I pour my wife a glass of crisp Pinot Grigio and excuse her to her chair with a book. In the same motion, I sweep my son into my arms and invite him to come to the kitchen. We’re going to cook.
I come from a long line of eaters. We all do. And I love eating as much as anyone else, but there’s something different about cooking.
“What are we making Papa?” he calls out when his mouth can’t hold his excitement any more.Standing side by side with my 3 year old son, up on his step stool to reach the counter, he wants to be involved. Sometimes the hardest part is figuring out what parts he can help with. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, but as the rigidity of having the potatoes cut in perfect quarter inch dice slips from my consciousness, togetherness and play come right in to replace it. He gets so excited to help I need to slow him down and encourage him to take a deep breath before each knife cut. I initially thought he was too young to be using a sharp knife. I remember using super dull scissors in school that couldn’t cut construction paper, but pinched the hell out of my little fingers. How in the world would my little guy be able to operate a sharp knife? My wife helped me find the answer to that.
“Teach him” she said. Brilliant. She has the ability to distill it all down to parenting wisdom born out of common sense. Kids will never learn how to properly hold a knife if we don’t teach him. Now he knows to hold onto the handle of the knife, to keep himself slow and to keep his hands away from the blade. He also can now be a part of this wonderful experience of cooking for our family.
I survey the kitchen landscape. I see beautiful heirloom tomatoes and zucchini from our local CSA. My wife showed me a recipe recently using julienned zucchini as a pasta and this is a great opportunity to try it out.
While I grab the mandolin to julienne the zucchini, our son joyfully selects one tomato after the next and slices them up into approximately bite sized pieces. After cutting them up, he throws them into a bowl and watches me as I carefully work the mandolin. He asks if he can help, but I’m having a difficult enough time on it myself, I don’t want to subject him to that. He’ll watch.
With the zucchini sliced, it’s time to concoct our sauce. My idea, a balsamic vinaigrette to go over the tomatoes and the zucchini. I add oil, garlic, vinegar. Whisk and taste. One taste for me, one for my son. “More salt” he says. Of course, everything could always use a little more salt. l add a dash and give another taste. “Oh yeah, oh yeah”, he likes it. We toss the tomatoes and some basil into the vinaigrette and stow it away in the fridge as we finish up the rest.
We have the centers of the zucchini left over because seeds don’t julienne very well. There’s still enough flesh around the seeds to produce something good. I pause, trying to think of a yummy way to use the zucchini carcass.
I’ve got it! I start slicing the heart of zucchini into short little batons. “What are we making Papa?” he calls out when his mouth can’t hold his excitement any more. “Fries!” I exclaim. He’s pleased, very pleased. We get the oil ripping hot on the stove as I mix up the coating. Just a sprinkle of salt, pepper, cayenne and corn starch will do these guys just right. As I toss them, coating them with this makeshift batter, I think to myself, “we need a sauce”.
We’re going to make some aioli in the blender. I’ve made aioli before by simply adding lemon and garlic to mayonnaise, but with my sous chef in tow, I’m on a roll here. We can do this. I pull up a recipe online. Grab the eggs out of the fridge. Juice some lemons and prep the garlic.
As the boy is selecting which 3 eggs look the best, I’m tending to the frying pan as our zucchini fries are starting to showcase their golden hue. I flip them and turn them until they’re done and then rescue them from their boiling pool, onto the waiting paper towel.
“Three! I’ve got three.” He says holding out the three eggs that will form the base of our sauce. Now we have all of our aioli ingredients, it’s time to let the blender do it’s thing.
Another taste for me and the boy. It’s perfect. We scoop it out with a spatula and each squeegee the last little bit with our fingers.
I pull out our plates and arrange the zucchini pasta into a bird’s nest to hold the marinated tomatoes and I drizzle the vinaigrette over the whole pile. As I’m dividing up our fries, I send my son off to get ready for dinner and get my wife.
He runs off to find her and proudly beams, “Mama, dinner’s ready”. I don’t even need the food. I’m already full.