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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Plenty of parents try to keep their kids out of the kitchen. So if you want a simple explanation for the success of SpongeBob SquarePants, there it is: You got to find something to distract your child while cooking. Yet for food writer Nigella Lawson, regular guest on this program, this is, quote, the easiest child care option, keeping the kid in the kitchen.

And Nigella Lawson, are you kidding?

Ms. NIGELLA LAWSON (Food Writer): I know it sounds odd, and I'm not pretending they ever do anything like help me. You know, people say, have the children helped? I always think, I wouldn't put it that way...

(Soundbite of laughter)

LAWSON: But the thing is, is I feel that they are absorbed and it's creative, but most of all - I mean it's purely selfish, it's because otherwise I feel obliged to do something like take them out and have a run around or do something like that. And I'm incredibly lazy and not at all athletic. So the idea of having to kick a ball about or push them in swings forever, I mean it's okay every now and then, but most - if I can have them in the kitchen stirring something, even if in the end there's a huge tug-of-war going on over whose turn it is to stir the muffin batter, I'll do it.

INSKEEP: I'm just thinking, my daughter is four and is just of the age where she's riding a bike but not old enough that you can let her go on her own. So you end up running a mile behind this kid.

Ms. LAWSON: Oh, I know. See, whereas you could just be making some cookies or some bread rolls, and she'd love it. In a certain way, cooking is like, you know, playing in I don't know what you call it we call it a sand pit, or making mud pies. But I've always found that if children help cook a meal, they tend to eat it, so I find it a very good way of preventing children from getting too fussy and faddy.

INSKEEP: So now you've got two kids, right? A boy and a girl?

Ms. LAWSON: I've got two and I have a stepdaughter, so I'm very outnumbered.

INSKEEP: Everybody's into their teens now or close to it?

Ms. LAWSON: Nearly. My son is still 12. I've got about another month before he turns into a monster.

INSKEEP: So what are some of the recipes that you can aim at these kids and that you've been able to aim at them over the last several years as they've been younger?

Ms. LAWSON: One of the recipes I've been doing since they were very young has been some soft white dinner rolls, because their little hands were so good at forming the rolls, and it really is quite easy for them to sort of see what it is they're making and they love to do it surprisingly together without fighting too much. And you're not trying to, you know, make them work as a master patissier straight away. You're just trying to make bread that you can have for supper. It takes 15 minutes to bake, which is not long, and to be honest, I'm not a Puritan. I'm very happy for them to watch TV while some of the dough rises. I'm very happy to watch TV myself while it rises. If I can get them to do their homework, so much the better, but I'm not trying to, you know, be like the captain in Sound of Music and forbid play and only have whistles.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LAWSON: This is part of play.

INSKEEP: Actually, our colleague here at NPR, Courtney Dorning, has made some of these soft white dinner rolls. Do you mind, Nigella Lawson, if I just, you know, grabbed a bite of that and ask about another recipe here, which has a great name, Cheesy Feet.

Ms. LAWSON: Cheesy Feet, I know, only - but children like things that are rather disgusting. I think if you said to an adult, can I offer you a cheesy foot, they might say, you know, are you mad?

INSKEEP: Sorry, I've two of those already, thank you.

Ms. LAWSON: You know, so but Cheesy Feet happened because I have a collection of cookie cutters and of course the thing about a collection means that you can never stop, and a friend of mine bought me this set of feet. There's a very kind of old-fashioned English recipe which is called Cheese Straws, and I thought, well, that surely would work in a sense for my feet, and I had to do Cheesy Feet. And that's an incredibly easy recipe, because I use a food processor, and I don't mind the children using that as long as they don't touch the blade, because of course when it's on, the lid has to be on safely, so they can't actually hurt themselves.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

Ms. LAWSON: And it's simply one and a half cups of grated cheddar cheese and one and a half tablespoons of soft butter, third of a cup of all-purpose flour, and a quarter of teaspoonful of baking powder, and that's it. You just put everything in together and just blitz it until the dough comes together. You think it won't at first, but it does, and then just take it out - and that's really the grown-ups' job. And I sort of make a fat disc, wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for 15 minutes, and then you just roll it out and it's a very forgiving dough, and then they can cut out many feet and then re-roll all the scraps to make more feet and out of this, which is after all not a huge amount, you've got about 16 feet of varying sizes.

INSKEEP: You've got a photograph in one of your books here of a bunch of feet and they're all...

Ms. LAWSON: Yes. They're walking down the table.

INSKEEP: Looks like somebody's following the trail of Sasquatch there. Very nice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LAWSON: But actually, if you wanted to amuse your grown-up friends, I would put some cayenne pepper in them. I think it would be really uncharitable to do that if you're expecting children to eat them.

INSKEEP: Are you trying, as you bring your kids into the kitchen and as you encourage them to cook with you, are you trying to teach them anything about how to eat or how to think about food?

Ms. LAWSON: I try and teach in the way that my mother taught me, which is not to teach but for them to see. My father always generally says, you know, children learn from example, not from precepts, and I think that is true the whole of life. So I would give them a pair of scissors to top and tail some beans or sometimes ask them to stir a pan, so I do that. And then more recently what I've been doing is trying to make each child make supper one night a week. I have to say it doesn't always work, but that's how I started off, and rather than getting them to do a different thing each day, say my daughter had Monday, I tried for each month, stick to the same recipe because that way by the end of the month you will know it.

INSKEEP: Has there been anybody, an adult who showed up and then discovered that your 12-year-old cooked dinner?

Ms. LAWSON: No, but I have much worse. As you know, children are embarrassed about their parents.

INSKEEP: Oh, of course.

Ms. LAWSON: And because of that, when - I often have a house full of children, teenagers at the weekend, and I am not allowed to cook for them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LAWSON: Because my children say it's too embarrassing, mum.

INSKEEP: So rather than many parents who might ban their kids from the kitchen when they're cooking, you've actually been banned from your own kitchen...

Ms. LAWSON: Yes, but also - exactly, and I did once - my son once came back from somewhere and he said - they had had something out of a tin - no offense, mum, but it was so much better than anything you've ever cooked.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Well, Nigella Lawson, it's always a pleasure to talk with you.

Ms. LAWSON: Lovely to talk to you.

INSKEEP: Nigella Lawson is author of several cookbooks, most recently Nigella Express. You can find the recipes for Cheesy Feet and soft rolls at npr.org.

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