Cooking Up a Family Feast: Making Holiday Memories with Your Children in the Kitchen

Cooking Up a Family Feast
Cooking Up a Family Feast: Making Holiday Memories with Your Children in the Kitchen

Is there anything on the planet that brings people together more than food?

We gather around the table as families and friends to celebrate everything from birthdays and anniversaries to major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Even enemies sit down and share a meal together as a sign of peace between them. Eating together somehow bonds people to one another.

Into the Holiday Bustle
Behind the sharing of food is the actual preparation of our meals. Often, as the holiday seasons roll around, particularly Thanksgiving and Christmas, there is an enormous amount of work to be done in the family kitchen. Mothers (and sometimes fathers) find themselves spending more and more time preparing, and less time sharing time with their families.

The holidays are primarily about family, spending time together, enjoying one another, and making memories that last a lifetime. But, in the middle of our constant activity, one of the greatest memory-making opportunities is missed in many homes — kitchen memories!

Proceed Without Fear, Mom and Dad
Many parents immediately cringe with fear when we hear the phrase “kids helping out in the kitchen.” Images of knives, boiling water, hot pans, children underfoot, and injuries fill our heads. It is hard for us to do, but we can put those fears aside, and instead think of the positive (and how to deal with those fears).

We want our children to be comfortable in the kitchen. With any luck, they may also learn to cook (and not only macaroni and cheese)! We also do not want to reach the end of the holidays and have the feeling that we did not spend as much time with our kids as we would have liked. As a family, we need quality time with them, to have fun, create lasting memories, prepare and eat great food, and teach them something about working in the kitchen. These are lessons for later in life!

Make a Plan
True, it takes a tiny bit of planning to get the kids involved in food preparation, but holiday meals take a good bit of planning anyway.

To prep for a kitchen day with the kids, choose a few dishes, or a few specific cooking activities that you think your kids will enjoy (and be able to accomplish). Since you already have a plan for preparing the meal, just spending a few extra minutes thinking it through can help us see what opportunities are there for the children to be involved.

The very youngest can help out with opening packages. They also love to sit in a tall chair or stand on a small stool and watch you work in the kitchen, especially if you talk with them about what you are doing. As kids get a little older they can also help out by watching timers, stirring, mixing, and even throwing things into the trash can. It’s amazing what will keep them entertained and help them feel involved. Older children can do virtually anything in the kitchen (with a little supervision), from cutting to assembling to putting things into the oven.

And about those fears of having kids in the kitchen mentioned earlier? Again, a little planning helps take care of those concerns. For instance, if you worry about a little one getting burned, just be sure to set them up in a part of the kitchen where they will not be near the stove or oven. If it is knives that concern you, then just be careful of where you lay them down, and you can be double careful by choosing a certain place in the kitchen to cut that is “out of bounds” for your smaller children. Some thinking ahead and extra attention will keep your kids out of harms way. That way, you can focus on the kitchen fun with your kids and build memories and traditions that may be passed on.

An Easy Beginner Recipe
Cooking with our kids is not only possible, it can be wonderful fun. A great place to start is making cookies! It is relatively easy and provides quick gratification. Nearly everyone likes them and there are also plenty to share or even give as gifts to friends and neighbors. Here is a recipe to get you started.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe
You will need: electric mixer, spoon, baking sheet (greased, lined, or non-stick), great holiday music, and a camera!
2.25 cups flour
2 cups chocolate chips
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
0.5 cup white sugar
0.5 teaspoon baking soda

Let’s make cookies!
This is such an easy recipe to do with kids, since there’s nothing sharp to work with — just measuring and mixing and cooking!
1 – Help your child set the oven to preheat to 350 (bake).
2 – Help your child put the butter and the white and brown sugars into the bowl of the electric mixer. Mix those on medium until well mixed and smooth. (If the kids can reach, turning on the electric kitchen tools is always a lot of fun!)
3 – Now put the mixer on slow, and have your child carefully add salt, vanilla, and eggs (kids love to crack open eggs…so have a few extras on hand!). Allow this to mix until well combined.
4 – Finally, add the flour and mix no longer than it takes to combine.
5 – Now, a part the kids love, stir in the chocolate chips by hand (not with the mixer). If a few morsels disappear, well, that is always okay…and a great photo opportunity!
6 – Kids enjoy helping put the prepared cookies onto the baking sheet before the parents slide them into the hot oven. Cook for 8-10 minutes and you have a wonderful treat for sharing with the kids, and with your holiday guests.

Wonderful Benefits
Even if things turn out differently than planned on your first foray into the kitchen with your little ones, enjoy this time. Cooking together is all about the memories, not necessarily the perfect cookbook meal. Being part of something as important as preparing the big holiday meal (or even something simple like cookies) is an exciting opportunity for you and for them.

Smile, Laugh, Talk — This is the Whole Point!
When our children (especially older ones) are comfortable and enjoying themselves, then they seem to be more willing to open up and talk about things that they might otherwise keep to themselves. And we, as parents, have an opportunity to share as well, talking about our own childhood memories as we make new ones with the kids. We not only guide and teach our children, we also relate to them as human beings on every level, and that includes building meaningful and lasting relationships with those so dear to us.

What better reason could there be for cooking in the kitchen than building those memories and relationships with ones we love so dearly — our children.

book review – ‘unilateral’ by chris katsaropoulos

unilateralWhen I initially read the blurb for this book, it seemed like a pretty intense topic. Not exactly the type of novel I usually read, but I was interested.

The book description reads “What would happen if every single one of us made the decision to rise above hatred, fear and vengeance? Unilateral is the story of two young people locked in the brutal grip of a region at war. Amel is a young Palestinian student who lives in the crowded apartment blocks of Gaza City and is confused by the hatred, destruction and upheaval that disrupts her family’s simple life. Ra’anan is a fighter bomber pilot in the Israeli Defense Forces who takes his mission very seriously… and doesn’t know what it means to fail. The destinies of Amel and Ra’anan are intertwined, though they cannot yet realize it. The differences and striking similarities of their worlds unfold in a beautifully rendered sequence that swiftly leads to a single moment of transcendent connection, a moment that requires Ra’anan to decide whether he will follow someone else’s commands and destroy Amel’s life, or make the unilateral decision to follow his own heart.”

Not only do the main characters not know that they will impact each other’s lives, they technically never even meet. Other than the ending (which I’ll address in a moment), I thought the way Katsaropoulos put this story together was nearly perfect. The story focuses not on politics, but rather on a few individuals. We are brought into their lives for a day, and for a few moments we get to understand what they feel.

Amel lives with her Palestinian family in Gaza. The story takes place on the day before a ceasefire between Israel and Palestine is set to come to an end. The focus is not moralistic, not an attempt to set up one side as good and the other as evil. Rather, we simply walk with Amel through a few large parts of her day. We see what she sees. We hear what she thinks. We hear what those around her think. We get to observe the dead with her (a particularly powerful moment), and see her interaction with her burqa. She comes to life. Obviously, the people around her are in distress, and they fear what will happen when the ceasefire ends and the hostilities begin again.

The story of Ra’anan is similar. He is a pilot with the Israeli army. We watch him for the better part of a day, mostly hearing what he thinks about the ceasefire, the Palestinians, the conflict, and what his role in the conflict should be. He has largely organized his life around what he feels like he ‘must’ do for his country, though he is anxious to begin the next chapter of his life (where he wants to fly for private industries and airlines). We are surprised when we hear many of the same fears and concerns and frustrations in his thoughts as we’d previously heard from Amel.

The story of ‘one humanity’ works very well here. Not trite or overwrought, but seen and experienced through the lives of two people – a Palestinian woman and an Israeli man.

I won’t give away the storyline (I hate reviews that do that), but I will say that I found the ending very frustrating. I knew exactly what the author wanted to do. I knew exactly how he had set up to do it. But when the ‘moment of decision’ comes, it falls flat. It is not convincing. People make last-minute decisions that are out of character, this is true, but it did not work in this particular novel. It could work. And I really wanted it to. I agreed with the end. But it did not fit as the end of this particular story, with these particular characters.

Otherwise, the novel gets high marks. The writing is sparse and direct (though not particularly inspired). The characters are wonderfully painted, and we are brought into the struggles that each of them feel. This is a novel worth reading on several levels, just prepare for an ending that leaves you rather unsatisfied.

Buy Unilateral now!

book review – ‘west of sunset’ by stewart o’nan (publication date January 13, 2015)

wosThis post constitutes my first review of a book which has yet to be released to the general public. I’m excited that I’ve been able to develop new relationships with several publishers, among them Penguin Books. I will have many other reviews coming, and some of them will be of books soon to be released. I read a lot, and having this opportunity to review books makes me a very happy reader! I love good books, good literature, and reading – and anything I can do to help share those things with others makes me a satisfied man.

I’ll start by pasting a brief description of this novel below, and then a few of my thoughts and impressions will follow.

the blurb from the novel cover…A “rich, sometimes heartbreaking” (Dennis Lehane) novel of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last years in Hollywood. In 1937, F. Scott Fitzgerald was a troubled, uncertain man whose literary success was long over. In poor health, with his wife consigned to a mental asylum and his finances in ruins, he struggled to make a new start as a screenwriter in Hollywood. By December 1940, he would be dead of a heart attack. Those last three years of Fitzgerald’s life, often obscured by the legend of his earlier Jazz Age glamour, are the focus of Stewart O’Nan’s gorgeously and gracefully written novel. With flashbacks to key moments from Fitzgerald’s past, the story follows him as he arrives on the MGM lot, falls in love with brassy gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, begins work on The Last Tycoon, and tries to maintain a semblance of family life with the absent Zelda and daughter, Scottie. Fitzgerald’s orbit of literary fame and the Golden Age of Hollywood is brought vividly to life through the novel’s romantic cast of characters, from Dorothy Parker and Ernest Hemingway to Humphrey Bogart. A sympathetic and deeply personal portrait of a flawed man who never gave up in the end, even as his every wish and hope seemed thwarted, West of Sunset confirms O’Nan as “possibly our best working novelist” (Salon).

I will not even attempt to craft one of those carefully worded reviews that keeps the reader wondering exactly what the reviewer thinks until the very end. I absolutely loved this book! I have never read anything by Stewart O’Nan before (though I certainly will again), but I had heard good things about him. I also thought that the topic of the novel seemed interesting – I have read several biographies of Fitzgerald, and am well acquainted with his life. An attempt to fictionalize that life and present it to an educated readership seemed dangerous, but intriguing at the same time. So I bit, and I read.

As a general note, O’Nan is a solid writer. The quality of writing that an author displays will quickly ruin my experience of a text, but this was not the case at all. He is not terribly nuanced writer, or a “master of language,” but his very capable writing combined with his genius for storytelling and characters come together for a supremely enjoyable experience in West of Sunset.

The character development that O’Nan achieves is wonderful. Within pages of beginning, you already feel that you know these people, and you begin almost immediately to care for what happens, and to wonder what events have led them to where they are at that moment. Fitzgerald comes to life before the eyes of the reader – an authentic figure, well based on what we know of Fitzgerald, his life, and his proclivities. This is incredibly hard to do in fiction, bringing to life a real person who is known to the reader, and doing it in way that rings true. O’Nan succeeds brilliantly.

Another place where O’Nan shines is dialogue construction. Never did I come across an awkward phrase, or a word that seemed hollow in the mouth of the speaker. Every conversation flows smoothly, allowing you to lose yourself entirely in the book, and to relive each moment with Fitzgerald and those around him.

O’Nan provides an interesting glimpse not only into the lives of a few individuals, but also into one of the Golden Ages of Hollywood. Fitzgerald meets many of the “movers and shakers” in Hollywood, and we meet them along with him. We also get a glimpse into the working of the studios, the settings (which come to life vividly in O’Nan’s hands), and those things that made (and continue to make) Hollywood so attractive.

One of my favorite aspects of the book was the look into Fitzgerald’s mind, and especially his emotions. We see his deep love and concern for his daughter Scottie. We feel, as our own, his love and devastation and struggle with Zelda, his wife, and her personal mental struggles as well as the pain they have caused one another over the course of their relationship. We fight with him against his own demons, especially alcohol and his desire to be heard, his childishness and his temper, his loves and his losses. I have always enjoyed both the writing and biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and West of Sunset is nearly a perfect book that takes us into his world.

This novel was fun to read. It is well put together, with good writing, splendid characters, and a story worth reading to tell. I highly recommend it.

Pre-order West of Sunset now!

I met Sofi Oksanen!

8One of my favorite authors right now is Sofi Oksanen. When I was planning my visit to the 2014 Frankfurter Buchmesse (Frankfurt Book Fair), I was thrilled to find out that Oksanen would be there – and would also be the featured author for Finland, who was the guest of honor at this year’s fair. My plan was to attend the main reading featuring her, which was put on by the Frankfurt Literaturhaus, and to get her autograph. But I was able to get even more!

On the first day of the buchmesse (Wednesday), I was fortunate enough to stumble on a reading/interview by Oksanen at the booth for Die Zeit. She read from her book in Finnish, the interviewer read in German, and the question/answer session was held in English (with the interviewer also translating her responses into German). It was wonderful to finally see her, to observe her, and to listen to her. I hadn’t had much exposure to her newest book, so it was nice to listen to her talk about everything from the writing process to meaning to reactions. A great surprise at the Fair! [there are pictures of this reading below, obvious because of the Die Zeit background]

Then, on Wednesday night, the event I had been waiting on for months – the main reading. Again, just a great experience. I was able to sit front and center, second row. The interviewer was well prepared and enjoyable, the actor (who read from her text in German) was good, and Oksanen herself was splendid. She was quite at ease with the entire process, answered the questions (for the most part…there was one noticeable avoidance), and spoke her mind freely. The general topics were very similar to what was covered in the morning, but with much more detail (since this reading was about 3 times the length). Oksanen is very vocal and involved politically in Europe, especially speaking out about Russia’s activities – and this topic was returned to on several occasions during the session.

After the reading, the time had finally come to meet her. I stood to the side, out of the autograph line, until right near the end. Then I went over and had my book signed (pic below), got a picture with her (below), and had a brief chat. Apparently, mine was the only English-language book she’d signed all evening.

I would have to say that it’s been very rare, in my life, to meet someone that I actually looked up to – this was once of those rare occasions, and it is beyond words and descriptions.

Some links on Oksanen…

  • Her Website,
  • Oksanen’s opening talk from the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair, Santa Claus Speaks Finnish (text)
  • the page on her website about the newest book, When the Doves Disappeared
  • Oksanen discussing her newest novel – Als die Tauben verschwanden (video)
  • Oksanen’s Facebook page (she posts quite regularly)
  • my own review of her only book translated in English, Purge
  • For another insight into the mind of Oksanen, this is the text of her remarks at the International Conference on “The Legacy of Totalitarianism Today” in the Parliament of The Czech Republic June 12, 2014 – KNOWLEDGE IS A CHEAP AND UNIVERSAL WEAPON

  • Buy Purge here! (You can read my review of Purge in the link above.)

    Pre-order When the Doves Disappeared: A novel here!


    12I’ve always enjoyed photography – both composing my own and viewing other people’s. So I decided recently that I would play around again with my camera, and perhaps post several small series of photos here on my blog. It’s mostly just a fun experiment for myself, but I hope my readers might also enjoy it!

    I love clouds, and the texture, detail, and variation you’re able to see from the window of an airplane still fascinates me. So here we have a few pics from my recent flight to FFM – a little cloud photography!