Trial and error

Prairie Wool

Helen Row Toews

“Mrs. Toews, if I fill two of these one-fourths, will it make one-eighth?” The little girl squinted at me through a cloud of flour. Cooking class was in full swing, and today the kids were making cookies-in-a-cup. It was a bit tricky to keep an eye on everyone at once, as knobs of butter, brown sugar and chocolate chips flew far and wide, but Tina Pero and I did our best to help them learn.

 “No, that’s not how it works,” I answered, turning to see her heap a spoon with salt. “And yikes, that’s way too much.”

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Thankfully, kids are easily pleased, and soon everyone sat down to enjoy the fruits of their labour (otherwise known as a sticky brown lump at the bottom of a mug).

It’s fun to teach cooking skills; not that I’m an expert. My own knowledge was gained through trial and error. I’ve had my share of mishaps over the years, and still do, truth be told. I’m a bit too forgetful at times and operate with a lot of guesswork and substitution, but people seem to enjoy what I prepare.

In fact, lately I’ve been compiling a cookbook. It’s mainly meant as a keepsake for my children, so that after I’m lain to rest out yonder, they can fish out my famous boiled wiener recipe and think fondly of dear ole mom as they gum a few down. (I don’t really have a recipe for boiled wieners — they’re sauced.)

I plan to include my bread recipe, although it’s a little difficult to write out exact measurements when I slop liquid ingredients into a bowl, hoist the flour bag under one arm and pour.

I can relay, however, that bread has a difficult time rising if you forget to add yeast, and chocolate pudding is somewhat bitter if you overlook the addition of sugar.

However, these issues are due to distraction rather than lack of knowledge. Such an example was when I failed to notice a young cat lying on the kitchen floor and trod on its tail while placing cupcakes in the stove. When each tiny cake tipped onto its head and began sizzling on the oven floor, I cursed my carelessness (also fuzzy cats, but that’s another story).

Then, there are all the times I burn things. Not always food, although I seem to have a problem toasting nuts.  I’ve scorched tea towels beyond recognition, set fire to a pair of socks I’d hung over the oven door to dry, and left a pot-roast simmering on the range when I went next door to visit my mother—for three hours.

Dimly I heard what sounded like a fire alarm as we sat quaffing tea. Then, leaping to my feet with horrifying recollection, I rushed outside to see black smoke boiling from the doorway of my house as it was flung aside to allow my husband to crawl unsteadily from the dwelling and collapse onto the lawn in a heap.

Anyway, whether you think it’s wise or not, I am compiling a cookbook and will imbue its pages with my questionable sense of humour as well as all that I’ve learnt through culinary trial and error. You can learn a lot from your mistakes.

Give someone a smile this Christmas! Helen’s newly released books of humorous anecdotes are available on Amazon. Look for Prairie Wool Books or on her website at


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