Cooking Lessons

“Not like that, like this,” she’d say, shaking her head and grabbing the knife from my hands. She corrected my grip on the blade and showed me how to cut the carrots, explaining how they took longer to cook so I had to cut them smaller.

“Mom I’m hungry!” barked my older brother.

A pot overflowed on the stove, the oven timer was beeping, and mom was running out of patience, even though she always seemed to have more—as if it would materialize from the fragrant vapor that escaped from the oven as she’d check the roast she helped me prepare.

Mom wiped her hands on her apron. She ordered me to the stockpot. “Try this.” She held a steaming wooden spoon dripping over the pot. “What does it need?”

“Salt?”

“The bacon brings the salt, it needs pepper.” I’d step over the dog on my way to the spice rack, who wouldn’t be anywhere except smack dab in the middle of the kitchen while we cooked dinner. Bode never missed a cooking lesson.

Mom ran a tight ship; with five kids at the dinner table every night—not some or most, but every night—she had a huge responsibility. My parents insisted on family dinners, which my siblings never understood, but we never understood a lot of things, like the dinner time rules: sit “square in the chair,” turn off the TV, hats off, and let the phone ring.

Helping mom prepare dinner wasn’t my favorite chore growing up, but it was a chore all of my siblings took turns doing. A teenager has more important things to do then chop vegetables, sauté onions, or sear a pork chop. Right? But she insisted, she showed me everything. Not just how to cook, but what to buy to keep costs down. Little did I know the value of this skill set until I left the convenience of home cooked meals.

But I know my mom, and I believe she knew the skills she taught me were not just to feed myself in college. My grandpa would say, “Impress a women with the food you cook and she’ll come back for more, even if it’s just for the food.” Not just any women, but my wife. It was clear the minute she looked up at me in disbelief on our first date, “You cooked this?” Waving an accusatory finger at roasted lamb chops with her eyebrows raised, like I had gone to the restaurant down the street and hid all the carryout containers. Right then and there, it all made sense. I smiled, thinking of my mom and how proud she would be—but scolding me behind Laura’s back for leaving so many dirty dishes in the sink, “Clean as you cook,” she would always say.

Growing up mom wasn’t just recruiting me to help prepare the family meals; she was equipping me with an invaluable skill set I wouldn’t find anywhere else. What I learned in that kitchen with mom wasn’t just how to prepare food. She showed me the value of setting time aside to eat with the ones you love, the satisfaction of preparing a meal with wholesome ingredients, and the importance of putting the outside world on hold while you enjoy it. So thanks mom, for your patience and guaranteeing that second date.