I'm a father who cooks. That shouldn't be such a shocking admission in this day and age, but oddly, I find it still is.
I got my start in the kitchen years before my boys were born. When they were little, I would bring my pan of lasagna to the school potluck, or my homemade cookies for soccer game snack, and the other parents would greet me with open-mouthed wonder.
I learned to cook watching my mom. Though she was possessive about her kitchen, she allowed me to observe as she prepped and cooked our family dinner every night of the week — except Tuesday, when Tony's Italian Villa had dollar pizza night. In college, I started cooking on my own, due in part to frustration with the quality of the cafeteria food. I discovered that if I prepared a big platter of cheap and easy food, like penne with sausage, mushrooms, and eggplant, friends would come over and show their appreciation by bringing bottles of wine, giant salads, and fabulous desserts. I've been cooking ever since.
Once I became a father, my two boys often cooked right alongside me. Granted, that's not the usual image of dads and sons engaging together, like playing catch in the backyard, trout fishing, or flying a kite. Yet there we would be, side by side at the counter, stirring up some risotto or assembling a frittata or creating the decorative crimp around the edge of a piecrust. Cooking never seemed like a chore to my kids. We had to eat dinner that night, and Mom was working hard, so it seemed only natural that we should take our turn getting a meal on the table.
You might think three guys in a kitchen would eventually lead to a raucous food fight while the pasta boiled for the mac 'n' cheese. But in fact, working with pots and pans and ladles became some of the most harmonious times my sons and I spent together. The rhythm of the recipe would take over, and we would find ourselves in sync. The boys even began to feel what so many chefs experience — that cooking is relaxing and, dare I say it, fun.
On many afternoons, my sons and I segued directly from the ball field to the kitchen — from the gridiron to the waffle iron, you might say, from the field of dreams to fresh field greens. We made pizzas, each using his pie to create wild culinary concoctions, one son trying to outdo the other — just like when we would shoot hoops.
It strikes me as odd that the kitchen is still not a typical setting for sons and their fathers. You won't, for instance, find many dads giving their boys a new toque (that's a chef's hat) for graduation, or slipping a fish spatula into a holiday stocking. And there's not as much machismo in teaching your son the proper way to grip a whisk for stirring batter as there is in teaching him how to hold a baseball bat. That's too bad. Cooking is such a great way for dads and kids to work together and feel a real sense of accomplishment.
One experience my sons and I especially looked forward was making bread with football season in full swing. We timed the prep, kneading, and baking with the game on TV so that we rarely missed a play. Thirty minutes before kickoff, we mixed and kneaded the dough. It rose during the first half, and then we punched it down at half-time. We popped those babies in the oven between the third and fourth quarters, and as the scoreboard clock ticked down to zero, the timer went off right around the same time. The final score was always a winner: two warm loaves of sweet-tasting bread. (See recipe below.)
Though my sons are older now, it's satisfying to know that my oldest cooks for friends at college and my adolescent can still be cajoled into the kitchen to help the old man. My advice to dads out there: Gather your kids in the kitchen and start cooking. Not only will you teach your boys important skills, but you'll build great memories. Plus, you'll dodge cleanup duty afterward! Everyone knows the cook is exempt from doing the dishes. (Usually.)
Bob's Football Day Honey Whole-Wheat Bread
- 1½ cups milk
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- ¼ cup molasses
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water (110°F)
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 cup unbleached
- all-purpose flour
- 3½ to 4 cups whole-wheat flour
30 minutes before kickoff:
- In a 2-quart saucepan, scald the milk by bringing it to a simmer over medium heat and immediately removing it as soon as you see bubbles. Add the oil, molasses, and salt to the milk and let the mixture cool to 110°F.
- In a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water, and add honey. Allow to proof for 3 minutes.
- Add the milk-oil mixture to the yeast mixture. Mix in the all-purpose flour and 2 cups whole-wheat flour. Add remaining whole-wheat flour 1⁄2 cup at a time, kneading with each addition until you have made a soft dough.
- Place dough on a lightly floured work surface and knead until the dough has become elastic and smooth, approximately 10 minutes. Put dough in a lightly greased bowl and turn to coat. Cover and let rise until almost doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
- Punch down the dough and let it rest for 5 minutes. Form into 2 loaves and place in well-greased loaf pans. Using vegetable oil, lightly oil the tops of bread dough. Cover and let rise until almost doubled.
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
After the third quarter:
- When loaves have doubled in size, bake for 25-30 minutes, until they sound hollow when tapped and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for 5 minutes, then remove the loaves from the pans and allow to cool on a wire rack.