Learning to Cook

February 22, 2011

Did any of you see “Julie and Julia” and feel inspired by the yummy-looking food always on the screen and at the same time completely tired at even the thought of all that prep for one meal? If you are like me, you may have spent your young-adulthood and early married life convincing yourself and your husband that you were too tired to cook and that anyway there was nothing in the house and eating pizza (insert whatever go-to food you have). I will just go ahead and admit to all of my terrible food ways here. I’m not trying to convince anyone I’m a cook. I’m the one asking for advice on facebook, not giving it.

However…if you are like me or even if you just want to be entertained, keep reading. I’m going to write a bit about what I have so far.

1. I read (over a period of 2-3 years because I didn’t want to know the truth) the beginning to the cookbook called “Nourishing Traditions.” Be warned, this is a complete turn-around from what you will hear from culture at large w/r/t fats and cholesterol. And sugar!There is another book called “The Great Physician’s Prescription” by Jordan Rubin which I read (he’s the author of “The Maker’s Diet”).

*another side note. In order to read any of these books and glean things from them I have found it necessary to do some forceful pushing past of attitudes that feel, at times, rather pedantic and holier-than-thou. No one likes to be talked-to like this. A helpful antidote is Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.” I’ve never found her to be anything but witty, wise and down to earth. But that’s probably because I largely agree with everything she says.

What you can glean from these books (Not to mention “Fast Food Nation” or from numerous documentaries which I’ll have to get back to you on) is a sense of the foodie zeitgeist coming back around. They’re all saying essentially the same thing: eat like traditional cultures and you will be healthy. In my very limited opinion (and from reading “The Joy of Cooking” a bit) this is something which fine cooking has never lost. I doubt the French have ever just decided to give up butter for rancid oil by-product and lo and behold! they are just as healthy as they have ever been. Except for the smoking – which I’m convinced is what keeps them skinny after all those baguettes in the morning – but that’s another post.

2. I have had to realize and be very honest with myself that a) I will have to spend some time cooking and will have to plan better and b) I will have to learn to cook and eat vegetables. Meat, I’ve never had a problem with. Ditto dairy, eggs, need I say bread?, grains, fruit, etc. Finally, at 29, I’ve had to just turn to myself and say, “I don’t CARE if you don’t like vegetables. You have to eat them.” It helped to have Henry go on an allergy-elimination diet which did away with most of our grains and dairy. And here’s the thing that has been my saving grace: I found a friend who eats and cooks the way I wish I did and I asked her for help. She, in one email, opened up for me a whole  new world of what you can do with veggies because she eats only veggies, fats, some dairy and meat. No sugar, no grains. I’m gonna give you a huge tip for winter that she gave me: you can do endless variations on stuffed squash: celery, onion, sausage, apples, cranberries, leftover chicken from the free-range chicken you roasted earlier in the week, cooked greens, leftover meatloaf…and that’s just one simple meal. Pick three things that go together well, saute the veggies in a pan with butter or coconut oil (fat that is solid at room temperature is okay to cook with…the rest of them will go rancid if heated – olive oil is okay at low tempsAnd btw, any other kind of “cooking oil” that you get at the store like safflower, canola, etc… those are ALREADY rancid when you buy them. Rancid=cancer-causing ), stuff the already-baked squash halves and stick in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

*here’s the key my friend gave me: she bakes a bunch of squash when she buys it and then freezes it for easy retrieval afterward. Brilliant!

3. Planning doesn’t have to be done meticulously, but it needs to be done. Don’t go to the store and buy a bunch of random vegetables thinking you’ll just use them all for *something* or-worse- thinking you’re just going to eat them all raw. Unless you are either in love with veggies or REALLY dedicated to a raw diet, you need to think how you’re going to make them all into something you’ll eat and enjoy. Here’s a tip: spinach and other greens cook down into almost nothing, so you can fit a TON of sauteed spinach into a quiche and quiche is really easy to make. As my friend Sarah recently read, you can even make a “crust” from red potatoes sliced really thin and layered at the bottom of the pan if you are trying to get away from processed flour (which I am, but I still bought ready-made crusts for my quiche this week. Baby steps, people!).

You still need raw veggies in your diet. I am TERRIBLE at this. My friend who doesn’t eat grains? She has a salad every day for lunch. I need to learn her salad ways. All I’m going to say on this point is that the other day I made huge salads for us for lunch and as usually happens when I do this, toward the middle of the afternoon I started feeling hungry and awful. I think it has to do with my addiction to sugar and starches and also that I didn’t add enough fat. I ate a handful of nuts and I felt a lot better. Become friends with nuts and seeds (raw, of course, if you can swing it).

Another trick I learned on the planning side is to make the most of a free-range chicken. They cost $14 and are pretty small, but it’s enough meat for 2-3 meals for us when I’ve roasted it. I wash it, drizzle with olive oil and then salt and pepper. I add chopped veggies on the sides and roast until my meat thermometer says it’s done. Get a meat thermometer! Afterward, save all your bones, skin and the drippings from the bottom of the pan (unless you made gravy with them) and toss it all in the crock-pot with some coarsely chopped carrots, celery, onions and garlic, cover with water and simmer for like 5 hours and you have a stock which you can freeze to make many kinds of soup or sauce that is, incidentally, WAY cheaper than any organic free-range stock you’ll find at the store. To make it easy on myself, I just always buy carrots, celery, onions, garlic and potatoes.

4. Budgeting. Here’s some research I’m going to do soon. We don’t have the budget to buy large quantities of organic veggies but apparently there are some veggies for whom pesticides make less of a difference in terms of how much of them we get at the end than others. In other words, “clean” vs. “dirty” commercially produced vegetables. But when in doubt, I’ve been concentrating all my organic efforts on the meat and eggs because truly, feedlot meat is just so awful in so many ways. And if you feel antagonistic toward this viewpoint I will simply point you toward the very mainstream and culturally accepted book “Fast Food Nation” or the documentary “Food, Inc.” So, I’ll let you know what I find out about veggies.  I welcome any insight ya’ll have on clean vs. dirty veggies.

*This might be a no-brainer for most of you but for so long we wasted money on veggies because I bought them but never ate them. We ate all our grains first and then got pizza. I know. I suck. 🙂 So, know that it DOES make a huge difference in terms of money if you actually prepare and eat the veggies you buy!

5. What number am I on? I don’ t know. The biggest thing I’ve been learning is that you can’t expect yourself to totally overhaul everything in a week. Go slowly. Do one thing until you feel like you have it under control (for me this means not having to consult a cookbook. And by the way, it helps to have a cookbook that will tell you how to make almost anything. I recommend “The Joy of Cooking”) and then move on. For me this was chicken and stock first and now bread. I don’t feel compelled to give up bread at this point, but I have been making my own. And no, it’s not sprouted. But if you eat sprouted bread, as I have in the past and I’m sure will again, I applaud you. I’m using stone-ground whole wheat flour and molasses. Things I hope to start in the near future: sprouts (apparently, you can sprout almost anything in your window and almost any kind of sprout is good for you EXCEPT the one you find in the store; alfalfa. Isn’t that just the way?) and raw milk and cheese (including making my own mozzarella!).

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11 Responses to “Learning to Cook”

  1. sarah smurf Says:

    These are the dirty dozen veggies–the ones you want to buy organic, if possible:
    * celery
    * peaches
    * strawberries
    * apples
    * domestic blueberries
    * nectarines
    * sweet bell peppers
    * spinach, kale and collard greens
    * cherries
    * potatoes
    * imported grapes
    * lettuce

    And here are the Clean 15 (those that aren’t harmed by pesticides as much):
    * onions
    * avocados
    * sweet corn
    * pineapples
    * mango
    * sweet peas
    * asparagus
    * kiwi fruit
    * cabbage
    * eggplant
    * cantaloupe
    * watermelon
    * grapefruit
    * sweet potatoes
    * sweet onions

    So, we end up buying organic baby spinach a lot for salads. It’s hard to buy that in bulk, because it goes bad pretty quickly…so it ends up being kind of a splurge.

    Also, one things I do with salads, as a means to get more full on them (and leaving out dressing) is to a big dollop of cottage cheese on top! It’s delish. And you get calcium from it!

    Let me know all you learn about cooking with veggies! I’m trying to do more of it, too, so we can swap ideas.

  2. KSwank Says:

    Great, thought-provoking reading! Just a couple of questions: First, a couple of staple veggies were not on either of Sarah’s lists: carrots and squash. Are they “clean” or “dirty”? Second, does Shelley eat any fruit at all?

  3. Henryhead Says:

    Holy cow, honey, I had no idea how much thought you’ve put into this! I need to hear more about this stuff; you have so much wisdom between your ears.

  4. Erin Says:

    Hey, there. FYI, quiche is dangerously fattening. Replace the cream with low-fat ricotta, and you will be all set. Have you read my blog? Check it out at http://www.fastfingersmcgee.blogspot.com, and look through my 2010 recipes if you need ideas for recipes.

    • jswankdesigns Says:

      Erin,

      I will indeed read your blog. I remember your yummy meatloaf! I do disagree somewhat with the whole mainstream culture concept of “fattening.” There’s probably too much to go into here in a reply, and of course all things in moderation, but I am tending to try to stay away from low fat things. The reason is that low fat dairy, especially, is not whole fat. Again, this is covered much more expertly in “Nourishing Traditions.” Not only is whole fat, like cream, a part of many traditional diets which supported healthy, thin and long-lived people for hundreds of years (in the case of many extreme northern diets the main fat was blubber!) before the introduction into those diets of sugar and processed grains, it’s necessary from a biological standpoint for your body to maintain the integrity of its cell walls (well, more particularly in this case that means cholesterol). On a practical level I do believe the ratio of whole fats to raw fruits and veggies should be small and your body doesn’t NEED a ton of it in order to do its job adequately but ideally it should be whole fat. Also, my friend whose diet I always talk about in here would probably scare you with her intake of fat, but that’s because she replaced grains completely with veggies, fruit, organic free range meat, eggs, raw whole milk and some cheese and other fats from nuts and oils – like coconut oil – and increased her fat intake. She has said that she had a big problem with sugar addiction and that when she changed her diet she dropped 25 lbs. without changing anything else and her skin completely cleared up. Also, now she says she can have a treat without going overboard but I don’t think she really eats sugar at all. I should ask her.

      I do realize I’ve taken a stance on diet and that it’s one thing that can be totally divisive, so I don’t want to be dogmatic. I think fruits and veggies are probably the most important part anyway. That, and not eating commercially produced meats and animal products. I’m just saying this is what has emerged from what I’ve been reading. Henry and I did weight watchers a couple of years ago and while we did lose weight it was *such* a battle – at least for me – because we didn’t do away with sugars and processed foods (we probably ate more) but we did go low-fat on everything and I was hungry all the time. So far in replacing some of my old ways I already have more energy and I feel great, even though the sugar craving is still there and probably will be there for awhile.

  5. Kirsten Says:

    *FIrst* of all, I *love* the new pic of Gilead. He looks so much like Henry in that shot!

    Second, on food–you go, girl!! I am always having to choose between doing all my homework or cooking/eating well. Some weeks it’s one, other weeks, the other. I can’t imagine being a mom on top of that!

    Darin and I are going to try to work at a nearby farm to earn a veggie CSA share this summer–I am super excited! In the meantime, inspired by you, we made the following soup this weekend, and I am eating the last bits now:

    Onions (1 whole, chopped)
    Garlic (3-4 cloves, minced)
    sauteed in a bunch of butter (I was inspired by you!)
    Carrots (2-3, chopped small)
    Chicken (from chicken I had roasted and then frozen little 2-3 serving packets of), roughly 6-8 oz, chopped
    Chicken stock (from the same chicken, also frozen in ~32 oz blocks–I use leftover TJ’s yogurt containers), one container
    1 bunch cilantro
    several generous dashes cayenne
    1/2- 3/4 can of coconut milk
    several handfuls of kale
    (just a touch of salt & pepper)

    It was delicious! Creamy, filling, zesty, not heavy. Yay for coconuts!

  6. Shelley Says:

    Hey girl, I need to follow your blog more! This winter just threw me off everything. bah.

    I love this whole post, and you are to be commended for taking charge of your health, diet and lifestyle. 🙂

    btw- I do eat fruit. When I had weight to lose I ate less and lower carb fruit like berries and now I do more. But I still keep fruit consumption lower than vegetables. I’ll cut a nice apple or pear into slices and share it with the kids with peanut butter or meat or whatever as part of a meal. Or half a banana, etc.
    Breastfeeding new mamas definitely could eat more fruit than a heavy individual that’s not supporting another persons entire diet, lol.
    I’m working on that email this morning, Jenn. ❤


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