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Boil Water

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Basic skills. Everyone needs them, yet many people don’t have them. I never got to know my grandmother on my father’s side very well. She passed away when I was about seven years old. But I’ve heard all about her. She graduated from teacher’s college in 1918 and was a suffragette. She had a boyfriend before my grandfather and went on a road trip in a model T to Yellowstone National Park with him and a group of friends. She smoked. She drank. She used tarot cards and had some psychic abilities. She loved to laugh and had a lot of friends. As successful as she was in many areas of life, she failed in the kitchen.

My grandmother barely knew how to boil water.

My grandfather was the cook in the family. I remember even less of him than my grandmother.  I know he died when I was three years old and my grandmother could not take care of herself. This created a huge problem. My father was an only child and we lived in Illinois while my grandmother lived in Florida. Since my grandmother couldn’t cook for herself, my grandmother moved in with us for a short time. Short, because apparently my father and my grandmother did not get along well with each other. I don’t remember any part of that. Eventually, she went back to Florida and had to learn to cook for herself.

I thought my grandmother was an oddity because of all I’ve heard about other people’s grandmothers. I’ve heard about amazing biscuits, fried chicken, flaky pastries, giant Italian meatballs, and homemade gravy. It seemed like everyone else had grandmothers who were expert cooks.

But I’ve met a few more women and numerous men who also struggle in the kitchen. When asked why they don’t cook, the responses very from “I don’t want to” to “I never learned how.” I have one older friend who panicked with the stay at home orders at the start of  the Covid-19 pandemic. She was used to eating out every day for a major meal and then making a smoothie for another meal. She now had to make meals – and unfortunately for those who talked with her during this time, she moaned and groaned about every meal she had to make. And she wasn’t making any 5-star meals either. For someone who actually enjoys cooking and baking, I just couldn’t sympathize with her.

Cooking and baking are for me, acts of creation. There are times when I am rushed and yes, I pop a hot dog in the microwave while a slice of bread is browning in the toaster. But when I take the time to cook or bake, I think about the flavors that sound good to me on that day. Will it be garlic and rosemary, or basil and bell peppers? I am a maker at heart so creating something from a few basic elements gives me joy.

Dried pastaIn an effort to help others learn how to create their own joy from cooking, I’m going to provide a mini-series on the basics of cooking. To kick this series off, I decided to survey my friends on what foods or dishes everyone should know how to make:

  • Eggs, in your favorite style
  • Pasta in all forms
  • Cooked grains (mainly rice, oats)
  • Steamed vegetables
  • Grilled sandwiches and meats in a skillet
  • Salads
  • Pot roast
  • Bake: cookies, cake, muffins, biscuits, bread
  • How to take leftovers and make a new meal out of them
  • How to use utensils in the kitchen
  • How to not make yourself sick from cross contamination (always good to not get people sick!)

This is a good list, but even some of these foods might seem a bit too overwhelming for a new cook. I like to think of a new cook like this: if I had a 7 year old son or daughter, what would be easy enough for them to learn how to cook? I am going to present several basic food dishes so that even the most elementary cook can feel accomplished in the kitchen. Stay tuned and we will get started cooking!

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  1. Suzanne Citarelli

    I loved the story about your grandmother. She sounded like a woman ahead of her time. I was wondering did she ever learn to cook? Also, I am looking forward to your mini series on the basics of cooking.

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