Skip to content


Teaching Children to Cook: Four Terrible Family Secrets and One Marvelous Outcome

Teaching My Own Children to Cook

Four Terrible Family Secrets and One Marvelous Outcome

In honor of CASA* Family Dinner Day, September 28.

The Family Dinner Project helps promote an annual day in the U.S. to draw attention to statistics on how eating together as a family accomplishes much more than just filling tummies. Faithful followers of this blog are well aware of the book I wrote tying into the research conducted by *Columbia University’s Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse, titled Whatever Happened to Dinner? Recipes and Reflections on Family Mealtime, but may sometimes wonder did she/does she practice what she preaches? Did she pass on a passion for cooking to her kids? Here I bare a few family secrets on the topic.

I was cleaning a shelf recently when an old and odd notebook fell out.


My folder of cooking instructions for my daughters, from a recycled office binder.


Oh my. It was my lengthy, detailed notebook of instructions for our daughters’ first forays into cooking once they got old enough to try to put meals on the table whenever I went away on business.


Terrible Family Secret #1. My kids’ greatest cooking lessons came when I was out of the house. Gone. Away on business. Yes, I was a working mother (half time when they were preschoolers) and that included business travel, which I not-so-secretly enjoyed.


Terrible Family Secret #2. My husband, bless him, was not much of a cook except for grilling which he enjoys when he has the time. Before we married, he lived in a small mobile home on his own. I knew he survived mainly on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fast food, and by warming up pork and beans and maybe hot dogs in an electric popcorn popper. When I traveled, especially with all three of them pitching in and figuring things out, they began the art of Putting a Whole Meal on the Table. (You can see why I was in awe of my young church friend, Lizzy, just 12, about whom I recently wrote a three-part series [here] on how she cooks real food and complicated menus for their family almost every night.)


Terrible Family Secret #3. I’m not a very patient or good role model in the kitchen. Our tradition of eating together at home as a family was so strong that I would not have dreamed of leaving them without carefully planned meals before flying the coop. Instinctively I knew, though, that it was incredibly valuable for them to step up and try their own wings.

I’m not sure why I didn’t do a better job of truly teaching them—hands on—when I was at home. Perhaps because I was more inclined to Do Things Myself because it was faster, neater, cleaner, and safer. My daughters would probably tell you I got antsy watching them knowing I could get something done faster.

I also didn’t have a great role model in that regard.

Terrible Family Secret #4. My mother—bless her—will tell you quickly that she never liked cooking all that much and did not dote on mixing up wonderful dishes alongside of us. Oh we were called upon to pitch in and she enjoyed and appreciated our help, but as a farmer’s wife, cooking was quite basic. It was just a part of the chores she did: peeling (almost) daily potatoes. Popping a meatloaf or roast or ham in the oven. Frying hamburgers or boiling hot dogs on the stove. Once she found out I grooved on messing with fancier desserts, I remember she often put me in charge of making things like real whipped cream at the last minute for her rich and special date pudding or other specialties for company.

So, our daughters were kind of on their own, too in the cooking department, after they learned basics of measuring, kitchen safety, and working together to make things like cookies, cakes and vegetable stew.

Marvelous Outcomes Anyway. Guess what. My daughters have all turned out to be quite fine cooks in their own right, and in their own styles. And I guess I turned out to be an okay cook. When our oldest daughter got married, she took a wonderful cooking class which introduced her to making things like scallops and bananas flambé—enough culinary know-how that she soon took off flying, much to her husband’s glee, (who in exchange does most of their cleaning at their house. Nice set up!).


Michelle making pie in our kitchen with her husband helping.

My second daughter has learned from her mother-in-law some of her husband’s favorite dishes, picked up things on her own that she’s enjoyed in restaurants and found online—and her husband pitches in as well when both of them are home.


Tanya working on favorite Stromboli, the eager Lab “Ike” at her side.

I would say my third daughter learned the most at my side in the kitchen as she lived at home for four years after college, while employed in town at a bank. She hung out with me in the kitchen because she wanted to 1) be helpful; 2) learn how I did things. But now she has way surpassed me in coming up with her own lentil concoctions as well as following recipes for more adventuresome cooking like crepes, beef Bourguignonne, French onion soup, pot pie, and more.


Doreen stirring filling for chicken pot pie, shown below.


Call me a happy and blessed mom, in spite of myself and in spite of my mother. Eating together almost every evening was important to us as a family, although I don’t know I thought about it that much back then: it was just what we did. Like brushing teeth and reading stories before bed.


Our daughters at about the ages when I could rely on them to put dinner on the table when I went away. L to R: Tanya, Michelle, yours truly, Stuart, Doreen.


How did you teach your children to cook? Or not?


Whatever Happened to Dinner?

If you’re new here, learn more about my book, Whatever Happened to Dinner? Recipes and Reflections on Family Mealtime


Make plans for your Family Dinner Day, September 28 (February dates in Canada), originally launched from CASA, which encourages eating together as a family as one way to fight the societal influences that sometimes lead to addictions in youth.

There’s much more on this topic at The Family Dinner Project, a website with ongoing resources, ideas and stories to promote the strengths of eating together.

From their website:
The Family Dinner Project is a growing movement of food, fun and conversation about things that matter. We are a nonprofit organization currently operating from the offices of Project Zero at Harvard University. Over the past 15 years, research has shown what parents have known for a long time: Sharing a fun family meal is good for the spirit, brain and health of all family members. Recent studies link regular family meals with the kinds of behaviors that parents want for their children: higher grade-point averages, resilience and self-esteem. Additionally, family meals are linked to lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, eating disorders and depression. We also believe in the power of family dinners to nourish ethical thinking.

How to Make Midget Cream Puffs (Petits Choux)


How to Make Midget Cream Puffs (Petits Choux)

I had not made cream puffs in years. I remember doing some years ago for a reception/tea. My trusty 70’s era bridal-shower-gift Betty Crocker Cookbook rose to the occasion.


I remember being astounded at how easy it was to actually make cream puffs or even éclairs, and they both look so impressive and well, like Julia Child or Martha Stewart French, don’t you think?


We had a meeting looking to the future of Valley Living where I serve as editor the other night. I promised to bring snacks and decided to make cream puffs. (See that’s the thing about having a semi-cooking blog and a semi-recipe book, you volunteer to do all sorts of cooking you wouldn’t otherwise do, just so you have something to write about and photograph.)


L to R: Former Valley Living Board Chair Laban Peachey, current Board Treasurer Bill Troyer, and local writer for Valley Living, Lauree Purcell.

One of the men at the meeting was Laban Peachey, former president of Hesston College, who helped launch its remarkable and visionary aviation program, and former board chair for Valley Living in its earlier days. Laban is famous for having a story for every occasion (and of course that’s what Living is all about, sharing great and uplifting stories). Laban did not disappoint.

Going on 89 (he said at this age he now likes to talk up his next birthday, to make him seem even older and more impressive), as he chomped into his Petits Choux, he said “I can’t eat a cream puff without remembering when I was eight years old and someone brought cream puffs to school for a party. They were so delicious and I had never eaten one before. Now I take a bite and I’m right back there, eight years old.” I asked him if I could share his little story and of course he said sure. (Why else do you tell stories?)

Food and stories. They go together.


Have a cream puff.

1 cup water
½ cup butter or margarine
1 cup all purpose flour (may want to sift flour to avoid lumps)
4 eggs


Vanilla cream pudding (instant or other homemade) or sweetened whipped cream or prepared whipped topping.

Topping options

Powdered sugar
Slivered almonds
Chocolate sauce
Whipped topping

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Bring water and butter to rolling boil. Stir in flour. Stir vigorously (so it does not burn) over low heat about 1 minute or until mixture joins together/pulls away from sides/almost forms a ball.


Remove from heat. Let it sit just a minute to cool (so it won’t cook your eggs when you add them). Meanwhile break eggs, then beat them in with flour/butter/water dough, all at one time. (Betty Crocker says no need to add them one at a time as in some recipes.) Beat until it becomes smooth. (I used a mixer to beat, but you can just use a spoon.) Drop dough by slightly rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheet.


Bake 25-30 minutes or until puffed and golden.


About 4-5 dozen puffs (or 2-3 dozen, depending on how big you make the teaspoonfuls).


Cool (away from draft). Cut off tops, or cut in half, depending on the size. Pull out any larger filaments of soft puff.


Fill puffs with vanilla, other pudding, or whipped cream. Replace tops.


Dust with powdered sugar. Top with drizzle of chocolate syrup like you’d use on ice cream, a nut, or red raspberry. Refrigerate until served. Can be frozen. (Adapted from Betty Crocker Cookbook, 1974 edition.)


Is there a food that takes you back to your childhood?

I’d love to hear your story or food memory!


That’s what family dinner time is all about–an opportunity to bond and laugh around shared stories.

Dinner prompt: What is a favorite food from your childhood? What is one of the earliest foods you remember eating?


We’re celebrating Family Dinner Night all month on this blog. If you don’t have the book Whatever Happened to Dinner: Recipes and Reflections for Family Mealtime now is the time! Check it out.

Whatever Happened to Dinner?



If Your Kids are in Marching Band — A Tribute and a Prayer


Impromptu chamber group: daughter Tanya on flute, Michelle on French horn, friend Allison Fletcher on bassoon.

I planned to write a simple old marching band nostalgia post, for all the years and memories of my girls’ time spent in high school and college playing trumpet, flute and percussion instruments. Band threaded their teenage and early twenties with music, laughter, friends, camaraderie, the heights of happiness, and a place to belong.

Let me count the memories:


Doreen marching in Broadway (Va. that is.)

There were the parades.


JMU Stadium before expansion.

The games.


Michelle, 2nd from left.

The competitions.


Playing Gate City in southwest Virginia on a cold and miserable December Saturday.

The state playoffs.

The Macy’s Day Parade in 2001, just two months after September 11.


The crowd helped us yell “Tanya” (blue uniforms, marching, 2nd from right) until she heard us and looked our way!


And finally, gloriously, winning an actual college football national championship (Division I-AA schools).


As band parents, our girls gave us the gift of music, laughter, friends, camaraderie, the heights of happiness, and a place to belong, especially on Fall Friday nights and sunny Saturday afternoons. We were there for most of it, including the national championship game, and our first Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

Band was something neither my husband nor I had experienced at any level. I had wanted basketball players. Growing up Hoosier in a basketball playing household, what else would you expect or want? I don’t think my husband was ever actually interested in band but it was also somewhat out of the realm of possibility for his family because of finances and with a mother who, because of illness, was not able to get out and do like band mothers have to do (and who died when he was just 19).

But when our oldest daughter got to 6th grade, band helped her survive the tumultuous torment of middle school meanies. By high school she’d found her niche with the band crowd, crossing over also into choir. All three of them spent marvelous years helping in various aspects of accompanying or performing in exquisitely perfected school musicals at a high school aptly named Broadway High.


Nashville Symphony where daughter worked.

Middle sister ended up making orchestra administration her career; the two others didn’t find their careers in music, but made lifelong friends. All precious gifts to each of them. We owe the band world, and the teachers who were willing to lead them (and survive all the dang fund raisers), much!


Our daughters with Mr. David Snively, longtime band teacher at Broadway High School at his retirement celebration.

But this nostalgic marching band tribute changed for me last Saturday. We had free tickets for the season football opener for James Madison University where our middle daughter majored in music, and spent four splendid years in its awesome (and as the game announcers always reminded you), “the award-winning Marching Royal Du-u-u-u-u-kes!”


Tanya with JMU Band.

Hearing the band’s music swell up through the stands and experiencing the crowd pandemonium is always emotional for me anyway—remembering when Tanya was out on the field, with her father and I sweeping the field with binoculars to catch a glimpse of her among the 400 or so other marching band members.

And then the announcer called for a minute of silence—amazing how quiet a large stadium can actually get—for JMU alum Alison Parker, gunned down with her cameraman colleague Adam Ward in the midst of just doing her job as a TV reporter 10 days earlier (two hours down the road near Roanoke, Va.): two deaths that would go down as the first on-air murder (so terrifying and heart-achingly sad) and no parents, no friends, no family members or colleagues want that notoriety—the awful notoriety apparently sought by the gunman. A short video commemorating Alison’s life on campus (graduated in 2012) and promising future was shown on the huge electronic billboard. Alison’s parents were in attendance at the game but mercifully not spotlighted.

And my tears flowed some more—until a woman, a stranger sitting next to me, put her hand on my arm and asked me if I was okay. I assured her I was, mumbling something about the band music always made me emotional anyway.

But no, none of us are really okay with this kind of violence tearing through our hearts and lives. Or safe anywhere, I thought, not even that much comforted or assured by the armed police and security guys standing around the field. If marching band sometimes gave us moments of exuberant happiness, this was the opposite: utter grief, dismay, sadness.

I thought back to more moments of silence—too many times—at other football stadiums filled with people. When a daughter’s best friend’s mother died after surgery for a kidney transplant and the band dedicated its music and half time show to that band mom, Liz. When thousands of us in football stadiums across the U.S. dedicated their games and half time shows to those who died on September 11, 2001 in New York City, Washington, D.C. and the random field near Shanksville, Pa. where Flight 93 ended. When my youngest daughter’s high school classmate, a former state wrestling champion, Bucky Anderson, was killed in action in Afghanistan 2010 and a ceremony with moments of silence were held in his honor at a Broadway football game.

Music—whether it is the stuff of marching bands, symphony orchestras, powerful soloists, or a church anthem on Sunday morning—has the power to move us in the inner places of our hearts and psyches to feel things that need to be felt.

I felt fresh pain for the parents and loved ones of Alison, and all families who’ve had to grieve the too soon deaths of their offspring: something every parent fears and knows can happen yet hopes against hope that the senseless, random, and especially media-inspired killings, at least, can somehow be curbed, deaths lowered, even, eliminated! Dare we think it, dream it, pray for it? I hope so, or we are miserable human beings not to dream of, envision, and work for a better world. We may not agree on how to work at eliminating senseless violence in all its forms—whether war, accidental, domestic, or murder, but we must continue to believe in and march toward a more sane and safer world for all.

A Prayer*

God of all comfort, we confess our bewilderment, our sadness, anger, and fear.
Hear our prayers.
Surround those who mourn the loss of loved ones.
Embrace them with your loving arms.
Comfort those whose loved ones are missing.
Protect those who risk their lives protecting others. Strengthen them with your loving arms. Remind us that your love is stronger than hate. Keep us from becoming the evil we deplore.
Give us wisdom and restraint.
With trembling faith we pray, O God, for a sure sense of your presence in our grieving.
Embrace us with your loving arms.
In you alone do we trust. Amen.

[Adapted from Carmen Schrock-Hurst, Harrisonburg, Va. *Originally written in response to Sept. 11, 2001. From Words for Worship 2, Diane Zaerr Brenneman, Herald Press, 2009.]


Younger sister Tanya comforting older sister Michelle at a final home game.

Cooking with Lizzy, Part 3: Whatever happened to the perfect carrot birthday cake

Cooking with Lizzy, Part 3: Grandmother’s waffles and the story of what happened to Lizzy’s perfect carrot birthday cake

Missed earlier parts? Part 1. Part 2.

At the point Lizzy has the chicken mostly safely in the oven, she launches the other main dish for the family’s evening meal: waffles. Waffles for supper I get. We often enjoyed pancakes with sausage or bacon for an evening “breakfast” meal. But with chicken? Not so much. (Later I learn this is a specialty dish in some areas of the southern U.S. Who knew? Not me.)

And why not—it’s a starch like when I make potatoes or pasta or beans. And remember, she’s including a healthy and nutritious salad for the veggie (described in Part 1).

Back to the waffles. Even her mother is a little surprised to hear Lizzy reciting her grandmother’s (Virginia’s mother) recipe from memory:

Lizzy’s Grandmother’s Waffles

2 cups buttermilk
4 Tablespoons olive oil (“Olive oil?” her mother challenges her. “Yes, that’s what Rachael Ray uses on Food Network.” Okay. Olive oil it is. I find one of Rachael’s using butter, too.)
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons sugar (but she doesn’t measure, just counts as it pours from a dispenser thingy).

Mix on low speed and then add dry ingredients.

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ baking soda
½ teaspoon salt (Lizzy uses Kosher)

Mix altogether and bake in lightly sprayed waffle iron.


First sample waffle I get to taste.

Lizzy fondly remembers the Mickey Mouse shaped waffle maker her grandmother has; Grandmother uses the same recipe for both waffles and pancakes.


In my family, mashed potatoes were the go-to starch with a meal like fried chicken. I ask if Lizzy knows how to mash potatoes. Yes, sure.

Again, I’m not sure any of my daughters routinely mash potatoes. (Sorry daughters, you’re my gauge here.) In their defense and mine, each has turned out to be pretty adventuresome in their cooking if I do say so myself, each with their own specialties. Yay. The two married ones also have husbands who cook. Another big yay.

At last, the men of Lizzy’s family call home. The dog’s ears perk up. Dad and brother are finally on their way home after a long football practice and maybe a team meeting. Lizzy recognizes the ringtone.

“I’ve got dinner ready” she says into the phone.

Someone on the other end must have asked the usual, “What are we having?”

“Fried chicken and waffles.”

I don’t learn what the response is, but 30 seconds later, the phone rings again, and Lizzy goes on a search in the pantry and fridge to learn the state of their maple syrup supply.

“Nope. I’m not seeing any …” Lizzy says carefully. Inwardly I lament this likely means a stop at a grocery, with the excellent chicken and once-fresh waffles waiting even longer to be consumed. Brother and father decide to swing by the international grocery, the most convenient grocery on their commute home. “Yes, just go to the American aisle,” Lizzy instructs them as to where to look for syrup.

I ask what she’s having tomorrow night.


Menu planning from an earlier week.

She shrugs, not sure. “I’ll decide during the day.” Once school resumes, they’ll begin again their weekly menu planning.

Does she cook for her friends? “I did for a birthday party. I made Indian [food]. I love cooking from different cultures.”

What about decorated birthday cakes? She talked about making a classic chocolate Black Forest Cake with cherries on top, with the layers soaked in liquor. Whew. I’ve made that twice, minus the liquor. A tricky but impressive cake to put together.

Then she lights up again remembering a story that is funny now, not so much when it happened.

The Perfect Carrot Cake Story

Lizzy had worked very hard to make a delicious, perfect carrot cake for her ninth birthday. It turned out well and she placed it on a special birthday plate she made at a “make it take it” store in town. She even put shaved nutmeg on top. (Real nutmeg is not even on my own baking bucket list, but just for the record, here’s my carrot cake topped with slivered almonds.) She set it on their dining room table, and then she and her mother left to go buy some matching flowers for the party.

They came home and found that the family dog, “Streak,” had sampled the cake. He decided it was so good that like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, ate the whole thing, apparently pulling the plate off the table which smashed to the floor!

I felt Lizzy’s pain. “I would have cried,” I said.

“Ohhhhhh yes,” she sighs, nodding at the memory.

“And then I’d have gotten mad,” I added. Yes, she got mad too. Lizzy proceeded to show me other things Streak had ruined—the padding in a couple of recliners, according to her memory. Such is life with a dog.

But life with a Lizzy in the house? Even dinner delayed by a half hour is taken in stride.

Her brother and father arrive home, syrup in hand. Supper or dinner, is served stove style, which works best when needing to keep things warm.


Earlier Virginia told me that Lizzy has helped cooked for the high school football coaches and hungry football teams.

So what’s next? Restaurant cook? Celebrity chef?

“I want to go to culinary school and then start a food truck.”

Oh really, I say, wondering why not a chef in a restaurant?

“I’ve watched those shows on Food Network and the restaurant kitchens are always so hectic, with everyone screaming at each other. I wouldn’t like that much stress.” A minute later she adds, “Dad would like to join me running a food truck. One time he left football practice EARLY to bring something home so I could make schnitzel,” she says.

She doesn’t have to tell me that was a big deal. A coach leaving early to pick up something for a dish his daughter is making (okay, so it was one of Dad’s favorite dishes)? That’s family love and commitment in my book.

Whatever is in Lizzy’s future, the present is what matters now. I would have done almost anything to have such a cook making our meals every evening. What a gift.

Other young girls I know play awesome soccer. Some perform graceful ballet (Lizzy took ballet when she was younger). Some play flute, piano, and sing in choirs at the White House. I’m reminded of one of the first things Lizzy told me: “Others do gymnastics. This is what I do.”




What part of Lizzy’s experiences cooking impresses you most? What message do you have for Lizzy or her family?


Do you think food trucks will continue their popularity in 8-10 years by the time Lizzy finishes culinary school?

Or what’s your fav food truck food?


Whatever Happened to Dinner?

This series posted with a salute to Family Dinner Day, the last Monday in September (February dates in Canada), originally launched from CASA, which encourages eating together as a family as one way to fight the societal influences that sometimes lead to addictions in youth. This is the theme of my most recent book, Whatever Happened to Dinner: Recipes and Reflections for Family Mealtime.

Cooking with Lizzy, Part 2: How many 12-year-olds cook Spaetzel, gnocchi, schnitzel, piccata, tom khi gai and bolognese?

If you missed Part 1, go here.

When Lizzy was 7, which is where we left off last time, her mother participated with others in a Sunday school class I taught at our church related to the 2010 publication of my book, Whatever Happened to Dinner.


Lizzy’s mother, far left, in after-class discussion on Whatever Happened to Dinner?

In the class one of the things we talked about was how picky eaters can spoil the enjoyment of a family meal. Virginia mentioned she had found that her kids were enjoying a new step she’d taken to plan menus with the help of the children, and that they ate much better when they could have a say in what was being served. I thought that was a wonderful idea.

Lizzy (whose favorite foods are way beyond this now) remembers her choice of meal to put on the menu each week was homemade mac and cheese. Her father made it, using a typical white sauce and a mix of whatever cheeses they chose or had on hand including Swiss, cheddar and more, with Panko bread crumbs on top. Her father grew up in a military household and lived most of his early life in Germany, so Lizzy also has learned to make several German dishes he loves such as spaetzel (egg noodles), and schnitzel (any of various boneless meats sliced thin, coated in egg and flour, and fried). He also loves gnocchi (soft dough dumplings) after living in Italy and graduating from Naples American High School there.

Twelve-year-old Lizzy cook things I’ve only barely heard of, seen on menus, and can’t spell (I’ve embedded links for all those I had to look up). When asked, she ticks off a list of some foods she enjoys making:

Chicken piccata
Chicken parmesan
Grilled chicken with a marinade of lemon oil and spices (yes, on a gas grill, that she manages)
Tom Khi Gai
Bolognese (meat sauce)

She enjoys following and adding recipes to her mother’s 33 boards on Pinterest.

Back to the class I taught five years ago using the study guide from Whatever Happened at Dinner which encourages inter-generational activities around cooking: we held a church potluck with kids and adults making some of the food together in the church kitchen to share our learnings. That Sunday, Virginia volunteered to make homemade ice cream. I recall seven-year-old Lizzy being very eager to help with every step. I snatched this wonderful brief video:

Now of course Lizzy knows very well what a dasher is and does and personally owns a beautiful 5-quart Dutch oven (see photo), cast iron skillet, pasta maker, food processor and more, because she asks for these things for birthday and Christmas.DutchOven

Lizzy shows me her large expanding plastic file folder stuffed with print outs or clipped recipes from newspapers and magazines.


She points out, “Grandma has a whole crate of recipes like this.” Lizzy leads me to her own personal collection of cookbooks she keeps on a shelf in her neatly straightened bedroom.

How does she get her homework done, cook, and manage it all during her cross country and musical seasons? “Others do gymnastics,” Lizzy says by way of example. “This is what I do.” When her friends ask her how she has time for cooking dinner, she says she tells them, “While you’re off doing that, I do this.”

If she has a really busy night, she plans around it, her mother adds, like any adult would. If the family needs to be somewhere early, such as for a football game, she makes chili or a beef stew in the morning or the evening before to take to the game.


Tonight she is making fried chicken. I arrive about 5:30 p.m.; dinner is usually planned for around 7. She gets five or six huge boneless Costco chicken breast pieces from the freezer and puts them in a microwavable pan to begin thawing. She fetches the neatest series of interlocking Pampered Chef dredging trays where she will dip the chicken in seasoned flour and thick, cultured buttermilk.


While we chat about the other dishes she likes to make and the cookware she owns, she eventually nukes the chicken without checking any notes or recipes.

Since I have the video of her at 7, I thought you might enjoy this one of her at this age nuking the chicken.

(Note Lizzy’s hand washing technique after handling the raw chicken, with water + soap. A+)


Once thawed to her liking, she plops a single piece of chicken in the dredging tray, and soaks it a few minutes, “to stay more tender” she explains, which she says she learned on the Food Network.


Not surprisingly, The Food Network is her main television watching, competing for TV time with brother Sam who spends most of his time on ESPN. “We couldn’t be more opposite” Lizzy observes, but it is just a statement, not a put down. Lizzy tolerates football games for her dad and brother. And while Sam loves the fried chicken, Lizzy will bake her own piece, just because she likes it better that way.

She removes the soaked chicken breast, rolls it again in a generous amount of flour spiked with pepper and salt, then dips it again in the buttermilk.

“Oh, you do it again?” I ask, a little surprised. “Yes, it’s double dredging. It gives it a really nice texture” she supplies. I really must start watching Food Network, I decide.


She chugs half a jug of vegetable oil into her Dutch oven-turned fryer. Wow. My daughters never even attempted frying chicken until they were well into their 20s. They too prefer baking or light sauteing of meats, but I think I was scared to let them try the big fry.


Not to be overly cautious about this, but I would carefully supervise any child beginning to fry foods, especially in oh-so-hot deep fat, and would make sure they knew where the kitchen fire extinguisher was and how to use it—and how to never put water on a grease fire but instead use baking soda—also kept handy in the kitchen. Just saying. (One of my daughters learned the hard way what happens when there is no baking soda handy; but in her defense, the rented house where she and other housemates were living also apparently had some faulty wiring around their gas stove. My daughter ended up having to call 911 and watching with dismay as firefighters smashed through a window and wall in the kitchen to put the fire out.) Things happen.


The chicken fries up beautifully with lots of golden-crusty-floured-buttermilk coating sticking to the edges. Lizzy leans back a little when the grease pops. One piece sticks to the bottom of the pan, which Lizzy carefully nudges off the bottom with a spatula, keeping her distance and using mitts as appropriate.


She tries to keep counters cleared and dishes stacked in the sink as she works. Her “pay” for doing most of the cooking is mostly getting out of doing dishes.

But the planning ahead, cooking and making sure they have a complete meal, is mostly Lizzy’s arena. “It’s a gift she gives our family,” her mother says before heading off to her evening meeting.

So what does Lizzy want to be when she grows up? We’ll learn next time.


Do you watch Food Network? Why or why not? What are your favorite shows?


I like Virginia’s thought of cooking for family as a “gift” we give. Perhaps that could be a dinner table discussion prompt: “What gift do you bring to our family?”


I’m offering a package where any group gets three free copies of Whatever Happened to Dinner with any speaking engagement invitation, to use as door prizes, or whatever. Check the offer here.

Cooking with Lizzy: How many 12-year-olds cook dinner every night?



A three-part series

How many 12-year-old kids do you know who cook dinner for their family almost every night?

I had heard her mother, Virginia, say repeatedly “Oh Lizzy made that” at church potlucks. “She does most of the cooking.”

Most recently, Lizzy brought a scrumptious peach cobbler made from scratch to the church picnic in a cast iron skillet. That impressed me. Her own cast iron skillet. Given to her by her grandmother’s neighbor who apparently has great collections of things. He had a brand new one just sitting around. Lizzy seasoned the cast iron skillet and uses it regularly. She also owns several other kitchen appliances, pans, and food prep equipment. She asks for these things for birthday and Christmas gifts.


Lizzy’s Food Processor

(About cast iron: I once tried to season a cast iron skillet as a new bride but somehow it rusted anyway. Eventually I got rid of it and, this quasi-cooking blogger is ashamed to say, I have not tried to own one since.)

“Other kids like to go hang out or shop at the mall,” says her mom. “Lizzy loves to go to specialty kitchen and gourmet grocery stores.”

Lizzy is your ordinary (well not really, but we’ll get to that in a minute) 12-year-old bouncy kid with gorgeous hazel eyes and a face that lights up whenever she’s excited, especially talking about or demonstrating cooking. She runs cross country at her middle school and participates in spring musicals, but otherwise after school on most weekdays, you’ll find her stirring, dredging, frying, baking, pulsing in the kitchen of her family’s suburban split level.

This she loves, and so does her family, especially her parents. She tries to appease the food likes of her 15-year-old brother, Sam, who plays football in the fall and lives for it the rest of the year.

“My dad and brother are mostly meat and bread guys,” Lizzy notes, not unkindly. “When it is just my mother and I, we’re kind of more adventuresome, and we try other things.”

P1080285This night she is indeed cooking up a meat and bread kind of supper—deep fat fried chicken, with homemade-from-scratch waffles supplying the “bread” portion of the meal. “Sam is a big fried chicken aficionado. Big fan! And if he says something is good, it’s really good. If it is ‘eh’—that equals ‘pretty good.’”

Most everything Lizzy makes is from scratch: even the dressing for the salad. She throws a salad and dressing together, like a chef on the Food Network, as the final touch for her meal.


Homemade Dressing

She calls out the dressing ingredients as she adds them to a shaker: olive oil, apple cider vinegar, a little brown sugar, a grinder turn from a pepper mill, and a literal pinch of salt from her salt bowl. She tosses some spinach leaves in a bowl, adds some blue cheese crumbles and dried cranberries—two of her favorite foods. Presto: salad to round out the evening supper.


She is 12 years old. Not 42 or even 22. Children today only make cookies and occasional muffins, boxed cakes or scrambled eggs maybe. Right? Not fried chicken, homemade waffles, and salads plus dressing with such a flourish. Or maybe I’m behind the times. At least that was the case when I grew up, and with my own girls. I always felt I did pretty good “letting” them try their hand in the kitchen. But not take over.


This girl almost owns the kitchen. Her mother, a middle school science teacher (background, above), circulates in and out of the kitchen putting things away from her day preparing for the first day of school. Virginia starts putting tomatoes and other fresh ingredients for salsa into a blender. “Mom does make good salsa,” Lizzy chats. “I’ll have to give her that. She makes good soups too but I’ve mostly taken over on the soups.”

Virginia will have to attend the local school board meeting tonight; she’s head of the Harrisonburg Education Association. She’ll leave before Lizzy’s brother and dad get home from football practice, which means they won’t actually get to eat all together, which is often how it is for many families with school-age children. Lizzy keeps things warm in the oven. Her dad teaches AP courses in European history and psychology, and is a defensive football coach at the local high school.

Back in the day—say the 1930s and 40s, children were more frequently called on to take over the cooking at an early age, perhaps even on a wood cookstove. I delved into that last fall in several posts reviewing books of Appalachian sociologist Peggy Shifflett. In her book Mom’s Family Pie, Shifflett talks about 8-10 year old girls often taking on cooking responsibilities and definitely by the time they were teens.

But who does this in 2015? I did find at least one other 12-year-old cook who reminds me somewhat of Lizzy in her kitchen.


Lizzy says she started learning to cook when she was 7 or so, especially making typical cookies and muffins; she loved learning at the side of her grandmother who lives about 50 miles away, who taught her the waffle recipe she’ll be making tonight. Another recipe Lizzy loves came from Alton Brown on Food Network, and won a blue ribbon (first place) for Lizzy last year in the county fair. This year she won 15 ribbons in various craft and cooking categories.

I was delighted to try a new recipe for biscuits, because mine were always crumbly and flat in taste and size. These turned out great: they held together very well and were mouth-watering delicious!


Alton Brown’s Prize Winning Biscuits (via Lizzy)

2 cups flour
4 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk

Put all of that in a food processor to mix it (or cut in the butter with a pastry blender and mix that way). Knead together gently a few turns on floured board.

Roll out dough ¼ inch thick. (Alton Brown says 1 inch thick. I’ll try that next time!) Cut out with floured biscuit cutter. Place biscuits close together with sides touching in a lightly greased pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes (Alton’s recipe says 400 degrees). Serve while warm.


Next time we’ll watch, step-by-step, how to make fried chicken the Lizzy way.


When did you or your children start cooking? What favorites did they or you like to make?


Whatever Happened to Dinner?

This series posted with a salute to Family Dinner Day, the last Monday in September (February dates in Canada), originally launched from CASA, which encourages eating together as a family as one way to fight the societal influences that sometimes lead to addictions in youth. This is the theme of my most recent book, Whatever Happened to Dinner: Recipes and Reflections for Family Mealtime.

Quick Chili and Cream Cheese Dip (Serve warm)


If last week’s recipe took half a day to make, this one took no more than half a shake. For real.

Furthermore, I was floored when my husband came home from work one day recently saying “I have a new recipe you’ve got to try.” Husband? Bearing a new recipe?

A coworker had brought in a hot dip and it is good. Healthy? Not so much. But hey, for a quick dip if friends or family are coming over, small group, a potluck or break at work, a hungry soccer team, a tail gate party, this works beautifully. I whipped it up because I knew we were headed to town on some errands and then out to eat. I knew it would be awhile until we would possibly wait for a table, order and get our food. So this can work as a homemade appetizer, sparing the expense at a restaurant. (I halved the recipe below and put it in the bottom of a bread pan, and froze the canned chili I didn’t use for later projects.)

Chili and cream cheese dip

1 can Hormel chili, without meat
1 8 oz. bar cream cheese
2 cups shredded cheese


Spread softened cream cheese in bottom of 9 inch pie pan (use knife or spatula).
Spread chili on top of cream cheese.
Cover with shredded sharp or cheddar cheese (or any mix of cheese you like).


Microwave on high for 45-60 seconds, watching to see when cheese melts and mixture seems hot in center.

Options: chopped chives

The recipe I was given did not call for chives but they make a nice addition. You might also add halved cherry tomatoes, black olives, green olives, chopped hot peppers, chopped basil—if you use these things you know what to try.

You could also easily substitute your own thickened chili, or use refried beans.


Cautions: There are no preservatives in Hormel chili, but the sodium content is pretty high. Surprise surprise.


Do you order appetizers in restaurants? While I don’t have a lot of use for them (usually get too full anyway with calorie-laden food) sometimes they make a meal in themselves.


Does your spouse bring home recipes or suggestions to try? Do you welcome them? Why or why not?


There’s a chapter with appetizers and party foods in my book, Whatever Happened to Dinner: Recipes and Reflections for Family Mealtime.
Whatever Happened to Dinner?

Osheta Moore

Shalom in the City

Shirley Hershey Showalter

writing and reading memoir

Mennonite Girls Can Cook

A blog looking for harmony, grace and wisdom in many spheres of daily living.

mama congo

A blog looking for harmony, grace and wisdom in many spheres of daily living.


A blog looking for harmony, grace and wisdom in many spheres of daily living.

Plain and Fancy

Marian Longenecker Beaman: Former Plain Girl Meets Fancy World

Roadkill Crossing, and other tales from Amish Country

Writing generated from the rural life

Where Lemons Blossom

The real Italy, as seen from the heart

Dinner of Herbs

Love for healthier foods.

Parenting And Stuff

Not a "how to be a great parent" blog

Sudesna (Sue) Ghosh

Letting my heart and pen bleed

Practicing Families

Real Faith. Real Life. Real Grace.

Empowering Missional

Empowering the people of God to be missional disciplemakers

Abandoned Water Jars

encouraging women in ministry

Just Desserts

a blog about food, consumption, peace and justice

Rural Church

God is doing big things in small places. And it's all because of His great love.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 890 other followers

%d bloggers like this: