Passing on the culinary DIY spirit - Denny Scott editorial
One of the highlights of my week is Thursday afternoon when I take off work a bit early (and make it up later that night) to pick up my daughter Mary Jane from the school bus. She’s got her father’s attention span, so keeping her focused can be tricky and often means her splitting her focus between me and whatever puzzle/doll/ game she’s playing. Those few precious minutes from the bus stop to our house gives me a chance to ask her what happened at school and get the answer while it’s still fresh in her mind. (By the time dinner rolls around, anything except the most amazing stories are replaced with, “I don’t remember.”)
As of late, however, those discussions between the bus and home have been dominated by the truly important issue of the evening: what we’re having for dinner. That’s what happened last week when, after sharing her joy at the coming four-day weekend and spending time with her grandparents, Mary Jane immediately grilled me about what we’d be grilling.
I told her that, like we have done for a number of weeks, we were going to try something new (for the curious, it was baja-style fish on rice). Ever since I had a visit with a few doctors a number of years back due to acid reflux burning parts of my digestive system that aren’t meant to see acid, we’ve made an effort to try and eat less red meat, which leads to some interesting new meals. From pulled chicken to ground pork tacos, it’s been a culinary adventure in our house.
While I was excited about the meal (especially since I spent my life avoiding fish dishes due to mistakenly believing I was allergic to most seafood), Mary Jane wasn’t and it had nothing to do with the ingredients of the meal.
She was frustrated because she was tired of “making food”. While I’m sure part of that argument is tied to the fact that she loves getting Tim Horton’s take-out (who doesn’t?), part of it is also tied to the fact that, before my brush with an endoscope, we ate a lot of ready-to-make meals in our house like chicken nuggets and french fries, frozen pizzas and pre-cooked lasagnas. With the exception of the hour-long lasagnas, those meals tend to take less time than measuring out, preparing and cooking ingredients for a more home-made meal.
That’s not to say we don’t enjoy those on occasion, but we do try and make at least a handful of meals a week that require
a little more preparation (my favourite, hands down, is the chicken mac and cheese recipe we stumbled upon early in this adventure).
Initially, Mary Jane was excited for the opportunity to help cook dinner (even if that mostly meant being a gopher for the lower-to-the-floor ingredients), however, she quickly started carving out more responsibility in the kitchen.
We’ve tried letting her stir things like rice or pasta, and of course kept her away from the knives, but she still wants to do more, which has led to her current attitude of not really enjoying these meals. She also thinks she has a fairly picky palate - which would make sense because I did too when I was a kid - but she always seems to like the meals when they get put together.
The situation has presented a challenge because I want her to enjoy cooking the way that I do, and I don’t want her to have to wait until later in life to discover that joy.
Aside from knowing exactly what you’re putting in your body (which is important, don’t get me wrong, but I do still enjoy hot dogs every now and again), cooking provides a chance to teach the kind of self-reliance and independence that is otherwise only gained through experiences I can’t really help her with, like living in that first apartment or setting off for that first road trip on her own.
Learning to cook teaches you how to make do with what you’ve got, even when you’re getting to the end of your grocery supplies. It also teaches patience, focus and how important it is to pay attention to instructions.
And just like many other things I plan to teach my daughter, cooking is something you can make your own after you master following the instructions and the basic skills.
Cooking, for me, was a gateway skill. Once I learned how to make things (and I mean actually start from scratch, just shy
of grinding my own flour) I started wondering what else I could do on my own (or with the right instructor) and I hope Mary Jane feels the same way, only sooner in life.
Because of that, I’ll keep trying to catch her interest, even if the only way to do it is to promise her she can make a mess making whatever we’re tackling.