Divorce means learning how to cook

Suzanne was still in college when she got married. That meant she went from living with her parents, to college life to living with her husband. She says that although she knew how to do lots of general things, like buying a house, there were simple things she’d never learned to do and getting divorced meant it was time to learn. Here’s Suzanne:

[contemplate1] I never learned to cook. My mom never really had us cook when we were at home. I could pop frozen things in the microwave and boil water but I never cooked at home. When I was married, my husband cooked every day and I never did, so that was a big thing.

We joke about it because my son told his preschool teacher that the smoke alarm was always going off at home because mommy was always burning things. He would look at me and say,

“Can we just order pizza?”

One year for Christmas, I asked everybody to send me cookbooks or put together their favorite recipes and I started cooking by trial and error. Still, to this day, I consult my mother a lot about general things you’d think at thirty-two years of age, I should be able to do but I can’t.

My dad is Romanian and his mom, my grandma passed away right after I got married. She would cook all these Romanian dishes but she never had a recipe. It was just throw this together, add this, add this and that would basically make the meal. I spent the whole day with my dad trying to learn how to cook some of these dishes because he had been teaching himself. I think that was my favorite memory, spending time with my dad picking up some of my heritage. I have two traditional dishes that he taught me that I’ve almost perfected.

The first is chicken paprikash which is basically chicken and noodles but you make the noodles from scratch with egg, flour, salt and water. You take a whole chicken, like the ones you buy at the grocery store for $3 or $4, cut it up into pieces, and saute it in a pan with carrots and onions. Romania is a very poor country so it’s just simple ingredients, very cheap but it’s really good.

Then the other one is cabbage roll. Again it’s inexpensive. You use ground pork and it’s cooked with white rice, some spices, and paprika. Paprika’s in every Romanian dish. It’s a staple you must have in your kitchen. Basically you take the meat and rice mixture and you wrap it in cabbage and it’s in a tomato-based broth. I had quite a few times when I was trying to recreate this dish that I would have my parents over to eat with us and my dad would be,

“mmm, needs more of this ….” or “mmm … not quite right”

So it did take me a while but I think I’ve got it now.

I will be honest, I’m still not a great cook but I can get around the kitchen. I haven’t poisoned anyone and my son is a pretty healthy seven-year-old weighing all but seventy pounds. I don’t think he’s any worse for the wear. He does eat a lot of frozen chicken tenders and Kraft macaroni cheese :)


Chicken Paprikash and Cabbage Rolls sound like soul food to me and I think it’s natural that when you learn to cook, you look to dishes from your heritage. My mum worked when I was going to school and so it was my job to cook dinner. She’d prepare everything the night before and leave me with detailed instructions covering what temperature to set the oven at and when to light, when to start cooking the potatoes and the vegetables and so on.

We also had to do a cooking class at school so I did learn to cook. My kids however … mmm … I definitely have some work to do there.

Who did/does the cooking in your house – is it you or your spouse? Did you learn to cook before you were married? How did you learn? Is there a recipe book or website you’d recommend?

You can follow Suzanne as @ADivorcedMom on Twitter and at Care One Credit where she blogs about divorce, debt and finance.

Photo Credit: Ron Diggity

  • http://www.postdivorcechronicles.com Lee Block

    My mother doesn’t cook, so she didn’t teach me, but I did teach myself. I have to admit, I hate to cook, and hearing the kids complain that they don’t want to eat what I make just makes my lack of motivation higher–while dialing for Domino’s!

    My daughter does like to help around the kitchen though, which is nice.

    • Mandy

      I go through periods of being very uninspired and feeling that I’m a rotten cook because my kids don’t like what I make. And I get fed up with the same meals. Then I start browsing through a few blogs … I have to say it’s only been in the last 18 months or so that I’ve managed to get it so we’re all eating the same meal each night and that made a huge difference.

  • http://thedivorceencouragist.wordpress.com thedivorceencouragist

    I never learned to cook either. And I LOVE Kraft Macaroni & Cheese! When I was married, my husband worked late every night, so there was very little pressure to have any real sit-down dinners. We got by on dishes that come in cans and boxes. It’s pretty easy to “cheat” if you have a large supermarket nearby. One weekend we had friends over and someone actually asked for a recipe for the meat/sauce I’d served- and it was a boil-in-bag meal!

    These days, my boyfriend is a better cook than me. But since we’re pretty active, we eat out a lot. And, that way… we don’t have to clean the kitchen 😉

  • http://formerlyaprildawn.blogspot.com April

    I think I’ve said it before here, but I’ll say it again: DreamDinners.com has saved us!

    • Mandy

      I have heard of places similar to DreamDinners but haven’t tried them. Now I’m curious … have to see what’s in my area.

  • http://www.WebCookingClasses.com Chef Todd Mohr

    Very good advice!

    I have seen the change made in thousands of people’s lives when they learn to cook. I’m not talking about following recipes and spending a lot of money on cookbooks.

    I mean there is great freedom in understanding the basic methods that go into cooking. When you learn HOW to saute’, you can then use chicken, shrimp, tofu, beef, vegetables, it’s all the same.

    Being able to cook by method means you never have the stress of trying to figure out “what’s for dinner” every night. You can cook with the ingredients on-hand. You’ll never have the frustration of written recipes not working, you’ll save money on take-out food, improve your nutrition, gain a new hobby, reunite your family, entertain for friends, gain confidence, eat a greater variety of foods, and have a skill for a lifetime.

    Learn how to cook and a whole new lifestyle opens for you.

    Chef Todd Mohr

    • Mandy

      Hi Todd – you make a good point – I hadn’t thought about the difference between cooking from recipes and “method cooking.” I tend to get stuck in a rut .. I find dishes we’ll all eat as a family and then I rotate through those. Eventually I end up feeling bored and uninspired … any suggestions for getting revitalized or staying fresh?

  • http://www.careonecredit.com Suzanne

    I get better everyday with cooking, but feeding my son is still a challenge. I am moving towards home made chicken fingers and mac and cheese!

    • Mandy

      My kids are 17 and 15 and it’s only in the last two years that I’ve been able to get it so we all eat the same meal at night. It’s such a relief and the side benefit is that we together and have social time … (OK … sometimes, it’s not very social. They are siblings. But at least we’re altogether!)

  • http://militantsinglemom.blogspot.com courtney b findlay

    I’m the opposite, sorta. I’ve been cooking family dinners since I was 12, and I swear that if I have to cook one more I am going to run out the front door screaming! so in order to avoid that, I go as easy as I can on myself. When I worked two jobs, we lived off nachos, for years. But these weren’t ordinary nachos, we had toppings like tomatoes, peppers, onion, green onions, black olives, ground round, veggie ground round, shredded spinach, even shredded deli meat, and presto, a meal with carbs, protein, and veggies, with NO pot and NO insanity pleas.

    • Mandy

      Love the nachos idea! Guess what we’re having for dinner tonight!

  • http://www.careonecredit.com Suzanne

    Love the Nacho idea! I usually rotate between 5 meals throughout the week due to my limited cooking repertoire, just so happens Mexican night is always one of them. Next week Taco Tuesday will be Nacho Tuesday!

  • http://www.bucksomeboomer.com Kay Lynn @ Bucksome Boomer

    I never cooked before getting married (the first time) and tried not to as a teenager. My mom made me learn.

    I really started cooking once I had kids to feed. Now that they’re grown I cook less often, but still 3-4 days a week. The other nights we eat leftovers, microwave frozen meals or eat take-out.