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What’s cooking?

SheKnows is proud to offer The Parent Trap column, by mother and writer Lain Chroust Ehmann.

Until I had my son nearly three years ago, my relationship with the kitchen was, shall we say, sporadic. I saw this room of the house as a holding station, a place to store essential non-perishables such as Diet Coke, PowerBars and light bulbs (my husband’s contribution). The idea of actually plugging in some of those gleaming appliances I unwrapped so joyously at my wedding shower, using them to slice and dice and actually prepare a meal — this was all too much of a commitment.

It wasn’t that I was completely clueless in the kitchen. In younger years I’d made my way through my cherished copy of the “Betty Crocker Junior Cookbook.” Between its red-and-white checked covers were recipes for such delicacies as five-minute porcupiney meatballs and fizzy lemonade, complete with color photos and step-by-step instructions that made even the most timid of chefs-to-be feel like queen of the kitchen.

But whipping up an occasional batch of buttermilk pancakes — when absolutely nothing is expected of you in terms of culinary accomplishment — is quite different than cooking as an adult. As a kid, you’re allowed to experiment and come up short. No one cares if your cookies contain more carbon than chocolate chips. No one gets testy if you mistake the baking powder for baking soda. And, best of all, no one expects you, day in and day out, to serve up balanced, attractive and tasty meals, one after the other.

In my single gal days, I could “whip up” a semi-respectable dish using every pot and pan in my phone booth-sized kitchen, carry the steaming plates to my wobbly card-table-set-for-two, and graciously present the result of my culinary expertise to my beau. And, in the gleam of candlelight, underscored by hormones, the food didn’t look-or taste-half-bad. But such an occasion would inevitably occur only at the onset of courtship, to be followed by a steady stream of dinners out. After all, I didn’t want him to get the wrong idea. Sure, I can cook — but I’m not going to. As a result of one such dinner (I liked this guy so much I actually used the blender — an appliance formerly reserved for mixing daiquiris-to concoct a lovely, pale green zucchini bisque).

I ended up engaged and, in short order, married. Thank goodness, my husband neither expected nor wished me to spend each evening tethered to the hot stove (I could chalk his lack of expectations up to magnanimity, but in reality I think he was a tad scared by the whole bisque scenario). Thus, we found ourselves dining out most every night, and this worked just fine.

Until Benjamin came on the scene.

We learned fairly quickly that babies just don’t like eating out every night. Sometimes they prefer hanging out at home with Mom and Dad, watching CNN and kicking back. Okay, we thought, we can adjust, and we bought a case of macaroni and cheese from Price Club.

Then our son became a toddler. All of the sudden, not only did he expect me to fix him three (THREE!) meals a day plus assorted snacks, he was also quite adamant that a thrice-daily serving of the aforementioned mac ‘n’ cheese was not going to cut it. He wanted variety.

It was then that it occurred to me that exposing our child to a wide selection of gastronomical delights perhaps wasn’t the wisest move we ever made. All of the sudden, I had a two-year-old tyrant demanding sushi, French toast and chateaubriand — items we’d shared with aplomb while dining out. So I did what any good mom would; I bought a bunch of cookbooks and heated up the oven. Sometimes it’s just easier not to argue.

The transformation has been thorough and fast. I can now whip up “eggytoast” with my eyes closed-as they often are at 6 in the morning. I can recite the recipe for pad thai from memory. And I’ve replaced my copy of the “Betty Crocker Junior Cookbook” with “The Frugal Gourmet.”

In a way, I think it’s great Benjamin’s willing to experiment with different foods. But when I’m wiping sweat from my eyes as I attempt to pan sear blackened swordfish, I have only one regret: I can’t help thinking I should have stuck with the porcupiney meatballs.

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