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WRITE TEAM: Time to become a cook

Smash, smash, smash, peel, peel, peel, slice, slice, slice the garlic.

Cut, slice, peel, slice, slice, chop, chop the shallots.

It could as easily have been onions but considering I am not an onion fan — although I do understand the need to cook with them to add flavor — I prefer to go with shallots.

Next comes the zucchini cut into half-inch rounds and then quartered. Now the peppers of varying colors and heat cut into strips.

The pasta is in the pot working its way to a boil.

Into a pan goes the vegetables at the appropriate time and covered with tomato sauce and basil, thyme, oregano, and red pepper flakes to add just a little kick. Don’t forget the salt and pepper.

Simmering and stirring takes place, along with a bit of splashing upon the stovetop of quite a few little, tomato red dots because it is the sauce’s job to make a mess.

A short while later and my dinner for the night is served.

I don’t cook very often.

I am not a bad or good cook, and my list of recipes is short. This is probably because I do it only occasionally. Recently I have started cooking more often.

There are a few things I have learned, some from cooking shows, others from good cooks like a couple of cousins, my brother, friends and co-workers.

One of my favorite shortcuts came from my uncle Bob a long time ago. It was to use salsa in chili instead of doing all the work of chopping the vegetables myself. This has come in quite handy multiple times and in many situations. 

(He also pointed out how little I really know when he asked me about reindeer scat. My reply was of course, “I don’t know,” to which he replied, “You don’t know crap,” though not so politely. Still one of my favorite comments ever.)

To use the best and freshest ingredients is ultimately the main lesson I have learned. It makes up for the lack of skill I have in the kitchen or at the grill.

(Sad but true. I am one of those men who is rare to find — one who has not mastered the art of grilling nor needs to be in control of the grill.) Again, I am not a bad or good cook.

So, what does this mean? Mainly it means I have a tendency to eat out. Fast food has usually been the meals of choice. They are easy to find. They are consistent, if not very tasty. They are fairly cheap, though not often healthy.

This leads to the next best option of restaurants. With the increase in choice that has come from the new offerings in Ottawa, this has become much easier. Not so far away is Peru and La Salle, which increase the choices I have to sit and enjoy a better meal.

Yes, a bit more expensive to purchase but healthier, maybe. Tastier, generally, although consistency can sometimes be a problem.

For all the choices available to me, the quick, the served or the homemade, I am thankful. I get options, each with its own benefits.

For the future, it is time to become a good cook, who sometimes isn’t.

RICHARD PUGH, of Ottawa, is enjoying living in the Illinois River Valley. He can be reached by emailing

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