Our new tenant is a foreign student from China. She’s 19 years old and has been in Canada for only 4 months. She has no family here, and is completely alone here other than a few friends she’s made through her homestay family that she lived with for the first few months.
When she first moved in, she asked if I’d mind taking her shopping when I did my shopping, as she has no car. Since I tend to shop several times a week, I said sure. The first night I was home after she moved in though, she came to ask if I would mind her watching me cook dinner – she doesn’t know how to cook and she wanted to learn. I was surprised, but agreed – she’s a sweet girl, and why not?
The next day, I took her shopping, and helped her pick out some basic foods – she had bread, milk, cereal, eggs, fruit, etc. when she moved in, but she bought things like jam, waffles, more fruit & vegetables, a little meat. When I started asking her a few more questions, I found out how little she really knows about cooking – she didn’t know how to use the toaster.
This is completely foreign to me – I grew up learning how to cook. I was in Brownies/Girl Guides. I took cooking through 4H. I took Home Ec. in junior high. I mean, I know how to cook! And I’ve been cooking for more than 25 years, so I’ve gotten reasonably good at it too. I can’t imagine being completely alone in a strange country and not having the basic survival skills needed to prep a meal.
So over the next few weeks, I’ll be helping her learn to cook some basic foods. Scrambled eggs, baked potatoes, roasted fish and chicken. Simple, filling foods that are both good tasting and good for you. But it really drove home to me how much I take for granted some of the things my mother taught me young. I grew up watching her cook, and shop the flyers to get the best deals. I remember her re-purposing leftovers into other meals, and making “breakfast for dinner” (pancakes or eggs) to have a fast, frugal meal. When I moved out on my own for the first time, I bought real food – chicken to bake, potatoes, pasta and sauce. Sure, I’ve used a lot of convenience foods at times – sometimes the extra cost is worth it for the time you’ll save (pre-shredded cheese, pre-cut veggies, heat & eat rice). I still do sometimes. But the thought of having to live on cereal and toaster waffles, or restaurant food – no thanks. And yes, I know I don’t have to do this – but really, it’s not a huge inconvenience for me, and I feel kind of bad for her. How can I not share what I know?
Her situation has made me think hard about the skills I’ve taught my own kids. My 16 year old son isn’t a fantastic cook, but he can handle the basics – quesadillas, soup, pasta & sauce, kraft dinner, grilled cheese (he’s allergic to eggs, so no eggs for him). Not super nutritious, but he’d survive until he figured out how to cook more. My youngest is only 10, but it’s time to start teaching him too. Having some basic abilities in the kitchen is a must, and that’s been driven home to me over the last few days. So I guess over the next little while, I’ll be holding some impromptu cooking classes in my kitchen.
Do you know how to cook? When did you learn? What other “basic” skills do you take for granted?