Proud of Andrew

I had a very proud moment today. Even as parents of adults we get to have those moments although they seem to be more infrequent. Sometimes it takes a little while to get to those “proud” moments, but if you are always looking for opportunities, you will always find them.

With a house full of boys, I like to look at life as being completely unscripted. It really is. Sometimes we just rip the page completely out of the book. Sometimes you can hear that rip in the time-space-continuum. Trust me when I say, “It is okay.” I have managed to get one child to adulthood. They survive it. Trust me, I have almost gotten another child to adulthood. They survive it. Trust me, I have almost gotten another child to their formidable teenage years. They survive a completely unscripted life.

What is important? Someone always being there to seize the opportunities – those teachable moments, those learning moments.

There is never a lack of teachable moments. Even when we are old and grey, there are moments when we might need to learn. If we but seize those moments and LEARN SOMETHING in them, we will continue to be like Andrew today. We will continue to make our mothers proud and we will learn new skills to share with others.

I will be honest with you, I am not entirely sure how Andrew made it to 19 years of age without fundamental cooking skills. I thought that he had at least the skills his brother, Kyle, possessed. Perhaps even the simple skills that Lance has, but something. Today I was alerted of a complete shortfall. Not just in my shortcoming as a mother, but in Andrew’s skill set. He was frustrated. I had truly failed him as a parent. That was not okay.

Let me stop right here and say that there are some skills that every child should learn. It doesn’t matter when they learn them, really, but by the time they walk across the stage at high school graduation you should make sure that every single one of your children possess a very basic level of function on a very basic list of skills. I will get to that list to some degree later, but be assured that I personally thought that Andrew, in all his intelligence and personal independence had mastered most of these skills. He had not given me any alarm bells that alerted me to red flags otherwise. So please do not assume that they “know” anything on the list. By the time they hit high school graduation, perform a basic “skills test” so to speak and take care of any short falls before you turn them loose in the world.

This morning started with Andrew attempting to make pancakes. He made a fair and honest attempt. He worked from a recipe. He did not just take a mix and pour it into a bowl, he actually followed a recipe in a true bonafide cookbook. For this I am truly grateful that the basics were already handled, he could read a basic recipe. The problem was the actual execution of said recipe – the actual production of pancakes. Getting the ingredients on paper into an actual physical good. For those of us with fundamental skills, this seems simple. For Andrew it was just frustrating. He knew what they should look like. With the house filling with smoke and the pancakes paper thin and burning, it was not quite what he imagined.

I am pleased to report that no smoke detectors were alarmed in this exercise. My house was filling rapidly with smoke. Dad will be pleased to know that the range hood exhaust to the outside worked beautifully to help alleviate part of the problem. I was texting and joking with the neighbor to just ignore the plume of black smoke coming from the side of the house. I had a box fan blowing and the back door open to help with the rest of it. I might exaggerate a bit, but it really is what was going on.

I was trying to let him do his thing.

I was trying to not be the meddling mother. That was until the exasperated sighs and frustration became too much for me to listen to. The smoke was irritating my asthma and I had to take a look and tell him to turn on the range hood exhaust vent.

Super mom to the rescue to save some of the pancakes. He was not beyond saving. Chocolate chip pancakes were had out of the batter, it just took cooling down the pan and quick handwork to get them flipped on pan with burnt nonsense. Mom saved the day. I am pleased to know that I can still do that even for my 19 year old. All was not lost.

The thing was that he really wanted to learn how to make pancakes. He really wanted to be able to flip a pancake without it being paper thin, without it burning, without it filling the house with smoke, and without it turning to a pile of not pancake on the pan when flipping it. He knew that he had a single egg left in the house and we were not going to be able to make another batch. I had to humble him at that moment. Those were simply ingredients. Those did not matter. I could actually pull out a can of egg powder and we were back in business but I did not want to give him something he could not wrap his head around at that moment – he needed a real product he could touch and feel and visualize. Artificial eggs were not going to do it. I simply asked him if he wanted me to help him flip pancakes. I told him I could let him flip 1000 pancakes until he was blue in the face. That did not matter to me, I was simply going to need to run to the store and get more eggs and flour to do that. He looked shocked. I had to explain to him sometimes his mother screwed up in the kitchen – I’ve thrown out entire batches of bread, large batches of bread because I just got it wrong. I have screwed up batches of cookies and had to start over. It happens. You just throw it in the trash and you start over. Yes, even his skilled, efficient mother has a back-up plan most of the time.

I asked him what else he wanted to learn how to make. That was where I knew there was a problem. He knew he wanted to learn other things, but he did not know what. I am sure he was standing there thinking “what is most important.” Honestly, I was standing there hoping he would come up with something he liked or something simple.

Let me remind you now that learning to cook is not about talent, cooking is about exposure. Your children learn to cook through exposure. You learn to cook from exposure. The more you try, the more you can do. The more you expose your kids to, the more they will be able to try when they are older. Big fancy cookbooks are big and scary to new cooks – expose them to all these things long before they get there. That was the one thing I did not like about Andrew’s cookbook. Even for me, it was big and scary. Big and intimidating. I mean, really…what is sauteing, really? It is just a fancy word for putting the food in a pan over the heat with a fat of some sort and cooking it until a certain way. There is nothing scary about it, but most people hear that simple word and they freak out. No – just cook it. Keep it simple and your kids will be able to handle cooking amazing dishes without tears and without breaking a sweat. Heck, they might even become amazing chefs in their own rite.

Andrew’s loss of “what to learn” to cook, led me to give a little prayer on the road to the store. I had to go get eggs and flour. I needed a couple of other items for the boys left behind next week so it was not a completely wasted trip. I needed a little guidance. What do I do? I was at a loss. How do I help this child – my child – he might be an adult, but he’s my child and I needed to help him fix this short fall in his skill set and fast. Here he was about to go out in the world on his LDS Mission and he did not have fundamental cooking skills. I knew he would not starve, but would he be healthy? He needed a cooking make over and stat.

So I wandered into Walmart – it is the closest thing we have to a grocery store near us for now. They are building a Kroger down Hwy 380 from us, but it will still be a while before it is open. As I was pulling into the parking lot, the concept of “Cooking Crash Course” popped into my head and the thought “Just feed your family.” So that is what I went with.

I kept getting this list of ideas repeatedly as I went through the aisles: exposure, simple, quick, easy, and cheap.

What was I going to do that would feed my family, give Andrew exposure, was simple meals, quick and easy to make, and relatively cheap?

With EXPOSURE, I went more with foods that he has eaten before and seen me make several times so he is familiar with them. They seem complicated, but honestly they are not that bad. In the form that he was going to make them they are simple. It gets complicated when my dietary needs come into play. I was going to remove those from his equation. He was cooking for his dad and brothers.

For SIMPLE MEALS, I went with foods that could easily be frozen as needed. They were great candidates for making ahead of time like we were doing. They would be simple for Ben or either of the other boys to heat up during the week that I am gone dropping Andrew off at the MTC. I do not have to stress about missed dinners or anything. Ben does not have to stress about the time it takes for preparing a meal because it has been done – it is heat and eat.

For CHEAP, I pulled everything out on the counter and then made the list of everything he was going to make. I explained that he would not be using as many ingredients for himself and a companion but he could easily see what it took to feed our family for 1 week. It was straight food for the dinners (plus bread, paper plates, flour, lettuce for Ben’s lunch salads, and eggs) and I spent about $95 give or take. I did not have coupons. I did not try to save money, I bought all kosher items because of my dietary restrictions and we would not use everything up. I did not guess if I had it, I bought if I was not sure. I bought 4 bags of flour. I could have saved money shopping meat sales, etc but that was NOT the goal for today’s lesson. That is for another day. Today was to teach him to cook. His list had 5 dinners for a family of 5 (which will have left overs) and 2 breakfast items which will also have left overs. There are actually probably 2 meals each with 3 of the meal items (they make that much).

For QUICK and EASY, I went with things that can be made from already made items, or essentially make themselves. Why? This utilizes left-overs, shelf stable items, etc. We used fresh meats. I want him to enjoy cutting slimy chicken and browning meats, but I explained how he could have easily used canned chicken in the soup. I discussed with him how important a can of chicken is to him as a food storage item because it is his source of protein. We keep peanut butter for his brothers and father. I keep chicken for myself and Lance. It might not be the tastiest, but when it is cooked into something it is better than starving. Quick and easy were not always used in the same meal. I wanted things that they could forget about and go do scripture study while it was cooking if necessary. If it was going to take time to cook, I wanted it to be “forget about it” easy.

He looked a little scared at first when he saw the pile of groceries on the counter. I had it separated mostly by meal to make it a little less intimidating. He looked almost panicked when he saw the list of everything he was going to make.

Then we got started.

Here is his list:

  • Chicken Tortilla Soup
  • Tacos
  • Italian Pasta Bake
  • Chicken Fried Rice
  • Chicken a la King
  • Biscuits
  • Pancakes

The Chicken Tortilla Soup would take the longest. It is the easiest to make in my opinion. So do not confuse longest time to make with hardest. It is super easy. The recipe I handed him was not my favorite or my traditionally used recipe, but it was the one I could find on short notice. I typically make a “white” or “green” soup because I am completely tomato free at this point in my life. Remember that I was not having him cook to my dietary restrictions. I did point out that we were skipping certain ingredients and why, but not just because I was arbitrarily skipping them. If a recipe called for onions, for example – I am almost completely onion free at this point and my sister is allergic to onions so I completely skip them if I can. I substitute other things in their place – a recipe calls for green chilies for example, I will increase the green chilies. There are ways to get flavor without onions. This time, we used the tomato based Chicken Tortilla Soup. The boys will be happy this week.

It is so simple to make that you basically cut up the chicken, put it in the pan, put all your ingredients in the pan, and forget about it. I leave the beans out until the last 20-30 minutes because they tend to get soft and mushy if you are doing it on the stove top. I also knew that the soup would be reheated again, so they were less vital to be heated all the way through. So cut, dump, heat and simmer while you do something else. SIMPLE! The ingredients are so simple – chicken (1 pound), 2 cans of green chilies (we used little cans), 1 can of red enchilada sauce, 1 jar of chunky salsa (16 ounces), 1 cup of frozen corn, 1.75 cups chicken broth, 1 can of northern beans, 1 can of garbanzo beans, and 1 can of black beans (which I didn’t have so we left them out), 1 tsp chili powder, and 1.5 tsp cumin, .5 tsp salt. That is about it (off the top of my head). It is not overly complex. Just dump it all in the pot and let it cook until the chicken is cooked. It works great in a crock pot. I have even done it in the oven.

Since Andrew would have a pot on the stove and most likely not anything too fancy in a missionary apartment, I made him use a pot on the stove. We tried to keep it as true to life as possible.

I had him start his second meal. We skipped to the third item on his list: Italian Pasta Bake. This would be the next longest item to make. It requires time to bake.

First he would need to cut up the Italian Sausage links into smaller pieces and then brown them (cook them). Andrew took it upon himself to completely brown the sausage – it came out of the casings. I envisioned meatballs. He browned it like bulk sausage. It works. I normally would have bought bulk sausage anyway but they were out.

The ingredients list for Italian Pasta Bake are simple: Italian Sausage, Pasta Sauce, Water, Pasta, and cheese. I try to always have 2 jars of pasta sauce on hand just in case. Sometimes 1 is not quite enough and you end up with hard pasta. I did not want a failure. I wanted a complete success.

Drain your fat off your sausage and put it in your casserole dish (a 13×9 works if that is all you have). Pour in your box of pasta – rotini, ziti, etc. I like the spiral pasta as it cooks faster. Macaroni noodles work just fine if that is all you have. Nothing fancy. We are talking a box of pasta costs $1 on average. Pour your jar of pasta over the top of your pasta. This is your standard sized jar. You can use the can of pasta sauce. I believe Heinz makes it. It does not matter, just your standard issue sized jar of “spaghetti” sauce. Fill your jar with water and add that to your pan. Mix your pasta mixture well. You want to combine the water and pasta sauce. It is important that you have enough sauce to completely cover all your pasta so pat your pasta and spread it evenly to make sure your watery sauce mixture completely covers it. Mix in about 1 cup of shredded cheese – we used mozzarella. You will top with another cup or so after it has baked at 375˚F covered for approximately 25-30 minutes and then bake for an additional 10 minutes to melt the topping cheese. Make sure your pasta is cooked at the 25-30 minute mark.

Next we were making tacos. Now I cheat and use fancy Penzeys Chicken Taco Seasoning for my tacos. I have my reasons. I spice them up a little bit with a couple of green chilies too. My kids really do not know what “plain tacos” are even though we have started doing almost weekly “Taco Tuesday” the past several months. I change it up and we do all sorts of taco varieties.

I wanted Andrew to know that tacos are EASY! You brown your meat and season it.

Can he brown lean meat? He can now. He can brown super lean – 93% lean ground beef.

Why so lean when he’s not likely to buy that on his mission on his meager mission budget? Well because I was buying the meat and I don’t like draining the blasted fat off the meat. I have only bought anything fattier than that for very rare occasions since I had my gallbladder removed in December 2008 so I buy 90% or leaner for my health. I pass those benefits onto my family. My guess is that my kids would buy that if they were to consistently go shopping with me. They would notice the difference if they paid closer attention to it.

The point is, Andrew can brown lean ground beef. He can brown seasoned lean ground beef.

Andrew successfully made his third meal today. Taco meat is done!

There is actually enough taco meat here for probably two meals. I like it. The boys like to eat it for lunches. Left overs are good! I love leftovers when it comes to growing teenage boys! They don’t last long.

Next Andrew had to prep for the next meal. Chicken Fried Rice has become somewhat of a tradition at our house. We do it almost every Sunday. It is quick and easy to make. It feeds a ton of people. The kids found that they love it as long as I leave the peas out of it.

I am more like Andrew, I am not too thrilled with the “prep work” for it. I honestly, do not like chopping the carrots and celery for it. It just is not a whole lot of fun. The good news is that Andrew does know how to use a large knife without cutting himself. Confession: I did not have any doubts at this point in his life.

So I have to confess that I had to chuckle at this picture. Andrew’s shirt says it all, “Tell us how we’re doing.” Andrew was doing just fine. Remember that learning to cook is not about intelligence or talent, it is about exposure.

Andrew had to cook the rice for the Chicken Fried Rice. Let me confess that I really do not like cooking rice on the stove top. I am lazy. I have a microwave rice cooker. I cook all my rice in the microwave. It is not any faster. It is just easier. That being said, however, the point was to keep it real life for him. Unless he wandered into a store that sold microwave rice cookers, he was not going to have one and he was going to have to cook rice on the stove with a pot (with a lid). 

Helpful tip: teach your kids to read the directions through so that they understand what they are supposed to be doing. Rice directions are important.

Andrew is on the last step of the Chicken Fried Rice. I am not sure what the look was for. I was taking his picture. He was not thrilled about that. These moments will be documented forever. Grin.

I am pleased to announce that he only made a little bit of a mess mixing all that stuff together in the pan. Sometimes I cannot say the same. In all fairness, I am usually making twice as much (or more). He got it all mixed up and ready to go. He did good.

I think this is the most relaxed I saw him in the entire process. This is what I wanted to see. He can do this. I think by this time he realized that he could do it too.

Proof that he successfully cooked rice. Nothing burned to the pan! Success on his first try.

Andrew’s first Italian Pasta Bake. I will confess that it looks absolutely delicious. It is too bad that it is too much of everything I cannot have for me to even try it. It is beautiful! It smells wonderful.

You will see that I had already bagged up the other things behind the pot. I had containers out ready to go for the soup and whatnot.

Andrew’s finished pot of Chicken Tortilla Soup. This is Lance’s favorite soup. It is actually the only soup that Lance likes. Lance will be very happy this week. The fact that Andrew made it for him will make it all the more special.

So you will see that we did not get to everything on the list. Andrew was meeting his father at the Temple that evening. He still needed a haircut. He had been at it for a few hours. I had to let him go.

The good news is that he successfully made enough for his brothers and father to eat while I am gone. It eased his stress and worry and it eased my stress and worry. It also eases his father’s stress and burden. You know the old adage, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” It is true. You should always find that silver lining in things. Andrew may not be an expert chef. He may not be able to handle the next pancake challenge – yet – but he won’t be scared of the next kitchen fiasco. He certainly won’t he afraid to make pasta bake. That was easy. Tacos. Yes, he can do that. He can even do rice now.

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