When it comes to kids in the kitchen I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic. I want nothing more than for Belle and Conor to learn how to prepare their own meals–not just as a matter of survival and economy (when I think of how much of my pay check was blown on burritos, pad thai, bagels and the Whole Foods salad bar during my post-college years it’s amazing that I paid the rent…actually, I was really bad about paying the rent), but also because I want them to be able to cook for those they love. I really do believe that the way to almost anyone’s heart is through their stomach. I have this—admittedly very corny— image in my head of Conor making eggs and toast for a girl one day. Scrambled eggs, buttered toast, mug of coffee, glass of juice–that’s love.
I have to be honest though, and say that I find cooking with children (at least my own children) to be very stressful. I admire all of the cooks out there who write about teaching their toddler how to braise fennel or de-bone a duck–kudos to you (show-offs). But my model for teaching someone how to master the kitchen arts is my Belgian grandmother: She was the cook, we were the lucky eaters. I would sit at the table in my grandparents’ apartment kitchen in Brussels, next to my grandfather as he did the crossword puzzle in the Le Soir newspaper, and watch Mamy move between fridge and stove in her high heel slippers. Eating her food after watching her make it was the best early lesson: She was so confident and masterful behind the stove, so beloved by all for her delicious food, how could I not want to emulate her?
So I tend to keep the assisting in the kitchen to stirring batter, tossing a salad, or licking a beater. That is until Conor started asserting himself in the kitchen. The boy who would happily subsist on jam, butter, yogurt, Gorilla Munch, and hot dogs likes to cook. Go figure. It’s especially interesting that his sister, who will pretty much eat anything, has absolutely no interest in cooking (lucky for you–future mate!) So the other morning Conor and I had our first scrambled egg lesson and it was marvelous…
Except for turning on the burner, Conor did pretty much everything himself. He cracked the three eggs and put them in a bowl without a single piece of shell shrapnel getting mixed in. I told him that I always added a little milk or cream to my eggs to make them a bit richer, so he poured this in. I told him to whisk it gently, barely combining the eggs whites with the yolks (this sparked a conversation about where do baby chicks come from, roosters, etc…so I can now also check off the “birds-and-bees” conversation from my parenting list). Next we got out the skillet. Conor put his chair next to the stove, I rolled up his pajama sleeves (he refused to wear an apron–apparently not masculine enough), and we got to work. My method is to put in a pat of butter over low heat, let it melt and the foam to subside, and then pour in the eggs. I then told Conor to begin gently stirring the eggs with his fork while they cooked, keeping everything over low heat, moving the eggs slowly but constantly. When curds of egg began to form, I told Conor to slide some of the cooked eggs up so that the runny part could slide under and closer to the pan. I realized that there really isn’t anything better at demonstrating the magic and science of cooking than scrambled eggs, is there? Now with the eggs still soft and just barely set in spots, I told Conor they were done because they would keep cooking even when we turned off the heat and we wanted them to stay fluffy and not rubbery. Before we took the eggs out of the pan, Conor sprinkled them with salt (he refused to put on any pepper) and that was it. Conor’s first eggs.
We split them, Conor had his plain, I mixed mine with some leftover quinoa, a little hot sauce, and topped with a handful of arugula with some vinaigrette from one of the many jars in the fridge.
So lucky person in Conor’s future, you sitting at the kitchen table with a napkin gently placed in your lap, a bowl of perfect eggs before you, a smiling young man not wearing an apron pouring you a cup of coffee–you’re welcome.