Slow down, you move too fast

Once, in the days when my hair was less brittle and gravity had not had it’s way with my bosoms, I liked to think of myself as a cook.  I made homemade tomato sauce and baked bread and did equally astonishing feats of turning raw materials into identifiable meals.  I still bought plenty of sliced bread, of course, as cooking was more a cross between a science experiment and performance art than it was a way of life.  As a newly-minted adult, I liked the self-reliance I put on display every time I conquered phyllo dough or showed up at a pot-luck with a homemade bowtie pasta salad, rather than something sporting a grocery store price sticker.

Cooking trumped baking because I liked the creativity of wandering into my kitchen and thinking, “Hmmm.  What do I have and what can I do with it?”  Baking was too precise for my taste, too paint-by-number.  I liked to think of myself as a food artist of sorts.  Long before it was popular to blog about Julia Child, I spent many a long hour alone with my Moosewood Cookbook, playing with recipes.

By child number three, that conceit was knocked right out of me.  I was still throwing together dinners, but most days it was about minimizing my time in the kitchen.  I just didn’t have the time to putter about the kitchen, skinning garlic and whatnot.

A lot of meals come pre-done, you know.  I tell you this in case you haven’t been in a grocery store in the last seven decades.

I was “mom cooking,” as a relative described it, which consisted of a lot of opening various jars of this and cans of that.  The problem is that when you buy something in a can, they slip in a lot of things I don’t really want my family eating, like extra salt, sugar, partially hydrogenated something or another, sundry chemicals with complicated names that I vaguely suspect are not actual food items, and the ever-popular bisphenol-A.

So, I have been finding myself more frequently making stuff from scratch.  Baking muffins and that sort of thing.  But, I was getting resentful of the time it takes, because baking muffins from scratch is a whole hell of a lot more time consuming than buying them at Starbucks.

Where I cannot control the ingredients.

I decided the change that I needed was not to buy more or different ready made foods.  What I needed was a change in my attitude.  I needed to remember that food preparation can be an organic part of my day, not something to be alternately shown off or rushed through.  Just a pleasant part of my day.  Bread can be set out to rise after lunch, punched down after Zachary’s karate, re-kneaded in the early evening, and put in to bake during dinner.  And we will have fresh, sugar-free bread for lunches the couple of days.

I realize that I have this luxury because I am not working out of my home.  Even if I were, there would still be some things I could do to reduce our reliance on processed foods, but time moves at a different pace for me, even when I am writing, because I am at home.  So, I can start things the night before that turn into dinner 22 hours later.

Anyone who breaks into our house in the middle of the night is likely to find beans soaking in a bowl on the counter.

Don’t get me wrong – I know the time involved in this is coming from somewhere, and since I already don’t watch TV, it’s coming from time with my kids.  Yes, they’ll help me roll out tortillas, but let’s be honest, no three-year-old cares to spend two hours a day cooking and no five-year-old ought to be chopping onions.  I am hoping the baby gets better at deseeding tomatoes, because she made a mess of the last batch.

My progeny play about and fight and do art and otherwise entertain themselves while I spread food preparation out through the day.  I believe this is good.  They are forming their relationship with food, and I want them to know that food does not come individually wrapped in plastic with microwave instructions.  Since my change of attitude, Zachary has learned why it is that the Hebrews ended up with matzah because they didn’t let the bread rise.  The Exodus story suddenly made sense as he took his first peak at our rising dough.

We are not purists.  While our produce has been about 95% local all spring and summer, we are not locavores.  Winter will test our mettle, even here in California.  While I am working to reduce our meat intake, as the obscene amount of resources required to produce meat makes me feel dirty, we still are having some sort of flesh two nights a week.  I just try to make sure none is wasted and it is all raised as sustainably as possible.  While I like the idea of approaching food slowly, we’re still buying our pasta pre-made.  Come to mention it, since my tomato plants fell victim to the blight, we are also buying our sauce pre-made.  And, while I myself am more or less a Real Foodie, my husband will never get off the sauce.

But, I am making changes.* We are getting a waffle iron so that Zachary’s addiction Kashi waffles can be broken.  I feel torn about the non-stick surface, but life cannot be perfect, and I figure whatever machinery the Kashi folks use to make their waffles has its own issues.  There are other purchases I would like – a non-plastic container that keeps bread fresh and another for freezing loaves, jars for preserving beans – but they will have to wait.  Right now, I need to get myself a dutch oven.

It’s time for Benjamin to learn that baked beans actually get baked in an oven.


* Any suggestions on which types of dutch ovens, jars, or waffle makers to buy are much appreciated, here.

15 responses to “Slow down, you move too fast

  1. What about a bread-maker? Same ingredients, time saved.

  2. Do you have a pressure cooker? That makes rice and beans quickly, plus a bunch of other things. You can have a science discussion with the kids about that.

    Tortillas are really labor-intensive as flat breads go. I’d consider a tortilla press. I’d also consider trying chapatis, which are the same idea but not as fussy.

  3. Oh, I was unclear! I meant which brands or types of dutch oven, waffle maker, and jars. I am not going to be buying all sorts of gadgets; after all, I cannot single-handedly revive the economy!

  4. Lodge does a line of both cast iron (preseasoned and non) and enameled dutch ovens that are pretty good. The great thing about cast iron is that properly seasoned it’s pretty non-stick (and I’ve heard it adds iron naturally to your diet although I have no idea if that’s true or not), and it lasts forever. My mother is still cooking with her cast-iron pans that she got from her father – they must be 50 years old now. Also they’re WAY cheaper than the very lovely le Creuset. One idea – check TJMaxx or something like it for excellent deals. That’s where I picked up something like these: http://www.amazon.com/Snapware-Glasslock-Tempered-Storage-Containers/dp/B0029U57RA/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&s=home-garden&qid=1251729478&sr=8-5 when I decided to replace hard plastic storage at my house. I love these things; so far they have held up beautifully. If you want all glass (glass lid as well) try Anchor Hocking. Can’t help on the waffle iron although I’ll be interested to see what people recommend as I’m thinking about picking one up.

  5. Mom cooking — I’m so there. And the eternal search for balance (jeepers I’m starting to hate that word) between being a kitchen slave and really enjoying preparing wholesome food for your family. Nobody expects you to spend every minute of the day entertaining your kids (except maybe your kids, and they’re young and unrealistic). I think involving your kids in food preparation is fabulous — although for me, it’s a fine line between enjoying teaching them and seeing them learn and bursting a blood vessel when another egg gets smashed on the floor. I’m looking forward to getting my crock pot out for the fall.

    p.s. making your own pasta would really be carrying it too far, in my book :)

  6. Pressure cookers aren’t as expensive as some other gadgets, but they are more than a regular saucepan. Although I understand in many parts of Asia they are really, really inexpensive and very sophisticated.

    My Dutch oven came from Le Creuset via my mother-in-law. However, thrift shops can be good for things like Dutch ovens, enamel or cast iron. You can probably find canning jars as well, but you’ll want to buy the lids and rings new (I would, anyway). Don’t know about the waffle iron.

  7. this is great. I confess to keeping a bag or box of frozen dinner (pizza, stir-fry something) in the freezer nearly at all times, because with rehearsals and such I sometimes find it hard to make a real meal, but would much rather do that than eat out. I find the crock pot to be a great resource for homemade food that I can prep earlier in the day when I have more time and then open up and eat at dinner time.

    what you are teaching your kids is VERY valuable. they need to learn those lessons, too. I need to, as well, sometimes. ;)

  8. I’ve been doing more scratch cooking and reducing our reliance on packaged and processed foods. I am not a purist, and I don’t sweat that. If I get too caught up in perfection then the whole thing becomes a chore and I give up, you know?

    I think that taking some time from the kids in order to do basic household chores is reasonable. They need to see and learn how to do this stuff for themselves. In fact, I would argue that it’s less taking time from them, and more shifting it in a new direction. Although I will admit our experiments in cooking together often end in tears, it’s a process and it still has value.

  9. We’re a gluten free, dairy free house (well except for my husband, who still loves his bread & cheese) so I cook for hours from scratch. I know how much harder it is to do it that way, but I take great pleasure in knowing that my kids are eating a lot of “hidden” good stuff, instead of high fructose corn syrup.

    In Canada we love Bernardin jars, lids and rings. The rings and lids should be bought brand new, you can reuse rings but never lids. Glass lids & sealer rings are harder and harder to find though. I get most of mine at Wal-Mart.

    Just make sure you get the right “sizes”. Example: jam in the 250ml jar is a waste of time. Get the bigger 500ml jar. Pickles should only be done in the big quart sealers, but that’s just my opinion!

  10. thegreenlife04

    I’m sure you’re already doing this, but we reuse almost all of the glass sauce jars that pass through our house.

    Have you made your own applesauce yet? So easy, and far and away BETTER than what you get in the store. Not that I make it every time we eat it, but man is it better.

    I too have found I enjoy the luxury of approaching tasks throughout the day – folding laundry after bedtime, unloading the dishwasher during nap (when I don’t have to pull climbing children out of it), chopping vegetables for dinner after lunch … I enjoy the rhythm of it, and I enjoy that my life really doesn’t have to be rushed. Until it’s time to feed everyone, anyway.

    Gardening, cooking, and (some) cleaning have become part of the rhythm of our day, and we all seem to enjoy it. Glad it’s going well for you too.

  11. Good for you! When I caved, I went to Whole Foods, but cheaper and better to do it yourself. If only my kids would eat beans…

  12. Oh, and I sometimes make 3 lasagnes at a time and freeze 2…

  13. This dutch oven http://www.qvc.com/qic/qvcapp.aspx/view.2/app.detail/params.item.K16520.desc.Staub-Elite-Enameled-Cast-Iron-5qt-French-Ovenwith-Lid (why oh why can I inser a link properly) is my favorite piece of cookware and it is ON SALE. Great quality, incredible price. Really, trust me on this. :-)

    As for the waffle iron – have you looked for any old fashioned cast iron ones that go on the stove? You’ve motivated me to start searching. I’ll let you know if I find anything.

  14. I love nothing more than sharing my thoughts on kitchen essentials! I agree with everyone who advocates an enameled cast iron dutch oven. Mine is a 5 quart Le Creuset and is over sixty years old, well worth every penny you spend on it (though Lodge makes a brilliant and very reasonable option). I also use one of their seasoned grill pans to grill steak because I live in a condo and can’t have a barbeque.

    As for waffle irons, I prefer the gravity type which flips over part way through cooking because it ensures a more evenly cooked waffle. It’s more important with thick Belgian style waffles than the thinner ones, but makes a significant difference in my opinion.

    I also like the glass container with the Lock’n’Lock style lids for all sorts of things, and I think they make one that’s bread sized.

    Happy cooking!

  15. You’re so inspiring. I try do do as much as I can. We both work out of the house, so it’s hard to be like my mom and make yummy Persian food. Seriously, her food take HOURS to make. Even our CSA share is sitting in our fridge this week waiting to be eaten while still fresh! (of course the fact that 2 out of 4 of us had stomach issues over the weekend only helped deplete our rice supply!)

    Thanks for the inspiration. We love to cook and I need to prepare a little better each evening for the next day. A little bit of planning can go a long way…