My girls are around me and my cooking all of the time. In the summer, they are no less than 10 feet from my stove as I bake and roast and cook – for 30 people – every meal on our Maine windjammer.

In the winter, any cooking I do is right smack in the middle of the kitchen, which is right smack in the middle of our home.

It’s always been my assumption that, since my daughters are around me all the time while I cook, they have absorbed what it is that I do. And they have, I’m sure of it. On the other hand, the details of cooking bring on some nervousness, and at times, not a little anxiety for them.

For a while when they were small, they wanted to “help” me in the kitchen all the time. The flour would inevitably end up on the floor and the eggs would often either slide off the counter as they missed the bowl or be accompanied by a shell or two. No biggie, we always had fun.

Then there came a time when the interest waned. I figured when they were ready, they would come back into the kitchen with me. Now they want to plan dinners and make meals without my help (but knowing I’m there if they get stuck); their interest is rekindled.

Each teenager wants the opportunity for some role reversal and independence in the kitchen: they cook dinner and I do the dishes with Papa. Now that they are more self-aware than the 3- and 6-year olds they used to be, they fret and worry about the outcome and “doing it right.”

As it is when helping with math homework, the offer of “there’s more than one way to get the right answer” isn’t always as soothing as it sounds to me.

For them, that just sounds like more to know, remember and understand. For now, they just want ONE right way.

There’s a balancing act to be had as the mom and the cook of the house – although it looks like the mantle of “cook” will have to be shared among many from now on.

I’ve found that it’s key to wait until my kids ask for help rather than assuming they need it (a basic tenant of any teen-parenting effort, clearly). I’ve found that, even if they are upset or nervous or frustrated, it’s best for me to offer a little help and then leave the kitchen again.

I’ve found that my daughters know a good deal and make some pretty excellent food – and, man, isn’t that a gift?

Here are two recipes using the ubiquitous zucchini that graces our gardens and tables this time of year.

Both girls helped me create the recipes.


Serves 4 to 6 as a hearty side dish

1 1/2 pounds of zucchini, sliced into 1/4-inch slices; about 4 zucchini

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Several pinches of kosher salt

3/4 cup bread crumbs

1 teaspoon minced garlic

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese

4 sage leaves, julienned

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a 9×13 inch pan, layer the zucchini in four overlapping long rows. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and salt. In a small bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients, including the remaining oil, and cast over the zucchini evenly.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until the zucchini is cooked all the way though and the cheese begins to brown.


Serves 4 to 6

2 1/2 pounds red potatoes

1 large rib-eye steak, grilled

2 cups coarsely chopped parsley; about 1 bunch

1/2 cup minced onions

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 zucchini, sliced 1/4-inch thick and grilled

1/4 pound mozzarella

3 tablespoons grated parmesan

In a large pot, cover the potatoes with salted water and cook for 30 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain and cool slightly. Meanwhile, slice the steak thinly. When the potatoes are cooled enough to handle, cut into quarters or eighths. Combine in a large bowl the potatoes, steak, parsley, onions, salt, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

In a smaller bowl, combine the zucchini, mozzarella and parmesan cheese.

Transfer the potato and steak mixture to a platter and then top with the zucchini mixture. Garnish with a little extra parsley.

Annie Mahle is the chef aboard the Maine windjammer, Schooner J. & E. Riggin. Contact her at [email protected]

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