Americans will eat garbage provided you sprinkle it liberally with ketchup. -Henry James
My mother started early teaching me how to cook. She was convinced, even when I was a child, that I would likely grow up to be single and alone. Fortunately, at least for the larger portion of my adult life, she was wrong. However, her lessons have been valuable as frequently I have been the one responsible for the family's meals.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to pass that trait on to my own children. At least, not the oldest. I'm not the only one from my generation to have made that mistake, either. As a result, there is an entire generation of people who don't have the first clue how to take care of themselves. This is why many of them are still living at home. We don't necessarily want them to live at home, but we've not given them the skills to survive so we've left them with little choice. If our children don't live with us, or at least with some other reasonably skilled and responsible adult, they will die.
We have to fix this situation. I'm sure I speak for many parents when I say we want our lives back. We thought we would get them back when the youngest of our children turned 18. No, that didn't happen. There's still a 25-year-old living in the basement. While there are admittedly times when that extra set of hands and feet come in handy, for the most part, their presence is that level of intrusive that keeps us from being able to have sex during the day while the little ones are at school. Not cool.
While there are actually a number of survival skills a young single person needs before they can successfully leave home without boomeranging right back at us, I'm choosing this morning to start with teaching them the basics of feeding themselves. This is important because young adults are well known for eating their weight in food every four hours or so. Not only is that rough on the ol' food budget, but it's time-consuming when they are constantly asking, "Hey, parental unit, can you nuke me some food or something?" Saying "no" that often really does eat into my productivity.
So, while we're not risking any serious culinary feats, what we provide here is a set of basic instructions that, at a very minimum, keep our children from starving. This isn't an especially healthy menu, mind you. If they want to bulk up or adjust their weight one direction or the other, or if they feel compelled to eschew meat and go vegan, they're going to have to figure out those details for themselves. My time and willingness to help is limited. I'm just covering the basics for now and if they can survive that without burning down their house or apartment then they can move on to more advanced culinary concepts.
Boiling water sounds so very easy. I mean, it's water. It boils. How difficult could that possibly be? Yet, entire houses have burned down because someone who was attempting to boil water wasn't paying attention and/or didn't know what they were doing. Believe it or not, boiling water can be a very dangerous event in the hands of the wrong person. Please, don't be that person.
On the plus side, there are many things one can do with boiling water if it is handled correctly. One can make tea, or coffee if your skills are advanced. Boiling water also opens the door to various adventures with Ramen and other dried food. In short, boiling water can keep your ass alive, especially when your food budget is next to non-existent. Don't feel bad, almost everyone has been there at one point in their life or another. What's important is that you handle the pot and the water carefully. Pay attention.
Step One: Find a clean pot, not a pan or a skillet, and fill it with water. What's the difference between a pot and a pan? A pot is deeper for things like boiling water and often comes with a lid. You don't need the lid for this, though. Leave the lid alone. Boiling water and lids lead to explosions. Stay away from the damn lid.
Step Two: Put the pot with water in it on the stove. We assume you know what a stove is. If you don't, stop now and go ask a real adult for help. Once the pot is on the stove, turn on the appropriate burner under the pot. Don't turn on any of the other burners as that leads to fire and things blowing up. Only turn on the burner under the pot. Yes, you can turn it on high. This is only water.
Step three: Watch the pot. Ignore the saying that "a watched pot never boils." That's nonsense. A watched pot boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius) if you are at sea level. If you are higher than sea level, the water boils faster. Since you probably don't know your exact altitude and probably don't have a kitchen thermometer, do not leave the pot unattended. When the water reaches a full boil it will look like the picture at the left. Turn off the burner under the pot. Make sure it is all the way off. Then, using an oven mitt because the handle is hot, remove the pot from the stove.
There. Now you have successfully boiled water. Give yourself a pat on the back and pour the water down the drain before it hurts someone.
I'm pretty sure my younger brother would not have survived college without cold cereal in his life. The nice thing about cold cereal is that, when hard pressed, one doesn't actually have to put the cereal in a bowl or pour milk over it. Cereal can be eaten straight out of the box in emergencies, such as when you're already 15 minutes late for work. Not that we encourage that kind of behavior, mind you.
On the plus side, we don't have to worry about cereal catching fire and burning the house down. While there are a few other dangers, cereal, for the most part, is relatively harmless and benign. Even better, cereal is always there for you, even in the middle of the night or after a good cry. No popcorn while you're watching that movie? Try cereal. The fact that most cereals come fortified with vitamins and such make them the single person's best friend. Develop this skill early and use it often.
Note: We were not compensated for the use of a Cheerios box in these photos. We were not compensated by anyone for any of the pictures here. We just grabbed what was handy. No endorsements are intended. That being said, try to eat healthy so you don't end up too fat to leave your parents' basement.
Step one: You will need a box of cereal, a clean bowl, milk, and a spoon to successfully make cold cereal the way General Mills intended. The kind of cereal is largely irrelevant, though the older one is the more one should probably stay away from those cereals that are nothing more than brightly colored sugar. Diabetes is a real thing. So is heart disease. Eat healthy, dudes.
Step two: Carefully pour the cereal into the bowl until the bowl is about half full. Don't just tip the box up and start pouring, mind you. That's a good way to end up with cereal all over the floor. Use care. Pour a little at a time. Don't over-fill the bowl or you won't have room for milk.
Step Three: Carefully pour the milk into the bowl. Again, use caution or you're going to have a mess to clean up. Pour just enough milk until you can sort of see it under the cereal. If the cereal is floating you probably poured too much. If the bowl goes from being half full to completely full you probably poured too much. When the milk sloshes over the side, you definitely poured too much. Take it easy, don't get so excited, and you'll enjoy your cereal more.
Don't forget to put the milk back in the 'fridge before you eat your cereal. Leaving the milk out on the counter leads to bad things, like sour milk. You'll forget the milk if you don't put it back in the 'fridge right now. Do it. Don't argue with me, Felicia, you know I'm right.
Eat your veggies. Your parents always taught you that you needed more in your diet than candy. Vegetables are a necessary part of nutrition. In fact, not eating enough fruits and veggies can result in some rather nasty ailments that you really don't have time to suffer through. The problem lies in cooking those veggies. While many can be eaten raw, we know you're not inclined to do that. Heaven forbids you to wash a head of broccoli and start munching.
Lucky for you, prepackaged salads are available. They come in a variety of styles and sizes so you can decide whether you want carrots or spinach or cabbage in your salad. None of those are bad choices, by the way. Prepackaged salads remove the risk that you'll open the refrigerator door three weeks from now and find an entire head of lettuce wilting on the shelves and replaces that with the risk that you'll open the refrigerator door to find a wilted half-eaten bag os salad. At least you ate half the bag.
Step one: You need a package of salad, a bowl, salad dressing of your choice, and a fork. Again, we make no brand or flavor endorsements. However, be aware that high-fat dressings can remove the health benefit of the salad. Also, be aware that there is no health benefit to iceberg lettuce. It's nothing more than filler, which is okay if you're trying to lose weight. You'll be hungry again in ten minutes, though.
Step two: Pour the salad into the bowl. More. No, that's not enough, pour a little more. I'm telling you, this isn't cereal you're pouring here. Fill that bowl as high as you want. One thing about salad is that it's never quite as much as it appears. There's also the theory that one can never have too much salad. We cannot confirm that, however. We've never tried having too much salad.
Step three: Pour on the salad dressing. Now is when one has to exercise some caution, especially if the salad dressing bottle doesn't have a squeeze top. Salad dressing is one of those condiments that tends to start slow and then pick up speed suddenly so that one ends up with a lot more on their salad than they had intended. If one has a measuring spoon and knows how to use them, about two tablespoons of salad dressing is all one needs. Not many single people have measuring spoons, though, nor do they know how to use them. Your mom may have snuck them into a drawer someplace. Just be careful with the dressing, okay?
Salads can be topped with things such as cheese, or croutons, or even fruit in some cases. Leftover sliced chicken breast works well, also. Be careful with anything that requires cutting, though. If you're eating prepackaged salad should you really be playing with knives? Our experience is that single people damage themselves more frequently than coupled people. Exercise caution.
Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or PBJs as they're often known, are a fundamental staple of life in the Western culture. We start eating them pretty much as soon as we can tolerate solid food and don't give them up until we can't figure out how to fit our dentures in our mouths. There are many different kinds of sandwich in the universe, but PBJ is the original gateway sandwich from which all other sandwiches derive. Master this skill and the sandwich world opens its door to you.
Here's the thing: my nine-year-old can probably make a better PBJ than can the average unskilled single adult. He understands that a good PBJ has to balance the basic elements or else it becomes one giant mess that ends up all over you, your clothes, and half your belongings. Once the peanut butter and/or jelly falls off the bread, it spreads, infecting everything that can possibly succumb to its sticky gooeyness. Clothes are destroyed. Recorded media is ruined. Lives are permanently altered in ways we dare not mention. Pay careful attention to these instructions. The world you save may be your own.
Step one: Assemble all the necessary ingredients: bread, peanut butter, jelly, and at least one clean butter knife. If you're not going to wash the knife between the peanut butter and jelly, go ahead and get two. No wonder you're still single. We also don't distinguish between smooth or crunchy peanut butter nor between jellies and jams and preserves. We prefer preserves but if you want to be a jelly heathen go right ahead.
Step two: Using a butter knife, because it's not as sharp and won't shred the bread, spread the peanut butter across the width of the bread. A thick application of peanut butter is okay as it's not likely to run. However, never put peanut butter in the 'fridge as that makes it impossible to spread without tearing the bread. No one likes torn bread. Now, put the lid back on the peanut butter and wash the knife.
Step three: After washing the knife spread the jelly/jam/preserves onto the other slice of bread. Do not spread it directly on top of the peanut butter as that makes a ridiculous mess. Also, be careful to not spread the jelly/jam/preserves too close to the edge of the bread as jelly/jam/preserves tend to not stay in place. Too much jelly/jam/preserves on your sandwich increases the likelihood that you'll be wearing said jelly/jam/preserves. Being single is difficult enough without looking like a toddler who has escaped its mother. Go easy on the jelly/jam/preserves.
Now, put the two pieces of bread together with the peanut butter and jelly facing each other. If you have either peanut butter or jelly on the outside of your sandwich, you did it wrong. Go back to the prepackaged salad. You're not ready for the sandwich.
Now that you have the basic skills of sandwich making down, we're going to risk actually cooking something and make grilled cheese sandwiches. Recipe change alert: we're not doing this in a skillet like your mom did when you were a kid. Your mom was not only skilled but talented. You're neither at this point in your life. You're single. Still. We still have high hopes for you, but you're not there yet. If you were, you wouldn't need this tutorial. We're going to take it easy and use the oven instead.
Be careful, now, as making warm sandwiches is a semi-advanced skill. We don't want you causing any danger to yourself or others. If you have any doubts about your skill level, especially if you've not quite figured out where the oven is in your kitchen, don't be ashamed to ask for help. Follow the instructions with extreme care. For safety, you might want to put any potentially flammable pets or roommates in a different room.
Step one: Preheat the oven to 400° and assemble the ingredients: bread, butter/margarine, pre-sliced cheese, butter knife, baking sheet. Preheating the over means turning it on and leaving it alone until you're ready to use it. A baking sheet is a thin metal pan like the kind your mom used for baking cookies. If you don't have one, you're screwed. Butter can be used in place of margarine only if you left it on the counter and it's soft. Cold butter doesn't spread at all.
Step two: Spread butter/margarine on the outside of each piece of bread. We use 100% whole wheat bread in this example because it's healthier. You need to start making healthy choices, you know. At this rate, you may be single forever and who is going to take care of you when you're old and broken down? Mind your health now so that no one has to help you change your adult diapers when you're old. Place the bread, butter side down, on the baking sheet.
Step three: Place the pre-sliced cheese onto one of the pieces of bread. The cheese goes on the side that is not buttered. The kind of cheese one uses doesn't really matter a lot. Cheddar, jack, and mozzarella do really well and taste good. Crumbly cheese such as blue and feta isn't really the best choice. One can also add other things like pre-cooked bacon, tomatoes, or spinach, but you're not ready for that yet. Don't over-extend yourself on the first try.
Step four: Place the other piece of bread on top of the cheese, butter side up. This is important if you want your sandwich to take good and brown properly. Position the bread in the center of the baking sheet and put the baking sheet in the oven. Yes, you should use oven mitts. Yes, you will burn your hands if you don't.
Let the sandwich bake for four minutes. Set a timer. No, seriously, you're going to get distracted. Set a freakin' timer already so the sandwich doesn't burn. After four minutes, open the oven door and use a spatula (that thing your mom used for flipping pancakes) to turn over the sandwich. Do not touch the sandwich with your hands! Hot! Burn! No-no! Shut the oven door and let the sandwich finish baking another four minutes. Set a timer. Yes, again. You know damn good and well you can't focus on anything that long. Set the timer so you don't burn down the whole house.
When the timer goes off, use oven mitts to remove the baking sheet from the oven. Set the hot baking sheet somewhere safe, such as the stove top. Use the spatula to transfer the sandwich from the baking sheet to a clean plate. Allow the sandwich to cool for at least one minute before you pick it up and try to eat it. The cheese is going to be hot, silly. If you take a bit now it is going to burn the roof of your mouth.
This may be too complicated for you. After all, there's a good reason you're still single. We've talked to your mother. She told us how you tend to self-sabotage your relationships. If you're not ready to love you may not be ready to cook, either. Don't worry, you'll get there. Maybe you'll even have grandchildren before your parents are too old to hold them. Parents have dreams too, you know.
This final skill involves using one of your most valued appliances: the microwave. Microwave ovens are wonderful appliances because they allow us to create warm food without actually having to use fire. Keeping single adults away from fire is often a good thing. Not everyone has the skill necessary to successfully manipulate an open flame. That's okay. There is a whole word of frozen, pre-packaged food just waiting to be warmed up and eaten.
Microwaves come with their own danger, however. Specifically, THEY BLOW UP! What is critical to understand when dealing with microwaves is that you can never, ever, put anything metal into a microwave. This included the metallic-painted trim on some dishes. Here's a hint: if the item does not have the words "microwave safe" stamped on it somewhere then assume that it isn't and don't put it in the microwave. Very, very bad things can happen in you do.
Step one: Remove the frozen burrito package from the freezer. We strongly recommend buying the family pack because you know damn good and well that you're going to eat more than one. Family packs are cheaper, provided you don't eat all of them in one sitting. If you do eat all of them in one sitting you're in more trouble than we anticipated and should probably call your therapist first thing in the morning and make an appointment. You're single and your life is a mess, Karen. You need help.
Step two: Read the directions on the burrito wrapper. Place one or two burritos on a microwave-safe plate and put them in the microwave. Set the timer according to the directions on the package. Note that the directions are often for a 1,100-watt microwave. Your microwave may not be that powerful. If not, you'll need to add about 30 seconds more time. If you are cooking two burritos, as we show here, you need to double the time, though, again, different microwaves produce different results. Start with what's on the package and increase in 30-second increments until your burrito is done.
Step three: Remove the burritos from the microwave and let sit for at least one minute. Warning: the plate is freakin' hot! This especially applies if you cooked more than one burrito. Use a hot pad to remove the plate or else you're going to burn your fingers, drop the plate, and have a mess all over the floor. The dog will end up eating your burritos and you'll have broken glass all over the floor. Is that really what you want? No, of course, it isn't. Use a hot pad.
We should also mention than microwaved foods don't always brown. Don't be surprised if your burritos come out looking the same as when you put them in the microwave, just less frozen. Also, don't be surprised if the very center of your burrito is still cold. That means you have a weak microwave. Just add 30 seconds more time the next time you make one.
A Single Person Can Survive
We know that being single isn't easy. Even the Old Man was single once, but that was long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. [It's just a coincidence he has a passing resemblance to actor Mark Hammil. ] Things were different then. Being single was just a temporary condition before one got married. Now, a lot of people are staying single their entire lives. They never know the joys and sorrows of sitting down to dinner with their spouse and children who don't care about ever giving their parents grandchildren to love. All they know is late-night loneliness and a sea of empty take-out containers littering the floor because they never learned to pick up after themselves. We know, it's all our fault. We coddled you too much and failed to teach you.
Don't worry, you'll be okay. Take these recipes one at a time. Don't stress yourself. You have plenty of time to learn how to cook. After all, it's not like you're going to have a hot date coming over anytime soon expecting you to be a four-star chef. Learn from these recipes and if you do well, that is, you don't burn down the house, we'll consider adding a few more in a couple of weeks or so, after the holidays, where you can go home to mom's cooking and actually have a good, well-balanced meal for a change. You're coming in early, aren't you? Your parents will have your old room all fixed up for you.
Uhm, that's assuming you actually left home at some point. If you haven't, then don't worry, we'll just spray pine-scented air freshener to cover whatever the hell that smell is coming from your room. Just try to wear something that doesn't look like it came from the failure box at Goodwill.
A single person can survive on their own. There are lots of single people out there. Surviving. Sort of. More or less. Disappointing their parents. Don't worry, we still love you.
Abide in Peace,
The Old Man