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Cook For Me, Child!

cooking with kids“Hey, Mom, how do you make French toast?”

“Crack an egg in a wide flat bowl, mix it with some milk and salt, dip your bread in it, and fry it in a pan.”

I walked out of the kitchen and started answering emails. Ten minutes later he yelled out from the kitchen, “Mom! Where’s the maple syrup?”

“In the refrigerator door.”

A few minutes later he yelled out from the dining room, “This French toast is delicious!”

My 11-year-old can cook. He can bake. He can plan meals. He can sequence meals. He can follow a recipe or general directions, like my French toast directions. I let him do it all by himself.

Some parents love cooking with their kids. I’m not one of them.

I love cooking and am OK with baking as a means to an end. I went to culinary school (with Amy Thielen of Heartland Table on Food Network, and Susie Chang, Boston Globe cookbook reviewer and food columnist) and did time in a few professional kitchens. Cooking is a big form of expression for me. I get flavors in my head and have to cook them to get them out.

But I just want to do it, not have someone sticking their fingers in the way of my knife, or sloshing flour or soy sauce all over the counter, or wanting to do it themselves when I could do it more quickly. I am afraid of little children, and even though I was not afraid of my own children, I still didn’t like that impatient, wild-card, do-it-myself stage they each went through for what seemed like eons. I like things chill and funny, not chaotic.

And that’s why I’m so excited that my 11-year-old cooks now.

He cooks for himself, so he never goes hungry. Of course he sometimes eats simple snacks like a banana or and apple with peanut butter, but he also makes bread, chocolate cake, tacos, roasted chicken, pork chops, chili, salads, stir fries, and all kinds of other things.

He cooks for the family, and feeds all of us. He usually takes one dinner a week all by himself. He plans, and I buy what he needs, and then he does the whole thing (unless he asks for an assistant, either his brother or me). He picks things he knows all three of us will like, and thinks about balanced meals and not duplicating what we’ve recently eaten.

He cooks for me, and takes care of me. He makes me coffee in the morning sometimes, or muffins, and when I was sick a few weeks ago he made me a cake. I know the whole “food is love” concept isn’t in vogue anymore, but I like that he knows that making food for someone is a way of tending them. I hope he stays as thoughtful and caring as he becomes more man than boy. And I’m so glad that he does it all himself. Yes, sometimes we both cook at the same time. He’ll make one thing and I’ll make another. Or maybe we need another set of hands for something (hoisting a heavy roast into the oven, or rolling dumplings) so one of us will wash quickly and pitch in.

But most of the time it’s one of us cooking, and the other one sitting at the table, waiting for food. And talking, about military history or books or what’s happening on the shows we both watch, or school assignments or friends or current events or Get Fuzzy comics. I see us like this in five years, when he’s a lanky teen, and ten years when he’s home from college, and twenty years when he’s an adult visiting me at holidays. I see him cooking for his brother and his brother cooking for him, cooking for friends, cooking for lovers. I see a life for him—for both of them—of loving people and feeding them with love.