Today we meet Katy Killilea. Katy is a writer and contributor here at Kidoinfo. She lives in Barrington with her husband, their sons (born 2001 + 2003), and a dog named Butter. She works as much as she can as a freelance writer. Katy loves running, cooking, sudden trips to new places, loud corduroy pants, and being taken to the Beehive in Bristol.
Skill It: What is your earliest memory of family dinners?
Katy: Counting tater tots. I know my mom made excellent, balanced, delicious meals for our family. On the rare occasion that she made tater tots, she would divvy them up as instructed on the label–it was probably 5 pieces per official Ore Ida serving. Not even close to enough. And my sister and I were so, so greedily hungry for them that I would count to make sure I hadn’t been shortchanged. I remember eating the burning hot tater tots with globs of cold ketchup to make them edible faster. Delicious.
Skill It: How old were you when you first made something on your own in the kitchen? What was it?
Katy: When I was in third grade, I scooped the seeds out of a cucumber, filled the hollow part with bottled blue cheese salad dressing, wrapped it in waxed paper, and tried to sell it by the side of the road.
Skill It: Who taught you how to cook?
Katy: I taught myself to cook as an adult. When I was in graduate school, I only knew to make pasta. I would heat up a jar of sauce–I didn’t even care what brand–by placing the jar under hot running water in the kitchen sink. When I met my husband, our big culinary leap forward was smoothies. I learned to cook when we bought a house and got married and got a bunch of pots and sharp knives for gifts.
Skill It: How do you balance work, food and family?
Katy: I am not very good at cooking or thinking while people are speaking to me or looking at me. This is a problem. I overcome this by planning all of our dinners and lunchboxes out on a Sunday afternoon, shopping for the things I need to carry out that rigid plan, and making things like carrot sticks, pizza dough, and peanut butter on graham crackers in advance. When I do things this way, I feel balanced. However, if a home economics expert came to study me, the pie chart of how much time and brain space food takes up would probably illustrate someone who is completely bananas.
Skill It: What meal do you “pull out of thin air” when you come home late without a plan for dinner?
Katy: Spread a glob of refried beans on a whole wheat tortilla, top that with sliced cheddar cheese, fold the tortilla in half, and cook that in a hot skillet with some olive oil. Serve with avocado slices and carrot sticks or an apple. I buy Whole Foods canned refried beans by the case. I want to marry them.
Skill It: What is your favorite comfort food? Is it a family recipe?
Katy: Peanut butter and banana sandwiches on squishy whole wheat bread. This is a family recipe in that my grandmother taught me to keep the peanut butter thick all the way to the edges of the crust.
Skill It: As a parent, what one dish have you learned will bring the whole family running to the dinner table?
Katy: Things that each person can customize are favorites: crepes with combinations of Nutella, banana, jam, brie, and spinach; taco bar; design your own pizza; tortellini with roasted vegetables or marinara sauce or olives, tomatoes, and arugula; a Buddha bowl of rice fried tofu or stir-fried beef, assorted vegetables, or peanut sauce; tomato soup with a baguette and assorted cheeses and fruits. But the main thing is to let them get hungry enough so they don’t have the energy to think of how things might have been.
Skill It: Where do you find inspiration, culinary or otherwise?
Katy: I am part of two Facebook groups where people who like the kinds of food I like post what they’re having for dinner that day–it’s very helpful and inspiring. I also love to look through my marked-up cookbooks and my notebooks of dinner plans from past months and years–that reminds me of dinners that worked out OK.
Skill It: Have your children expressed an interest in helping in the kitchen? What have you taught them to make?
Katy: One of my sons is very interested in food, loves to eat, and loves to cook. Our favorite thing to make together is probably spring rolls – an assembly line of fried tofu, mangoes, basil, those skinny rice noodles, big flat dishes of water, rice wrappers, and peanut sauce. The other son is completely indifferent about food.
Skill It: What one thing about food and eating do you most want to teach your children? What do you hope your children will learn about food from you?
Katy: I hope they are learning that what we eat, how we make it, where it comes from, and who we eat it with matter. One of my children has Type 1 diabetes, and I notice him noticing what foods have a bad effect on his health–which is sad, but necessary. So I hope he will learn how to use a food scale and how to be a total math whiz at calculating ratios and insulin doses.
Skill It: Are there ways that you and your family are play with your food?
Katy: When I want to be like a mother from a magazine, I might put a Lego minifigure or a weird little animal candle at each person’s place. We don’t do anything fun like make fruit faces on toast. That never caught on.
Skill It: Is there a piece of kitchen or cooking advice you would like to share with other families?
Katy: This advice is from Ann Hodgman’s One Bite Won’t Kill You. It is important to me because I find it very challenging not to fret about a person with a diet of toast, apples, tea, and Halloween candy. “Give up the notion that having a child who’s a picky eater is a problem. It’s not a problem. It’s a luxury…you and I already have easy, easy lives compared to most people, and we should keep that in mind every time we offer our children something to eat.” Ann Hodgman also says something along the lines of: your life will be so much better once you decide that apples are a vegetable.
Skill It: Is there a question you ask your kids at the dinner table most nights?
Katy: Yes. “Did you check your blood sugar?” and “Is your napkin on your lap?”
Feeding Traditions is a series of interviews that explore the rich connections between food & family. We love the chance to peek into our neighbors’ kitchens and celebrate the work we do to gather our loved ones around the dinner table. And it highlights the memories we all have formed around spending time with friends, family, and food.