March 24, 2006

Dumbing Down Cooking

I've been messing around in the kitchen for as long as I can remember. My mother didn't cook much, but my dad did. When I was very little, I remember sitting on the counter next to him, watching him cook meals. I still have a scar on my thumb from a brief encounter with a hot cast iron skillet.

When I was older, I started trying to bake cookies, which were usually terrible. I even remember getting my first cookbook, while we were on a family vacation in Flagstaff and The Grand Canyon. I couldn't wait to get home and try out the recipes. I read through it avidly.

At all my wedding showers, little old ladies from church offered advice on cooking and hoped I would be able to handle it. They all assumed I'd never cooked a thing, which made me a bit resentful. I was a pretty decent cook when I got married, but I've gotten much better over time, with practice and good recipes.

Apparently most people these days aren't lucky enough to get as good a start on working in the kitchen as I was. According to this article in the Washington Post, recipes are being simplified and rewritten because people don't understand words like dredge, cream and simmer. I have no problem with a nice, simple recipe, but what's not to understand in a recipe that says, "Cream together butter and sugar"? Maybe you shouldn't answer that, but honestly, I was surprised at some of the terms people had difficulty understanding.

The article was a good reminder to me. I tend to be a bit protective of my cooking space, although The Middle Girl (a regular mini-me) does like to sit on the counter and watch my every move and The Boy loves helping me make cookies. I need to make sure I'm telling them what I'm doing, teaching them the vocabulary and making sure that when they go out into the world some day, they can hold a knife, bake a cake and cook a couple of dinners.


Miss Rebecca is my little shadow in the kitchen. The boys are only interested in the end products and occasionally give a few stirs and that's it.

Posted by: Sarah G. at March 24, 2006 10:21 PM

I've written about how I was underfoot all the time watching my mother cook.

It's the next best thing to magic to see a bunch of flat-tasting dry ingredients turn into a cupcake.

She had a huge influence on my desire and ability to cook -- and a few of my brothers like to cook, too. So it's gratifying to me to see younger mothers teaching their young ones.

I insist that one of the cheapest material things a person can do raise his/her standing of living is to cook from scratch.

The other big one is cleaning, but we won't go there this week. :)

Posted by: Janis at March 25, 2006 09:50 AM

Hmmm. Actually, "creaming" butter and sugar was something of a mystery to my young self until I saw it demonstrated on a cooking show years later. And I grew up in the old days, when girls still had to take some home ec...

Posted by: Patricia at March 26, 2006 12:47 AM

I'm using recipes as reading practice for my 6 year old son. He helps to read them while we cook or bake together. It's been a great chance to define some words like "cream." This is a good reminder to keep doing that.

People often ask me if a recipe is easy. I never know how to answer that question because it might be easy if you know those terms. But if you don't know the most basic terms and skills then an "easy" recipe isn't easy any more.

Posted by: Jennifer at March 26, 2006 04:46 PM

The Husbandlet is the cook in our relationship. I wash a mean dish. I'm interested to see whether Ngaire absorbs the idea that the man should do the cooking, or if she'll pick up a love of cooking from her daddy.

Posted by: Another Jordana at March 27, 2006 07:36 AM

On the other hand, when I moved to a neighborhood full of singles and attended my first group shabbat meal, I brought a potato kugel (pudding.) To which a young woman responded "MEN COOK????"

I recommend all young men learn to cook as a way of catching a wife.

Posted by: skinnydan at March 27, 2006 08:13 AM

I love to cook. My mother was never so crazy about it, and I always wanted her to teach me.

I've picked up a few things on my own though.

We had a party last weekend. I made cheese sticks. They were a hit.

Posted by: Dean at March 27, 2006 09:04 AM

I'm with you on the "cooking space" thing, especially if you're working in a small kitchen. Once you get your cooking rhythym going, it can get frustrating to have someone standing in the way or offering "helpful" suggestions.

Unless it is breads or pastries/cakes, I like to cook without going by recipes, just instinct/feel. My youngster occasionally wants to help with cooking, but he usually has an ulterior motive, like sneaking off with some raw dough.

I'd get into the clean-as-you-go cooking method vs. the accumulation/devastation that my wife employs, but that's a whole 'nother post.

Posted by: MarcV at March 27, 2006 11:12 AM