Light years ago before I had children, when I was a child myself, my parents asked me to cook for the family. The details are fuzzy. Was it once a week? Did they supervise at all? Was I in the fifth or sixth grade? Questions abound, but I remember exactly what I made: sesame chicken wings. Every time.
Sesame chicken wings was probably not the nutrient-filled meal my mother wished I would make. In fact, I don't recall serving anything with the sesame chicken wings. Every time it was my turn to make dinner, I got out the chicken wing packages and patted them dry. I lined the cookie sheet I used with tin foil for an easier clean-up. Then, I know I dredged them in some combination of ingredients. Soy sauce must have been one, maybe flour and honey as well...? That sure seems like an odd combination now that I'm writing it out. I remember sprinkling sesame seeds on top. And into the oven they went! I flipped them once halfway through the baking time. That I am sure of! At least it makes sense that I would...
Thinking back on this early cooking memory, the questions make me chuckle. The fact that my family ate these again and again makes me appreciate them a little more. But the biggest thing is how grateful I am to have this memory. Thank you, mom, not just for reading this slice like I know you will, but for also putting me in that kitchen and letting me make whatever I felt confident making. And for eating it--again and again and again! Maybe the fact that I'm a confident, fine cook now is because of this early, positive experience in the kitchen.
I was talking with a girlfriend last night who said that her cooking skills are nonexistent because her mother shooed her and her five siblings out of the kitchen when she cooked. And her mother cooked food to feed her kids--but without curiosity, joy, or any love of the process of cooking. My friend said that she never wanted to go into the kitchen after a while because it was full of sighs and slamming pots.
With three school age kids, I realize that the choices I make regarding what I cook for them (yesterday I wrote about sugar) definitely matter. But there's more to it than that. How do I cook? What do I show them about the process? Is my kitchen a place they want to be? And, the biggest question: how do I involve them? Over the years I've answered this in a variety of ways, and there are plenty of other moms who take pictures and blog and write cookbooks about this subject. They've inspired and, when I get tired of the mess, reinsured me to get my kids to help cut and create, roll pasta and of course bake. It seems silly to be thinking of the time when my kids cook for themselves when they are so young now, but I want them to be confident, creative, curious cooks.
And, because I think it's funny, I think I might make sesame chicken wings again soon. Albeit a tastier recipe, and served with heaps of vegetables and rice, too. (My favorite recipe is Smitten Kitchen's sticky sesame chicken wings...)