When I interviewed chef Tyler Florence last week about his new book about cooking for children, Start Fresh, I found it refreshing that he didn’t go on and on about how his youngsters were absorbing his culinary skills like sponges. Though the kids do spend time in the kitchen while their mom and dad are cooking, he says, mostly they stick around no longer than a “nanosecond.” Afterall, he told me, they’re just 4 and almost 3.
That seems like an honest, natural and relaxed-parent response. It’s a nice counterpoint to some of the earnest, overwrought advice offered to parents who would like to spend time cooking with their children but apparently don’t know where to begin.
Cooking with kids has obvious advantages: Kids learn some practical life skills, some lessons in nutrition and home economy and cooperation. They may also develop tastes for foods they might not otherwise have come to appreciate and, most of all, they experience the sheer joy of creating food and then enjoying it with loved ones.
But including kids in kitchen activities apparently doesn’t come naturally to many of us. How else to explain these guidelines that suggest you “Turn a sandwich into a special snack!” by shaping it with a cookie cutter -- or spell out that you should finish up by eating what you cooked? Who needs to be told that?
I’m no kitchen whiz, but it has seemed fitting from the start to share what meager cooking skills I’ve cobbled together with my two kids. It was never like, ‘okay, kids now we are going to cook together.’ It just happens.
Sure, there have been missteps along the way. I will never cease to feel anguish over -- nor will my kids ever let me forget -- the holiday-season evening when I thought it would be fun for us to make thumbprint cookies together. I must have been frazzled, is my only explanation, because for some reason I had it in mind that the indentations in the soft-baked cookies, fresh from the oven, should be made by the children’s actual thumbs. Do you need to know that my son burnt his forearm on the hot cookie tray? And that both kids recoiled instantly upon sinking their poor little thumbs into the still-steaming cookies? So much for the festive holiday atmosphere I was trying to create!
Who knows? Maybe I could have used one of those earnest guides to cooking with kids, myself. (In my defense, many recipes I’ve consulted do in fact say to make the impression with an actual thumb.)
We have made thumbprint cookies since, using the back of a melon-baller to make the impressions. Rightly so, though, we have never baked them without a recitation of the above tale.
Do you cook with your kids? Did you consult a Web site, book or other source of expertise before diving in? Or were you lucky enough to have a family tradition to draw on?
And did anyone else out there think thumbprint cookies required real thumb prints?