I was sharing some of my food writing with a friend recently — mostly stories of cooking with my kids — and she started shaking her head in wonder. “This is just so foreign to me,” she said, “All of your kitchen stories are so. . . happy.”
I reminded her I do have it easy right now, since Tony and I both work from home and have flexible schedules that mostly eliminate the dinner time rush, the source of so much stress and anxiety for so many parents. I do what I call the “accessory cooking,” the fun stuff, on which nobody’s health and well-being rely. But I have to acknowledge that for the most part things do go pretty well in my kitchen — things don’t get burned; things come out tasting good; nobody shouts at each other– and I have been thinking about why that is. Maybe because I learned to cook from my parents, who weren’t too stressed out about cooking (I’ve mostly written about my mom in this context, but will have stories soon about my dad’s calm competence in the kitchen, including the time he and I exploded baked potatoes). And maybe, and I do think this matters, it’s partly because I don’t fret a whole lot about how the end product looks. I put a lot of stock in the love and good ingredients that go into a dish, and if the cake’s a little fallen or the cookies a little unevenly browned, well, it usually still tastes pretty good. And it probably means I was paying as much attention to my kids as the cake, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. Some people can make beautiful food that tastes good while still being present to their children — but right now, at least, I can’t manage it. So I make forgiving cakes and crisps and big batches of candy and, this time of the year, the dreaded sugar cookie.
They’re a mess, but I cave in to the obligation to make cut out cookies this time of year because the kids love to decorate them so much.