04 May 2010

Cooking: A Love Story

So it is no secret that my sister and I share our passion for eating and food.  And, if you happen to follow her blog, you know that her daughters have been groomed from birth to share this passion.  Laura often includes her daughters while baking, and they are allowed access to all the interesting adult  food she prepares.  I know kids are kids, and my nieces aren't perfect.  I am sure there will be roadblocks where an Indian dal doesn't sound as good to one of them as something dipped in ketchup does, but my sister and her husband have laid the foundation for worldly children who appreciate different foods and cultures. 

Recently, my sweet, favorite oldest niece came to visit for a few days.  There was a trip to the zoo to see baby lions, visits to the neighborhood chickens, lots of ice cream, hot pink slime  and hugs.  It was a lovely visit, but my favorite part of her visit was our last dinner together.  Alex and I were trying to decide what to do for dinner. We talked about going out for pizza, but my mom - her Bauma - wanted to stay in and Alex wants nothing more than to be near her Bauma.  Then I suggested a picnic which definitely got a positive response.  Then I wondered what in the world we would make for dinner.  Oh, and Bauma needed a break! So I needed to come up with something to distract Alex from harassing Bauma and make dinner.  Then it hit me - why not have Alex make dinner?

A light bulb went off.  Alex beamed when I suggested she help me out with dinner.  In fact the story now goes something along the lines of, "I made Aunt Josie and Bauma dinner all by myself! I did it all!"  I wasn't really sure how much cooking Laura has let Alex do since she is only 4 and a half years old. But I threw caution to the wind and figured Alex would let me know if she was outside her comfort zone (the most naturally cautious child I have ever met!). 

The eager Chef goes in for a taste.

We first went to the pantry, where I suggested we start by picking a pasta. We went through all the various pastas that Bauma keeps around, and Alex immediately selected couscous when I pointed it out.  After the pasta, I asked Alex what would taste good with the couscous.  She thought for a moment and then said OLIVES and MUSHROOMS!  Thankfully we had both on hand - even some fancy Greek olives that she loves.  I asked how she felt about roasted Piquillo peppers, and she said SURE!  She also picked some fresh yellow bell pepper, sweet onion and  Romano cheese.  We decided to roast some asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper separately.

I asked Alex to prep the veggies while I got the water boiling for the couscous.  She very carefully used a fork and butter knife to "chop" the olives and Piquillo peppers.  I chopped the onion and yellow bell peppers and sauteed them in a bit of olive oil to take the raw bite off.  We mixed all the chopped veggies together with the fluffy couscous.  I drizzled a bit of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the pasta salad, and we topped with some shredded Romano cheese (I think Feta would have been even better, but we didn't have any).  Alex very carefully plated our dishes, having me place the hot asparagus just so.  She sprinkled the plates with shredded cheese and offered Bauma seconds.   She carefully cleared the plates and helped clean up after cooking.  She was adorable and eager to please.  

I didn't think I could love that kid anymore, but it turns out seeing her enjoy herself so much in the kitchen with me made me fall in love a little bit more.  I don't have my own kids, but I still think it is important to spend time in the kitchen with a child you love.   I feel very lucky that I got to spend that night with Alex (chasing bubbles in the backyard after dinner was pretty fun too!).