Le Petit Sous Chef by Katherine Willis Pershey
I could easily rattle off a month’s worth of childhood meals. Most of them originated from some sort of box, with a few home-cooked gems thrown in on weekends. Once, my mother made a low-fat lasagna recipe she’d seen on the evening news; though we all agreed it was fantastic, she complained that it took too long to cut all the vegetables. Cooking was never her bailiwick, and returning to her career as a librarian certainly didn’t alchemize meal prep into an enjoyable hobby. Her goal was simply to get reasonably healthy food onto five dinner plates before we had to dash out of the house for piano/dance/trombone lessons. Nowadays she cringes at the sodium-laden food she fed our family. While she’s no foodie – you couldn’t pay her to try sushi – you also couldn’t pay her to eat so much as a spoonful of Dinty Moore beef stew.
Since very little actual cooking happened in my household, I can count my childhood experiences of helping cook meals on one hand. I don’t know what I was doing while my mother was boiling water for spaghetti – probably watching the original Electric Co. with my sisters.
If you don’t cook as a kid, you have to learn to cook as an adult. I’m slowly doing this. After believing for far too long that my natural creativity (did I mention all those music lessons?) translates directly into the kitchen, I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that my roast chicken tastes better if Mark Bittman told me how to cook it. Still, I like the stuff that starts with exactitude and ends with a flourish. Pizza, for instance. I scrape my knife across the tops of the measuring cups for the greatest precision, and then I dump loads of chopped toppings willy-nilly over the bed of dough and pesto.
Of course, there isn’t time to make pizza from scratch on a weeknight. At least the frozen section at Trader Joe’s beats the unsavory Salisbury steaks in the refrigerator of my childhood. Yesterday’s yellow mac and cheese is today’s gorgonzola gnocchi. It’s a brave new world.
But I do have help with dinner preparations, and I don’t just mean my pal Joe. I have a sous chef who is remarkably eager to assist me. While there are some basic kitchen tasks she can’t do yet (i.e., use knives), she stirs, pours, and paints olive oil onto eggplant slices with such exuberance it makes the whole thing feel like playtime. She is my daughter, Juliette. She is two-and-a-half.
My goal? That she won't even remember a time before she was cooking dinner with her mama.
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