Writer’s Note: Most of us will admit that no matter how lovely our homes may be, when people come to visit, they often end up in our kitchens. I like to think that this is because the comfort food that we make for those we love (and for ourselves!) begins in that magical room.
Among many favorite memories about my daughter’s childhood are those that we made in the kitchen. Happily, she feels the same way. When we were talking recently, she said that we were always in the kitchen and that she really can’t remember “not cooking”. Now married with a husband and children of her own, Leigh is a superb cook and her kitchen is the center of her home.
The late Pearl Bailey once said, “I don’t like to say that my kitchen is a religious place, but I would say that if I were a voodoo priestess, I would conduct my rituals there.” Yes, there is magic to a kitchen, grand or small. — GP
The Kitchen is the
Heart of the Home
All you have to do to realize that people are cooking at home more than ever is to go to a grocery store. There you will find countless folk pushing carts laden with all manner of ingredients. While I was standing in the checkout line recently (double-masked and standing 6 feet from anyone else), I overheard two ladies discussing their plans for upcoming meals.
One admitted that the pandemic had forced her to haul out the cookbooks and start thinking about meal planning again. The other sighed and said that she had become too proficient at being a short-order cook and was now determined to actually prepare healthy meals for her family to sit together and eat — whether they liked it or not!
These ladies may not have known it, but they are part of a national trend to cook at home that has even spurred growth in a relatively new market — subscription meal kits delivered to your front door. HelloFresh, Home Chef, and Amazon Fresh Meal Kits are just a few of the dozens available today. They offer cooks meal variety and recipes together with ingredients, correctly measured, and instructions for creating meals. The pandemic has clearly harmed many business ventures, but not this one. This trend may very well last long past when the pandemic is gone.
Meal Kits for Kids . . .
It turns out that subscription meal kits for adults weren’t the only ones being developed. A market was identified for educational (and inspirational!) kits designed for children. Now that the pandemic is keeping families at home, these are even more popular as parents look for opportunities to help educate their children in novel ways.
This past December, Brian and Leigh Grainger were searching for a special gift for their 2 youngest for Christmas. Leigh noticed that another member on their PTO board of directors had a daughter using a cooking kit designed specifically for children.
She asked about it and learned that each month, a kit arrives complete with 3 recipe guides, a new cooking utensil, a playlist of suggested music while cooking, a complete grocery list of ingredients to buy to make the meal, conversation starter cards to use when family sits down to eat the meal that the children have prepared, and a new patch to add to the children’s aprons (the aprons come in the first kit) showing what they have mastered. The Graingers decided to order Raddish Kids as their Christmas present for the little girls.
The kits have been a huge hit with the entire family. Their daughters have already successfully made several meals including an Italian one — antipasto salad, ravioli, and tiramisu — complete with cream they whipped themselves! Leigh says the cooking experiences have helped reinforce concepts like sharing and taking turns, plus provided real-life examples of the importance of math and reading skills. Guy Fieri, successful restauranteur and television star, “gets it” about the importance of involving children in food preparation. “Cooking with kids is not just about ingredients, recipes, and cooking,” Fieri said. “It’s about harnessing imagination, empowerment, and creativity.”
Debbie Luffey recently enjoyed having granddaughter Rosemary Paxton over to spend the weekend. One of the things that she and Rosemary did together was to prepare beignets, that classic Louisiana “doughnut”, together. That was precious time for them both.
To be fair, not every child is interested in cooking. Erma Bombeck admitted to not always having success with children even in the most basic matters concerning the kitchen. “Have you any idea how many children it takes to turn off one light in the kitchen?” she asked. “Three. It takes one to say ‘What light?’ and two more to say, ‘I didn’t turn it on.’”
Sharing Early Cooking Experiences . . .
Recently I asked some friends to share with me their earliest cooking memories. I was delighted to read that so many of them had fond memories that they were willing to share. Some learned to cook out of necessity — one had his mom teach him how to cook scrambled eggs and toast so he could get his Cub Scout advancement, while another asked her mom to teach her how to cook when she was in Girl Guides.
Others learned because of their mothers’ absence. Paula Walker started cooking at 10 (made salmon patties and stewed potatoes), preparing her dad’s lunch because her mother had to work late one Saturday morning. “It turned out good and I didn’t burn anything,” Walker explained. “I had watched my mother prepare it many times so I knew what to do.” For Carole Crow, the necessity to learn happened when she was 12 and her mother passed away. Her dad taught her to cook.
“I don’t remember exactly what — probably biscuits, pancakes, mashed potatoes, and fried meat (some from the supermarket, and some from elsewhere),” Crow says. “I blew the top off the pressure cooker twice cooking beans. Thank goodness my husband likes to cook and is good at it!”
Breakfast foods were often cited as the first foods that were mastered at an early age. For some, however, a more “hands-on” approach to cooking took on an entirely different meaning. Lynn Hodge credits their housekeeper, Fran Fran, for teaching her the fine art of preparing live chicken to fry when she was 12. “She took me outside and showed me how to wring a chicken’s neck,” Hodge says.
“Then she put it in hot water to get the feathers off, and then burned the pin feathers off over the gas stove. I loved every minute of this procedure!” Hodge still prefers to buy a whole chicken and cut it up herself. Angie Waller shares a similar memory. “I remember my grandmother, Mama Lou, teaching me how to skin quail and cut up whole chickens when I was 10. I loved it!” she says.
Sweets for the Sweet . . .
For many, baking sweets was their favorite early memory. Someone whose identity has been lost once said, “‘Stressed’ spelled backwards is ‘desserts’. Coincidence? I think not!” And who dares to claim that baking chocolate chip cookies or a pound cake isn’t a stress-reliever?
The first thing that Kevin Coon can remember baking was Buttermilk Pound Cake, a family favorite. Her mother taught her, and Coon made one for Christmas. Miriam Russell started making cakes from mixes when she was in second grade. “Daddy bragged on me like crazy,” Russell says, “so I kept cooking — anything to make my daddy happy!” Mary Ann Riddle says that she has always been a baker of anything sweet, but easy. “My mom always let us do our own thing in the kitchen as long as we cleaned up,” Riddle says. “I had many friends whose moms wouldn’t let them in the kitchen. They knew they were always welcome in ours. My mom was loved by all my friends.”
Several said that they were married before they learned how to cook a meal — or even boil water! Sue Nawas says that her mother was a great cook, so she was never interested in learning how — until she married and moved far from home. Her late husband, Rifat, asked a friend of his if his wife might teach Sue basic meat, rice, and vegetable recipes. “Rifat could make really good tomato and cucumber salads,” Sue recalls. “We lived on those, shish kebabs, and take-out chicken. I bought a Lebanese cookbook, but Rifat really inspired me to cook. He would read a recipe in a magazine, go buy the ingredients, and then cook it for us. Together, we learned.”
Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts gang, once wrote “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” Schulz is on to something, I think. Food (with or without chocolate) cooked with love and shared with family doesn’t hurt either. We all need a little extra love just now.
Bon Appetit to old and young, and everyone in between!