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.