Everyday Cooking

On Green Pancakes and Cooking with Kids

August  1, 2013

Every other Thursday, we bring you Nicholas Day -- on cooking for children, and with children, and despite children. Also, occasionally, on top of.

Today: On how parents cook with kids dangling from their limbs.

Green Pancakes from Food52

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Having children changes you. Specifically, it changes how you chop an onion.

Before I had children, these were the variables I had to contend with: an onion, a knife, Robert Siegel. Now that I have children, these are the variables I have to contend with: an onion, a knife, a sloth who has wound himself around my lower extremities and is singing “Baby Beluga” at a volume that Raffi would never countenance, and an opossum -- the younger brother of the sloth -- whose single desire in life is to upend the kitchen garbage can and arrange its contents in small decorative piles under my feet.

The onion is not really the issue anymore.

Cooking with and for small children can feel like a problem that physics has yet to solve: there are too many variables, and each variable is itself too variable. (For example, sometimes the sloth turns into a princess firefighter.) It is so different from cooking before children that you become endlessly curious about how other parents do it. You become a voyeur -- a highly domestic, tediously mundane voyeur, with a fetish for practicality and freezer organization tips.

Green Pancakes on Food52

More: Princess Firefighter, explained, in A Tale of Two Gratins.

Most writing about food and children consists of someone telling someone else what to do. But the most rewarding, the most useful writing about food and children often comes from someone asking someone else what they do. This sort of advice you get from this isn’t handed down from on high. It isn’t authoritative. It’s a patchwork of hashed-out compromises, and hard-won truths, and this-works-for-us-but-I-know-it-seems-nuts suggestions. It’s real life, in other words.

I wanted to write about Clotilde Dusoulier’s new book, The French Market Cookbook, partly because it is an exceptionally clever vegetarian cookbook -- more on that later -- but partly she’s been publishing a lovely series of interviews on her blog about how other parents do it. (That blog being Chocolate and Zucchini, of course.) The series is called, simply, Parents Who Cook, and it began because Dusoulier herself became a parent who cooked. (Her son is now a little over a year old.) And she became, in her words, “super curious to hear from parents and cooks I admire about how they handle things.” (Those parents and cooks include, in an inevitable bit of food blog circularity, Amanda and Merrill.)

For example, from the writer Diana Abu-Jaber, there is this piece of wisdom: “I've found almost inevitably that the amount of work you put into a particular dish is directly inversely proportionate to how much the kid is going to like it. This is actually quite liberating if you don't fight it (and I still test it from time to time.)” But also, in the news-you-can-use department, there is this, about Abu-Jaber’s daughter: “When Gracie was around 2, maybe even younger, I started giving her a little bowl to follow along with me. She has her own tiny whisk and she'll get small amounts of all the ingredients to mix up.” 

This is the sort of thing we could use more of. (As opposed to that occasional staged New York Times series about chefs cooking with their children, which mostly just reminds you that chefs are not usually cooking with their children.) To turn the tables, I asked Dusoulier how having a child had changed her cooking. “I have discovered the magic of mise en place,” she wrote back. “I never bothered before (I even scoffed at it a little) but now most of the dishes I prepare, I prepare in several independent steps at different times of the day, or even on separate days. I may wash, trim, and cut my vegetables a couple of hours before cooking dinner, for instance, and when I bake, I will measure the ingredients the day before and put them in containers so all I need to do is mix and bake the batter the next day.”

Green Pancakes on Food52

Presumably, she did that while writing The French Market Cookbook. It is the sort of book that Parents Who Cook would like. It is clever, and it is ambitious but deliberately unfancy, and most of it can be made with a sloth wrapped around your leg. It is vegetarian and seasonal, and so you open it expecting to have seen it all before, but you keep being surprised. Seaweed tartare! Asparagus buckwheat tart! Poor man’s bouillabaisse!

The recipe below -- savory pancakes, packed with Swiss chard -- will sound more familiar. It will feel like a variation on the all-American, late-summer zucchini pancakes staple. But it is better: fluffy with egg, sturdy enough to flip, vibrantly green. And sloth-and opossum-approved.

Green Pancakes (Pascadous)

Very lightly adapted from The French Market Cookbook

Serves 4

1 cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs, 2 whole and 2 separated
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tablespoons dry white wine (optional)
1/2 cup milk (or unflavored, unsweetened nondairy milk)
8 ounces Swiss chard leaves (save the stalks for another use) or spinach, finely chopped
Olive oil for cooking
Fine sea salt
Black pepper

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

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I'm the author of a book on the science and history of infancy, Baby Meets World. My website is nicholasday.net; I tweet over at @nicksday. And if you need any good playdoh recipes, just ask.


Emily S. September 3, 2015
I'm so happy to happen across this recipe! I just blogged about looking for new ideas for quick breakfasts, and these would be great to make (and probably eat as leftovers during the week). Yay!

melfly August 18, 2013
funny, this morning i was making pizza dough. as i waited for the yeast to dissolve, i did a little miss en place and measured out flour/salt and oil, in the event that i would have to go back to a screaming newborn and my husband would need to finish the dough. i never did mise before…guess that is my new world:)
henandchicks August 10, 2013
I loved hearing about your Princess Firefighter again. Myself, I have a Darth Vader Kitty. (Proving you don't have to be old enough to have seen Star Wars to know that it is cool)
Lori B. August 2, 2013
As a mom who cooks with kids, I weekly will grind up carrots, celery, onions & red peppers in the blender. (clean, blend w/water, strain, bag) and cook up brown basmati rice or poach a few chicken breasts for the week on various days. I never do a full day of cooking. I find it easier to just do "Veggie chop" on one day & then meat cooking on another, sauces on another, etc..
Fairmount_market August 2, 2013
Great article! One kitchen distraction that works with my youngest: let him choose some herbs and spices such as cumin and fennel seeds, give him a mortar and pestle, and let him grind away and concoct a magic potion, that can double as a condiment for the brave hearted. Probably a better activity for the sloth than the opossum.
clotilde August 9, 2013
"A condiment for the brave-hearted" -- love it! :)
Kim @. August 1, 2013
I have a blog series called Cooking With Kids where I keep my two girls involved with different recipes that aren't mickey mouse pancakes and cake pops. Even if they are not 100% into the dish (one doesn't like fish), they both get in and become familiar with different foods. It's messy and a super stressful at times, but it's fun. Especially when it's something delicious like ice cream or Korean dumplings. www.DESIGNLIFEKIDS.com
laurenlocally August 1, 2013
Per usual with your columns, as a mum to a 19 month old, I adore your opening. I also promptly saved this recipe in my pancake recipe collection here on Food52.
Nicholas D. August 1, 2013
I love that you have a pancake recipe collection.
Kim @. August 5, 2013
I second Nicholas's comment. I'd love to read your pancake recipe collection!
laurenlocally August 6, 2013
Here you go! Suggestions welcomed. http://food52.com/collections/179672-pancakes
Kim @. August 11, 2013
Love these! So many I'd like to try. Especially olive oil, dark chocolate and sea salt!
fiveandspice August 1, 2013
Wow, I definitely have to go read through those articles. Thank you for sharing!!!
Marian B. August 1, 2013
So I just spent many minutes looking through past "Parents Who Cook" interviews from Clotilde, and stumbled upon this gem from Michael Ruhlman:

"One of my culinary instructors told me she broke her crème anglaise because of kids riding on her legs, and it astonished her that she'd made such an error -- this is a really good professional chef and even she screwed things up."