Parents Who Cook

Parents Who Cook: Matthew Amster-Burton

Matthew and Iris
Matthew and Iris outside Kawajiro, an eel-skewer restaurant in Tokyo.

Note: I am delighted that this column was recently featured on Food52: On Green Pancakes and Cooking With Kids.

Please welcome Matthew Amster-Burton, the newest guest in my Parents Who Cook interview series!

Matthew is a talented writer whose humor I love, and who writes just as well about personal finance as he does about food (he was included five! times! in the annual Best Food Writing anthology).

He co-hosts the one-of-a-kind Spilled Milk podcast with Molly Wizenberg, and he is the author of the book Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater, and of the recently kick-started and published Pretty Good Number One: An American Family Eats Tokyo.

Pretty Good Number OneMatthew has a nine-year-old daughter, and as you’ll see, his approach to feeding her is playful, relaxed, and full of inventive tricks. I hope you enjoy his answers as much as I do.

Can you tell us a few words about your daughter? Age, name, temperament?

Iris is nine and a very easy kid. She likes to go to school and we get along well. I’m enjoying this while it lasts.

Did having a child change the way you cook?

Yes, for better and for worse. I got a lot more reliable about cooking dinner at home and serving it at a reasonable hour. I’m much less likely to cook a complicated all-day dish than before Iris was born: I was too exhausted to do it for years, and then once I had the energy back, I found I didn’t miss it, so I’ve gone on cooking mostly simple food. A lot of parents seem to make this transition.

On the downside, I’m probably a little too accommodating of Iris’s tastes. There are certain dishes I would enjoy serving as a main course that I know Iris would hate, though these are fewer and fewer as she gets older. Recently, for example, she decided she likes spicy foods again after abandoning them at age two. Thai curry is back on the dinner roster. Finally!

Do you remember what it was like to cook with a newborn? Any tips or saving grace for new parents going through that phase?

Nearly everything about having a newborn was awful. My advice: if people offer to bring you food, take them up on it. Nobody should ever feel guilty for any shortcuts they take to survive the first three months of parenthood.

Continue reading »

Parents Who Cook: Camille Labro

Camille, Cléo, Noé
Camille Labro with Cléo, 6, and Noé, 8.

Camille Labro is a French cook and food journalist who writes for M, the weekly magazine published by Le Monde. On her blog, Le Ventre libre (“the free belly”), she shares her gastronomic adventures and joys, and explores ways to eat better in an urban environment.

She is the mother of two children, and I am delighted to have her as a guest in my Parents Who Cook interview series. Read on for her many inspired tips! (Interview conducted in French and translated by myself.)

Can you tell us a few words about your children? Ages, names, temperaments?

Noé, 8, loves to read, eat, bike, and roller-skate. Cléo, 6, loves to read, eat, dance, and draw. They are both very sociable, adventurous with flavors as with experiences, full of existential questions, and very jealous of the gastronomic meals I eat without them: they devour the pictures while calling me every name in the book.

Did having children change the way you cook?

Not really, but it has given me structure, and has forced me to cook more regularly and to think of the nutritional qualities of the meals. I’ve set a rule for myself ever since they started eating more or less everything: I prepare balanced meals with a small first course (usually a raw vegetable), a dish (protein + carb + vegetable), and a simple dessert (yogurt or fruit).

Do you remember what it was like to cook with a newborn? Any tips or saving grace for new parents going through that phase?

When my children were very young and I was still breastfeeding them (I did for nine months each), I wasn’t working very much, so I had time to cook. I would place the baby in the bouncy chair next to me and talk about what I was preparing. In general, he/she was very attentive and liked the movements, the noises, the smells (better than a mobile!). And if he/she was getting impatient, I would give him/her a stick of carrot to suck on or a crust of bread to gnaw on.

Otherwise, for parents who work, I think the main tip is to prepare lots of things in advance. Pick one day a week, Sunday for instance, to go to the greenmarket and cook lots of dishes that you’ll freeze: stews, soups, gratins…

And there are other simple things you can do, like wrapping small steaks or fish fillets individually for freezing (you can transfer however many you need to the fridge in the morning and have them thawed by dinnertime), freezing pesto in ice cube trays (one ice cube per person for a dish of pasta), washing and drying all your fruits, vegetables, and greens in advance so they’ll be ready to use. It takes some logistics to alleviate the workload for the rest of the week.

As for dinner parties, it’s hard to pull them off when you’re a young parent… But you can always invite your friend over to cook dinner! I’ve done that often when I was feeling overwhelmed: you like to cook ? Come eat at my place. I’ll take care of the shopping and set the table; you’ll cook while I take care of the baby. It can be done as a group, too, with other young parents, and you take turns playing the different roles. It’s fun, convivial, and a good way to show solidarity!

Camille Labro
Camille Labro photographed by her son in her kitchen.

Continue reading »

Parents Who Cook: Tamami Haga

Tamami of Coco & Me
Tamami Haga, photographed by Andy Andrews.

Tamami Haga is a Japanese Londoner and passionate baker who sells her handmade chocolates and pastries from a stall at Broadway Market in Hackney, East London. She also writes the lovely blog Coco & Me, which I’ve been following for years and years, and mixes her experiences as a stall-keepers with inspiring — and precisely written — recipes. I love her Luxury Brownies in particular. She is currently working on her own cookbook.

Tamami is the mother of two children, and I am very happy to have her as a guest for the Parents Who Cook interview series. Please welcome Tamami!

Can you tell us a few words about your children? Ages, names, temperaments?

My son Issei is nine and my daughter Sakura is four. Issei is a kind, sensitive kid who might tut if there’s rubbish on the pavement and would pick it up, then put it in the bin nearby. He is also very clever.

Sakura is a very funny girl and loves to come up with her own lyrics to famous tunes. She is very skillful with her drawing. And being Japanese, she says “Aww, cu~te!” and “Kawaii~!” rather a lot.

Did having children change the way you cook?

Yes, it’s totally changed! When I was single I couldn’t care less about the “five veggies/fruits a day” stuff. I never bothered with eating breakfast for example. Imagine a twenty-something, going for a pint or three in a pub after work… that was me!

But now, it can’t be “eat anything at anytime,” obviously. I try all the time to notch up square meals for the family. But you know, I don’t find it tiresome or a bore to cook anyway — I keep it interesting for me by trying new ingredients, new skills and new recipes. Just last weekend, I cooked ox cheeks for the first time! I slow-cooked them for two hours and the result was meltingly soft.

The food might turn out wrong at times though, and the children may turn up their noses. But they critique it with me and will always tell me, “Well done mummy for trying.” And with that, I think, “Well, at least I tried” and at least they see that I like a challenge. Hopefully that approach to challenging things and also to keep on trying will rub off on them.

Tamami’s 4-year-old daughter, Sakura (with homemade bear cub doughtnut)

Continue reading »

Parents Who Cook: Michael Ruhlman

James and Michael
James and Michael, photographed by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

Parents Who Cook is a Q&A series in which I ask my guests about how their cooking has changed after kids entered the picture, and pick their brains on their best strategies to cook with little ones underfoot.

Michael Ruhlman is an American writer who specializes in understanding the professional chef’s craft, and making that expertise accessible to the home cook.

He has published twelve books, including the best-selling French Laundry Cookbook and the game-changing Ratio, which reveals the cooking formulas that govern basic preparations so you can free yourself from recipes. His latest book is Ruhlman’s Twenty, about the twenty founding concepts and techniques of cuisine. He also writes an excellent blog at

Michael lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with his wife, photographer Donna Turner Ruhlman, and their two teenaged children. I am delighted to have him share his thought-provoking views on cooking with and for children.

Can you tell us a few words about your children? Ages, names, temperaments?

Addison is 17 years old, her brother James is 13. She’s a handful, but beautiful and smart, fiercely independent, wants nothing more than to be out of the house and with her uncommonly sweet friends. James is a boy boy, loves gaming, having fun, and practical jokes. A sweetheart, delightful in conversation, very mature and empathetic.

Did having children change the way you cook?

No, not really. I was just learning to cook professionally, so I had all these extra cooking muscles to rely on. But I always cooked real food. I tried to cook real puréed food for them when they were little, but mostly what they’d prefer was the jarred stuff. Then they moved on to scrambled eggs and cheese, then all white food.

As they grew and their tastes and dislikes changed, I occasionally made three different meals simultaneously to please everyone. Because I could. Addison’s favorite meal is beef stir-fry, but James doesn’t like it, so I cut a chunk of flank steak to sauté, and slice the rest for stir-fry. I stir-fry bok choy or broccoli, but Addison avoids it and James will only eat it raw. That kind of thing. It makes for a lot of dishes to clean.

Do you remember what it was like to cook with a newborn? Any tips or saving grace for new parents going through that phase?

In the newborn years, try to schedule meal times for when they’re asleep or routinely occupied. If they’ll sit in a bouncy chair while you eat, so much the better. Donna often ate while she breastfed. Many many meals were interrupted, or concluded early.

The saving grace? It’s over before you know it. Days are long, years go by in a snap.

Be sure to plan at least one quiet meal with your spouse each week where you can linger at the table, even if it’s lunch.

Continue reading »

Parents who Cook: Diana Abu-Jaber

Gracie and Diana
Gracie and Diana.

Parents Who Cook is a Q&A series in which I ask my guests about how their cooking has changed after kids entered the picture, and pick their brains on their best strategies to cook with little ones underfoot.

Birds of ParadiseDiana Abu-Jaber is an American writer of Jordanian origin who has authored four novels — the latest is Birds of Paradise — and a memoir titled The Language of Baklava, in which she explores the story of her family through the foods of her childhood. She has a marvelous way with words and a real gift for bringing characters to life, and the cooking and baking scenes in her books reveal a true appreciation for the craft.

I have been in touch with Diana for a few years — the magic of social media! — and since she has a young daughter, I jumped at the chance to invite her as a guest on the Parents Who Cook series.

Diana is currently working on a follow-up book to her memoir, of which she says, “The new one picks up where Baklava leaves off, at the point where I’m about to embark on a path to becoming a writer, and mentors and advisors keep telling me: you can be a writer or a parent, but you can’t be both. It’s about struggling with hard decisions, economic realities, the intersections of food, family, and art.” (I can’t tell you how excited I am about it.) You can follow her on twitter.

Can you tell us a few words about your daughter? Age, name, temperament?

Gracie is 4 years old. We call her the Wild One, but really she’s a cupcake.

Did having a child change the way you cook?

I’m less spontaneous, but also less careless in my approach to cooking. I spend more time thinking about ingredients, reading labels, considering approaches. I’d love for her to develop good, bold eating habits, but I realize that one has to be realistic about kids’ tastes.

Do you remember what it was like to cook with a newborn? Any tips or saving grace for new parents going through that phase?

I remember that when my parents or friends unexpectedly showed up at our door with meals it was like light breaking from heaven. If you know someone with a newborn, run out right now and buy them a roasted chicken! It’s so hard to manage day-to-day chores and errands with a little baby. Getting groceries (much less preparing them) seemed monumental.

My husband and I relied on a sort of core repertoire of basic dishes that lent themselves to leftovers: lots of easy cuts of meat — pork loin, lamb chops — simple pastas like carbonara, stews, chilis. Sometimes we just scrounged — scrambled eggs, tuna salad — or grazed on ingredients, a little paté, a little cheese, a little salami. Usually one of us would feed the baby while the other would cut up food and feed the spouse.

Over time, have you developed staple dishes or strategies that make it possible to prepare a meal and keep the kid happy at the same time?

Yes — all the dishes in the previous answer. Chicken Marbella, coq au vin. Also, I pay attention to my daughter’s preferences and try to always have those basic ingredients in the house: certain cheeses, nuts, beans, tahini sauce, ham, fruits, etc.

Stock up on tons of fruit — especially berries — and always have heavy cream on hand. She’ll eat any fruit if it’s got even the smallest dab of whipped cream on it. We usually make a double batch of dough for pizza once a week and keep half in the freezer. Same for cookies: bake half, freeze half. Often I’ll just bake a few cookies for her treat.

We’re also fortunate to have a good growing climate here in Florida, so I try to take advantage of that and keep a garden. We grow a selection of herbs and have coconut, key lime, and mango trees. It’s a lot easier (and less expensive) if you don’t have to run to the store for every handful of mint.

Continue reading »

Get the newsletter

Receive FREE email updates with all the latest recipes, plus exclusive inspiration and Paris tips. You can also choose to be notified when a new post is published.

View the latest edition of the newsletter.