I failed 'Craft' (read sewing and knitting) at my posh girls' school in Yr 9, and my 'Home Ec' (read cooking) teacher never quite trusted me after I almost blew up the kitchen. We had an electric oven at home, so I didn't realise you weren't supposed to press the ignition button after the gas had been on for a while in a gas oven. Oops.
After that incident, I sulkily resorted to working out how to blow awesome bubbles using the dishwashing detergent and blowing through the hole made by my thumb and index finger.
Anyway, I saw the cooking and sewing as hangovers from the not-very-distant days when my school's purpose was to raise proper young ladies to become good wives. This was, after all, the school where a classmate lamented she was sweating in the hot weather was reprimanded by the Principal with words that have stuck with me to this day: 'Girls do not sweat! Horses sweat. Boys perspire, and girls glow.'
Morongo Girls' College (homestead c. 1863)
The Home Ec and Craft teachers were buttoned-up starchy older women whose idea of an adventurous meal was shepherd's pie and apple crumble. I don't think they instilled any respect for their knowledge of cookery by making us start with making vegemite sandwiches. I became too busy making an amateurish feminist protest that I did not realise that cooking and cleaning might also be useful to me, and possibly even enjoyable. I thought only take-away food tasted any good, and planned to make enough money to eat only take-away once I left home.
Fast forward to leaving home and the financial reality of being a uni student. I realised with horror that I was going to have to learn to cook or face several long years of eating 2 minute noodles and toasted cheese sandwiches - which was pretty unappetising even without considering the implications nutritionally. My cooking repertoire at that stage extended to chucking some chicken and Chicken Tonight sauce in the frying pan, burning it, and adding some over or undercooked rice. As for cleaning, I was so naive that I in fact did not realise you had to clean a toilet until I moved into a place of my own at 18 and was startled to discover the toilet grew increasingly brown and gunky. Even so, much to the horror of various flatmates, it took me many, many years before I accepted that I would actually have to spend hours of my time each week doing something as monotonous as cleaning.
By the time I became a mum, I was moderately proficient at a range of basic meals, and reluctantly accepted that every now and then I did have to vacuum and clean the loos. I knew that having a baby would come with an exponential increase in laundry. But since my baby started rolling around on and gumming the floor, I started to realise my general cleaning standards might need to be lifted as well. Then as she started crawling and leaving food crumbed and smooshed up all over the place I realised I would really have to lift my game. I didn't want to be wiping everything down with chemicals that would just be getting in her mouth, but I didn't really know what else to do. As for food, I suddenly started thinking about choking hazards, and pesticides, and developing healthy eating habits and all those other things.
I found this handy guide to making a cheap non-toxic cleaning kit, mostly using bicarb soda, vinegar, and an earth-friendly liquid soap. I had to look up what 'washing soda' was - it is a chemical called 'sodium carbonate', and I have not tried it. The Back-to-Basics Cleaning website is also very useful. I also invested in a very cheap steam mop and do the kitchen floor with it every 1-2 days just to sort out the residue of any munchkin meals - which is very quick, dries instantly, and is completely chemical free. Many essential oils can also be good for cleaning (here is a 'starter kit', and see here and here for ideas), but most also have to be avoided while pregnant, so check this list if you might be pregnant.
On the food front, my baby continues to eat very little of anything, but she usually joins us for dinner and will play with/taste the food we are eating. She loves meat and anything with flavour. She eats almost nothing in the way of traditional baby food, so I'm glad I learned about introducing them to the house-hold meals, since it is largely pointless to make baby food up especially for her. I found the Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook was a great guide with lots of simple ideas, and ran through the basics of nutrition and safe eating for bubs. It has recipes for home-made curry pastes, pesto, gravy etc. so that you can control the salt, chilli, and skip the preservatives.
But I also put Christmas vouchers to good use and invested in some quality cookbooks generally, including Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion and the Women's Weekly 1000 Best Recipes. My in-laws may have been trying to give me a hint, because I also acquired a Women's Weekly World Table cookbook and Clare Richard's Tropical Cuisine.
I find putting paprika, garlic, and a little chilli or cayenne pepper makes the food tasty without adding salt. I am trying to buy fruit and vegies at Darwin's organic store and buy in season so this is not much more expensive (recently bananas and pumpkins have been much cheaper at the organic store). The organic store also has curry pastes and sauces which are low salt and preservative free, that you can't find in the supermarket.