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Teaching children to cook is always a recipe for drama

Teaching children to cook is always a recipe for drama

My parents, Sister Vivian and Hap, were married at the Sacred Heart Church on November 8, 1947. The next day they drove off for their honeymoon, first at Buttermilk Falls near Ithaca, NY, and then at Niagara Falls. The family story goes that Brother XX was conceived at Buttermilk, as he was born nine months and 11 days after the wedding.

Upon their return to Glendale, NY (this was a few years before moving to South Ozone Park), my mother began her new role as a full-time nurse/full-time housewife. First assignment: cooking dinner.

Nurse Vivian was the second daughter in a large Irish working-class family, many of whom were employed by the coal smelters of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The city was inundated twice by floods, and Grandma Wise never got my mother completely quiet. long enough by the stove to teach her as much as how to cook potatoes.

But Nurse Vivian was a modern woman from the post-war years, so she got a recipe book. The first chapter was “Les Pommes d’Amour(tomatoes). Day one: spaghetti with tomato sauce. Day two: fried green tomatoes. Day three: German onion and tomato pie. On the fourth day, when Hap walked through the door at 5:30, sat down and stood in front of a plate of stewed tomatoes, he muttered, “Vivian, I think you got the tomatoes down.”

It would be 15 years before she served him another apple of love.

By the time I was 14, Nurse Vivian was still working full-time in Dr. Rizzuto, which meant I cooked dinner. Brothers X and XX had both done their time in the kitchen, and in fact X worked as short-order cooks for a while.

Most nights I stuck to the script. If there was ground beef, I’d make meatloaf. If there were pork chops, I’d whip up gravy. There were only a few outliers, like the day I found Sister Vivian’s recipe book and decided to try vichyssoise. I served it in chilled bowls. Hap took a sip, put the spoon down and said, “This is soup. It’s potato soup. And it’s cold.”

Segue to the Outer, Outer, Outer, Outer Excelsior, 2022. Like my mother, I have a full-time job and both my sons passed 14 a while ago. So my husband, Brian, and I decided that this would be the summer Zane and Aidan learned to cook. (Yes, yes, that’s right. It’s a long story, not told yet, Zane is home for now. All the time.)

We started with chicken and rice, a simple dish my colleague Phyllis taught me, just five ingredients. It took the boys a while to convince themselves that they should wash their hands first, but before you knew it we had a meal.

But getting the boys involved in the culinary process changed the tradition. We used to hold hands, say grace, and then toast to “the best boys in the world.” After that it was every man for himself, with me finishing first.

However, the new adventure in the land of gastronomy inspired Zane to add a step. Before lifting a fork (or, in Aidan’s case, a spoon), Zane takes a picture of his plate and then places it. Every night, whether we eat beef bourguignon or frozen pizza, he stops and posts.

When I was a teenager, we had TV dinners. Now we have Snapchat meals.

Before I take my first bite, I hear the pings and swooshes from his iPad and wonder how many “likes” my meal is getting today. The boys used to complain when I cooked vegetables. Now Zane only cares that the meal is photogenic. He needs a contrasting color. He needs drama.

If he can’t find drama, he creates it. On Tuesday, Zane opened the oven. He took a photo of the cauliflower and typed, “White broccoli.”

Yes, yes, I went to foster parent class. I knew he had to say things like that every now and then. To support its cultural identity, I added, “And with that we have white yams (mashed potatoes) and white steak (fried chicken).”

‘No, Dad,’ he rolled his eyes, ‘steak is a white man’s steak. Chicken is the chicken of the people.”

Two, I decided, can play at that game. We cooked one recipe after another: Garlic Chicken. Chicken and dumplings. Sweet ‘n’ Sour Chicken. I waited. Finally: “Dad, I think we’ve got the chicken down.”

“All right, Dan,” I said. “Let’s move on to tomatoes. Or as your grandmother would call them, les pommes d’amour.”

Kevin Fisher-Paulson’s column will appear in Datebook on Wednesday. Email: [email protected]