The Family Kitchen

I love to cook. I love to make something beautiful and delicious and have people (particularly my husband) ooh and aah over it a bit, or sit back from the table and say, "That recipe's a keeper."

Cooking and baking are an outlet of creativity for me - I love to change things up or go for a fun presentation. But they are also an assurance that there are some things in the world that still follow some semblance of order, perfect results that you can always count on, just by following a recipe.

Sometimes I'm a great cook, sometimes things turn out a little less than edible. But I'll take that chance. Luckily, my husband and kids like to play along.

I enjoy food, I enjoy flavors, I enjoy trying to new things and making old favorites. I wish I was as good at writing about food as Orangette, but that's beside the point.

The past year and a half has witnessed a decline in my culinary endeavors, starting with David being in Iraq. Cooking for the preschool set isn't as easy when there's no one to keep the preschool set happy while you do it. Plus, they don't really have a heirarchy of appreciation - Kraft Mac-n-Cheese gets plenty of acclaim and is a lot less work than food that is artful, good, or good for you.

Then there was serious pregnancy nausea that curtailed the serious cooking, and after that, simple shear exhaustion mixed with a dash of laziness and a couple cups of dysfunctional kitchen sauteed with six months of broken dishwasher.

I've missed cooking and our family meal habits have declined to chaos, so I've made a few attempts recently to get cooking real meals again. Most of them are your standard dinners, and while most of them are very simple and quick, it sure makes a difference to sit down together and enjoy a real meal.

The great thing lately is that Calvin wants to cook. And because he does, Henry does. And because I feel bad about Charlie groveling at my feet while we all enjoy mixing stuff up, he helps, too. It has become fun to find recipes that involve measuring and easy stirring that the boys can do, and I've found that they eat things they've made a lot more enthusiastically, even when it contains ingredients that don't usually appeal to them.

Most recently, Calvin helped me fill and fold wontons for wonton soup. He is my rule/system follower, so once I showed him the process, he just went for it and did a great job.

We've also made falafel a couple of times. Mostly because I wanted to try the recipe once, but it calls for dehydrated chickpeas (because they stick together better than canned) and the only quantity I could buy was practically a year's supply (and only $10). So we're going to be making falafel a lot. That's OK, though, because they are yummy, easy, and great protein.

All the ingredients go in a food processor; the boys love to operate it. I help them measure, they whip it up, and then I drop the balls into hot grease. The whole process is twenty minutes, tops. Serve the falafel up with pitas, tzatziki, and tomatoes and cucumbers, and you've got a meal.

The average Middle Eastern cook makes them smaller and more ball-like than we do, but the boys handle something flat a little better. Cal likes making a Falafel Big Mac with mini pitas.

Henry and Charlie usually lose interest in the cooking after about two minutes, but Calvin is often there with me to the delicious end. I love having a curious little helper in the kitchen. It takes a few more minutes to explain what I need Calvin to do, and sometimes it's tricky even to think up something that a five-year-old can do, but he is intent on participating.

And far be it from me to ever send away a boy who wants to help in the kitchen.

Now if I could figure out a way to get any of us interested in the clean-up.

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