCA and SGA, homework, chorus concerts and rehearsals for the school play, I’ve pretty much abdicated the teaching of skills like cooking and cleaning to a day sometime in the future. But that’s been nagging at me. I have failed to equip them with skills I know are important to their ability to care for themselves and others. And I’ve not yet imparted a work ethic that will serve them in a society that I fear is growing more entitled by the second. And, finally, I know by how tired I am most days that I haven’t delegated out enough work. I’m drowning in the weight of running this household while four capable children flit from one event to another oblivious of what it takes to keep this place running. How will they learn to prioritize responsibilities and draw up boundaries if Mom does everything for them?
Commence Operation Summer Cooking Camp (right on the heels of the Ant List). Last week, Claire and Will each took a night and planned, purchased and prepared our evening meal. Claire was so happy to make a meal that was bursting at the seams with her favorite ingredient: cheese! I’ve stopped cooking with cheese since discovering I had an allergy to it, and I had no idea how much my family has missed it. Biting into Claire’s gooey lasagna, each of them reminded me of that guy in the film Chocolat, the one who fought against the decadence of chocolate only to be found later wallowing in it, practically drunk with its delights.
Will followed suit with some super cheesy pizzas. He had a blast stretching pizza dough, slapping it onto cornmeal-dusted stones and topping it with a medley of his favorite ingredients. The pride on his face as everyone gleefully moaned over the tastes and textures was priceless, and he guarded the leftovers like a bird over her eggs so that his daddy could taste it when he got home from out-of-town meetings.
Last night Bailey, who has been most reluctant to operate kitchen equipment, made a lovely meal of panko-crusted tilapia, baked sweet potatoes and a delightful salad of mixed greens, garlic croutons, dried cranberries and chopped bacon. And Ellie is planning to make one of her favorites this week, orecchiette with roasted broccoli and walnuts.
I am happy to say that Summer Cooking Camp is running successfully around here. Come summer’s end, I hope to be more than surviving the mothering of these four children and biting into fantastic meals made by little hands and hearts bursting with satisfaction over the fruits of their labors. They may not all love cooking come time to leave the nest, but I hope they all leave home feeling capable of their abilities to feed their tummies and care for others through the gift of good food.