Saturday, August 2, 2008

cooking complex

Let me start this story by reminding everyone that I really love my mom. (Why do I get the feeling many therapy sessions begin this way? Except Tony Soprano's, I guess).

So. Growing up, I understood that my mom and grandma were Good Cooks - because the food they produced was tasty and they could make pretty much anything in the world, usually without a recipe card or cookbook in front of them. And because they didn't really need or seem to want my help. I realize now, as a grown-up, busy and occasionally brain-fried mom myself, that it wasn't meant to be a slight - their brusk "do it this way or get out of my way" manner - but really more a reflection of trying to get things done right & quickly. Yet I got it into my head pretty early that I was not a Good Cook and it has taken me a lot of years and experimentation and accepting compliments to convince myself that I'm at least a Fine Cook; now I'm working hard at making sure my kids feel comfortable & capable in the kitchen.

I realized in college that I had a complex when roommates would pop in while I attempted to make dinner. If they asked anything about what I was doing, I got defensive. "So, what are you going to do with that macaroni?" "I KNOW EXACTLY HOW TO BOIL WATER, THANK YOU VERY MUCH!" [So sad you missed the fun?] It occurred to me after alienating several friends a few irrational outbursts that I didn't like people questioning me because that is what I had dealt with every time I ventured into the kitchen as a kid. Whenever I had attempted to make something, my mom was hovering next to me, telling me which tool to use, how to mix the right way, when to flip or stir, what to do first or last, admonishing me when I wanted to clean up as I went. Once I moved away from home, anybody entering my culinary vicinity was suspect, and I tensed up, ready to roar my justifications.

Now I sometimes feel myself starting to do the same things my mom did whenever I see my kids obliterating eggs into a mix or creating a massive flour cloud around a bowl; it seems so much easier to take over the job and just do it right. But I have to stop, unclench my jaw, and give them calm reminders and gentle tips. It makes my heart happy when Paige jumps up to help make banana bread (my grandma's recipe) or Mason offers to fix scrambled eggs for everyone - I know I've created a relaxed and safe place for them to work out the mysteries & joys of cooking on their own. Even if I can't resist following a few paces behind with a dishcloth.

photo & flask courtesy of


JCK said...

You have created a special atmosphere in the kitchen for your children. And those are the memories they will have. About sharing the tasks and taking the time to do it together.

Lisa Wheeler Milton said...

Did you ever watch Once & Again with Sela Ward? There was this flashback scene when she was a little girl, trying to help in the kitchen but always getting shooed away and of course she was still freezing up, years later, when her family came to visit on the holidays.

You just vividly brought that poignant scene back to mind and the many others from my own childhood, under my critical Grandma's eye.

She still acts suspicious when I make something good. Like I've tricked her or something.

Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

I would very much like some scrambled eggs and banana bread.

Right now.

Good job, Stephanie!

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

It requires much effort for those of use who like things a certain way to relinquish control. It's definitely worth it.

I try to stay completely out of the kitchen until it's all cleaned up.

Gretchen said...

I know what you mean. My mom was the same way with me. I too am trying to allow my kids a little bit of "freedom" in the kitchen. But it sounds like your kids are miles ahead if they are already making scrambled eggs! Your kids are so lucky to have a mom who celebrates their interest in cooking.

LarryG said...

way to go 'badmom' keep that up and you'll have to rename your blog...
the galloping "badmom" thank you very much!

EatPlayLove said...

I let my 4 year old help in the kitchen everyday. I definitely have to work through many thoughts in my head and let her explore, remind myself it's just food, right?

Unknown said...

Oh, I can totally relate! I am a nazi in my kitchen! I cannot stand to have anyone in there helping me unless they are my servant doing exactly what I asked, and how I asked it done.

I am a total control freak, but nowhere more than in the kitchen. I also have a hard time letting the kids cook in the kitchen..thanks for reminding me to ease up a bit.

Amy said...

Wow - I never thought about it like this before. I should really let my kids "help" more when they ask.

foolery said...

Thanks for this, Stephanie. So well-written and analytical; I can see I have some soul-searching to do.

I am the daughter of a good cook who was also a home ec teacher. I am the sister of a chef. I have been cowed (by my own limited thinking) into believing that I am a bad cook, but in the last few years I have turned this around. BUT I still have miles to go with bringing my children along, so that they don't have the same problems.

-- Laurie @ Foolery


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