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April 23, 2010

Kitchen Traditions

DSCN3248 In a past life, I was a foodie and gourmet cook. I spent evenings lovingly pouring over cookbooks and planning my Saturday morning forays to the farmer’s market. Shopping was followed by an afternoon of proudly producing high end food for friends. Good wine, good food, good friends…ahh the sweet life.

Then I had children, twins to be precise. The wine at sunset was replaced with bottles at sunrise. The post-birth year is just a blur; but I am relatively sure I didn’t cook. Breast milk and baby food were the main staples in my kitchen. Most nights our dinner consisted of reheated Schwann’s frozen dinners. The closest thing to gourmet in our kitchen was the high end, organic baby food. Thankfully, babies do grow. Eventually they began to sleep through the night. As I emerged from my sleep deprived fog, I felt those old stirrings again…could I carve out some time in the kitchen?

I furtively looked at cookbooks while my children napped. I tentatively planned meals while they played. I lovingly wrote shopping lists after bedtime. I finally worked up my courage, put my babies in a jogger, and stepped out to the farmer’s market. Oh the sweet joys of fresh fruits and vegetables, the riot of color and aroma, the endless possibilities. I happily shopped until my stroller sagged. Farm fresh produce in hand, I retreated to my kitchen. I guiltily put on a cartoon, locked the kitchen gate, and began making a batch of bread. Yeasty, warm, and tantalizing, it felt so good to knead the dough. The familiar rhythm was so hypnotic I almost slipped into a trance…until my son began to cry. Then my daughter joined in the fray. I quickly picked the dough off my hands and went to get my kids. Nothing I did would keep them happily out of the kitchen and my fantasy afternoon quickly unraveled into a frantic dance between kitchen and kids.

Finally, the bread was in the oven and I collapsed on the couch. As my children crawled into my lap, I wondered how my mother had done this. I remembered home made bread and garden fresh meals emerging from her kitchen to feed a family of ten! As I thought back, it dawned on me, she didn’t choose between cooking and children. My mother had skillfully woven time with her children into time in the kitchen. A sweet flood of memories washed over me: kneading my own tiny loaf of bread, making cinnamon rolls, stirring rice pudding, rolling out sugar cookies. Why hadn’t I remembered this before? I developed my love of cooking because I was in the kitchen with my mother. She shared her passion for food in the most elemental way; she welcomed us into her kitchen. She surrounded us with the warmth of simple food prepared with love.

With new resolve I began to cook with my kids. There was a new version of foodie and cook in my kitchen. We planned mad tea parties and baked slightly burned cookies. Together we made loaves of sticky monkey bread and lumpy cakes for fairies. Nothing we produced could pass as gourmet fare. In fact, I’m quite sure some of it wouldn’t even have passed for food! But my kitchen was filled with fun and laughter. My kids got to make food with their own hands and serve it to people they love.

Over the last few years my children’s cooking interests have diverged. My son is now mostly interested in the chemistry of kitchen experiments and eating the results of our efforts. My daughter, on the other hand, has emerged as a true foodie. Like me, she loves to shop for ingredients, try new recipes, and watch Top Chef. But she hasn’t stopped there; with the fearlessness of youth, she has taken it one step further. She convinces me to buy and try strange new ingredients. She concocts her own recipes and tastes the results. Some of her combinations are suspect, like her yogurt barbeque sauce, which looked weird, but was surprisingly tasty. Other things she makes are just downright delicious. Her cold sweet pumpkin soup with cinnamon pie crust crackers could be served with pride at any venue. My daughter’s unconventional approach will probably take her further down the culinary road to surpass me in the kitchen. On that day I will proudly pass my Mother’s spatula on to the next generation. Thanks Mom, for teaching me that like a fine wine, the tradition of cooking together only gets better with time.

This is an original 50-Something Moms Blog post. Melanie also writes about her life and experiences in “Life Among The Gifted” at

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