First person: learning to do hard things in the kitchen and beyond

One afternoon last September, I walked into my family’s kitchen and started to make dinner for them. I’d decided to make lasagna. As this was the first meal I’d cooked for them, it felt wise to start with something on the simple side. I was excited, but tense. I’d never done this alone without my […]
"Over the last weeks and months I have steadily improved my cooking skills," says the author.

One afternoon last September, I walked into my family’s kitchen and started to make dinner for them. I’d decided to make lasagna. As this was the first meal I’d cooked for them, it felt wise to start with something on the simple side. I was excited, but tense. I’d never done this alone without my mother before.

She’d had to leave us for a few months to go back home to Lebanon. I was left in charge of cooking and taking care of my two younger sisters and older brother. I whipped out my phone to look up the steps required in my recipe and began to set out the ingredients I’d need. By having the items ready, I’d avoid rushing around the kitchen.

When I was younger, I used to watch YouTube videos that showed how to make specific recipes, including baking and cooking. My sister and I would “create” our own recipes by gathering various ingredients and putting them down on paper. We enjoyed making up fake recipes and storing all of our papers so that when we were older we could look through the box of papers and learn how to cook them together.

Back then, wanting to be an adult rather than a child was exciting to me. However, now that I’ve had to act like an adult and do things that grownups do, I’ve started to miss being a kid.

Up until that day in the kitchen, I’d been responsible for a lot of things, but being a “mother” to my siblings had not been one of them. While I had observed her doing the cooking and cleaning every day, it appeared simple. It didn’t take long for me to appreciate all that my mother has done for us. With almost no help from the four of us living at home.

However, I soon discovered the secret. Asking for help when facing a struggle is important since everyone starts out someplace and can accomplish difficult things if they put their minds to it.

One of the first people I asked for advice about how they accomplished things was Balkees Ayasrah, an Algonquin College student in the office administration program. She is attending school while taking care of her four year old child. This means she shoulders a lot of responsibilities as a mom while making sure that all of her schoolwork is completed on time.

I knew about the things Ayasrah was doing and juggling all by herself as a mother and a student, but it never really clicked until I was standing in her shoes.

“It’s really nice when you’re being put in tough situations like these because not only do they prepare you for the better but at least for me, it makes me feel stronger and good about myself,” said Ayasrah. “Knowing I could accomplish these kind of things that I thought I would never be able to while having my daughter by my side makes me feel like I’ve won. Every meal that comes out good is like an accomplishment.”

Ayasrah offered me advice on meal prep and helped me by providing me with simple recipes.

Ayasrah had done everything with the help of Google and YouTube. Plus, she had copied down her mother’s recipes and slowly practiced them with her. Even with little guidance, we still stress or make mistakes when doing anything for the first time.

She explained how it took her some hours to prepare a single meal for her first time. Before things got better for her, they were horrible. She explained how it took her six hours to finish a meal she was making by herself. She told me that I was standing where she and all the others had started.

As I slowly began to adjust, I would ask my sisters to help out around the house by doing at least one thing to make life a little easier for me. However, since I remember well how I felt when my mother when she called me for something, I don’t argue or respond when they say no on some days.

There will come a day when we all learn various life lessons in different ways. And I started learning when I was quite young. Learning is important but the only way we as humans can truly learn is through actually going through the experience. It’s different when someone tells you since you won’t experience it unless you’re actually in that situation.

Over the last weeks and months I have steadily improved my cooking skills. I’ve also learned how to set up a routine so I don’t try to juggle too many things at once, which is generally how I messed things up. My sisters have also gradually started to help without me having to ask.

The best and most surprisingly part of it is during these kinds of moments when they come and help me in the kitchen, because it feels like it’s straight from their hearts and not me having to “force” them into helping me. We end up chatting which makes times past fast in a good way. This has gradually transformed the tasks we hated into the things we liked.

Helping someone, especially our families, should always make us feel proud. They asked for help because they trust us to be there for them in any situation.

Having a family to cook for might make me moan at times, but it’s also a privilege to have a family to cook for. It’s comforting to know that I can rely on my siblings in times of need, even if I just get a little help from them. People in your life and those around you aren’t here forever.

Nothing will be perfect the first time or the second time, but the important thing is to keep trying because that will result in progress. In my case, it sure did bring me joy when I saw my family gradually enjoy my food.

They now even get excited for when ill prepare my next lasagna. As soon as I served them my first dinner, they fell in love. Now, they joke, I am the family’s one and only lasagna chef.

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