Oct 112006

Not that I have much experience in the former; it’s been about 11 years since the last school lunch I ate. However, I think it’s a fair to assume that kids still eat all kinds of crap food on a regular basis; I know I did when I was in school. Heck, I still do today, although on a much more reduced scale.

The reason I’ve started off with that statement about school food is that I was over at Jamie Oliver’s website this morning, and I read through his School Dinners Manifesto. Say what you want about TV personalities and/or celebrity chefs, but he’s got some very good points about the amount of junk food that kids eat on a regular basis, and points out many different problems with the British school dinner system that I’m sure also exist in US schools. I think the time has more than come for similar sweeping changes to be demanded of schools in the US; I know that I would certainly have benefitted from most, if not all, of the items that Jamie has demanded from the UK government. I probably wouldn’t have my current weight problem if I’d been thoroughly educated about the dangers of pre-packaged, pre-prepared, fast-food crap.

I didn’t really get heavily into cooking until I left home to start college, and I think that’s a real shame: I missed out, by my own fault, on at least 5, if not 10, years of cooking that I could have been doing for myself and my family. Cooking is fun, and not only is it amazingly less expensive than eating at restaurants or fast food joints, it’s leaps and bounds more nutritious than most prepared foods that someone else would sell me.

Cooking should be a part of every person’s life, from the age that he’s old enough to understand that food doesn’t magically appear on his plate, but is actually made from ingredients. Even better if that food is prepared by a loving family member than by some 16-year-old at McDonald’s. The Food Network had a campaign last year on a similar bent; the tagline was “cook with your kids,” and I agree with it wholeheartedly. Children shouldn’t be insulated from food preparation, and definitely shouldn’t be excluded from the kitchen. When I have kids, I thoroughly intend for them to start cooking as soon as they’re able to safely reach the work areas and utilize kitchen tools without danger of chopping off a finger. Fine motor control and a knowledge about sharp things means that a child, when well supervised, can certainly slice and chop things like vegetables; I see no reason for children as young as 9 or 10 to not have their own kitchen tools (yes, they’re tools), including knives, cutting boards, measuring spoons, etc. Knowledge about hot surfaces like pots and their handles, ranges, and ovens means that a child (again, when well supervised) can actually cook entire meals (or at the very least, portions of meals); I see no need for a child who is tall enough to safely reach the top of the stove (and understand the dangers associated with its misuse) to not use it for its intended purpose. Even as young as 4 or 5, kids can put various ingredients into pots; vegetable soup is easy to assemble: put a soup pot on the kitchen table, and when you finish chopping and slicing a vegetable, put it in a bowl for your child to add to the pot. I firmly believe that food tastes better when you have a hand in its preparation, and passing this belief on to children is one of the best favors you can ever do for them.

And there are so many new flavors to experience on a daily basis that you practically need to cook for yourself if you have any hope of tasting even a small fraction of those flavors in your lifetime. I just discovered how good curries are a month or two ago, and have spent a good portion of this morning looking at various cooking blogs looking for recipes to try out. While I was exposed to German food when I was younger (Dad took C and me to a German restaurant in Dallas a few times), I didn’t really begin to appreciate its subtleties until about 6 months ago, when Heather and I went to Fredericksburg. Now I’m thinking about making j√ɬ§gerschnitzel some weekend. After watching Molto Mario for the last 2 or 3 years, I’ve come to discover how diverse Italian cuisine is, even if I haven’t actually made most of the dishes I’ve seen prepared. But there’s a recipe in my cookbook for a “genuine” lasagna Bolognese that I want to make, so I’m trying to find a special occasion that’ll feature more than just myself and Heather eating dinner together.

I think it’s safe to say that if computers weren’t such a big part of my life, I would probably be a chef, or at least a very skilled cook. As it is, I guess I’ll just have to be content with cooking tasty food for myself and my family. That, or I’ll quit my job, go to culinary school, apprentice in France or England for a few years, then come back to the States and open a restaurant or two, with a new and inventive twist on the cuisine I’ve grown to love over the years.

Yeah, that’ll happen.

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