I was never taught how to cook, nor did I have the urge to learn until later in life.
My mother preferred to shield us from too many household chores, letting kids be kids and all that, and I suspect after a full day at work it was easier for her to just do it herself.
Unfortunately, as a young adult, this left me unprepared for meals beyond breakfast — which served as dinner many a night.
Without fast food, bacon and eggs, Kraft dinner, pizza pops and frozen french fries, I’m not sure what I would have survived on.
Despite this limited repertoire, I still didn’t learn to cook until much later in life and found it a miracle to watch people pull together multi-dish Christmas dinners.
How the potatoes, gravy, yams, veggies and bird all managed to arrive steaming hot on the table at the same time appeared to be a talent restricted to mothers and grandmothers; I couldn’t even manage to successfully reproduce chili.
I followed my dad’s recipe — cooking ground beef, dumping in a can of tomatoes, beans, celery, mushrooms, onion and a bit of chili powder. Yet after stirring it together and immediately dishing it out, my roommate and I couldn’t understand why it tasted so bad.
I eventually learned like many good things, most food needs time to achieve its full potential, something obvious to anyone with a sliver of cooking know-how.
So, little wonder it took years before I was confident enough to tackle meals that called for using more than one part of the stove at a time.
It was a press package from Butterball that arrived at the newspaper one year that eventually gave me the confidence to tackle a turkey dinner.
I still have the four pages of cooking tips, compiled from 200,000 calls to the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, circa 1996. Available online now, it outlines how to thaw a turkey, how long to cook it, the great basting debate and how to tell when it’s done.
Roasting a turkey turned out to be nearly idiot-proof — rub it with olive oil and herbs, stick it in the oven and when the legs pull off (meat thermometer also works), dig in.
Carving still remains an unmastered talent, it always ends a shredded mess under my knife and gravy is another part of Christmas dinner best left to someone else.
Regardless how simple turkey is, the whole meal is a big undertaking, and with so many hands available, what better time to encourage young cooks with a lesson? It is also an opportunity to return the focus of the holiday to family togetherness, rather than who got what.
I’m lucky my stepkids were encouraged since childhood by their patient father to help in the kitchen and are all great cooks.
During a recent visit, one stepdaughter and her boyfriend took command of the kitchen, preparing the entire meal and clean-up after while I sat in the La-Z-Boy.
Grandma and Mom might have seemed like Wonder Woman at Christmas, but you never saw them put their feet up after the troops were fed.
Some early lessons in life are worth the extra effort.