Grandchildren in the Kitchen: Sharing Family History

by on November 28th, 2010
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Is there a pleasure greater to a grandmother’s heart than cooking with her grandchildren in the kitchen? Like most young children my three-year old granddaughter Maddy loves to help in the kitchen and is rarely satisfied with a busy task like stirring water in a bowl. She wants to cook, so we cook. On Christmas day she helped prepare the Brussels sprouts with bacon, lemon-butter and Parmesano Reggiano cheese – “the King of cheeses” I explained. For special occasions I like to splurge on the good stuff from the artisanal cheese shop downtown.

As I helped her grate some into a bowl I shared what I knew about authentic Parmesan cheese and how PopPop and I had eaten big chunks of it when we went to Italy. She’d had plenty of Parmesan cheese in her three years of life experience; spaghetti and meatballs is practically a food group in our family, and her mom makes some delicious pesto BLTs with chunks of Parmesan mixed into the greens, but I thought this might have been her first time with the true and serious King. I gave her a bite and waited for approval.

I wondered how the salty, crumbly, aged cheese would taste on her youthful palette. She chewed. She smiled. She asked for more.

Good girl, I thought.

As the grandmother, I’m glad it’s not my responsibility to make sure the grandchildren eat all the healthy things they’re supposed to. Their mom does a great job of that and I support her at every turn, but my job, as I see it, is to use food as a way to bond with my grandchildren in the kitchen and teach them about their family history.

Food is a bridge to generations they’ll never meet.

When we make potato salad I tell them, “This is the way your great-grandma did it, but I add olives because I like them.” As we patted down circles of fresh bread dough on Christmas Eve I shared how when I was young my Aunt Nancy made runzas for Christmas Eve and everyone loved them so much it became a new family tradition even though runzas are German and we aren’t. And of course I’m always saying how this food was their mommy’s favorite when she was little and how she used to help me make it back when.

I think my culinary lessons are working pretty well – they already request foods like “the pancakes your grandma used to make” and “potatoes like your daddy liked.” But I have to admit I was stumped for a moment this morning when Maddy requested “King Cheese” on her eggs. She’s got a sophisticated palette that one, and she’s the best little sous chef a Grandma could ever hope for.

Maddy and MoonMa’s Christmas Brussels Sprouts


1 lb Brussels sprouts cleaned and cut into quarters 3 slices thick bacon 1 tablespoon unsalted butter Juice of one lemon 1 teaspoon lemon zest 1 teaspoon sea salt 1/8 teaspoon black pepper ¼ cup shredded Parmesano Reggiano cheese

Cut the bacon into cubes and cook in a large sauté pan over medium high heat until crisp. Remove the cooked bacon and all but approximately 1 tablespoon of drippings. Drain the bacon bits on a paper towel. Lower heat to medium and sauté the Brussels sprouts. Cook until the sprouts are soft and slightly charred. Remove the sprouts and place them in a serving bowl. Add the butter, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper to the pan. Whisk the ingredients until they come to a boil and thicken slightly. Pour the sauce over the cooked Brussels sprouts. Toss with the cooked bacon bits and Parmesan cheese.

Chores for the grandkids: Depending on their age you can have the grandkids wash the Brussels sprouts, measure the butter and seasonings, grate the cheese, juice the lemon or toss the dish together before serving.

Enjoy this dish with your grandchildren in the kitchen, the dining room, the living room or wherever you are fortunate enough to sit down and share a meal with them!

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