From the time they were old enough to sit up in a highchair near the counter and hold a spoon, my kids always cooked with me. Cooking was really one of the most important activities that the children and I shared together.
I must have learned that from my mom, since my little brother Dan says his first toys were the pots, pans and cooking utensils in the bottom drawers that he used to play with while our mom was in the kitchen cooking meals.
Our elder son, Shankar, reminisces, “I remember standing on chairs when I was really little, stirring big pots of noodles. When I got a bit older, I used to be the one to cook the fried food because you would say, ‘You’re good with the heat and you take the veggie burgers off in time.’ You always used to have me cook the garlic bread, ’cause you said you always seem to burn it, just like Nana does. I learned to make coffee from Dad and eggs and toast from you.”Shankar got so confident with his cooking skills that while he was in kindergarten, he used to surprise Cliff and me with breakfast in bed. Shankar has always believed that if a little is good, a lot is better! Once, when he made us eggs, he oiled the pan well – I mean really well! Here he comes into our bedroom carrying a plate of fried eggs, swimming in oil: “I made you some….” WHOOPS!!! “…….uh, eggs.” And there we were with sunnyside-ups in our laps. Truly breakfast IN bed.
Shankar continued cooking with me, when all of a sudden one day, he got a notion that maybe this cooking stuff wasn’t manly. “Mom, cooking is for girls, isn’t it?” “Oh no!” I was able to explain truthfully. I told Shankar about his dad visiting Alfredo’s restaurant in Italy, where the male chef invented the dish that still bears his name today. I told Shankar about the eggplant parmesan and sprouted whole wheat bread that his dad used to make in college, reminding Shankar of his Grandpa Ray’s great Chinese cooking and his Grandpa Bob’s delicious baked goods. Satisfied that he wasn’t being a sissy, Shankar happily continued to cook with me.
I certainly remember preparing meals with my mom. We were both such high-energy people, I don’t ever recall us just sitting around talking. When we were cooking, though, we got to spend time together chit-chatting while our hands kept busy. We’d invite guests over almost every weekend and try new recipes from Sunset magazine. I was a young teen by that time, with more than a decade of cooking experience, and Mom would always lament about my maverick approach, “Can’t you just follow the recipe the way it’s written the first time you make it?” But since she’d taught me the cooking basics, I felt perfectly comfortable substituting peaches for apples or coriander for cinnamon.
One of my favorite things to make with Mom was blackberry pies. We’d all ramble through the hills of Oakland, California in the summer looking for good berry patches, getting our arms and fingers scratched and pricked by the thorns, then put together one of her famous pies. The eating was well worth the pain that went into making those pies. To this day, Mom still picks and freezes a zip-lock bag of local blackberries in the summer to make my brother Todd his favorite birthday treat in March. To Todd, it just wouldn’t feel like a family birthday celebration without Mom’s berry pie. (Yes! I’ve included her recipe below!)
Like many firefighters, our older son Shankar now cooks for the whole fire crew. “At the firehouse we usually team up on making meals. We do most things as a team, and cooking is one of them. We’re always helping each other out. It makes it go a little quicker and it’s more fun.”
Shankar tells me, “I remember barbecuing peppers and onions and zucchini on the grill at home for our veggie tacos. Now, cooking at the firehouse, most of my best recipes have blackened veggies off the barbeque, such as my pork chile verde and my chicken fajitas. You always used that expression, ‘Stay out of the kitchen if you can’t take the heat.’ Now that I’m a firefighter, I guess you really could say I’m pretty good at taking the heat…!” View the video at the bottom to see what’s cooking in the firehouse!
My kids still vividly remember making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and taking them down to the big fig tree in Santa Barbara to offer to the homeless folks there. Now when I watch kumu Malia cooking in the Still & Moving kitchen with her three keiki on Tuesday afternoons to distribute to the homeless with Street Angels at Ala Moana park, it reminds me of how important cooking together can be to creating a strong sense of family and community.
Moving in Stillness and resting in Joy with you,