My Sidekick in the Kitchen

Luke had a mission. He wanted to learn how to cook.

It’s not everyday that I get propositioned by a grad student.

“If you teach me how to cook,” he said softy, “I’ll work in your yard.”

No sweeter words were ever spoken to a middle-aged woman whose beloved husband hates yard work. I didn’t think twice before I agreed to our deal that Saturday morning in June. He told me that he had tried my method of grocery shopping where I only purchase items that contain less than three ingredients. Frustrated by his experience using my golden rule, he proclaimed that I was crazy. Nothing, he staunchly claimed, had less than three ingredients.

“It depends on where you’re looking,” I said. “If you shop the outside aisles and avoid the middle ones, you’ll easily find the real food.”

The look on his face was priceless as it dawned on him that “whole food” means “real food.”

While he worked at his summer internship in Louisiana, I made plans. After all, Luke Welch doesn’t ever want to know merely the gist of things. He wants the fine details, the step-by-step analysis, as he has a need to understand everything. This wasn’t going to be something I could simply breeze or fake my way through.

All summer I thought about potential menus and ingredients. Just what cooking skills did a 23-year old male need to learn to prepare him for living on his own? He wasn’t a complete novice; his parents cook after all. And he had some excellent skills with a grill.  But as a reader of this blog, he was curious about nutrition and why I spent so much time and energy canning.

The week he got back into town, he met us at the Farmer’s Market. Thus began our routine. Nearly every Saturday morning since August, he has met us at the Farmer’s Market. The tall young man observed my purchases, carried my bags, and waited patiently with my Beloved while I talked to friends and neighbors. Afterwards, we would head to a local diner for breakfast and make plans for the day. I have to tell you, we’ve had the best fun. Or at least I have. That first weekend Cheyenne, our niece, was home. She had never met Luke, but over the years she heard us talk about the kid who mowed our yard and who had been our preferred babysitter. She watched (open jawed) while he threw insults my way. She even remarked that if she had said something like that to me, she’d be grounded. I agreed. Luke gets away with giving me the occasional reality check like no one else does.

Each weekend we tackled a cooking or canning project. I taught him how to make a roast and stir-fry vegetables (perfect dinner date menu). I taught him how to make a fruit crumble (perfect hostess gift for when he’s invited to dinner). We’ve cooked for a tailgate party and we threw an impromptu dinner party. He introduced me to the music of Amos Lee. He perused my cookbooks and learned his way around our kitchen better than, well, me.

I took advantage of willing hands to tackle a couple big canning projects.

During Labor Day weekend, I took advantage of having him, Cheyenne, and Katie (another niece) home. We canned 35 jars of salsa, a half dozen jars of pickled okra, as well as dozens of jars of apple butter and apple sauce. Henry Ford would have been impressed with our little assembly line.

Luke has been by my side cooking and canning all that the fall has offered. He’s learned to like turnip greens, and he’s learned how to make pesto. He’s discovered how homemade applesauce can become transcendent when dolloped over organic granola. He’s learned the importance of owning an iron skillet and that there will never be anything claiming to be non-stick in my kitchen. I’ve driven him crazy because I don’t follow a single recipe, nor do I write them down. He has thoughtfully made notes, often shaking his head at my attempts to describe measurements. Apparently “a little of this” or “a little of that” isn’t scientifically relevant.

If he’s learned nothing else, he’s learned the importance of having a cast iron skillet. My Beloved refuses to cook with anything else.

My Beloved has provided as much instruction as I have. They’ve taste tested our home-brewed beers and discussed at great lengths the fundamental tools needed in a kitchen.

It didn’t take him long to take over the task of preparing dinner for his parents. I’ve loved watching him post pictures on Instagram of his newest creations. He claims that we’ve ruined him from eating at restaurants or eating anything but whole food. The night he added a little whiskey to his homemade pizza dough to enhance its flavor and help the yeast, I knew that he had become a foodie. Our work was done.

Its been hard for me to write about our time together because I know it’s coming to an end. Soon he’ll graduate with his master’s degree and move hundreds of miles west to a new job. He’s going to have a great time discovering Tex-Mex cooking and the local food culture of the city he’ll now call home.

I’ve often pondered what was the goal of my writing this blog. Luke has taught me that it has the power to change the world–by teaching the curious about real food. We haven’t had the chance to tackle my yard project yet, but it doesn’t matter. Because I’ve gotten so much more than the value of any yard work. I’ve gotten memories for a lifetime of when I had a handsome culinary student that brought joy into my kitchen.

Go forth, my dear Luke, and forever eat well.

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