Saturdays during this series are going to be devoted to some practical life skills that I want my daughters to know. Up first, one of my loves: cooking, baking and all things culinary.
My Mom did a great job of incorporating me into her kitchen tasks. No, I didn’t help with everything and she never forced me to help out. But if I expressed interest in baking cookies, I was given a spot at the kitchen counter and offered an apron and spoon to lend a helping hand.
We ate pretty basic foods growing up: chicken breasts or ground beef were incorporated into most of our dinner meals; sandwiches for lunch; cereal for breakfast during the week and pancakes or waffles on Saturday mornings. We drank a lot of Kool-Aid– milk was required for dinner–and I can distinctly remember having some sort of sweet treat after lunch and dinner (usually a packaged cookie, but we also had homemade cookies and brownies on a regular basis).
I’m sure my Mom owned cookbooks, but what I remember the most were her index cards and scraps of notebook paper where she had scribbled recipes from family, friends, and tried and true favorites. Our absolute favorite ones were smeared with oil, flour, and other ingredients that had left drops of love from multiple times of use over the years. I have many of her recipes in my own recipe box and I love pulling out some of these favorites from time to time. Somehow my versions of Chicken and Broccoli (one of my favorite comfort foods), Meatloaf, Baked Ham, and even chocolate chip cookies, never taste like my Mom’s!
As I got older I grew to love cooking even more. When I would come home on breaks from college, I often asked to help out in the kitchen. I requested cookbooks as Christmas gifts and I spent free time reading cookbooks. We had a kitchen in our college dorm and I didn’t have a full meal plan in the cafeteria, so I often made small meals and baked for friends and/or social functions at my church.
My culinary skills and tastes have changed over the years. While I love a good home-cooked casserole, I mostly enjoy French cooking and, when possible, making time-consuming recipes from the latest issue of Bon Appetit or the Food Network (both magazines I love). I can follow these recipes and make my husband happy with the results.
But there is still a strong tie with my Mom when it comes to basic kitchen skills. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. Early on in my marriage, she would receive calls from me right at dinner time and she knew that it would be me, with another question that needed an immediate answer if I was going to finish dinner that night. I bake ham maybe twice a year, and I always call my Mom to ask her how to do it. Why have I never written it down? I’m not exactly sure. But I’m not quite ready to let go of this bond.
My parents are in the midst of a kitchen remodel and they had to clean out every cabinet and drawer. I have to admit I was a little bit sad when she sent me this picture a few weeks ago:
Now, I have no excuse to call her for the ham recipe.
All of this to say, learning my way around the kitchen has been one of the many ways that my Mom and I have forged a solid relationship. I want the same to be true with my daughters. And while I would love for them to call me with cooking questions when they’re in their thirties, I also want them to have the necessary tools to manage on their own.
1. Learn how to read a recipe. You don’t have to be an expert to follow a simple recipe. It just takes a little bit of Math and some common sense to put together anything from a simple batch of cookies to a complete Thanksgiving dinner.
2. Boil an egg like a pro. It’s only been in the last two months that I feel like I’ve mastered boiling an egg. I’m almost 34 years old. And I would still call my Mom every. single. time. There are different opinions on how cooked an egg should be, so find what is your favorite way (mine happens to be with a little big of gray around the yolk) and master it.
3. Know how to put together a meal. This incorporates reading recipes, obviously, but it’s also just thinking through what is healthy and tasty. A good rule of thumb is to keep it colorful, e.g.: baked fish, sweet potatoes, and green beans. And to keep it varied. Serving spaghetti and macaroni and cheese in the same meal is a bit of pasta overkill. It’s also helpful to think through how long it takes to cook each item, so that when it’s time to sit down for the meal your dishes are all the appropriate temperature.
4. Learn how to make homemade biscuits and bread. Maybe it’s the Southern foodie in me, but there’s nothing quite like a hot homemade biscuit with butter and jam. It’s one of the easiest things to make but when you do, everyone around the table thanks you. When we have last minute company and I’m worried that there may not be enough food, I say to myself, “Just make biscuits.” This fills everyone up and makes even the pickiest child motivated to eat their split pea soup. Making bread is just a bonus. It takes few ingredients, it’s versatile (think french toast, sandwiches, perfect side for soup, gift for a new neighbor), and it’s yummy.
5. Memorize a few of your favorite recipes. This comes in handy when you need to cook or bake in a hurry, or when you’re shopping in the grocery store and need to remember what ingredients go into chocolate chip cookies or spaghetti sauce.
6. Be creative and willing to make mistakes. After you learn some basic skills, it’s fun to branch out and try new things. Whether that’s making up your own recipes or just throwing things in a pot to create a new soup, it’s worth a try. This fall, one of my goals is to recreate a favorite Sweet Potato Cake recipe from a little restaurant in Greenville, SC. My first attempt was tasty, but not quite right. But, it was fun and it enabled me to practice art in the kitchen.
There are obviously many other kitchen skills, but these are just a few that I know I want my daughters to take away from the time we spend together in the kitchen. And I would love to share a culinary bond with each one of my girls.
What kitchen tip can you add to the list?
This is Day 3 in a series “Lessons for my Daughters”. Click here for a complete list of posts in this series.