Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Cooks in the Making

     The only time I ever said it was when my family and I visited Norm ten years ago when his kids were ages ten and nine. They were bright, well spoken kids, able to relate well with everyone in our family—confident and independent. 
     One day during our stay, Norm stepped out to run errands, Kathy hadn't yet gotten home, and their two kids went into the kitchen to prepare a snack of instant ramen. They went about it so nonchalantly, asking who wanted; boiling water; julienning vegetables and beef; stirring them in with noodles and seasonings; and tending the heat, that it was obvious they'd done it many times before. 
     On a cold evening when we got to babysit I requested that all the kids put on a skit for Deanne and me. We learned from the performance a bit about the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs.  Braden was conquistador Hernando Cortes riding in on steed Stephanie; Darren was narrator and stunt double Cortes who beheaded stuffed animal Montezuma II. (Fact checking this essay, I learned Montezuma II probably wasn't beheaded. But it made for compelling action, a climactic ending, and who cared?) 
     Later that evening I told Norm and Kathy, “I wish our kids grow up just like yours.” They deflected the compliment, said ours (ages four and one) were just as remarkable in their own ways and Norm said he wouldn't be surprised if ours surpasses theirs in many other ways in the not-too-distant future. I expressed doubt as theirs had the benefit of superior “smart genes”. (Norm and Colleen are both engineers.)
     Ever since, burdensome though it has been at times, we've taught our kids to cook—a skill that doesn't require inherited smarts (or especially smart parents). 
     I started Braden off measuring oatmeal into boiling water (he'd spill; I'd snap at him); cracking raw eggs; stirring powder milk (“Don't leave lumps on the bottom”); making egg and tuna salad; slicing fish cake and spam for fried rice; and grilling cheese sandwiches on a skillet, spreading yogurt spread on both sides of each bread slice first.
     As the years passed, he learned to open cans; grate cheese, carrots, and potatoes; slice tomatoes; dice onions; brown ground beef; and follow recipes. 
     Deanne taught him to bake. Cornbread and scones from scratch and brownies from cake mixes are now his snap specialties. Deanne only twice allowed him to make entree’s (she rarely allows me to, for that matter), however, main courses won't be a problem as he has the necessary hand skills, the know-how to find and follow recipes, and the cook's/chef's end product mind-set. This past Thanksgiving he sauteed celery, carrots, and spices, stirred them into a greased casserole dish of packaged dry bread cubes, and baked them 'till the vegetables were just a bit crunchy, just the way I like my stuffing. Penelope, also in on the cooking act, measured sugar, apple juice, spices, and chopped walnuts into a pot of fresh cranberries, tended the stove, and thus earned full credit for preparing the yummy relish. It is our intention that by the time they leave home, our kids will not lack good healthy eating for want of cooking skills. 
     Which contrasts sharply with the mother of a friend from Texas. Naomi said that when her dad proposed to her mom, his mother-in-law-to-be said to him, “Give me two years to train her. She doesn't know a thing. After that she'll be ready to be a good wife for you.” He said “I can't wait that long,” and they married post-haste. True to her mom's word, Naomi's mom never cooked—all they ate at home were take-out, sandwiches, cold cereal, canned goods, and frozen dinners; never repaired a fallen off button; never cut her kids' hair; and never drove—all because, “She never learned how.” It's amazing to me that she got away doing so little on Naomi's family's small working farm (they later raised imus—“livestock, not pets,” Naomi's dad insisted). I met them once at Naomi's wedding where they were quiet and formal, quite the opposite of what I'd expected based on hilarious family photos (Japanese cowboy dad, rocker son, all-American squeaky clean daughter, and Japanese Roseanne Barr look-alike mom) and Naomi's lively and vivid stories of their upbeat lives (her dad drove a hearse—low miles, always driven slow and easy, affordable, powerful engine, well maintained, clean, and roomy), which conjured visions of All in the Family—type loud and raucous free-for-alls (never a dull moment in the Hasegawa household). It was obvious that Naomi had had a happy childhood so I've wondered at times at her eager desire to move to and settle in Hawaii. Perhaps because Texas was too large (she stands five—foot—one) and/or because in Hawaii she blends in well with her surroundings looking very, very local (though she's still got a bit of that Texas twang).

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