Wash, rinse, repeat: Maisie and Megan prepare kale for a pot of minestrone. (Photo by Cramer Photo)
Not only does my 4-year-old know the difference between bolognese and besciamella, she knows how to make them too.
Since her birth, Maisie’s kept me company in the kitchen. It’s where I spend the majority of my day. At four weeks, I’d put her bouncy seat on the counter. At three months, I’d wear her in a baby björn and bring herbs to her nose to sniff. I narrated everything I did as if I were hosting my own cooking show. At six months, when she started sitting up, I’d plunk her down on the counter and let her explore the utensil crock. She’d watch me steam and purée all of her first foods. Her first word was banana.
Once she could stand, her post was a kitchen chair up against the counter. While she napped, I would measure out messy ingredients and take care of any peeling or chopping so that when she joined me, she could just dump and assemble. It always took longer than if I had just done it myself and there was always a mess to clean up, but it gave her confidence and know-how.
As she’s grown, I’ve come to genuinely depend on Maisie as a very able (and cheap) sous chef. I ask her to season something and she grabs a pinch of kosher salt from the dish and sprinkles it just like a professional chef. She cleans mushrooms, stems rosemary, and takes garlic cloves out of their “jackets.” She asks if it is time to add the bay leaf and reminds me that I have a parmigiano rind that I can throw into the soup for extra flavor. She watches for water to boil and can smell pinenuts about to burn. She eats every third ingredient while she works, but since she likes raw kale and cannellini beans as much as chocolate chips, I happily oblige. She helps me prep for dinner parties and will ask the next day, “By the way, how did your guests enjoy the lasagne we made?”
There are still spills—from the minor (a quart of chicken stock) to the catastrophic (a cup of couscous). And there have been close calls with splattering oil or trying to snatch a veggie from under my knife, but I just use it as an opportunity to review the rules. Even adulthood doesn’t protect you from injuries in the kitchen.
My pride in being a good cook runs a close second behind being a good mother, and I hope to teach both to Maisie. She already respects food and the time it takes to prepare it. She already chooses whole foods over processed ones and eats mindfully, stopping when full. She bids our dog “bon appétit” every night. Seeing the importance in feeding those that you love thoughtfully-prepared wholesome food is the hard part. Learning how to do it is the easy part. She’ll be cooking for us all by herself in no time.