By Mollie Katzen and Ann Henderson
(Tricycle Press, 1994)
This is part of a week-long focus on feeding minds and stomachs, a celebration of children’s cookbooks and picture books that fixate on food.
I’ll cut (or dice) to the chase: I love this book! When I became a vegetarian, the Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen was a must-buy. Here Mollie collaborates with her children’s preschool teacher, Ann Henderson, offering a recipe collection tested and tasted by youngsters.
In her introduction (“Greeting”), Mollie—I’m sorry, I just think of the author on a first name basis—makes a couple of key statements.
First, children develop an interest in cooking at an early age. Typically, however, this interest is only nurtured through play involving Play Dough, mud and slightly discolored plastic vegetables. Yes, I’ve pretended to eat many a delicious plastic or sand-packed meal as delighted kindergarten chefs watch my every “bite”.
Second, even when children get to participate hands-on with food preparation, their role is minimal. I recall “helping” my mother make cake or pudding. This consisted of a minute or two of stirring and then licking the mixers and finger scooping the chocolaty ooze which clung to the bowl. This book invites children to be more involved in preparing food. Mollie dreams: “Grownups would be helpers, instead of the other way around.”
She later provides a thoughtful comment to help adults determine when it is best to use this book. “As adults, we often cook to eat, but for children the main event is the process of cooking—not the product. So cook when you are relaxed and have time to really enjoy your child and yourself....These recipes...work best if you don’t try to make them...when your household might be hectic.” Such advice increases the likelihood of a positive shared experience, one that further nourishes a child’s interest in cooking. Much more is quotable in the opening pages, every sentence packed with realistic wisdom that comes from many adult-child cooking experiences.
Each recipe accounts for four pages in the book. The first two pages provide the information in traditional format, listing the needed kitchen tools, providing safety reminders and offering amusing quotes from the young cooks/tasters (e.g., Noah notes, “I also like cinnamon on broccoli.”) The third and fourth page lay out the recipe in a series of simply drawn picture steps for kids to follow. The pictures show the essence of each step but will require some elaboration from an adult. Still, when I first perused the recipes while fatigued on a ferry ride home after work, I stopped reading the recipes and simply “read” the pictures. Made me hungry and gave me ideas for quick late night dinners or snacks.
A recipe highlight is Number Salad (with ten steps that practice counting, beginning with “1 handful coconut”, “2 tablespoons O.J. concentrate” and finishing with “8 grapes, stir 9 times”. The tenth step simply says “EAT”. Kids will also want to make Green Spaghetti, a fun way to refer to pasta with pesto sauce. The title recipe involves mixing fruit in orange juice and yogurt, creating a “soup” that doesn’t need to be heated. Personally, I want to make Noodle Pudding, which the authors describe as “[b]asically an unbaked noodle kugel.”
While there is no meat in the recipes, the authors avoid the use of the word vegetarian. This is not a book aimed at steering children away from meat. It is simply a collection of fun, easy, healthy recipes that children will want to prepare and maybe even eat. Pretend Soup is all about active reading with tasty rewards providing an exciting payoff!