I’m too much of a dedicated writer to be a good cook.
I will always choose jotting down a creative thought over food preparation. I am living proof of Einstein’s theory of the relativity of space and time. When I am in my office typing at my computer, time passes much more quickly in my kitchen than when I’m standing in my kitchen, monitoring the progress in the pots and pans I have on the stove. What feels like only seconds of writing stuff down in my office, is twenty minutes of my meal burning in the kitchen. My poor family has had to eat far too many meals of Hamburger Helper chiseled from the bottom of a frying pan because inspiration chose to strike while I was cooking.
Even though I am useless in the kitchen, I spent countless hours there with my children, because I thought that’s what good moms were supposed to do. It was sheer torture when they were really young and I let them help me. We ended up with more food in their hair and on the floor than in a pan or serving dish. So, when they were toddlers, I usually resorted to taking the easy way out at mealtime. I was confident in my ability to use a can opener, the microwave, and could turn the oven on and off. My husband was able to eat real food while he was at work and my kids didn’t get hungry for substantial food until they were pre-school age. So, I was able to get by that long with serving mostly Spaghettios, Easy Mac and Tombstone Pizza.
When their appetites started growing, my kids started insisting on helping me out before meals. I figured we had nothing to lose – besides the food that would land on their bodies and in the garbage can – and I accepted their help. I must have effectively communicated to my kids that I didn’t know the rules of cooking; therefore, that there weren’t any. My children took my permission to help as license to turn my kitchen into a science lab.
My daughter came up with many unique concoctions over the years. I really enjoyed the recipes where she drew a picture of each ingredient instead of writing it down, which was cute, but sometimes a few months later she couldn’t figure out what the drawings were supposed to represent and she would get angry at me when I couldn’t decipher her hieroglyphic language. But her very first recipe is still my favorite: Banana Meat.
When she was four, my daughter excitedly asked me if she could create a new recipe. I assumed that she had heard about it on Arthur or Sesame Street and said, “Sure.” I asked her where the recipe idea came from and she excitedly said, “My head!” I smiled and asked her what she needed for ingredients. She said she had to write the recipe down before she could make it. She sat at the dining room table holding her pencil in the air while her eyes looked up. She scanned her head for the ingredients she would need and wrote them down. An hour later she read her recipe for Banana Meat to me: “Bananas, flour, eggs, milk, cinnamon . . . and Oscar Mayer baloney.” She then suggested that it be served with green beans. Unfortunately we didn’t have any baloney on hand. But, my daughter couldn’t wait to make her recipe, so she went ahead without the baloney and hoped that it would still taste alright. She cooked it in the microwave and I ate it, with green beans on the side, and I told her it was really good – because I love her.
My daughter ate some, too, and said, “It is really good, but Banana Meat tastes so much better with baloney. Maybe when you buy some baloney I’ll make it again.” I am a horrible mom. I didn’t buy Oscar Mayer luncheon meats for a really long time – until she forgot about her recipe. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I didn’t think bananas and baloney went well together. And I didn’t have the stomach to give it a try.
When my son was young he also liked to sketch his recipes, which usually ended up looking like an engineering Design Object Model. His eyes would roll up into the left side of his brain while he sat at the dining room table searching for the perfect formula for satisfying his hunger. I recently found a recipe of his called Cm .5, and I have no idea if he ever actually made it or just used it as an excuse to do math because there are fractions all over the page. When my son was three years old I once mentioned that cooking often involves fractions. From that point on he turned every moment in the kitchen into a math lesson.
The most memorable recipe that my son came up with that he actually cooked and I actually ate was Flantastic Flan. He was seven years old when he became obsessed with flan after seeing the Flan King episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog. He wanted to try flan but I had no idea how to make it and we didn’t have internet access at the time for me to quickly find out. So he took it upon himself to figure out how to make flan. He decided that flan should be made with milk, flour and chocolate syrup in a ratio that he decided would be perfect. He mixed it together and cooked it for two minutes in the microwave and insisted that I eat one third of it while he and his sister ate the other two thirds. I told my son that my third was really good – because I love him. And I’m still working on trying to digest it today.
My kids continued to enjoy experimenting in my kitchen over the years. They came up with a variety of recipes for drinks, appetizers, main courses and desserts. They also became very good at following other people’s recipes on their own because they knew they had to turn to someone other than me for gastronomic help. They were willing to try even complex sounding ones that I would have been too intimidated to try to make because I wasn’t even confident that I could spell them correctly. Until they demonstrated it was true, I had no idea that my kitchen was even capable of producing vegetable lasagna and gratin dauphinois potatoes.
Now my kids are each living in apartments with their own kitchen time zones to navigate. Because of my culinary shortcomings and the resulting skills my children had to acquire for expanding their menu options, I’m sure that they will both be very successful cooks. And I’m not just saying that because I love them.
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© 2016 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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