Back to busy in B.C. this year doesn't mean back to school. So as parents and kids cook up ideas around how to manage the whole situation, how about cooking up a storm?
Getting kids and teens interested in making their own good food at home could be one of the big turning points for the next generation and taking advantage of this lull in routine to get your kids into cooking is a great opportunity, if you can swing it.
My eyebrows went up when I read in the United Food and Commercial Workers survey I mentioned last week that, on average, 15- to 24-year-olds spend an hour and a half a day eating out in restaurants. That reminds me of an incident I saw at a grocery store not long ago. A boy, who had to be at least 11 or 12 years old, was pointing to a heap of fresh green peas still in their pods and asking his mom what they were.
Inspiring kids to get into cooking and baking from scratch at home can unleash a cascade of good things, starting with the understanding that food comes from a lot of different places besides a tin can or a package from the frozen-food department.
My mom introduced me to the kitchen through cookies. It was a natural chain of order.
When I was in the fourth grade, she taught me how to make sugar cookies from a recipe in a cookbook my classmates and I had made at school. Each kid brought in a recipe from his or her mom that our teacher, Mrs. Ferguson, dutifully typed up then mimeographed — a retro printing technology from about the same era as Paul Bunyan.
We eager-beaver students dutifully cut up the pages of recipes, glued them onto paper then stapled the pages together to make our homegrown recipe books, complete with a funky oilskin cover.
My mom has since passed that little cookbook on to me, and I love thumbing through the yellowing pages with dark brown stains from God knows what that's been dripped on it over the years. It's better than a scrapbook!
There's the recipe for Nutty Nuggets from Arlene Little, who lived on Hardisty Drive and was so much fun, and a recipe for a sandwich made from ground beef and named for Paul Bunyan himself. Under my own contribution, which my mom named Favourite Chocolate Cake (not that it necessarily was a favourite but I guess she thought it needed pumping up), is a recipe for Christmas cake from Billy Hnidan, who, I learned years later, had a crush on me. I should have paid attention — his family had quite the posh house.
Knowing your way around a kitchen when you're young can impress a lot of people, including future partners, whenever they happen, as well as oldsters like me.
I was blown away the other day when friends told us their 14-year-old son had felt like eating some cream puffs, so he'd whipped up a batch — including the choux pastry. Before that it was a jellyroll, before that, brownies like his grandma used to make, and so on. Gads. I had to look up "choux" to spell it right, and here's this kid making it.
I was curious how the young Owen Gibbs — son of Katie Rodgers (whose mom, Christine, was Whistler's doctor for decades, and dad, Terry, was mayor and councillor) and David Gibbs (whose mom, Angela, taught at Signal Hill Elementary in Pemberton and dad, Gordon, ran the RCMP detachment there years ago) got into such sophisticated kitchen craft.
But I was even more curious what he could teach us about inspiring kids to get into the kitchen, so I dialed him up.
Turns out Owen has his own little recipe book from school, albeit one a little more sophisticated than mine. It's a binder of recipes, including one for choux pastry, that he compiled during his Foods and Nutrition 10 class last year. But he started in the kitchen long before that, "just to have something for dessert that wasn't yogurt or fruit."
"That's healthy, but it just doesn't really have the same dessert-y effect as cake or brownies or something," he says, and we laugh at what a great motivator sweet, tasty things can be.
The first thing he made from scratch was pancakes, which he'd learned to make with his dad using a recipe from The Joy of Cooking. Then when he was nine, he "just felt good enough that he wouldn't need help any more, mixing and measuring and putting it all together." Owen-made pancakes have now become a regular event.
The keys to building Owen's comfort zone in the kitchen would motivate any kid starting out — the recipe and process were easy, plus he really likes pancakes.
"Personally, I would say don't try to teach your kids how to cook stuff like broccoli and veggie stir-fries. Teach them how to make brownies and cookies and that sort of thing — things they can eat afterwards and they'll really like," says Owen.
"And simplify it, by pretty much explaining what it (the ingredient) does and how to put it in."
But his most important advice to parents is likely this: "Let the kids try measuring and mixing the ingredients instead of demonstrating it all yourself. Measuring and cooking will help kids with math skills, and with the teachers out of schools, you want every resource you can get."
If it doesn't quite turn out, use your imagination. For instance, Owen used the wrong pan to bake the batter for his jellyroll, so they simply turned it into a layer cake, using the "jelly" between the layers.
As for making memories, you couldn't ask for a better set up. If you start your kids baking and cooking with you, you'll soon find yourselves also sharing stories that often end up in your family history. Besides, family recipes and the dishes we create from them become memories unto themselves.
Not every parent will be able to hang out with their kids during the teachers' strike. But if you're one of the lucky ones, take a page out of your favourite recipe book and see what you cook up. It may be more than good food.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who got into cooking when she realized it was an art and science.