Sunday, August 30, 2009

It appears I'm not the only one who feels overwhelmed by the concept of cooking from scratch, preparing meals (namely meat) and planning around ingredients.
It's a cultural thing.
Americans have slowly allowed the "cooking culture" to die out. Through a generation (or two) of Cathy comics (I made my favorite thing for dinner, Reservations!) and latchkey kids with TV dinners and microwave meals, Julia Child has become a household legend...and fallen from the ranks of female empowerment to the unachievable Martha Stewart or Donna Reed.
According to this article by Michael Pollan (who first revealed the corn controversy to the masses in Omnivore's Nation) We, as a nation, don't cook anymore.
The 8 pages are a lot to wade through on screen, however, it's an interesting read.
I still think my meat eating husband could give the vegetarian a hand in planning meals that involve flesh foods (and their leftovers) But I also think that much of the country is in the same boat we are.
Although, I must seems like it would be easier if I didn't have to worry so much about corn in every new potential ingredient.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

New Rule: No more diets!

Seriously. New restrictions for new people is getting old.
My dear husband was bemoaning his inability to lose weight. His knowledge of the need to diet, but not knowing where to start. He craves carbs like a fiend. He gets migraines, he feels fatigued. And hungry. He joked about tapeworms.
I bantered along, and then I went and threw out an ominous single word.
He wanted more info. I directed him to the infamous spit test. (Which I always seem to pass, though many people I know have failed and I've read claims that it's impossible to pass. More proof that I'm weird?)
The next morning he began his morning routine before I was up. Then he slunk back to bed and pulled the covers over his head.
"I'm hungry," came a muffled voice.
"Mmmm," I groggily replied, thinking I'd just gone to the store and the shelves and fridge are bursting at the seams.
"I don't know what to eat," his voice was very low.
I tried to pull myself free from the last dregs of sleep to put these pieces together. Oh. "You tried the spit test?" Uh, huh. "You fail?" Uh, huh. "And now you want to go yeast free?" Uh, huh. Help me?

Of course, I said yes. I told him to choose a plan of attack. There's "Feast without Yeast" (Potato heavy, otherwise similar to the famous Anti Candida Diet), "Anti Candida Diet" originally devised by William Crook, or the SCD. His eyes grew wide.
Okay. We'll just sort of do what most people do in the beginning, and focus on cutting out refined sugar and trying to eat real food.
So we sat down to make up a list of safe meals. Eggs. Sauteed veggies. Salads. Brown rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes and grains in moderation, nut butters in moderation. What about meats?
Okay, hon. You're the meat eater. I don't know what all is out there. Chicken?
Um, beef?
Sounds good.
What kind?
Well, what are we going to do with it?
Whatever you want.

Now we don't fight often. We may disagree, we each take walks (or drives) alone and we wait until the kids are in bed to discuss bigger issues. However, this response produced a small argument. Which I feel bad about.
I wanted to know what kind of meat he'd like, and how to prepare it. He doesn't know. I tried to be patient, and asked for dishes he liked, maybe they were safe or we could make them sugar free/gluten free. He didn't know. I asked him to describe how to prepare the meat, at least.
He told me that was my department.

I'm the vegetarian of the household! I'm second generation vegetarian, in fact. Third, if you count my great grandma, but my grandma (her daughter) ate plenty of flesh foods. Just not really on my day to visit. Since I was vegetarian and all. (Do you get that I was raised vegetarian?) I was even spared turkey prep at Thanksgiving time. (I helped with the rest of the meal.) Not only do I not eat it, I was never around others preparing it to learn from osmosis.

I have an idea that there are giblets stuffed inside a store bought turkey. I know that these should be removed before preparing. And that you need to thoroughly scrub everything raw meat touches. (and cooked meat, for that matter) He claims this is more than he knows, or knew before meeting me.
I don't know what it's supposed to look like! (Raw or cooked. "Good," he says, "When it looks good you know it's done." I've never seen anyone eat beef that looked appealing. Even in our dating days when it was presented on a lovely platter by trained chefs.) I don't know what you're supposed to do with it, or if there are more bits and pieces to trim off before preparing.

And he shrugs and says "I guess we'll find out."

I just hope I don't hurt him in the process. (accidentally, of course)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Avoiding GMOs

Handy trick I just learned from America's Test Kitchen : To find out how fresh produce was grown look at the sticker. The one that has little numbers on it (Penguin likes to decorate her lunchbox with them) It also happens to have a secret code.

In brief: 4 digits indicate conventional produce and usually start with a 3 or a 4. 5 letter digits beginning with a 9 are the sought after "organically grown" fruits and veggies. And 5 letter digits beginning with the number 8 should be avoided at all costs, since they stand for genetically modified organisms.

I suppose you can purchase number 8 if you like...but personally I find the concept of designer DNA disturbing. I'll stick to organics, thank you. Or conventional. Even if there is the very real potential of "drift" from GMO fields. I want my money to say NO to GMO. And support the farmers who are struggling to agree.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lunch time woes

Back to school time is fast approaching. We're squeezing in the last few activities of summer, picking up back to school shopping lists and trying to create a lunchtime plan. The one child who can eat hot lunch, won't. And Mr. Violets needs a bag lunch, too.

Luckily, this time of year there is no shortage of articles available for inspiration. I found in my inbox earlier an ezine from Family Fun that included the recipe for a cream cheese and strawberry sandwich. I described it to my picky Bumblebee, asking if she thought it might be something worth trying. (She said Maybe. Yay!)

Penguin piped up with "I'd rather have cream cheese and tomato roll up."
"Oh," I asked, mentally making a note, "Would you eat that in a lunch?"
"No," she answered, "I tried it once and it tasted horrible."

"Well, it sounds good..." she said in response to my look, "I should have liked it."

Thursday, August 06, 2009

After a particularly hard morning, Bumblebee is curled up in my lap.
"I'm never going to have kids," she says with a sniffle.
"I don't like listening to crying," she explains, "I just want to go and turn the TV on when people are crying or being too silly."
I see. Does she expect her kids to cry a lot?
"Uh, huh. I cry when you make me do things I don't want to do, and my kids will have to do even more things."
Oh. Okay...
I just can't let it go, though. Sorry, kid, I really need more info here...What things????
Eyes roll.
"Like chores. I don't like doing chores so I cry."
Yes. I've noticed. But what does that have to do with your kids?
"They're going to cry because I make them do all the chores! So I'm not going to have any kids!"

She's not in my lap anymore. I'm clearly clueless.
But she relents when I repeat what she just said back to me. She doesn't like picking up after herself, and it makes her cry when I tell her to. So she can't have kids because she'll have to listen to them cry when they have to pick up after themselves.
"Yes. And the other stuff."
Other stuff?
Shrug. "You know, like the laundry. I don't want to do laundry. It's too hard."
Oh. So your kids will have to do all your chores, too?
"Uh huh!" she brightens. I get it.
And that will make them cry, so you can't have kids, ever?
She nods and snuggles back into my side.

So, hon, who is going to do the chores when you grow up?
"Huh? Hmmm..." She taps her cheek thoughtfully.
"Mommy, can I live with you forever?"
You'll still have to do your chores.

She thinks some more.
"I know! I can live with you, and you can hug my kids when they cry!"

The child worries me. But man, do I ever love her!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Slow Food

There was a time prior to the allergy diagnosis when we ate "normal" processed foods, and yearned for something more. A return to "old" cooking. I quickly learned that this meant different things to my husband and I.

One year, I wanted to do something special for his birthday. I was still trying to wrack my brain when he commented idly how much he missed butterscotch pudding.


Yes, pudding. But not just any pudding. Not the little plastic cups that you get at the store, and not the instant boxes. Real pudding. Old fashioned pudding. His eyes closed as he broke into a fond reminiscence...He conjured for me an image of his mother, with a frilly apron, slaving for hours over a hot stove, stirring a pot full of bubbling butterscotch pudding. She'd always have to make a double batch, and there were never leftovers.

The next time I saw his mom I asked about her recipe. She was vague. Pudding is pudding. She suggested I just buy some and tell him it was homemade.

Undaunted, I called her. I asked again, seeking specifics. Again, she was vague. It was a long time ago, she said, you don't want to go through all that trouble. Its all the same anyways.

But the trouble was going to be part of the gift. This confirmed to me it was real, old fashioned pudding she used to make. The good stuff I'd read about pioneer day books. I perused cookbooks. I looked online. Finally, I found something that looked promising. I carefully gauged the grocery bill that week to allow for real butter and actual cream. I measured, poured, and pot-watched. I stirred until my shoulders screamed for mercy. I entreated the toddler to entertain the baby. I almost cried when bits of scrambled egg appeared, but quickly grabbed a sieve and scooped most of them out.

At last, we proudly, albeit nervously, presented the concoction to my surprised husband. Who took a bite, and tried to conceal his disappointment. Shrugged and while I can't remember everything he said, I do remember one sentence. "Maybe she used a different brand. We could call her and ask."

Brand? Brand? Brand of what? Vanilla? Did she use real scotch? (I'd opted against that recipe) This had become a vendetta for me. I wanted to get it right. Was it the bit of egg that scrambled? WHAT?!?

He gave me a funny look.
Later his mom confirmed that "old fashioned" pudding was the famous comes in a box. (Eventually the enormity of my cooking fiasco was also made clear to my beloved husband, and he apologized for not being more grateful. He'd never fathomed the possibility that one could make pudding out of brown sugar, eggs and cream; let alone that it could take any more time or effort than baking muffins, which I did regularly.)

I think of this story with a chuckle whenever the concept of cooking from scratch is brought up. Because it seems that every generation over the past 100 years has it's own new idea of fast food, and it's own brand of nostalgic "from scratch" cooking. First those lucky town ladies who could waltz into the corner butcher shop for steak, or veal or chicken parts rather than keeping and slaughtering their own. Then the canned soup revelution. As soon as freezers became a household staple, there were TV dinners. And we've progressed.

My daughter pleaded for a cookbook at the last school bookfair, and when I leafed through it we found that not one of the recipes called for any fresh ingredients. They were all branded products. A woman at a Girl Scout meeting asked about our food allergies, and mentioned that while it seems hard for kids it also doesn't seem like a very big lifestyle change. She makes everything from scratch.

Of course I was interested...But very quickly learned that "from scratch" means using prepackaged ingredients along with some fresh herbs and prepackaged spice mixes to create a new dish. My vision was fresh baked bread, dicing veggies, and canning fruit. I suppose the dicing veggie part was accurate. She was offended that I consider sliced bread "packaged". Let alone her canned tomatoes.

Scratch cooking is a lost art. People don't know what a rhubarb is, much less what to do with one. Do you cook radishes? Are onions supposed to be this papery? How do you carve a Turkey? And what is this weird packet inside it? The term "cooking from scratch" has come a long way in the past hundred years ago. In fact, a hundred years ago, I doubt the term even existed.

There was a point in time when cooking a meal meant beginning with the decision of which chicken was next to slaughter. Meal planning was automatic. You went to your pantry, you put together what was there. There were signature dishes, of course, but as authors who try to create period style recipe books tell us, the expected results may vary significantly from today's standards.

My peers look with trepidation at an artichoke. My husband asks if he can toss the parsnips, assuming some carrots have gone bad. A woman in the store complains about the dirt left clinging to a potato, which makes me laugh. With a corn allergy, I look for dirt on my produce. Dirt means it's real. It's fresh. It hasn't been polished with corn derived wax, or rinsed with special germ fighting corny solution. Corn allergy has resurrected an understanding of "scratch".

It's also brought about an appreciation of simple food. Pasta with oil and a few veggies is delicious, elegant, and easy. Bread is a luxury, not a daily right. Rice is versatile. It goes well with beans, or eggs, or veggies or soup. And it's easy...rinse, glance through for stones (Which are hard on the teeth, but gluten, corn and casein free) and cook. Eggs are the ultimate fast food. If you want to enhance a vegetable, roast it with onions. The scent of caramelized onion will improve any meal and spark almost anyone's appetite.

I'm still struggling to come to terms with using meat, too. I can see the beauty in the simplicity. A roast chicken, a vegetable, a starch and you're done. However, there's a huge hole in my meal planning history that never included meat to begin with. I was raised vegetarian in the Seven Talents post-seventies granola era. Grains were high priority, although our doctors encouraged a heavy hand with the cheese. Until recently, we were encouraged to simply combine grains well. Eat a variety of supermarket and restaurant offerings. Too much thinking is discouraged. Look for an explosion of flavors, pour mixes and boxes together. Voila! A taste sensation.

Even the medical community, who is supposed to be supporting the slow food revolution, is slow to accept the movement. "And try to cut back on the fast food," the pediatrician always admonishes as we leave the office. I give him a withering look, but our lifestyle, our real, honest to goodness eating at home every night lifestyle, is beyond comprehension.

However, I'm still struggling to master the art of June Cleaver style cooking, and balance the pyramid.