Say Cheese!

“I believe the children are our future…” sing it Whitney! One of the greatest things about children is their lack of inhibition. I mean look at that picture, the child is not worried that his eyes are closed or that he’s not in focus. (It was too early in the morning for my ego to kick in, so I played along and didn’t care what I looked like either.) The photographer says, “Say Cheese!” and that is exactly what he does. Kids are not afraid to look silly. Emotions are on full blast. Sadness is heart breaking, joy is exuberant, fear is magnified to the ‘enth power, and having fun is the only goal in life. Children are some of our greatest teachers.

I am lucky to have many incredible children in my life, and they all belong to parents that hold special places in my heart. One particular 4 year old, Aidan, and his mother Amy came to stay with me last week and this little guy is extra special because I helped bring all of his 4 lbs 15 ounces into this world. I gave Aidan his very first bath in the hospital, which to this day remains one of the greatest miracles in which I’ve ever participated. In hosting this mother and son, I was schooled by this tiny human on how to live life.

Lessons From A Four Year Old That Apply To Being An Adult 

Say what you mean. Don’t exaggerate, don’t tease, don’t assume, don’t be passive/aggressive. Words are taken at face value. There’s a Sondheim song from Into The Woods called ‘Children Will Listen’ that I just love. Truer words were never sung.

Careful the things you say,

Children will listen.

Careful the things you do,

Children will see and learn.

Raise your stakes. Children speak and move with purpose. There is an urgency. They are going somewhere, they are finding something, they are describing an experience all like their life depends on it. I don’t think kids know how to procrastinate, the time is NOW for nearly everything. It’s not a given that it will all work out, that the world will be waiting for them after their nap, and that there is a promise of tomorrow. Everything is important.

Have patience. When I was a nanny the first song I taught my boys was this silly little song from the church musical The Music Machine about Herbert the Snail. “Have patience, have patience, don’t be in such a hurry. When you get impatient, you only start to worry...” In fact, I teach it to all the kids in my life. Aidan was no exception. That child can wait his turn like a champ, all while humming that little tune. It’s a lesson for parents too. Children take their time, not because they are purposefully dawdling, but because they are practicing independence - feeding themselves, putting on their shoes, going to the bathroom. All of those tasks need special attention and shouldn’t be performed on a clock. Pretty soon they’ll be adults and rushing through moments, missing the small pleasures of life, scarfing down bagels on the subway and tripping over mis-tied shoelaces. Let them take their time. Be snail-like with your kids, they’ll get there.

Ask questions. Kids don’t have an issue with not knowing the answers to things. In fact they can ask “Why?” and “What does that mean?” on repeat and never once feel ‘less than’ in a conversation. It’s like there’s no ego developed yet. Their curiosity is boundless. Their brains are little sponges soaking up everything they learn and they continually look for opportunities to put that knowledge to use. 

One of the most unique things about children is their pure ingredients. Sperm + Egg = Baby. That little math equation can expand to create many family combinations bringing the children into this world: dad + dad, mom + dad, mom + mom, egg donors, sperm donors, surrogate carriers, foster homes, adoption, raised by aunts and uncles, grandparents taking the responsibility of child rearing, step moms, step dads, and on and on. But the common denominator in any of those configurations is the purity of children. They have yet to be seasoned with religious and political opinions or have their minds exposed to crime, death, tragedy, rejection, racism, sexism, or any ism! Children are clean slates. They can grow up to be anything. Anything is possible, and not just for kids. For me. For you. The future belongs to all of us!

In tribute to the “Say Cheese!” lead in picture with Aidan, I made cheese! This is one of the easiest and most satisfying things you can do. When I got back from India I made my own paneer which inspired me to make one of my favorite dairy delights; homemade ricotta! Talk about pure ingredients: milk, cream, salt, and vinegar. That’s it.  Pillowy and fresh, creamy and smooth, it’s one of the most luxurious things to come out of my kitchen. You can even make it with your kids! I spread mine on toast with honey and a little smoked chili sea salt, but it’s delicious in lasagna and pasta dishes.



Homemade Ricotta Cheese 

adapted from Ina Garten


4 cups whole milk

2 cups heavy cream

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 tablespoons white vinegar


Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

Pour the milk and cream into a large pot. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth and any remaining whey. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days. You'll be lucky if you can make it last that long. Mine was gone in 2 days!