My four children sat together along one side of the long farmhouse table. It was late in the afternoon, dinnertime, and they were hungry from all of the activity of their day in the hot Florida sun. The fact that they had chosen to sit facing me as I poured the Cheerios into their bowls was not lost on me. It was almost comical to see their faces, desperate for whatever I prepared, staring at me as I worked behind the kitchen counter directly in front of them. As usual, my middle children, Andrew who was six and Juliana who was five, began to fight. I was surprised when their older sister, Christina who was eight, turned to them and said with authority and perhaps a bit of distress, “Shhhh, mommy’s cooking!”
I froze in mid pour, one Cheerio rolling off of the counter and onto the floor. We heard it land, a crisp little smack and then nothing. Quiet. What was I doing to my precious children? How is it that I could be raising children to believe that pouring cereal was the equivalent of cooking and that it was so stressful that I needed quiet in order to concentrate?
For a fleeting moment I thought of the benefits, both in the saving of energy and cash and how much easier my life would be if I let this hoax continue. And then I looked into Christina’s face, in her huge turquoise eyes, almost tearing up as she stared back at me, and I found my conscience. She was a sponge, intelligent and eager and always alert. I sighed and realized that I had to step up and admit to her, to all of them including the baby, Gabriela, who was only one at the time, that pouring cereal into bowls and adding milk, albeit fortified with calcium and extra vitamin D, was not really “cooking” at all. When, I asked myself, did I stop enjoying cooking in the first place? Was it after the first child, or the second or maybe the fourth?
When I was growing up, my grandfather kept a garden where he grew the rhubarb and the strawberries for our pies and the grapes for his own brand of sticky sweet wine. Every meal at his house, which he prepared together with my grandmother, featured his tomatoes, red and plump, his crisp lettuce and green beans that snapped like a pencil when you picked them. There was the famous family recipe for spaghetti sauce, whose secret ingredient turned out to be more than a pinch of sugar. There were also years of hand made birthday cakes and Christmas pies, fudge and plum pudding with hard sauce and each and every summer there were whoopee pies by the tray full. So what happened to me? Why was I not sharing this wonderful family legacy with my children?
I imagined that one day they would be asked, “What was your favorite family recipe?” Cheerios, Frosted Flakes, Cinnamon Toast Crunch; certainly one of these would be their answer. I knew that for me that question would be difficult only because there were so many wonderful memories having to do with the preparation and the consumption of food in my family, that I would be hard pressed to choose one recipe over another. Perhaps my grandfather’s strawberry rhubarb pie would win-out, at least today anyway, tomorrow I may remember something else. At any rate, I never asked for their recipes and I never helped them cook. I was a spectator and I let the family tradition die with my grandparents.
Ever since that day in my kitchen when I learned just how little my children knew about the wonders and diversity of food and the joy that “cooking” can bring to a home, I have tried to step up, to be a better example for them. It will never be a passion, I can’t fake that, but my cooking has improved over the years. I am sure now that one day, if they are ever asked, “What was your favorite family recipe?” they will actually have a few choices to consider other than the list of cereals they once enjoyed.