Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mom's Cooking Lessons

I learned to bake cookies on a Sunday afternoon when I was about 10 years old. I loved homemade cookies and I had a hankering for some that day. I had often watched Mom bake cookies and I got the idea in my head that I could do it too.

Mom had already had a full day. She had prepared our weekly Sunday noon meal (which was always a very nice meal), gotten four kids ready for church, and attended morning church meetings with the family, before coming home to serve and clean up Sunday dinner. The last thing she wanted to do was to mess up the kitchen and bake cookies.

Mom had no daughters, so she usually jumped at the chance to teach her sons basic cooking skills whenever any of us showed the slightest interest. But Mom was too tired this time. Besides, it was the Sabbath and she wanted to rest. Heaven knows that she deserved it.

At my great insistence, Mom helped me find a cookie recipe and helped me get out some of the ingredients that were hard for me to find or reach. She then left me to my own devices. Or so I thought. She was actually trying to help me develop some independence by letting me think I was handling the chore on my own.

Mom checked in on me from time to time and gave me hints that a baking novice like me couldn't have known, like explaining that the mixture would work better if the butter and eggs were closer to room temperature.  During one of Mom's interventions she taught me how to read the recipe and to understand measurements. She later showed me how to measure ingredients.

Baking cookies turned out to be a pretty laborious task for me at that age. I was learning first hand as I went along. Mom allowed me to make some mistakes. But it seemed like she would magically appear just at the right moment to help me remedy each error before it became critical enough to ruin the cookies or to cause injury.

After more than 2½ hours, I finally pulled a pan of freshly baked cookies from the oven. I felt pretty satisfied until Mom directed my attention to the mess I had made. I had dirtied far more pans and utensils than necessary, failing at my young age to understand principles of efficiency and reuse.

Mom helped me clean up the counter, the pans, the bowls, the equipment, and the utensils. Actually, Mom did the vast majority of the cleaning. But I was sufficiently worn out by the time we were finished to think that I had been the major contributor.

By then it was time to get ready for the evening church service. A task that usually took Mom about 45 minutes had consumed the entire afternoon.

At church Mom praised me in front of several neighbors, telling them how I had made and baked a batch of cookies all by myself. My ego soared. It would be a long time before I understood how much work it was for Mom to make sure that I succeeded with that project.

As the years went by, Mom taught me a lot about cooking. Sometimes I even called her at work for cooking instruction. I learned to do fairly well at baking cookies and at making a number of meal items. But I never really cared much for preparing oven baked chicken with baked potatoes, which was a regular dish in our home. By the time I left home to serve as a missionary for two years, Mom knew that I wouldn't starve.

I rarely bake nowadays, although; I used to turn out a pretty mean loaf of whole wheat bread back when I was doing the low-fat/complex carb thing. In fact, I'm not much into food preparation these days—probably owing to the fact that I choose to eat healthy stuff instead of fare that is more pleasing. Cooking just doesn't turn my crank as it once did.

But I will always be grateful for Mom's cooking lessons. I now realize that those sessions were merely a framework for teaching things like love, loyalty, self-reliance, service, and a host of other values that are far more important than any dish I will ever cook. Thanks, Mom.

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