IMG_5769We bake during the day, when Daddy is at work.

My toddlers climb up on the counter, crowd around the mixer, unwrap sticks of butter, crack eggs, and take reluctant turns with the measuring cups and spoons. They sneak spoonfuls of cookie dough, pinch of bites of bread dough. They learn to count eggs and cups of flour.

My husband, who prefers cakes from a mix to cakes made from scratch, canned frosting to homemade, is convinced that someone is going to fall off the counter or lose a finger to the whirring mixer.

Although I outsource my deep-cleaning, employ the good cooks at Cafe Rio and Domino’s Pizza to provide weeknight dinners for my family more often than I’d care to admit, and consider laundry a chore, our baking time is worth all of the messes, and all of the extra calories no one really needs. A few months ago, I considered joining the #whole30 craze, but decided I’d miss the ritual of baking, the scamper of little feet when I ask if anyone wants to bake cookies, the looks of deep contentment that come over my kids’ faces when they arrive home from school and smell brownies in the oven.

Thirty years ago, I was the child on the counter, fetching baking soda and begging for a beater. When the women in my family get together, we cook. We gather in the kitchen, putting together showstopping meals that are probably two notches fancier than any of the guys would care to eat. I slip back into my designated role as the fetcher and peeler, no longer the mother of six, but the daughter and granddaughter who knows her place. Like billions of women around the world, the women in my family come together in the kitchen.

If your family is like mine, take a moment to read Tessa Hagulid’s nonfiction piece “On the Menu” from the May 2014 issue of Segullah. As she invites friends and family to a party, the ghosts from her past, her mother, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers, take their place in the kitchen to prep a southern feast. The story, which enfolds in footnotes, resonated strongly with me, right down to the lost recipes and the bickering.

How do you bond with the women in your family? Is putting your toddlers on the counter a risk you’re willing to take (I remember reading an article online a few years ago about a celebrity whose son broke his arm in a fall from the counter, and it seemed that the commenters sided squarely with my more risk-averse husband)? What would you serve at a meal that exemplified all of the food traditions from your maternal line?


May 11, 2014


  1. Grandma Honey

    May 12, 2014

    My kids were always on the counters helping me. It is no more risky than other things they insisted (and needed!) to climb….and probably less so since I was always right there with them. Good memories looking back, yet I know the idea of having them stir and bake along side me were not the best of times for me. However, all these years later, it IS really fun to stir and bake with my grandchildren. I have more time now to enjoy the moment and I’m not forever thinking about the next thing I need to get done.

  2. Janell

    May 12, 2014

    My toddler, age 2, stands on a chair. He’s not quiet tall enough to see into things, but I don’t trust him to not turn around, stand on the counter, and start emptying out my cabinets.

    I let kidlet pull right up to the stove to help make pancakes, noodles, or whatever happens to be for dinner. He pulls up to the island to help roll dough or, as I cut vegetables on the other side, shape and cut play dough with his own “knife” and cutting board. He adores being in charge of the speed settings on the kitchen aid and likes cracking eggs and sneaking cookie dough.

    Though the only activities he participates in without fail are the cookie making and the opening of any can. The other activities are simply when they suit his interests or curiosity.

    I think my proudest kitchen moment to date was when I was explaining I was using something “like a rolling pin” to massage his dad’s aching back and he ran and fetched his toddler-sized rolling pin =D

  3. Kellie aka Selwyn

    May 13, 2014

    My boys used to stand on a chair beside me while I baked (they refused to sit for most of the day, let alone on a counter) – they still gravitate to the kitchen when I’m baking and are happy to help, and eat the dough.

    A dish from my maternal line? Boiled potatoes. That’s it. I’m the only person in my family who knows how to – and can – cook. We’ve got some hilarious family stories about having to cut Nanna’s mashed potatoes with a knife…

  4. eljee

    May 13, 2014

    My children have always cooked with me. I don’t always enjoy it, but I put up with it because they love it, and I think it is important. My dd could make scrambled eggs by herself when she was around age 5. I don’t let them on the counters simply because I have very little counter space, and there is no room. But they crowd their chairs around. One day while I was working with my son, I came into the kitchen to find that my two younger kids had gotten out my hand wheat grinder and were happily grinding every kind of grain they could find–all over everything. My sister-in-law about had a cow when I posted a picture on my blog of my young kids chopping veggies with big chef’s knives. She was amazed that I was so “brave” to let them do that. I was right there with them, and I’d taught them to do it safely. I find that chopping things is a very calming activity for kids. I can have kids hyper, out-of-control, and fighting non-stop, but put them all at the table to chop veggies for dinner, and suddenly they are calm and happy. The women in our family don’t bond over cooking. My mom is the type to buy frozen pies and boxed stuffing for Thanksgiving dinner. We do bond by going shopping or out to lunch. My aunt and her daughters are amazing in the kitchen and recently published their own family cookbook. The recipes are to-die-for, and I loved that every single recipe had a comment about who had originally made it or what occasion it had been made for. I thought it was a beautiful legacy.

  5. Sara

    May 13, 2014

    Definitely on the counter. I love having my kids up there at my level, learning that they can do what I do. And there’s something valuable about a little calculated risk every now and then.

  6. Karen

    May 14, 2014

    My mother was a cookie maker and I baked with her from an early age. My children — we have 4 daughters — were definitely on the counters, on chairs by the counters, and a few times on the floor when I spread a tablecloth and moved the mixer and all the other baking necessities down to that level. Wherever we were, we had fun and made happy memories. All four of them are good bakers and cooks, better than I am I would say: I did the baking for the most part while their dad is an amazing cook of all other deliciousness. I remember one day he called from work while we were baking and made our 3-year-old laugh and laugh when he asked her if we were “caking mookies.” We still use that phrase. Another memory tied up with the baking are two little aprons the right size for about a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old that I made in an unusual sewing frenzy for our oldest two. Those aprons have been used for over 25 years and have been worn now by our two granddaughters. I don’t sew often but those two little girls do have their own aprons so that they can bake at home with their mama. 🙂

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