I clutched my mug of tea and tried not to panic. Fear always grabbed my soul whenever I watched my 10-year-old chop vegetables. Her hands were small and the kitchen knife was huge. One slip and… I tried not to think about worst-case scenarios, and instead focused on coaching her through it.
“Slice off all the ends of the celery at once,” I said, “instead of ripping the stalks off the bunch one at a time.” She was a couple yards away from my perch at the barstool, well clear of my germ zone. I blew my nose into a snotty tissue.
“Don’t worry, Mom, I’ve got this,” she said as she held onto the handle with one hand and used the other to press down on the flat edge of the blade. The celery fell apart exactly as it should, and she examined the lacy part inside. “What do I do with this stuff? Toss it in the compost?”
“Not this time. Chop it up and add it to the pot.” I breathed in the steam from my tea and smiled. Sure, this impromptu cooking lesson was because I was sick, but it was also part of my master plan to teach my children life skills that you can only learn by doing.
The inside of celery is great for pot roast, stews, stock and garnish, but makes horrible celery sticks.
If you need a tablespoon of dried Italian herbs, you can’t sprinkle them out through the holes in their container because they’ll get stuck. You have to lift off the plastic top and use a measuring spoon.
When a recipe calls for one tablespoon of tomato paste, it’s cheaper to squeeze it out of a tube you keep in the fridge instead of opening up a can and throwing away the extra.
Use two forks to lift up chuck roast out of the tray so you don’t have to touch the raw meat with your hands. Then be extra sure that you remove the piece of plastic that might be underneath the meat.
Sure, anyone can read a recipe from a cookbook, but there are dozens of tiny details that aren’t covered on the page. Experienced cooks know tricks that save time and money, and minimize frustration. I need to do a better job of passing this knowledge on to both of my children, so that when they go out into the world they can eat healthy on a budget.
“You’re saving us $50,” I told my daughter, “because that’s what we probably would have spent on takeout.”
“What’s next?” she asked.
Honestly, I had no idea. I was winging it, as experienced cooks often do. My original plan was to add a brown onion, but after watching her chop the celery, I wasn’t sure if my nerves could handle it. “Add some frozen vegetables,” I said.
That night my daughter prepared, as my husband put it, “the stew of his dreams.” Maybe I should be sick more often.
Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal. Email her at teachingmybaby firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dreamy Instant Pot beef stew
1 bunch celery, chopped
2 pounds chuck roast
1 bag frozen onions
1 bag frozen carrots
1 tablespoon Italian herbs
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups beef broth
Add all ingredients to a 6-quart Instant Pot or larger. Cook under pressure for 90 minutes. Let the pressure naturally release for 1 hour. Shred the meat with a fork. Serves 6.