- The Washington Times - Monday, December 17, 2007

Teaching your children the science of cooking and food management is one of the real joys of educating at home. I just discovered a children’s cooking Web site, www.spatulatta.com, that teaches children how to cook healthful meals, fun snacks and even to make enjoyable gifts for the family.

This is the brainchild of two women, Gaylon Emerzian and Heidi Umbhau, and is hosted by Mrs. Umbhau’s daughters, Isabella and Olivia Gerasole, ages 11 and 9, who deliver the cooking lessons in a matter-of-fact way, without the forced cuteness of a lot of commercialized videos. They demonstrate the steps for each dish, and the recipe is printed so the young person can then follow instructions in the kitchen at home — with parental help, of course.

The site’s goal is to teach children how to transform healthy, fresh, basic ingredients into meals they can be proud of. This encourages better eating habits, and the creators hope it stimulates children to seek out knowledge from adults in their families, to strengthen bonds. The site has earned the James Beard Foundation Award as a Web-based cooking education show, and the IParenting Media Award for Excellence.

Most home-schoolers I know already do a substantial amount of kitchen-based learning, but this site offers lessons on specialty dishes: spanikopita, gumbo, biscotti, hummus and gazpacho, to name a few. There are new recipes each week, and you can search for archived ones by alphabetically indexed listings.

The culinary influences of the Web site’s creators include the Armenian, Hungarian, Mexican, Italian, Japanese and Hawaiian cultures, but they have sought out the tastes and skills of Sweden, India, Greece and other nations.

Parents still seeking a holiday gift for their children may want to check out the “Spatulatta Cookbook,” a 4-color feast for eyes and soul, which includes many of the site’s recipes and cooking techniques illustrated for easy reference.

Young co-hosts Liv and Belle have attained near-celebrity status among their following, drawing fans to book signings and receiving e-mails asking their advice on safety or relationship issues in the kitchen.

Cooking together is a natural way to learn math or science, but it also continues family traditions, and creates the opportunity to pass on one’s cultural and religious heritage. Mrs. Emerzian remembers her childhood, standing on a chair in front of mixing bowls full of the complex ingredients used in Armenian cuisine, while her grandmother and four aunts all worked on the various parts of the meal preparations, telling stories about their family as they worked.

Holidays and religious festivities are a key time to share the history and values cherished by the family. My children delight in the preparation of holiday meals, despite it being sometimes arduous. We reminisce over the time we inadvertently left the sugar out of the pumpkin pies, creating a sort of spicy pumpkin quiche. I pass on the family dishes I learned in my youth, but they also learn how to make Japanese dishes from their dad. There’s a lot of singing, dancing and joking as we cook.

Honestly, my children don’t remember many of the presents they received over the years, but they always remember creating meals together as a family, the stories told, and the customs followed. Cooking together helps pass on the tastes, skills and history of a family, wrapping children in a warm and loving network of connectedness.

Spatulatta.com helps children learn kitchen competency, and it helps parents share their culinary legacy.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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