When I was growing up, our house was a classic traditional division of labour.  While both my folks worked, my Mom was all about “cooking and cleaning” and my Dad was all about playing with the kids and fixing and repairing stuff. At the end of each work day, I remember Dad  walking through the door and after the requisite hugs, asking my Mom, “What’s for eating?!”

If I had to choose who did a better job, I would have to say that Mom won – there was only so much Dad could do with adjustable pliers, WD40, duct tape (gaffer tape for those in UK and Western Canada!) and Plumber’s Goop. But wow, did my Dad ever teach me to shovel snow and mow grass!

Throughout my early years and into my first marriage, I followed the same path. Grass, snow, garbage, leaves, plugged toilets, lightbulbs.  And if I tried to climb out of the glass cellar?…let’s put it this way, perhaps it is only men who can really appreciate that white has many shades of grey and pink.

But after being on my own for a while, I realised that I had to learn how to become a domestic demi-god out of necessity – I couldn’t afford to buy new underpants every week. But, perhaps  the pivotal moments centred on the fact that my apartment did not come with a full length urinal – I learned things like sitting on the toilet makes less mess and is a much more accurate method in the dark (for my new middle-aged tradition of 3 o’clock in the morning toilet breaks). The result, amazingly a less “gag-inducing” WC that was easier to clean every week (and a much cleaner bath mat –  just kidding – those around-the-toilet mats are so gross. Like carpeted bathrooms.) Why did I have to figure this out myself – why did no one ever teach me stuff like this…?

Now while I do not relish the cleaning aspect of the domestic routine, there is one that I wish I had picked up when I was younger.

How to cook.

Now Like most XYs, aside from the ancient male ritual of grilling meat on fire, making super-sized Dagwood sandwiches, and griddling up some chocolate chip pancakes on Sundays or after sleepovers, I was not really a whiz at food preparation.  If you couldn’t BBQ it or fry it, it wasn’t my lane or part of my skill set.  And how silly is that…because, I love to eat.

So there I was in my 40s before I realised that cooking was actually kind of cool and therapeutic.  Now for those of you who think that cooking is not very masculine…tell that to the Galloping Gourmet, Gordon Ramsey, Jamie Oliver or Wolfgang Puck (okay maybe not Wolfang…)

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not into the Heston Blumenthalian “molecular gastronomy” or “snail-egg and bacon” ice cream kind of experience; and I hate finicky recipes – so I am not a Julia Childs fan (unless you count Meryl Streep’s Julia Childs who exclaimed that “fresh-from-the-boiling-water cannelloni was ‘hotter than a stiff …’ – well you can guess the rest.  And yes, I thought ‘ Julie and Julia’ was a pretty good movie – there I said it. Move on.)

But after developing some basic kitchen skills, I now believe it is fairly easy for a guy to do more than pierce the plastic film and push reheat.  I now think a guy should know his way around a handy-chopper, chopping board, garlic press and crock-pot just as well as he knows his way around a five-speed manual transmission, X-Box console, Mach III, or IKEA Allen Key (…if you do not know the difference between a Paring knife and a Santoku, you might be doing the culinary equivalent of taking your penalty shots with a goalie stick – you will probably get the job done, but man are you making it tough!)

I wasn’t always a Happy Cooker.  I was thrown into the deep end – all of a sudden – as I became responsible for feeding myself and “mini-me one and two” on occasion.  Approaching cooking like an Engineer, I said to myself, “Self, there must be an easy method to learn how to cook.” Hmmm…it was a sticky wicket.  (Sidebar – My kids will tell you about the hilarity of my early efforts – they still do not believe that meat and exotic fruit belong in the same dish. We call it the “Ugly Chicken Mango Quesadilla” incident. So much for my Pork Loin and Lychees…)  But to get back on topic –  a quick look at Cooking Schools yielded that you could shell out anywhere from $1K to $50K if you wanted to.  Who can afford that  – unless looking to make it big on Iron Chef?

So, I learned – through one book and the Internet. (Yes, I was just as surprised to learn the internet is good for more than just porn, boys…)

The book was the Joy of Cooking (and it’s on line site is http://www.thejoykitchen.com/) – note I wrote Joy of Cooking.  I’d have to say that the pictures are not as good as the ones in the other “Joy” self-help book (sorry no image for that one…not many fans of the ‘European look‘).  JoC is an old-fashioned book, containing over 4500 solid and time-tested recipes. Most importantly, it taught me the simple things that were instinct to some, but that were completely foreign to me. Like, how long do you bake a potato? What temperature do you roast a chicken at? What is in spaghetti sauce? Or, what the heck is tarragon? MInd you,  I don’t use all the techniques in the book, but when I am really lost, Irma Bombauer sets me on the right path.

As for the web, there are so many good sites, but a few of my favorites are:

There is one more tool that I have used since the start of 2012 – the Monthly Meal Plan, courtesy of, and as explained by, my friend Laura – author of www.happycanadianhome.com . Her meal plan concept has sure made life easier – no more six o’clock panic combing the fridge and pantry for meal ideas, no more rotting vegetables in the crisper at week’s end, and great eating every night – it is the greatest “mise en place”. Take a peek over at http://www.happycanadianhome.com/2012/01/making-meal-plan.html

I have to say that for me, cooking equals Zen.  Like painting, or playing the guitar, or the daily run, cooking relaxes me…and I feel great satisfaction in recreating a recipe – especially when eating it! The good thing is that eventually you develop enough confidence to use your new-found skills and talents and break away from the recipe book. You have then snatched the pebble, grasshopper.

But, if snatching the pebble is just too much work…just aim small – to quote Kris Kringle, “Just put one foot in front of the other.” Take a chance and break away from take-out “Chicky-in-the Basket Bork Bork Bork” eaten over the sink (c’mon, admit it…every guy has done that). Try something simple – like the time-honoured cheap and easy cooking techniques.  It’s a great start, too.

Happy cooking!