(by Sara Rounsavall)
I descend from a long line of Eastern Kentucky home cooks. Women who made things from scratch. Every day. Not only for the practical purposes of feeding a family in a cost-effective way, but also clearly taking joy in creating and nurturing others. My grandmother made a fresh pie weekly, no recipe needed. My own mother took the time to make fruit roll-ups every apple season of my childhood. I grew up observing this behavior, benefitting from the regular home-cooked meals, and imprinted with the opinion that women are makers. I too would become a maker and a mother, although it wasn’t until my early 20s that that my creative lens focused on the explorations of the kitchen.
Like most women, I had ideals of what I might be like as a mother, most of these images being formed from the many homemaker women of my childhood: I would definitely stay at home. Maybe even home school. Obviously I would be present for all moments in my children’s lives. We would travel often to show that we are part of a global community. I would absolutely make everything—nourishing food, custom clothes, and imaginative toys. And, in this fantasy world, my children would develop the opinion that they too are makers, valuing and appreciating the world that I would create for them.
When I finally became a mother, it was under a different set of circumstances than the one that had shaped my projections. I was college-educated and had spent my 20s traveling, living far from my family and the southern United States where I was raised. I birthed my first child at the age of 34, a full decade later than my own mother, while simultaneously launching an exciting new career as a food and beverage stylist. I no longer wanted to stay at home. The idea of home schooling gave me anxiety. Traveling often proved logistically and financially challenging for our family of four. Long photo shoots would cause me to miss numerous big “moments.” While I do scramble to make most meals from scratch, Target and hand-me-downs have clothed my children since birth.
I have happily accepted that reality is very different than ideals and projections. I am learning that children are born with their own personalities and preferences. My seven- and five-year-olds would choose Doritos over kale chips any day. And anything made by Mattel makes handmade toys look paltry.
I think I have navigated many chapters of motherhood with grace, or at least humor. I am finding that parenthood is a continuous lesson in letting go, and often times about doing less. But there is one fantasy I intend to make a reality: Teaching my children the ways of the kitchen and the joys and necessities of healthful foods. This one is personal. The same women I honor, the ones who helped shape my forever love of food, are now aging adults with numerous ailments and diseases, in part due to their Eastern Kentucky diets. And while I have actively chosen a more nutritious culinary path, I have inherited the same genes. And so have my daughters. In my mind, helping my girls develop broad palates and showing them how to prepare foods are non-negotiable. But I have struggled with how to include them into the kitchen practice. With elementary aged children, almost all of our meals are prepared under tight time restrictions. They have helped with weekend baking and observed me on sets, but much of the real meal prep involves knife work and gas flames, which are not completely age appropriate yet.
Much to my surprise, my daughters developed a game that ultimately allowed us to create together. It’s called Kitchen. The idea is to gather small gems from nature—fallen flowers, leaves, twigs, and stones—to arrange into beautiful and (in our imaginations) delicious “meals.” They ride their bikes through our neighborhood looking for any organic treasure that has fallen to the ground. They call this grocery shopping. I supply the bowls and spoons; they mix and match ingredients, being mindful to “eat the rainbow, Mommy.” Simple play, yet full of profound lessons.
Observing this type of play, I realized they were emulating my own kitchen practices. And it showed me that while they are not able to truly assist in meal prep, the ideals of making are being revealed. Lessons are being absorbed that one day will be utilized, a developed intuition that I hope they will one day trust and not question. The seeds have been planted, and time will tell how the information will be applied.
The moral I have wanted to impart to my girls is being received through exposure and observation, just as I learned from my mother, aunts, and grandmothers. While time with one’s children passes so quickly, I am experiencing that the teachings in life are taken in at a much slower rate. My girls see that there is great joy in working hard and providing for others, that food is wondrous, and that they are indeed makers. Passing on that type of self-satisfaction and nurturing it from a young age is a gift my girls will carry forever.
Sara Rounsavall is a food and beverage stylist based in Louisville, Kentucky, where she lives with her painter husband, Gibbs Rounsavall, their two daughters, and two cats. She can be found at www.sararounsavall.com and @sararounsavall.
This is a current staple in our household, developed and tweaked over the last 15 years. I make a version of the recipe at least once a week, twice a week if I am honest. And often it’s a double batch. The directions below will allow you to make a base recipe that can be varied for personal preference in so many different ways. My daughters prefer it made exactly this way, served warm and topped with cold whole milk vanilla yogurt, which they stir in to cool the oatmeal down. I prefer mine to be topped with a large scoop of full-fat Greek yogurt, sliced almonds, a handful of any berries or stone fruit and a swirl of honey.
2 c. old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick or instant or steel cut oats)
1 T. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1 t. flax seeds
1 t. chia seeds
1/2 c. shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 t. kosher salt
2 c. milk (or milk alternative)
honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar, to taste
full fat vanilla yogurt
banana, sliced thin
Combine oats, cinnamon, ginger, flax seeds, chia seeds, coconut, and salt in a Dutch oven, and stir to mix well.
Add milk, and stir to combine well.
Place over high heat, stirring occasionally, just until milk begins to pop and boil.
Reduce heat to low, and continue to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently to keep oats from sticking to the bottom.
Turn heat off, give one good stir, and cover with lid.
Let mixture sit undisturbed for 20 minutes or longer (i.e., take a shower, keep drinking coffee, pack school lunches)
Stir before serving, topped with honey or other sweetener, yogurt, and fruit.