As with many home cooks, I own my kitchen. Nobody messes with the equipment, the spices, the bottles of oils and vinegars on the counter, the pantry. Nobody! I cook; you eat. On the rare occasions I just do not feel like cooking, or if I am not home to cook, the refrigerator and freezer are well stocked. It’s not that I don’t trust anyone. It’s just that I truly love to cook. I love the process of cooking and I love eating. But, most of all, I love providing food to others and the joy that brings to them. For me, cooking is a gift that I enjoy giving.
Those who cook understand what goes into creating a meal. Before I even hit the kitchen, I’m gathering or creating recipes, purchasing ingredients, keeping a well-stocked pantry, sharpening my knives. Then there is the time in the kitchen or at the grill, serving the food, and eating it.
When my children were young, we always ate dinner together and I usually made a nutritious breakfast for them as well. Sometimes those dinners were rather late due to sports or other after-school activities, but we felt strongly that eating dinner together as a family was extremely important. No TV, phones or video games allowed – just face-to-face conversations about our day, current events, sports, homework, or whatever else was brought up around the table.
Since I enjoyed cooking and dominated “my” kitchen, and since they were active boys with busy schedules of friends, building forts and playing sports, I did not teach them to cook. OK, they were generally in the kitchen with me, playing, coloring, doing homework, or whatever. They were no strangers to reading recipes as they all loved to bake and enjoyed making cookies with me. They stirred soups, kneaded breads, and helped out with many meals, so I assumed they were paying attention and actually learning how to cook.
I had taught them to tie their shoes, hold the door open for others, and solve algebraic equations, but I had never taught them how to plan one meal, let alone a week’s worth. I did not teach them how to determine when pasta is al dente or how to choose a ripe cantaloupe. So, imagine my surprise when the oldest one called from college to ask how to cook pasta! Huh? After walking him through it, I hung up the phone, did some self-reflecting and came to the realization that I had not taught him how to cook! It was not a conscious decision; I just assumed he learned to cook through osmosis!
So, I bought him a silly cookbook about a man and a can, highlighting ways to use canned soups and veggies along with other pantry items and fresh ingredients to make simple meals. I hoped that would be a springboard to cooking fresh food … and it was. We talked frequently on the phone about different dishes and I made sure he was watching me when he came home. I was determined not to repeat the mistake with his little brothers! I purchased an all-around, basic cookbook and told them to each choose a recipe every week. They were responsible for making a shopping list, checking the pantry and refrigerator beforehand, shopping for the ingredients with me, and then cooking the recipe. They were simple, nutritious recipes. The boys learned by doing – skills that have helped them now that they are on their own.
My sons are quite accomplished in their own kitchens. They have learned by doing. I still give lessons when we get together and we text and email recipes to each other. We’ve even taken cooking classes together! They teach me how to make some of the great dishes they have mastered. I enjoy visiting them and letting them cook for me in their own kitchens with their own methods and ideas. (Their respective partners appreciate that, too!) We are now spread out across different states and two countries, but recently congregated for my grandson’s christening where we all cooked together, making different components of a truly exceptional meal. We tossed around menu ideas on Whatsap beforehand and hit the ground running. It was such a joyful occasion made even more special by spending an afternoon in the kitchen together.
This is my advice to adults out there: cook with your children, your nieces, nephews, grandchildren or other children in your sphere. Teach them the joys of creating a meal for those they love before they head off into the world! It truly is the gift that keeps on giving, Clark!