It was a homemade jambalaya night for the eldest, who was proud to post a photo of the spicy, Cajun rice dish on Facebook for 265 of his "friends" to drool over.
No doubt the kid can cook, and so here I am stepping up to take a pat on the back, even if I do have to give Esquire credit for featuring the recipe in their magazine. But it was me, after all, who had the courage to buck a sexist family tradition by teaching him how to fend for himself.
Unlike 13-year-old McKenna Pope, who has recently undertaken her own gender-equality campaign in the toy aisle, I never thought to get the boy an Easy Bake Oven.
Some might have heard about the New Jersey girl who went shopping for a gift for her younger brother and was dismayed to find the ovens only came in pink and purple "girl" colors. A little behind the times, perhaps, in an era when you can dress Barbie up in G.I. Joe's camo gear.
McKenna took to the Internet and started an online petition calling for Hasbro to produce a product that would be more appealing to boys. Turns out Hasbro already had designs in the works for more manly versions in silver and black, which they showed McKenna after she got some attention for collecting more than 40,000 signatures, along with the support of celebrity chef Bobby Flay.
Alas, my campaign for kitchen equality was founded in an earlier era, when Julia Child was the celebrity chef du jour.
Easy Bake Ovens were all the rage when I was a kid, but I never owned one.
Mom scoffed at the idea of cooking mini desserts with a light bulb.
"Waste of money when you have a real oven in the kitchen," she would say.
Now get to work.
Unlike my own brothers, who were delegated to testosterone-type duties like mowing the lawn and shoveling snow, learning to cook was a natural transition for my sisters and me; an immersion course in nurturing and self-sustenance passed on by the women in our clan like hand-me-down clothes.
It was the women in my family who showed me how to slow cook tomato paste in a covered pot before adding crushed tomatoes to make sauce to spoon over the Prince spaghetti served up each Wednesday. It was under their guidance that I learned to trust my budding instincts and experiment when needed — maybe add a tad more brown sugar, lest the German potato salad be overpowered by the cider vinegar demanded by the cookbook. And I learned that baking was really chemistry requiring you to follow the recipe exactly when baking traditional butter cookies that would be tucked into decorated coffee cans and doled out at Christmas time.
Some time in the mid 1960s my mother entered the work force, so it became the daughters' duty to get dinner on the table each night.
"Slave labor," my sisters and I griped as we tended to our culinary chores.
Even so, I had learned to feed myself — and others — well.
I went on to marry a man who was raised in the same era, and so things fell into a destined rhythm.
To this day my husband sometimes asks, "Where does this go?" when it comes to the trappings of our kitchen. His version of preparing a meal is along the lines of hot dogs and beans.
Manly cowboy supper, I know.
But after awhile, that's gotta get old.
I wanted more for my son as well as the girl he would eventually end up with.
So when he was just a sprite I decided to give him his own road map. I tied a gender-neutral artist's apron on him and lifted him up onto a kitchen chair so he could begin to learn the art of self-sustenance. Together we cracked eggs and measured flour, sugar, chocolate chips and such for his first Christmas cookie extravaganza.
From there we moved on to the homemade spaghetti sauce he could whip up as an adolescent, the shrimp scampi recipe I recited to him on the phone when he was away at college and a chocolate pecan pie he brought as a surprise for Thanksgiving a few years ago that has since become a family favorite. Plus Esquire's jambalaya and more culinary delights that I have yet to tackle, such as the sirloin steak laid over a mashed potato pancake and sprigs of asparagus all drenched in homemade Bearnaise sauce.
That meal, that he also posted on Facebook for all to see, was prepared for the girl he has ended up with.
Michele Miller can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 435-7307.