Cooking and Other Lessons


My very first cooking lesson must have happened somewhere around the age of four or five. I remember it clearly. It wasn’t really cooking; it was more like a lesson in how to use the stove. But I was thrilled for the opportunity to learn how to make my favorite lunch- Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. I know. Gross. But as a kid I loved that creamy mushroom sauce with a whole sleeve of saltines crushed into it.

I had to push a chair up to the stove in order to execute the plan (under close supervision from my mom, of course). I am sure I was a failure with the can opener. It still outsmarts me on a regular basis. I know there weren’t any pop tops on soup cans in 1980, but there should have been. It’s not as if the technology didn’t exist.

But who am I kidding? You should have seen my childhood soda can disasters (that’s pop for my Michigan friends). Eventually I overcame that. I still buy canned soda- but you will never catch me with an old school soup can. I don’t care if it’s twenty cents cheaper. In over 140 years, the only improvements to can opening have been electric can droppers and pop tops. You might also be surprised to know how long canned foods existed before a can opener was even invented. Let’s just say it was a long time.

So I emptied the contents into a pan, scraping the sides with a butter knife to get every last bit out. Then I filled the empty can with tap water- a genius revelation. It was so perfect, I thought. This was something I could remember. No fancy measurements to hassle with; which was great, since we didn’t cover that kind of math until the second grade.

Then came the serious part: Turning on the heat. (Are you guys writing this down?)

It was an electric oven, so it was almost impossible to fail. I was nervous anyway. As it heated up, I began beating out the lumps. The frequent stirring as the soup slowly worked its way toward warm was exhausting. Would it ever be done? This must be what they meant by “slaving over a hot stove” all day. I was impatient, but I was also thrilled to have been initiated into the ways of the kitchen. Maybe my mom would even let me wash the dishes!

I don’t say that to be funny. I was really into dish washing back then. I also played a fun game called “bathroom cleaning” that no one appreciated as much as they should have. Sometimes I made messes just to clean them up. I would smear toothpaste on the wall, then pit two products against each other to see which one would clean it best. Not all the products were meant for cleaning. I pretended I was doing a commercial, complete with clever narration and enthusiastic product holding in front of the mirror.

(You can read more about how obnoxious I was here.)

Anyway, by now my soup was finally done heating. I was proud of what I had accomplished. For two whole years I bragged about my abilities, and I looked for any opportunity to cook canned soup. I probably wrote out the recipe in my diary. It never dawned on me that adding water and heating something was not impressive. Even now I read the directions on the label before I make soup. Just in case.

Some of my friends had superior skills, like the knowledge of how to cook Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. It involves boiling water, milk, butter, a weird cheese powder….I still don’t even know. But that is just a chicken nugget, hot dog, or fish stick away from an actual dinner!

Soup was where I peaked. I couldn’t even cook popcorn. Most of us didn’t have microwaves, so we cooked popcorn in the big pan on the stove (unless you were lucky enough to have a popcorn machine, which I wasn’t). I was scared of the hot oil and that “popping” thing it did. This is also how fear caused me to miss years of homemade fried potatoes. Until microwave popcorn became the norm, I was at my mother’s mercy if I wanted popcorn. And she only made popcorn for ABC’s Sunday Night Movie.

It’s weird to have such clear memories like this, and then realize that these thoughts came from the mind of a small child. I was still so clueless about the world. And yet, I remember thinking those thoughts as if it were yesterday. It allows me a momentary insight into Teghan’s world. I know her mind doesn’t process things the same way I did, but it’s also easy to forget that she has other barriers to communication besides autism.

She has the obstacles that come with being so new to the world. It’s a dilemma that is universal for all parents. We think we remember what it’s like to be a child. And we do- but it’s limited. Our brains are so filled with the things we have learned over the years, it is impossible to really grasp it anymore. Remembering these fragments of our past help us to think outside the box when figuring out our kids. Some days I need all the help I can get.

I wish I could tell you that I became a master chef over the years, but most of you already know that I once had to call Dave to find out where we kept the pans. The last time he went out of town, Teghan and I ate tater tots for dinner. Dave won’t even let me buy tater tots. He makes miracles out of basic ingredients that mean nothing to me.

When Teghan is ready to cook her first meal- that task will be handled by dad.


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