Like many of the best traditions, this one goes back generations. Meghan Stott’s favorite meal of the year has always been Christmas Eve dinner – a German feast her grandparents would serve. Today, Meghan and her 11-year-old daughter, Kaitlin, carry on that tradition in their own kitchen.
“Kaitlin told me that her favorite thing to do with me on Christmas is to make Rouladen, which is a German beef dish,” Meghan says. “She told me, ‘It’s just so good!’ It’s an easy meal to make, but we only eat it on Christmas Eve because it holds such special memories.”
Meghan thinks it won’t be long before Kaitlin is ready to prepare the meal all by herself, because she’s gained so much confidence in the kitchen, which is exactly what Meghan and her husband, Tyler, want. Kaitlin is visually impaired because she has albinism, and from the beginning her parents wanted her to be as independent as possible. Learning to cook was high on the list of things they wanted Kaitlin to learn.
Both Meghan and Kaitlin take great pleasure in cooking together – especially when it’s a family tradition like baking and making pies for Thanksgiving. “When I think about holidays, it’s a kitchen and a warm stove and oven and all the smells,” Meghan says. “There’s so much joy being in the kitchen and sharing that experience, but there’s also the practical side of making sure Kaitlin can cook for herself.”
But of course, no one can learn to cook by making two meals a year. So Meghan and Kaitlin prepare many different kinds of food together. To make cooking a little easier for Kaitlin, Meghan – who is a Teacher of the Blind and Visually Impaired (TVI) – has written on measuring cups and spoons with a large marker, so the lettering is big enough for her to see. They’ve also put braille labels on the oven so she knows which buttons to push.
Like every parent, Meghan was nervous about putting a knife in Kaitlin’s hand the first time. They started by cutting bananas with a butter knife. They also have a food chopper, which makes things easier and gave Kaitlin a sense of immediate satisfaction early on, Meghan says.
By now, she doesn’t hesitate to give Kaitlin the biggest, sharpest knife she can find when it’s needed, as counterintuitive as she admits that sounds.
“I just tell her to keep her fingers tucked in her knuckles and keep things flat, so if it’s an apple cut off one side so you have a flat edge and then you can keep slicing,” Meghan says. “That was probably the hardest thing.”
Kaitlin is a big fan of cooking shows, especially kids’ cooking shows, and wants to just get cooking without following a recipe. That’s fine for some things, but Meghan told her that with baking – which is Kaitlin’s favorite – you have to follow the recipe exactly. As it turns out, Kaitlin taught her that’s not always true.
They love baking bread together, and one day Kaitlin said, “Mom, it’s literally flour, water, yeast, and salt. That’s all. Why do I need a recipe?” Although she was skeptical, Meghan let her try making bread without a recipe, watching as she mixed together the ingredients and kneaded the dough until it had the texture and smell she wanted.
“She works that dough until it feels loved and just right under her fingers,” Meghan says. “She’s surprised me on several occasions when she would just produce this loaf of bread and I had to admit, ‘Yeah, you’re right Kait. It really is just flour, water, yeast, and salt.’”
In fact, Kaitlin may just be the one who carries on the family tradition of German sourdough bread. Meghan’s grandmother tried to teach her to make it – using her own kitchen spoons, not measuring spoons – and Meghan was sure she’d never be able to make the bread without a specific recipe and regular measurements.
“One of these days Kaitlin is going to have to be the one that helps me recreate that bread because she’s got the skills to just let loose,” Meghan says. “Like my grandmother told me, you just keep adding flour and water until you know it feels and smells right. That’s really one of Kaitlin’s strengths: trusting her instincts that it’s going to come out right.”
This post is a collaboration between the APH ConnectCenter and Kiddos in the Kitchen, a podcast devoted to cooking with kids. Check out this episode featuring even more stories about Meghan and Kaitlin’s kitchen adventures.