It’s Friday night after a long week of running around, slaying dragons, and celebrating the start of pre-season football. The wife gives you that look that you’ve been waiting all week to see. In a soft voice that slips out through a mischievous smile she says:
“Would you like to split a beer?”
Moments later my Shiner bottle clinks with her small glass. It’s a good start to the evening and a clear sign that it’s time to make dinner. I am usually the executive chef on these nights. Our two teens – one of each – pitch in and usually know their assignments without awaiting orders.
The pen name on my food blog, When Dad Cooks, is Chef Dad and the whole family is jazzed about my first post – first of many – to the Playground Dad community. As we talk, I hope to share my family food philosophy, some recipes and knife skills. Don’t forget the knives, guys. That’s part of what makes cooking a masculine enterprise. That and the fire. Generally, no matter the endeavor, if it’s dangerous we guys should dive in and wear the scars proudly.
Real men cook.
I don’t exactly come by this naturally. My own father was not the most talkative sort, and he liked his steak burned to a crisp so it did not leak any juice on his potatoes. To him, a vegetable was something Mom poured out of a can so it could needlessly take up room on his plate (“and it’s getting juice on my potatoes”). But, one of the things he taught me through his actions was that a man takes care of his family. Cooking the evening meal is one of the ways I carry on that teaching.
We’ve made cooking a family affair since the kids were young. If you start during the years when they want to be just like you, habits and patterns take root that pay dividends over the long haul. You have to be flexible and look to build memories as well as a meal. When my son was around five or six, he wanted to cook like Dad. So, he made some soup. His mother supervised a bit for safety at the stove, but we let him create.
How did it taste? We dumped it in the backyard. I think that spot is still considered a toxic spill by the EPA.
But, he had fun. These days he’s in charge on nights we have baby back ribs and you should see him whip up a barbeque sauce. He and his sister stir, chop, fetch and can take over final prep on side dishes with confidence. It’s a natural progression from earlier days when they would simply shout, “I want to do it!”
The kitchen can certainly be a dangerous place for little ones, but there are some jobs that can be fun and safe with only minor supervision.
- Stirring, especially for cookies and other baked goods
- Smashing garlic (use a meat hammer as pictured so fingers are out of the way)
- Squishing canned whole tomatoes for pasta sauce
- Kneading bread dough
- Seasoning, and with a shoutout to Emeril, give the kids the spices so they can yell “BAM” as they throw them into the pot
Once they’re older, and distractions like video games and texting are more prevalent, you can make things a little plainer. “Hey, you wanna eat, you better get in here and cook.” When everyone finally sits down at the table, the whole family has an emotional investment in the meal.
Getting them into the kitchen and helping is one way to get them to the table and keep them there for family time. Another reason for Mom and Dad to split a beer and make a toast.