I know Zoe and I made basil pesto, but we made cilantro pesto the following night and we like it more! It’s a brighter green than basil pesto.

1 bunch cilantro (leaves only), washed and roughly chopped

¼ cup toasted pine nuts, plus 2 tbsp. toasted pine nuts reserved

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (an additional 1 tbsp. if you like)

½ cup grated parmesan cheese (it can’t be powdered or powdery, get the real thing)

Dash coarse grain salt to taste

½ package (8 oz.) pasta of your choice (we used cellentani)

½ cup crumbled goat cheese

Get water for pasta on heat to boil.

To blender, add cilantro, pine nuts, cheese and salt.

Puree/blend until mixture is like a paste.

While blender is doing its thing, pour olive oil through the top spout, in a trickle.

If your blender does not have a top spout, stop the blender and add olive oil a little at a time, pulsing only with the top on.

Let pesto rest.

Finish cooking pasta, and when it’s done, drain and pour into serving dish.

Top pasta with pesto.

Mix well, don’t stop until all pasta has greenage!

Top with remaining 2 tbsp. toasted pine nuts and goat cheese.

I can’t keep my six-year-old daughter, Zoe, out of the kitchen when I’m cooking.Stirring mayonnaise into tuna fish, she’s there. Crushing garlic cloves under a heavy knife, she’s there. Salting water for cooking pasta, she’s there. Standing on a chair from the kitchen table, wearing a little girl apron with pastel stripes, there she is.

Wanting to do what I do. Wanting to know why I do what I do. Wanting to feel the joy I feel when I’m in the kitchen.For years, I have chased everyone out of the kitchen when I am in there cooking. It’s my happy place, my escape. Come 5:00 p.m., I pour myself a glass of wine, light some candles and tune out the noise in the rest of the house. I dismissed all of the “Cook with your kids!” literature because I affirmed the kitchen is where I relieve my stress; why would I want to create more stress by letting my kids practically set themselves on fire in front of my gas stove, or cut themselves on one of my paring knives?


3 cucumbers,
peeled and sliced
1 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. soy sauce
½ tsp. canola oil

Coarse grain salt and pepper, to taste

Dash of red pepper flakes

Toasted sesame seeds, to taste (but no more than 1 tsp.)

Place sliced cucumbers in bowl.

Add vinegar, oils, soy sauce, and salt and pepper.

Mix well.

Top with red pepper flaked and toasted sesame seeds.



We had a nasty incident once when Zoe reached across a frying pan and burned herself when we were starting off with the basics – a sunny side up egg – and her forearm did not heal for weeks. That kept her out of the kitchen for about six months. But now, she’s back. Six months has made a tremendous difference. All of a sudden my baby girl is a sous chef, and when I say to her “Thank you for your help, baby,” I really mean it.

Last week as I slid in between the pantry and the fridge for the ingredients needed in my cucumber salad, Zoë hopped off the couch and ran towards me, stopping at my socked feet. She is much smaller than me, it is so clear when she stands facing me, her toes mirroring mine. “I wanna help you, Momma.” I leaned down to kiss her forehead, knowing, I couldn’t deny her. I had no good reason to. It may take me a little longer to get dinner on the table, to explain my methods as I go along, but I had to foster this yearning of hers. Covering all of the lessons she’d learn while in the kitchen, I made notes in my mind.



Stress release

Sense of accomplishment

Avoiding take out food


Healthy living

Time well spent between us

That last one really got me. Time well spent between us. All too often I get wrapped up in writing, in chauffeuring, in laundry; mundane tasks of everyday life that keep me darting around the house and neighborhood like a matriarchal automaton. There is heart in everything I do for everyone, and I carry on like that is enough, but it’s not. I have to smile once in a while. I have driven Zoë to me; especially on the days where the kitchen is the only place I can be caught smiling.

I do nurture our mother-daughter relationship, of course. Every Mother’s Day, we plant vegetables in our garden. It’s become a tradition. But that is once a year, it comes and it goes. What is there in between? There is a little girl who needs to learn how to take care of herself, how to receive love, how to show love. I braid her hair, I allow her to choose what to buy for dinner when we are at the market, and help her with her homework daily. But are all of these details adding up to a larger emotional impact inside of her beating little heart?

Last night, Zoés homework packet required her to “Compare two foods that have been cut, one into equal parts, one into unequal parts. Talk about their differences and draw a color picture of each.”

We can do that. We do it every night, matter of fact.

On our white cutting board, I placed a basil leaf the size of my palm next to a basil leaf the size of a matchbook. “Take a look at this basil leaf, Zo-zo. How does it compare to the other basil leaf?”

“It’s bigger. And also because it has a longer stem right there,” and she pointed to the bottom of the fragrant leaf.

“What about if I cut the bigger leaf? How is it different now?”

“It’s in two pieces now, but the little piece still looks like the big one it came from.”

“Okay, I’ll finish trimming the basil for the pesto, and until it’s ready for the blender, go draw a color picture like your homework says to do, okay?”

Hopping down from her chair, her smallish hand on the back of the chair, she said “Okay, Momma.”

She came back with a picture of her and I. She didn’t draw two basil leaves and use a green crayon, she drew the two of us in the kitchen, using sienna brown, goldenrod, aquamarine.

Evidently, she and I are basil leaves.

Come Mother’s Day, I imagine Zoë and me planting a basil variety in the garden. For the rest of my life, I imagine us cooking together in the kitchen. In between all of the particulars of our busy lives, you know the ones I mean, the kitchen will remain the place that centers me and brings me back to my mental happy place. But from here on out, I’ll have nightly company. I’ve started culinary rituals with my daughter and that is one of the cornerstones of our relationship now; there is no turning back. I always knew she’d catch up to me in the kitchen, get the cooking bug, it just seems like it got here a lot quicker than I expected. She is growing up, but she is my little basil leaf, from a larger plant, and she will never outgrow the need for her colorful surroundings.

That is just fine with me. The possibility that my legacy could be the establishment of a happy place and its eight life lessons takes me to a place where “happy” is merely a simmer. I’m bubbling over being friends with my six-year-old daughter. I can only imagine the impact our time well spent together has on her.

Smantha Gianulis

Smantha Gianulis

Samantha recently released my her family food memoir, Little Grapes on the Vine…Mommy's Musings on Food & Family .

Samantha is a self-taught chef. She worked in the Catering and Special Events industry for seven years before becoming a stay at home, now a work at home, Mom.
She appeared on NBC's ivillage Live.

Smantha Gianulis GianulisApron Strings Cooking ColumnHome CookingActivities for Kids,Cooking and Recipes,NutritionPASTA WITH CILANTRO PESTO, PINE NUTS & GOAT CHEESEI know Zoe and I made basil pesto, but we made cilantro pesto the following night and we like it more! It's a brighter green than basil pesto.1 bunch cilantro (leaves only), washed and roughly chopped¼ cup toasted pine nuts, plus...Parenting and Family Fun Activities for Kids