My daughter loves watching cooking shows on cable, especially any that involve cupcakes. I’ve never thought twice about it; in the scheme of TV-watching habits, it’s a pretty good one. And then, recently, she got into Pioneer Woman videos, tuning in whenever she has free time. Ree Drummond somehow manages to handle four kids, domestic life on a farm, and a flourishing career as a food writer, photographer, and television personality. She’s nice, too (I’ve met her at a blogger conference). Suddenly, I was taking my child’s cooking program obsession very, very personally. Did my daughter wish I were Pioneer Woman?
I have never been much of a cook. Early on in motherhood, I was juggling a full-time job and a baby boy with severe delays; some days just finding time for bathroom breaks could be challenging. As the years passed, even once I got more into the flow of raising two kids and working, cooking never topped my list of how I wanted to spend my family time. For starters, during weekdays I’d typically come home from work at 7, which was on the late side for the kids. Typically, the babysitter still makes them dinner and then the kids and I hang out, talk about our day, and read together until bedtime. (My husband and I end up eating at around 9 pm.) On weekends, sometimes I throw pasta dinners together or do stir-frys, or my husband grills. When friends come over for meals, they’re often of the potluck variety. Typically though, we grab takeout, order in, or go out to eat. Our family has plenty of meal together time — it just doesn’t always involve foods I created with my own two hands.
Really, what I most enjoy spending time on is doing crafts, learning activities with the kids, and exploring new places with them. When it comes to baking cakes for the kids’ birthdays: sure, I get the whole “labor of love” thing and I’m always awed by other parents’ creations, but there are delicious ice-cream cakes to be bought. Every so often, we do whip up sweets. Last summer, Sabrina decided she wanted to enter our town’s Fourth of July baking contest. We made a vanilla-frosted layer cake with a flag made out of blueberries and raspberries; she got Honorable Mention. That was cool but mostly, I do not find the process of making food all that enjoyable. (Gasp.)
Friends are fond of teasing me about my lack of cooking inclinations. One year, a pal tied a bow around a bunch of take-out menus and gave them to me for the holidays. Recently, I was at a charity event and won a stand-alone roaster oven. I stared at it, perplexed. “You use it to roast turkeys, you know?” said my friend Peggy, cackling.
I have only occasionally had guilt pangs about my cooking deficit, like when we go to a friend’s house for dinner and Sabrina says, “How come you don’t make chicken like that?” The explosion of food pins on Pinterest has sometimes left me staring at my screen, wondering why I never tuck fruit kabobs into my kids’ lunch packs or bake Minnie and Mickey cupcakes just for fun. Still, I usually don’t beat myself up over this. As a kid, I wished my mother were more into doing athletic stuff with me, like skiing and playing tennis, although I never thought my childhood lacked for it — then or in retrospect.
But oh, the Pioneer Woman obsession: for the first time in my life, I felt dubious about the mother I was.
“What’s she making?” I asked, innocently, as Sabrina sat hunched over a video.
“Steak! And corn and cake! A lot of stuff!” Sabrina responded.
The Pioneer Woman makes perfect chili. The Pioneer Woman makes flaky, homemade biscuits. The Pioneer Woman makes amazing nachos and salsa. The Pioneer Woman makes the cutest flower pot ice-cream desserts you have ever seen.
Pioneer Woman was crushing my mom soul. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and blurted a question I probably shouldn’t have:
“Do you wish I was Pioneer Woman?”
Sabrina looked at me. “No! I love you!” she said. And then: “But I wish you cooked more.”
Phew. That truth, I could handle. I may not be a mom who loves to cook, but that didn’t make me a lesser mom in my daughter’s eyes. Still, I clearly needed to feed this desire of Sabrina’s.
“OK honey, let’s make something this weekend,” I said.
And we did. We even used a Pioneer Woman recipe — Ree’s Easy Chicken Quesadillas. (For sure, I picked one with “easy” in the title.) The quesadillas were delish. Who knows — maybe one of these days, Sabrina will become the family cook that I’m not.
The next night, we ordered in Chinese, and everyone enjoyed that, too.More On