Lessons From My Mama's Kitchen


One of my favourite things about visiting my family is my Mama’s cooking. My Mama’s been cooking for decades and it shows. She’s got a rhythm, a style, and a taste all her own and it satisfies. We’ve been a very fortunate family to have her preparing nourishing meals for us over the years.

Not only that, but she’s also taught us a lot in terms of how to cook. I can’t count the number of times I’ve called my mom for cooking advice, especially when I was first learning how to cook. That advice can’t be taken for granted. It was essential for developing my cooking skills.

My Mama knows all this, but what she doesn’t know is that she’s inadvertently given me many more lessons along the way, just from doing her thang in the kitchen. I’m sharing some of my faves below, specifically in regards to lowering stress and working with a lack of motivation in the summertime.

Lesson #1: Keep the heat outside in the summer

After a long summer of cooking in people’s homes last year, I learned to minimize the work I was doing in the oven and on the stove top while temps are high. It can quickly become brutally hot in a kitchen when the air temperature is already elevated, making it dangerous to cook and down right uncomfortable. What to do?

This past week, I watched my mom use the barbecue to roast all her vegetables and keep things warm while using the stove top and oven minimally. If you have a BBQ or toaster oven, try this trick instead of overheating your home with meal prep heat. Not only does it keep the heat outside (where, by the way, the heat already is), but BBQ’s tend to be smaller than ovens and cook things much faster.

Lesson #2: Include raw foods

Another note to the heat, but also to your digestion, is to try to eat more raw foods. Raw foods are not only packed with nutrition, but they also help keep your body temperature cool and feel really good going down on a hot day.

Eating raw also saves time. The closer you eat food to its original form, depending on the food, that is, the quicker it can enter your mouth. In my Mama’s house, we always have a fresh salad with our meals to round out what we’re eating and to keep it simple.

Lesson #3: Use simple recipes, or none at all

My mom recently voiced her feelings around lacking motivation to cook. I get it, it’s hot out and we’re all a little too tired to care. When that happens, do what Mama Conte does and keep it reaaaaaally simple. For instance, we had a big family lunch on Friday and we all weren’t that hungry come dinner time, so my mom chopped, brushed (with oil and spices), and cooked up some vegetables for us to eat, on the BBQ, I might add. Paired with some cold quinoa salad leftovers, it made for a speedy and delicious meal that only required a couple steps instead of 10. Not to mention it was easy on the tummy.

My Mama isn’t the only one who can teach a thing or two in the kitchen. Over the years, as I’ve been cooking up a storm in my own kitchen, I’ve also developed my own cooking tricks, some of which may come in handy for you. Here are some general tips to help making cooking a lot more appealing:

Lesson #1: Find your own cooking preferences

For example…my Mama and I have similar cooking styles and we enjoy a lot of the same types of foods, but our cooking habits differ quite a bit. My mom enjoys making a raucous mess while cooking (love you Mama), while I like to clean as I go, leaving less mess to clean up in the end. Neither way is better, it’s just our personal preference to cook one way or another.

Having said that, we both enjoy cooking alone. Whenever someone asks either of us for help (including each other), we’re quick to say no and send them on their merry way with a task out of the line of fire. Once we’re in a flow in the kitchen, it’s hard to let someone else in. Find what works for you from what others teach you and you’ll be a much happier camper come meal prep time.

Lesson #2: Don’t get hung up on missing ingredients

Seriously, it’s not worth it. For example, I used to buy a lot of staple items over and over again just because I wanted the final product to be exactly like the recipe, but I’ve since saved a lot of money and time by finding similar replacements within my own kitchen in a pinch. If you’re out of a certain spice, try another one that’s similar. If you’re out of a staple like maple syrup, try replacing it with honey instead. If you’ve run out of lettuce, try spinach or arugula. Or change the recipe completely on the fly.

Sure, this time the meal will likely taste different, but a good portion of the time it tastes better! You may even invent something new along the way. Don’t be afraid to step outside the lines. This gets more tricky the more intense the recipe is that you’re following, but once you’ve made something once or twice, it becomes easier to know how to adjust it on the go.

Lesson #3: Start small

With everything! Meals needn’t be so complex, nor extravagant to be delicious. Sometimes the best meals I have at home are made up of leftover ingredients tossed together in a salad or a stew, or even on toast. Starting small means a lot of things, but to keep it easy I’m talking about selecting meals based on shorter cooking times, less ingredients, and less steps. Also, try not to get over-zealous and try a multitude of new recipes at once. Start with one new recipe a week and go from there.

Cooking can be daunting and heck, there’s even a lot of things I haven’t tried yet. One of the reasons I enjoy cooking so much is that I’ve become really good at finding recipes that don’t take a lot of time and making them my staple go-to’s.

I hope that you’ve been lucky enough to learn to cook from someone, but if not, I hope that what I’ve shared today helps you to be a little less frightened of cooking and a little more excited to get started!