Written and developed by Cathy Collins

I wish I could say my mother taught me to cook, that there were childhood memories of standing on a stepstool, stirring a big pot of something while she stood next to me and helped me pour in the next ingredient. Ok, to be fair, there were a few instances of chocolate chip cookie making during my childhood.  Those were the weekends we would spend with friends; the Saturday afternoons of making quadruple batches of her famous “Chocolate Chippers” for a group of people 4 or 5 adults with a pandemic case of acute munchies, a handful of kids, a calico cat and a de-scented skunk.  I remember making 8 or 10 dozen cookies on a Saturday only to have them gone by Sunday morning.  Those times were short lived but the memories of baking cookies with my mother and sister are still treasured.  They are the stories of our family history that I tell my children.

Alas, due to circumstances beyond her control, my mother found herself faced with a life as a single mother and working woman.  There was no time to be the stay-at-home mommy she always wanted to be.  Mom worked.  My sister and I, at the tender ages of 5 and 7, were left to our own devices. We had to survive.  I guess in a sense, my mother did teach me to cook.  If I wanted to eat, I had better figure out how to put things together and make them palatable.

There was plenty of PB&J, breakfast, lunch, and dinners. Lots of kitchen disasters–too much milk in the scrambled eggs makes scrambled egg soup… eggy curds in a cloudy, watery broth… yuck!  But we ate it.  We were hungry.

There was plenty of experimenting with the “what’s in the cupboard today” game… hmm… let’s see, we have eggs, cream cheese and grape jelly.  Cream Cheese and Grape Jelly omelets!  Hey, that’s not so bad.  Because it is part of our family history, and for me, a comfort food (I know it sounds awful, but don’t knock it until you try it.  Don’t look at the color, the grape jelly turns a putrid gray-green against the yellow of the eggs)… I make these for my kids once in a while.  They think it is a wonderful treat!  I tell them these were brought forth from necessity, not because it sounded yummy.  They don’t care.  They love cream cheese and grape jelly omelets.

My sister and I can make “meatloaf” from baking mix, beef bouillon and a can of onion soup, an egg or two (or not if we didn’t have any) and maybe some milk or water.  If we were lucky, there was some cheese to toss in.  Ok, so no meat, but pour it in a loaf pan and it is a meat flavored loaf of bread.  Not too bad if it’s toasted and buttered.  It was what we had in the cupboard.  It was hot and it was filling. I’ve never made baking mix meatloaf for my family.  That was a trial best forgotten.

There were no food pantries, at least none that I knew of and my mother wouldn’t have gone to them anyway.   There were no food stamps for us either.  Her pride would not allow it.  We used what we had.  We learned to be adventurous.  This is survival cooking.

Nostalgia aside, it seems we all have little or no time to cook these days. There are increased demands on our time; work and shuttling kids from one activity to another or choreographing pick-up and drop-off times for more than one child involved in extra-curricular activities. Let’s not forget overtime, a second job, take care of an ailing or aging parent or family member and heaven forbid we have a social life. Life is busy, fast-paced and harried.

Cooking a healthy, nutritious meal is difficult at best, even when you aren’t struggling to make ends meet and we seem to have little time to connect with our loved ones, much less, time to sit down and eat together.

I didn’t want my kids to have to learn “survival cooking” so I did all the meal planning, shopping and cooking.  Dinner time, at least for me, is important.  It is a time to sit down and connect with your family.  It’s time to talk about the day, what we did, how things are going, or just be silly and enjoy each other’s company. We ate dinner as a family without cell phones or other self-contained, isolating electronic entertainment units.  I did invite them to help me cook once in a while and issued tasks to my little sous chefs according to their age and ability.  My kids aren’t dumb.  If they didn’t want to help, they’d ask me how to do what I asked them to do, knowing full well I would dive in and end up completing the task.

Recently, my 16 year old son expressed an interest in becoming a chef and since I am writing my recipes for Food Finders and putting together new recipes based on what I can get from our local food pantries, my son and I have taken the opportunity to cook together.  I love hearing his suggestions and additions to the meals I make and I love that he is willing to be creative in the kitchen and try new things.

The seasoning

Seasonings from the pantry

Tomato products from the food pantries

Tomatoes from the food pantry

My son knows we don’t lack for beans and there are plenty of tomato products to go around.  He has also enjoyed the fresh peppers, onions, garlic and other produce available at the local pantries.  He asked me if we could make some really hot chili with our pantry ingredients.

My answer?

You bet Andrew!

We’ll save this recipe for posterity and when you become a famous chef, you can say it all began here. Check out the process and watch Andrew put his skills to work.

Andrew’s Chili Recipe