Cryin’ Chef America

It was Thanksgiving Day. I had food in two ovens and I was at the counter getting started on the candied sweet potatoes when she came in.

“I’m gonna cook something for everyone,” my five-year-old announced.

“Well, you can help me with the sweet potatoes,” I said.

“No, no, no! I want to cook my OWN thing,” she said.

WHAAT? Oh, no, this wasn’t happening! “Oh, Honey, this is not a good day to do that. I’m cooking a lot of things, and I need all of the counter space and every bowl and pot in the house!”

“But I want to make something for dinner!” she said, adamant.

“Honey, this is just not a good day for that. Why don’t you help me make the stuffing?”

“I want to make something for Auntie Sarah and Uncle Jay!” she stomped her foot on the stool she uses to reach the counter.

“Honey, it’s not that I don’t want to let you. I do. It’s just the worst possible day to do it. I can’t have you running back and forth in the kitchen, getting behind me and using all my stuff.”

“I WANT TO MAKE MY OWN! YOU’RE SO MEAN!” She ran to her room, crying.

I cut up the butter for the sweet potatoes. There was no way she was “cooking” in the kitchen today. I simply had too much going on. I let her cry.

She came back. “Mommy, please?” she said. “I want to make something for dinner too.” I looked at her, and all she really wanted was to cook like Mommy. Thanksgiving Day be damned, I couldn’t say no anymore.

“Okay,” I said. I pulled out a bowl. “Here you go.”

She opened up the fridge. “What can I use?”

Here we go. “Can I use yogurt?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said, pulling a cup of strawberry off the shelf.

“How about eggs?”

“No, Honey, we don’t have that many eggs,” I said.

“How ‘bout olives?” She said, pointing to the Kalamatas.

“Sure,” I said, “But I’ll get them out for you.”

“A granola bar and cheese?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said. “Ok, that’s enough from the fridge.”

She took her food and bowl and got to work. She emptied the yogurt into the bowl, mixed in pieces of Babybel cheese, and I fished some olives out of the jar for her.  “Here you go, Sweetie,” I said, and I went back to work on the sweet potatoes.

“Can I use this?” she asked a few minutes later, holding the pumpkin pie spice.

“A little,” I said.

“How about this?” she said, holding the black pepper.

“There’s not much left. Don’t use too much,” I said.

“This too,” she said, holding the salt.

“Sure.”

I got the potatoes in the oven, turned around, and she said, “Here, Mommy, taste!”

This is where I really earn my parenting stripes. “Okay,” I said, taking the spoon and fishing out a Ritz Bits cheese cracker from the yogurt. It wasn’t bad, really. There was too much pumpkin pie spice, though. But she was happy.

I wasn’t happy about giving in, but in the end, I was happy that I let her “cook.” Because I remembered a little girl who wanted to “cook” for her daddy long ago, and her Mommy said “yes.”   She took two huge round crackers, layered on some pudding, tomatoes, Cool Whip and black pepper and presented her “cake” to Daddy. And God bless him, he took a bite. And even though her Mommy wasn’t a good cook, that little girl grew up and learned to make a mean candied sweet potato.

We had a ton of other food, but my daughter’s concoction had a spot on the table, right next to the stuffing. Nobody else ate it, but it was there just the same. She was so proud. And when she grows up to develop her own recipes, I’ll be able to tell her the story of her strawberry yogurt concoction on that long-ago Thanksgiving Day.