Now I'm cooking!
Growing up I was given many chores around the house. Father made sure I mowed and raked the lawns, shoveled the snow, split and stacked the winter wood supply. A good boy was one who didn't have so much free time on his hands he would get into trouble.
Mother added to the list of chores and thus ensured that I knew how to do dishes, wash floors, clean the bathroom, wash, iron, and fold clothes.
Missing from my list of chores, and thus from my life lessons, were any responsibilities for cooking. When I was growing up that was the last barrier that wasn't crossed. Women cooked. Men didn't. And thus I entered adulthood without even the ability to boil water.
The woman I married came from a poor background. She had eleven brothers and sisters, Hand-me-downs were her lot in life and there was never much in her life in the way of new or shiny. Our new apartment and our new furniture her pride and joy and I was banned from her kitchen. The kitchen was all hers and cooking was her job. Another learning opportunity for me passed.
Thus, when my ex and I separated I found myself 38 years old and totally unable to cook. Single and on my own again I made a few attempts and quickly gave up. Close friends owned a 4-Star restaurant and my parents, brother, and sister would invite me to dinner. Between restaurants and invites I never needed to cook. Nor, after a while, did I have any more desire to learn. In addition to anything I cooked tasting like shit, I simply hated eating alone. Eating with family, even eating in a restaurant with a book as company was better than sitting down to a meal alone.
Of course, I live in northern Canada and not every winter evening is conducive to going out and occasionally I would get home from work and not want to go back out. I kept the house stocked with cheese and crackers for those occasions and eventually learned the benefits of Hamburger Helper. Italian Hamburger Helper and an excellent Chili were the extent of my culinary repertoire for years and years. Thank God for my family and the Chow family and their world class restaurant. Without them I would have starved to death.
When Tess and I started to live together it soon became clear that my free wheeling days of dining out were over. Spending hundreds of dollars a month on dining in restaurants was too much for a very frugal Asian who had literally grown up in a bamboo hut. Tess took over the cooking chores and I looked after clean up. Of course Tess being Asian meant that we were mostly going to eat Asian and that was foreign enough to me, so to speak, that I took an interest in what she was doing. Lo and hehold, I learned to cook several Asian dishes and to cook them very well. Old dogs can, it seems, learn new tricks. Having abandoned Hamburger Helper those Asian dishes and my Chili were the new extent of my cooking skills and when Tess and I painfully decided not to live together any longer it was back to depending on family and restaurants for me except on the coldest of snowy winter nights when I would do a stir fry or something.
Over the years mother being the necessity and all that, I have learned a few more dishes and can fend for myself. Although I am never going to be a good cook, I can put enough meals on the table that I am never going to starve and I am able to eat something that is actually fairly tasty.
My father is another who were raised in a generation when men were simply not taught to cook. He can make a wicked good clam or fish chowder and he can toss noodles into a pot but that is all.
With my mother turned right off food and not eating, not even wanting to be in the kitchen, Dad was falling on hard times. Watching one of them starve to death was enough so I stepped up to the plate, no pun intended, and have begun preparing Dad's meals.
Mother has begun to feel quite a bit better since getting out of hospital and while she is mostly just 'grazing' she is at least eating a bit again and I have also been cooking the odd thing for her as well.
All of this is stepping way out on a limb, way out of my comfort zone for me. I love my parents dearly and I would do anything for them and I will continue to do so as long as they can choke down what I present them. I am learning a whole new set of skills but I am not entirely on my own. My mother will offer tips from her throne in the living room. So far everyone is still eating, no one has been poisoned and I haven't burnt anything.
I confess, however, to moments of panic. Timing is difficult. I never realized the art mothers all over the world had mastered of having three or four dishes be done all at the same time. Or the art of multi-tasking required to be cooking three and four things all at the same time. I have a whole new respect for cooks everywhere.
My biggest problem right now is learning enough recipes so that we are not eating the same meal every 4 days. I only know about a dozen meal plans (excepting Asian which my folks are not too fond of).
So, I am appealing to you, dear readers. I am currently looking for 'meal in a casserole' recipes. Something along the lines of "throw two chicken breasts in a glass dish, add two potatoes, this, that the other, and bake for X amount of time at Y degrees." You know? Something easy and basic. Cooking for dummies. But something that is tasty and nutritious.
You help will be greatly appreciated by those I have to feed!
(Originally posted to Multiply November 2, 2008)