Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cooking class: Take chances, Get Messy, Make Mistakes

Cooking in any capacity can be intimidating. You might not know the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon, how to know if a pear is ripe or how to safely hold a knife. Simple tasks such as chopping an onion, scrambling an egg or blending a smoothie may strike you with fear. But, what are you afraid of, really?

I have been cooking - recipes from books and my own creation - for as long as I could remember. When I was three I had a toy kitchen that my parents put it in a sunny spot in the yard. One afternoon I tried to cook noodles in the toy sink. I stirred the raw noodles in the sun-warmed water, but they were never ready to eat. Generally, my parents encouraged and fostered our creative pursuits, but even my mother was hard pressed to allow me to mix every condiment in the fridge when I asked her one afternoon.

There are many benefits to be had from developing even a basic cooking set of skills. Folks who cook and eat at home are likely spending less money and eating healthier meals. Kids who eat dinner with their parents regularly are at lower risk of obesity, more likely to do their homework, and are less likely to drop out from school. We remain in an economic downturn and many families have a tight budget. With the drought we've had this summer, food prices are going to shoot up. There is no time like the present to grab your spoon and jump in the kitchen.

"You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces -- just good food from fresh ingredients." -Julia Child

So, how do you learn how to cook? My mom did give me a fantastic foundation of practical skills – but more importantly, she fostered the confidence to try things that were new. The first time I baked chocolate chip cookies, I burnt every single one except for the last six. I was devastated, and thought that I’d never be able to bake. When my mom checked to make sure that the house wasn’t burning down, she encouraged me to try again. I very clearly remember the first cake that I made from scratch – I was puffed with pride down to my black converse shoes. If I hadn’t tried again, I would think, to this day, that I can’t bake.

Cooking, chopping vegetables, meal planning, baking - they're all skills that are developed over time with practice. You can't learn how to do something well, with confidence, until you practice. You didn't learn how to walk or crawl the first time, or the first several times, and cooking is no different. If you screw up, brush yourself off and try again!

As Miss Frizzle would say on The Magic School Bus,
“Take chances, Get Messy, Mistakes”.
Not all of your kitchen trials will be successful – but some will! The more you try, the more you learn, and the more confident you’ll become in your kitchen. Part of learning to cook is reading recipes from books and online, but that can only get you so far. Learning to cook is about the smell of banana bread when it is done, the sound of hot oil in the skillet and the change in color as onions sauté. You’ve got to try it to learn it!

We recently celebrated the would be 100th birthday of kitchen master Julia Child, and so I’ll end with some words of encouragement from her;
"Learn how to cook -- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless and above all have fun."

Reader Poll: Who taught you to cook? What is your most hilarious kitchen disaster?

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