Filming My Kid’s Cooking Lessons Taught Me a New Way of Storytelling

How Instagram stories became a creative outlet for this unwitting stay-at-home mom

Less than a week into quarantine, I plopped my 2-year-old son on my kitchen counter, placed a small bowl next to him, and handed him an egg.

“Bang it on the counter,” I instructed.

Basically overnight, I went from a satisfying and suitably lucrative career as a freelance writer and editor to stay-at-home motherhood. After reading countless books and a few stints with Play-Doh and markers and crayons, both Arthur and I were uninspired.

I was also uninspired in the kitchen. I worried that two of my favorite things — cooking and baking — would morph into drudgery because, apart from occasional takeout from our favorite local restaurants, I had no choice but to come up with three squares for my family of three.

Which is how I wound up instructing my child to smash an egg off a slab of quartzite. I figured that cooking with Arthur would kill a bunch of birds with one stone: Meals would get made, he would be entertained and educated, and filming Arthur’s cooking lessons would give me an opportunity to tell a story.

Of course, I’m used to telling stories, uh, this way. With words. I have zero video experience. But I’m a devoted follower of Bon Appétit’s YouTube channel. I love the camaraderie of the staff, the chaos of the test kitchen, and the ability to watch experts cook recipes I want to try from Bon Appétit’s actual, physical magazine. Bon Appétit staffers, like the rest of us, are now at home, surrounded by oblivious spouses and shrieking children. And yet they’re still churning out charming and informative and watchable videos. Maybe I could, too?

I took the inspiration and ran with it. I started filming my child while he stirred a Dutch oven full of beans, licked beaters, stamped out doughnuts, and tossed salad.

And turned them into Instagram stories.

We started simple: chocolate chip cookies. Then, a conversation with a friend led to a gob craving. We made Melissa Clark’s citrus pound cake. Chris Morocco’s yogurt doughnuts. Molly Baz’s Basque burnt cheesecake. Many panna cottas: Nutella; the one from Alison Roman’s Nothing Fancy; and a vanilla, cardamom, and orange concoction of our own creation.

Desserts are the most compelling for a toddler, obviously, but we also just make meals together. As I assembled the spices to make the roasted aloo gobhi from Priya Krishna’s Indian-ish, Arthur plucked a few raw cumin seeds from a ramekin on the counter.

“I eat it?” he said.

It was then that I realized I’d slain another bird: Arthur was curious about food. Earlier in the year, he’d gotten picky about vegetables, forcing me to blend spinach into pizza sauce and shred white carrots onto grilled cheese. (He’s still upsettingly ambivalent about beans, though.)

Another bird was felled when the messages started rolling in after I’d post a story. (It’s probably worth noting that we are vegetarians, and no birds were harmed in the writing of this story.) High school classmates I hadn’t spoken to in 15 years, random acquaintances, internet-only pals, and old family friends sent DMs telling me how much they looked forward to seeing stories of Arthur’s kitchen lessons. Just like my idols from the BA test kitchen, I was creating videos that made people happy. That alone feels like a win right now.

I recognize the privilege of even telling this story, here on the screen and on Instagram. “Episodes” of Artie’s Kitchen are filmed in my recently renovated, well-equipped, spacious Pittsburgh kitchen. We have enough food to feed our family (and offer slices of olive oil cake to neighbors). My husband’s job is secure enough that we’re doing fine despite the loss of a substantial chunk of my income. We’re doing better than most. So if watching me negotiate with my toddler over whether a dessert should include pepper brings a few people joy, I feel like it’s worth continuing.

So I’m going to keep Artie’s Kitchen going (we decided The Art of the Kitchen With Arthur K. Siebert, a working title, was a bit much) for the time being, and I’ve gone public with my Instagram account so others can absorb the glee that emanates off my toddler when he’s permitted to use the stand mixer.

Best case scenario, we get a kickback from KitchenAid — the economy is in the shitter and sponsored content is totally not beneath me — and many, many others are as delighted by Artie as I am. Worst case, a bunch of anti-vaxxers slide into my DMs to berate me for how I feed my child and claim sugar is poison.

The internet is no place for optimism, but I’m really hoping for the sponsorships.

Artie’s Panna Cotta

Time: 25 minutes–2 hours, depending on whether you have to supervise a toddler, plus chilling
Serves: That’s really not for me to say

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin powder (about half of a quarter-ounce packet)*
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk plain yogurt (not Greek)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • Zest of one orange
  • 1 green cardamom pod
  • 2-inch length of vanilla bean
  • Pinch of kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Combine the gelatin with 2 tablespoons of cold water in a small bowl or ramekin and stir until there are no clumps. Set aside.
  2. Combine the cream, yogurt, and gelatin mixture in a small saucepan or Dutch oven and set over medium-low heat. Crush the cardamom pod with a knife and add it to the pan along with the orange zest, sugar, and salt. Cut the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, and toss all of that in the pan. Heat over medium-low, whisking occasionally, until the gelatin and sugar are dissolved and the mixture is warm (but don’t let the mixture boil), about 15 minutes.
  3. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a 4-cup measuring cup or bowl with a spout, then divide the mixture among your chosen vessels; we divvied it up among 6 ramekins. Loosely cover and chill in the fridge until set, at least 6 hours or overnight.

* Yes, I know gelatin isn’t vegetarian and I said we were vegetarians. It is a flexible vegetarianism when it comes to desserts.

Annie Saunders is a Pittsburgh-based writer, editor, and researcher.

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