Why cook?

Cooking is a life skill that Jeff and I agreed to teach our children.

We both know how to cook and when we are in the kitchen, the entire house smells like a restaurant with a full crew cooking up a feast. Our children know that they are in for a good meal every time Daddy or Nanay is in the kitchen.

Nothing beats home-cooked meals! Nothing beats a person who can cook up a storm to feed an army of hungry soldiers.

We teach our children to cook because… it teaches them discipline and determination.

Take for example the arduous task of preparing the ingredients of Utan Bisaya, a vegetable soup consisting of squash, eggplant, okra, string beans, and moringa leaves as basic ingredients boiled in water to make them tender and seasoned with salt.

Often referred as the poor man’s soup, Utan Bisaya is a staple in our home along with corn grits. We have declared our freedom from white rice for five months now to live a healthier, low-sugar lifestyle because Jeff is diabetic.

While cooking Utan Bisaya is simple, preparing the ingredients is far from easy.

I’ve been teaching Antoinette how to handle a knife but we’ve only used a blunt knife so far to avoid accidents. Nicholas was in-charge in using his hands to “cut up” the string beans. Our first firstborn (that’s not a typo, we really call him that) said it will  take a long time for him to finish the task but I told him that if he wants soup, we need him to help us make it.

He found a way to make this task enjoyable for him. He counted how many shorter string beans were made from one long string bean. It was a fun experience for him. He finished the task with a big grin on his face.

We teach our children to cook because… we don’t want to raise entitled children.

We are just like other families. We love food and movies. We don’t want to raise children who are entitled. I hate that! I despise entitled children who are now entitled adults. At home, we try our best to get our children to work. They throw rubbish in the trash can. They place dirty clothes in the laundry basket. They arrange their toys. They get their own water. They prepare the table before we eat.

Cooking teaches them hard work. That they need to work for the things they enjoy. That a lot of the things in life are not handed to them in a silver platter. That in this family, everyone has a responsibility to do.

We teach our children to cook because… home-cooked meals are way better than fastfood.

Jeff once told me that fast food was a treat to them. His mother, Marie Antoinette Bernadette Grego Ruffolo, learned how to cook when she got married to Louis Eugene Ruffolo. Having a burger at McDonald’s happened once a month. He grew up in family, with three older siblings, with home-cooked meals. You don’t like the food on the table? Sorry. You eat what is served on the table.

I was raised in a family where we were taught to be frugal. Avoid wastage at all times was my mother’s battlecry. We were always short on cash but my grandparents, who sold seafood at the Mandaue City Public Market, were very kind to give us food when my father’s salary was not enough to feed a family with five hungry mouths.

Because we were often cash-strapped, going to fastfood stores happened only once in a blue moon. We enjoyed eating the crappy food because television made them appear so appetizing and so our young minds were brainwashed by commercials and fastfood propaganda.

It is so convenient to pick up the phone and order a bucket of chicken or a pan of spaghetti for dinner. But we resist the temptation. We like and love to cook even when we are tired to do it. Home-cooked meals are healthier and more affordable and… more environment-friendly. You don’t have to deal with plastic bags and utensils, right?

We teach our children to cook because… it’s the ultimate form of family bonding.

Oh the conversations I’ve shared with the twins in the kitchen are so precious. I learned why Antoinette dislikes broccoli (because they look like trees and trees should not be eaten) and what Nicholas feels when he is told to face the wall (because he was rude to his Dad). JJ is too young to be in the kitchen so we limit his task to “observing what Daddy or Nanay does”. The resident cutie pie has handled a ladle before but I carried him in my arms.

Antoinette is focused when she cooks. She doesn’t want to be disturbed. She takes her task very seriously. In the video below where she was cooking the fish dish we call at home as “escabeche,” she told me she doesn’t want to comfort JJ who was crying because she is cooking. She also invited Nicholas to join her in cooking.

Back in the US, my sister-in-law Mary gave me a folder full of scanned recipes which belonged to my mother-in-law. I never met her because she passed away several years before I even met Jeff.

But reading her notes in every page and touching the paper with her handwriting introduced me to the woman that she was. It was from her that Jeff learned how to make spaghetti sauce from scratch.

Food brings everyone together and cooking, the process of making food, is instrumental in bringing families closer to each other.

We will continue to teach our children how to cook even if it means spending hundreds of hours in the kitchen and dealing with soy sauce-stained shirts.