Dinner becomes an art form

I have always loved to cook. I come from a long line of cooks - the kind whose learning didn't come from a culinary institute in New York or France, but was passed down from one generation to the next. Fried pumpkin blossoms were not haute cuisine, they were "make do with what you have, or starve." Yet everything was done with the brilliance of "delicious."

Everything my grandmother made was my favorite. There was something about earth- to-pot that made the mundane absolutely incredible. Rhubarb, creamed asparagus, and gooseberry pies were heaven on earth.

At family gatherings, my aunts pass out their newest favorite recipes, along with the instructions for old favorites sometimes taken for granted, but always counted on. Aunt Mary could never get away without bringing her banana-peanut salad. Aunt Letha has to have her aromatic yeast rolls.

But I feel I may have unwittingly let the family tradition down.

My daughter hates to cook. She says so all the time. Even if she is just filling a glass with water, she feels the need to mention it because her feet have actually crossed the kitchen threshold and heaven forbid I take that as a hint she may be interested in stirring a pot.

My daughter is a dancer. She arabesques to reach for items on the lower shelf of the refrigerator. She shuffles off to Buffalo in the frozen-food aisle of the supermarket.

Her artistic talents don't end with her feet, but also fly out her fingers. No dinner out is complete without her handing the waiter or waitress a signed original landscape on the back of the dinner napkin or place mat.

When I remind her that cooking is not "women's work" but a life skill, and how could she possibly afford to eat out all the time, she tells me it will work out. She reminds me Van Gogh was supported by his brother.

Liking her ears the way they are, I come up with another strategy. From now on, I tell the family, everyone will take a night helping to make dinner - this includes 10- and 12-year-old sons and Dad. "Yippee!" comes from my sons, eyebrows from my husband, and "Oh, no!" from my daughter.

Designated dinner night includes planning the menu. "What can I make that's the easiest with no effort? I'll make soup!" she asks and answers.

We start in late morning with dried beans. I show her how to pick out any stones from the beans. I rinse pots and put away dishes. Those beans must have had tons of stones, I think, because she's still sorting. I glance over to find she has sorted the black beans into the shape of a big-eyed alien.

That night, her soup went down with kudos. Was that a smile I saw on her face?

She thinks next time she'd like ravioli. "Great," I say, "we'll make the pasta." We mix a couple of fillings and start the dough. "Couldn't the dough be more colorful?" she asks.

"Sure," I say, "Let's add tomato paste or herbs."

"Let's do both," she exuberates.

We roll the dough. We drop the fillings. I take a fork to close the sides. She opens and closes utensil drawers, searching. She finds it! It's a zester. What's she going to do with that?

She presses the zester holes around the ravioli squares with precision. Dinner is in half an hour, but I don't discourage her. After serving 30 minutes late, she dazzles the family with beautiful orange and green pasta with edges that look like she strung pearls on them.

The other day I was making pies - two pumpkin and a custard. My daughter bounded into the kitchen, "Whatcha doin'?" "Making pies."

"Oh, can I help?" I looked at her as though the black-bean alien had invaded her body, but my heart leaped.

Quickly, she took to the dough and began rolling and cutting. I had already filled the pies, however. With patience, I waited. After a while she said, "There you go, Mom."

On top of one pumpkin pie, in dough, was Harry Potter on a broomstick, his robes flying back in the breeze. He was playing Quidditch, complete with clouds, two bludgers, and a snitch. It was a baked beauty saved until last, because who wants to eat a masterpiece? (Hanging it on the refrigerator didn't seem like a great alternative, however.)

Cooking complaints have waned since then. It's possible my daughter has simply resigned herself to the weekly cooking drudgery. Then again, maybe she's decided food ingredients are a new artistic medium.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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