I’ll say it straight out. My Mom was not a great cook. Sorry Mom, wherever you are, but it’s true. And so, in my early teens I decided I needed to learn how to cook. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it over the years. So here’s a great idea if you’ve got young children. Teach them how to cook. Do it when they’re really young. That could be my best advice for how to keep your kids from starving.
I grew up in a house where Dad worked to support the family, and Mom stayed home and supported the household. She managed the monthly finances, kept the house annoyingly spic and span, and did all the cooking. I applaud her efforts, just not the quality of the cooking.
It sounds terribly ungrateful, I know, but Mom’s cooking lacked a certain, I don’t know, taste? Yes, that’s it. The food was pretty tasteless. Again, sorry Mom…
It’s Dad’s Fault
It really wasn’t Mom’s fault that her cooking was tasteless and boring. I blame it all on my Dad. He just didn’t have the stomach for tasty food. The strongest spice he could handle was black pepper, and salt. And, as he got a bit older, even salt was no longer tolerated.
I think Mom yearned to break free from the monotony of meat and potatoes. She had an overloaded shelf of cookbooks over the stairs in the kitchen. Many of the cookbooks were binders of recipes she had collected from different magazines and newspaper articles.
I still have an uncomfortable memory of that shelf being pulled down after one of our parties when the parents were away. Newspaper clippings were scattered all down the staircase, covering the floor. Trying to put it back together in order was an impossible feat, so I tidied it up and pushed all the papers back inside the binders. So bad…
But, as usual, I digress…
Weekly Meal Plan
I believe Mom’s recipe books were a form of escape. She could pore through magazines and find interesting recipes, dreaming of the rich foods and exotic spices. But she knew she could never make these dinners. Not with Dad’s weak stomach.
And so she created a weekly meal plan and followed it rather religiously. Sunday was usually roast beef, Friday was Shake ‘n’ Bake pork chops, Saturday was steak, etc.
Every now and then she’d toss in something different, like Turkey a la King, or pig’s feet. Yum! And I’ll tell you now, I have never had either of those things since! Not once…
Moreover, Mom loved to tie her meals together with certain staple vegetables, like her favourites, canned peas and creamed corn. MMM! There is nothing like the olive drab, pasty texture of canned peas to liven up a Friday pork chop, breaded in seasoned goodness. With a meal like this, Dad’s stomach was sure to be quiet that night!
The Sleepover That Changed My Life
When I was about 12 years old, I had a sleepover at my friend Bob’s house. Bob was my best friend during my early teen years. Both Beatles fans, we would sit up in Bob’s room and listen to Beatles albums, poring over lyrics and reveling in the whole “Paul is Dead” conspiracy theory. if you’re not familiar with that, head over to Google. Or read about it here.
Anyway… Upon waking the next morning at Bob’s house, I was offered a breakfast omelette, created by none other than Bob himself! Wait, what! You cooked this yourself?! What new devilry is this?
That omelette changed my life. It was just about the most delicious thing I had ever eaten. It had complex flavours I had never experienced. And so I peppered my host with questions. “How did you make this?” “Where did you learn to cook?” “What is that unusual flavour?” “What’s in this?” “Did John really say he buried Paul?”
And it was then I discovered a miracle herb that I’d never been exposed to in all my young years; GARLIC.
I mean, it wasn’t even real garlic! Bob used garlic salt in the omelette, but it was enough of a flavour bump to convince me, I needed more garlic in my life. And so I went home and told my mother about my first taste of the stinking rose. I told her she needed to cook with garlic salt, and her taste buds would be forever changed. A new culinary world was about to be opened to her. The world was our oyster…
Taking Matters Into My Own Hands
But then she broke my heart. She told me Dad couldn’t eat garlic; it was bad for his stomach. What! I had just discovered this culinary wonder, and now it was cruelly taken from me. Life just wasn’t fair!
But I knew that if I was ever going to enjoy the sweet, pungent flavour of garlic again, I had to learn to cook. And so I went back to Bob’s house, and I told him he needed to show me how to make an omelette. And that’s just what he did.
A few days later, I made my first omelette. And it was magnificent.
Soon after, I began exploring other taste experiences. I discovered my mother was holding out on me. She had herbs and spices! In a cupboard! Most of them were old and dried up. But it was still more flavour than I had experienced in my young life.
Oregano! Dancing gracefully with enchanting notes of earthy pine and zesty citrus, like a sun-kissed Mediterranean garden.
Rosemary! The sun’s warm embrace coaxed the delicate oils awake, and the essence of rosemary unfurled like a celestial ballet, pirouetting in the air with a fragrance that was at once regal and humble, bold and soothing.
Chili peppers! In their crimson embrace, where upon the first enchanting taste, a symphony of piquant tang and subtly sweet undertones dances upon the palate, leaving an enduring gustatory rhapsody that ignites the senses like a celestial wildfire.
Yes, this may have been my first exposure to food porn… but I was smitten.
A Cook Is Born
So from that day on, I cooked. I even tried some of those recipes in my mother’s binder. Some of them were quite good. Others not so much… But Hell, anything was better than canned peas and pork hocks!
At 17 I spent my first summer working on the railroad. The job entailed living away from home for 4 days a week. We lived in converted rail cars, in bunks. And our meals were provided by the gang cook, served in an old dining car.
Our cook was Louie, a diminutive Frenchman of indeterminate age, but probably north of 90. Actually he looked a lot like Dobby the house elf…
Now Louie’s particular culinary skill was in the boiling of meat. In this, he excelled.
We ate boiled beef stew, boiled pork roast, boiled chicken, and various other mystery meats. Moreover, Louie served it all on mashed potatoes with greasy gravy. My arteries cringe as I think about it… At least there were no canned peas.
Unfortunately, because of my work schedule, I couldn’t practice cooking until the weekends. But every chance I got, I tried new recipes.
And so I taught myself to prepare healthy, tasty food. I escaped the doom of my mother’s boring cooking and embarked on exciting culinary adventures.
Keep Your Kids From Starving
So what’s all this got to do with keeping your kids from starving? Simple. Like I said at the beginning of this post; teach them to cook. In addition, get them cooking meals for the family. Let them take chances and experiment. If they screw up a meal, congratulate them for stepping out of their comfort zone and daring to try.
In addition, I’ve learned that, when you have a picky eater in the family, it’s a good idea to let them do some meal planning and cooking. Zachary discovered he liked making some different things, and was willing to try new foods if he was making the meal.
It took me too many years to discover this. I was too busy worrying about what to make for dinner that my kids would eat. And so I missed an opportunity to get my own children involved in the meal planning and preparing.
But now I have a daughter who tells me regularly, “Dad, you need to put more garlic in!”
She’s probably right. Garlic really is the best…