Showing posts with label Cooking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cooking. Show all posts

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Piece of Advice #108: Be prepared

In general, my philosophy is "Have less stuff."  But for the stuff I do have, I try to buy quality, hold onto it, and take good care of it. 

Actually, I'm not really a very good minimalist.  I've spent the last decade or so stocking up on old lady detritus picked up dirt cheap at rummage and garage sales.  Sometimes I think if I died and they held an estate sale, people would wonder how old I was?  75.  80?

Except the decor's not right. 

I have a sewing machine and a fabric stash I got mostly second hand.  I've got all kinds of canning equipment.  I have flannel sheets and enamel pails, old guy tools, jars of herbs, and a set of World Book Encyclopedias from 1954.  I have wooden train tracks and camping equipment and garden tools and walls and walls of books.  Children's books, history books, books about politics and geography, economics and science.  I've got books on raising rabbits and books on herbal remedies, I've got books in Russian, dictionaries in 7 different languages and a small collection of old hymnals.  No, I'm really not the poster child for minimalism. 

But in my defense, I got nearly all of this stuff second hand, most of it is sturdy and exceedingly practical and has been used (by me, even), and I've carefully organized it so that it's at hand when I need it.  If my son needs a costume for school, I can make it.  If he grows out of his size 10 pants, I've got the next four sizes in boxes, by size, for him to look through.  If my kitchen faucet develops a pinhole leak that, hypothetically say, sprays you in the face when you turn the water on, I've got a reasonably comprehensive set of tools, or, failing that, a decent selection of duct tape.  My pantry's stocked and my freezer's full.
A long time ago, I read about The Pantry Principle in Amy Daczyczyn's The Tightwad Gazette.  She talked about it in reference to cooking.  She said that she never cooked by recipes, in the sense that she had to assemble all ingredients in order to cook a meal from a magazine page.  Instead, she stocked her pantry over time so that she always had the basics and cook a decent meal from them, making substitutions if necessary.  Like Amy, I don't cook from recipes.  I take a trip down to the freezer in the morning and pull out a roast (or some brats, or a whitefish fillet) and while I'm down there I look to see if I've got any frozen green beans left or if the potatoes in the pantry look like they might need to be eaten sooner rather than later.  Later, when I'm making mashed potatoes, I'll think about what's in my herb garden that could be used and I'll grab a handful of parsley or dill and throw it in there.  I'll buy butter, olive oil, or honey in bulk and mentally keep track of how much is left.  I am continually in the process of stocking up.  And I never run out.  I mean, really, almost never.  Before a storm I don't have to go to the store because I know there's plenty of toilet paper and batteries and blankets and water in the house already.  My challenge is using up the stuff I have, turning the pantry over so nothing goes past date or completely stale.  Not that you can't use stale.  There are a hundred good uses for stale, if you can think out of the box.

I've extended The Pantry Principle to most everything, and it does save time, money, and peace of mind.  About the only thing I can't do this with is our cars, except for adding oil and antifreeze - I just don't know enough about auto repair.  So when my car leaks coolant like it is right now, I'm at the mechanic's mercy, more or less, because I'm not good with cars and I haven't stocked up.  I keep thinking I should do something about that.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Piece of Advice #79: Reexamine your attitude toward cooking

This week in the letter sent home from my son's school was a note from the principal containing this sentence:
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year...it is the one meal of the year I cook from "scratch" 
I did a double take.  Really?  The one meal?  I haven't always cooked as much or as well as I do now (not nearly so much nor nearly so well), but I'm pretty sure that even in the dark days of "fending," I could say I cooked more than one meal per year from scratch.  Maybe my definition of "scratch" is different, but somehow I don't think she means this is the only meal she takes down a bird, plucks it, guts it, and then cooks it.

Why do we as women brag about our inadequacies in the kitchen?  And we do it so frequently.  Cooking is a skill and not an exceptionally high level one, unless you are branching out into French cuisine, etc.  We should all know the basics because the basics are what allow us to eat at least adequately appealing meals when money is tight.  Cooking also is and has always been an effective way of wooing others and making them love you just a little bit.

Think back to your childhood memories.  How many of them revolve around food?  My grandmother did lots of nice things for me, but my mental shorthand for them seems to be memories of her homemade noodles with turkey and gravy and the peanut butter cookies with the criss-cross fork prints she made just for me.  My mother also has recipes that I love and that make me feel happy and homey to eat.  Even the things that she made that we hated bring back memories.  My sister, dad, and I joke about the lasagne florentine no one liked, and the bran muffins she made for a period there when the going wisdom was that bran would save us all from the coming apocalypse.

I love you, Mom, but those bran muffins were dry.  Arid.  We tossed them in the bushes on our walk to school and went without breakfast, my sister and I, ungrateful little snots that we were.

My mother makes a birthday dinner for everyone in the family.  You get to pick what is for dinner and dessert.  I've found it interesting how easily and eagerly my husband and my brother-in-law have taken to this tradition.  Having something yummy cooked for you is a gift, one you can enjoy beforehand in anticipation and then while you are eating it.  It makes you feel special; cherished.

I get that cooking has been associated with kitchens which have been associated with the OPPRESSIVE PATRIARCHY.  But when you peel away the rhetoric and the propaganda it's still a necessary life skill, a building block of community, and a way to people's hearts (via their stomachs).  Traditionally, it was something older women did far better than younger women, and it earned them accolades and attention.

It is hard to work up the enthusiasm to cook after a long work day, but serving and eating pre-cooked food or take out all the time is nutritionally and culturally barren.  Our kids will grow up with far fewer of those great multi-sense memories are parents and grandparents gave us.  How sad.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Piece of Advice #11: Cook

Cooking in our Western society is another way of opting out of our great social/nutritional experiment gone wrong.  Eating out is expensive and often very caloric.  Eating on the go means an end to that grand tradition of family sitting down nightly around the table to interact over nourishment.  Relying on restaurants for your food adds an additional barrier of ignorance about what exactly is going into your body, both materially and nutritionally.  Why do we pay so much to eat stuff that is so bad for us, so generic tasting, in a public setting?  Habit and laziness, I suppose.  I got into the habit myself for awhile. But no longer.

The good things about cooking:

  • It is so much cheaper to cook for yourself or your family  
  • Cooking with fresh ingredients results in tastier, more interesting food
  • Home cooking is healthier for you (unless you have your own deep fryer and plan to use it for every meal)
  • Your family will feel cared for and connected to you by this daily tradition of nourishing
  • You can keep that portion of evening time family time.  
[Personal note: I've cooked - some - since I was in college.  I am not a foodie and can pretty happily eat a limited number of foods without getting too bored.  But my husband is a different story.  He likes a fair amount of variety in his meals, he doesn't like leftovers served more than once, and he has a number of other food rules besides.  Also, the types of foods he most enjoys are the types of foods I really don't like which makes feeding him a bit of a challenge.  But he loves to be fed.  He highly values it; it makes him feel cared for to have me put a meal in front of him that is designed to please his taste buds.  My son is not so picky and will eat fairly promiscuously, but enjoys home cooking and likes the routine nature of sitting down at the family table.  I will cook special foods for him sometimes too, and he gets very excited about them.

If I spend an hour or so each evening making something that sustains my family and creates and maintains the bonds my husband and son have with me, I think that's time well spent.  I also make and send healthy lunches.  Breakfasts are not sit-down affairs except sometimes on weekends.]

In many cases cooking something will not take as long as getting everyone together, herding them into the car, driving to a restaurant, ordering, waiting for the food, eating it, and returning home.  In families with working mothers or wives, I would encourage the whole family's participation in the process because working together also can create bonds and teach the younger generation a very useful skill.  If you are single, add up the money you are saving and put it away for a goal.  Also watch the pounds come off.