Sunday, November 8, 2009

I cook

I cook and I nourish. This is an integral part of my being, of how I share with others and operate in this world. I've never made mashed potatoes from a box, nor an instant cake -- thankfully my mother didn't believe in them. For every school bake sale we pulled out the Joy of Cooking and made cookies or brownies from scratch. I don't reheat frozen pizzas and rarely use a store bought pie crust (French pâte feuilletée is the sole exception on this). Feeding my children real food from real ingredients -- the best I can obtain without too much trouble or funds -- is integral to how I'm raising them.

I am building their bodies, and their minds. Those reports from the English school system of the improved grades, concentration and behavior of children through the simple (but enormous) change of quality in their school lunches hit their mark in a person like myself. Now Jamie Oliver is attempting to convert a town in the US with one of the largest obesity percentages per capita. I wish him sincerely well, and hope that with Michelle Obama in his corner, not to mention much of the liberal media, he will succeed in shifting some towards better foods and to integrate cooking into their life. He is a far easier media celebrity to watch and relate to than Michael Pollan for the vast majority of the American population, much as I am riveted listenting to the latter speak.

During my childhood in the 1970s my parents, who both worked full-time, fed me nightly, home-made, sit-down meals. I don't remember it being onerous for either of them (they both cooked): a roast chicken or some piece of meat either broiled or quickly fried in a bit of butter, boiled vegetables -- generally two, and something starchy and white. Add to this a pitcher of whole milk for the kids and a bottle of wine for the grown-ups and you have our nightly spread.

What was once so normal is no longer the rule. It is now a revolutionary act to conscientiously feed our children. From Michael Pollan, to Joan Gussow to Jonanathan Safran Foer's new book on meat, it is becoming trendy amongst the intelligentsia to rethink our relationship to food. But, for the vast majority of individuals, cheap and easy, sweet, salty and fatty fast food still dominates the diet.

And taking time to cook. As Michael Pollan put it recently in the NYTimes, in countries where people make their own food from scratch, there is no obesity, or barely. If you had to slice, dice, soak, dry, pre-fry and final fry your French fries every time you wanted to eat some, would you eat so many as to give you cardiac failure?

So yes, I take the time to cook, and to cook from scratch. I offer this to my children, to myself, to my friends. It is time-consuming, but not in a way that is bothersome to me. I've no tv, I get my errands done as I need, my housekeeping is relatively light each week, and no, I don't work long hours at a job that requires a lengthy commute. I am coping (just barely) not doing so. Is it a sacrifice? professionally no doubt, but personally? Clearly, I've chosen this route, and so I live it. My act speaks louder than any winsome wondering words. Thus I can and do spend an hour or a bit more in the kitchen every evening to make a decent meal for the kids. I bake my bread every Wednesday/Thursday, and at least one if not two afternoons a week I prepare a batch of muffins or cereal bars.

To me it's faster than picking up Chinese or a pizza on the way home, and infinitely cheaper on the budget. My garbage is next to nothing: compost, some containers to recycle and perhaps one sac per week that actually goes to the bin.

But back to cooking, and the choice, need and desire to nourish. I like putting food in front of people. It doesn't have to be a big extravaganza -- though Thanksgiving generally is. And I do confess I enjoy getting a bit of applause for a particularly elegant dessert. It just feels right, and yes thankfully, easy, to whip out a quiche while I'm still a bit sleepy in pjs, chop some vegetables, bake a tart, set the table and then go back and take care of shower, work, tasks, children etc., knowing the arrival of my friends at noon will be delightful and easy, natural.

Politics and belief have affected what I serve my children. Of course I was influenced by my parents, but as a child of my generation, and one who reads, seeks to learn more, and operates with the local organic, agricultural world of Provence, I have gone beyond what they taught me. I cook and serve many whole grains. I bake my bread with my own starter to render it more digestible (long fermenting times). I serve lots of locally grown, in-season vegetables, with the occasional sprinkling of frozen peas in a fried rice. I get eggs from a local farmer. And, I rarely serve meat. I am not a vegetarian. I once tried to be and became quite anemic. I wasn't living in a situation apt to eat a balanced diet without meat, and neither did I have the knowledge and skills to do so. My compromise for the moment -- as for many people, this too may evolve -- is to purchase the best quality, and ideally from a local farmer who has raised his animals in humane conditions with good quality feed and local hay/foraging. This is of course not inexpensive, and thus as I mentioned, meat is a rare presence in the meals I serve the kids, no more than once a week, if that.

And so, in this fast-paced world, have I taken myself off the path to financial wealth and professional accomplishments commensurate with my fellow Princetonians? Yes, I think I have, unless a miracle happens. Who knows, maybe someday I'll be a super-famous novelist? In the meantime, by taking this other path I've chosen to place my bets on a different sort of retirement account: my and my children's physical health.

6 comments:

Zuleme said...

That is interesting, that making your own starter makes bread more digestible.
Yesterday, carrot ginger soup from my own carrots and cooked chick peas for home made hummus. Today, an organic roast to please the parents (served with our own potatoes and squash) and a carrot cake with homemade applesauce. Yes, it takes time and makes a mess to cook with real ingredients. But it is worth it.
This week, mushroom soup and then spinach soup ( a house full of Swedes loves this). We are trying to cut down on cheese and tomato sauces for now. We're the same on meat, very little and it comes from the farm here.

Zuleme said...

That is interesting, that making your own starter makes bread more digestible.
Yesterday, carrot ginger soup from my own carrots and cooked chick peas for home made hummus. Today, an organic roast to please the parents (served with our own potatoes and squash) and a carrot cake with homemade applesauce. Yes, it takes time and makes a mess to cook with real ingredients. But it is worth it.
This week, mushroom soup and then spinach soup ( a house full of Swedes loves this). We are trying to cut down on cheese and tomato sauces for now. We're the same on meat, very little and it comes from the farm here.

mssuebee402 said...

Growing up in the '60's I don't recall much processed food being available. My family had a garden, we ate what was in season, and my mother did a lot of canning. She canned tomatoes, blueberries, peaches, pears, and made the best bread and butter pickles ever. She froze corn and beans. She liked to bake and often made rolls. We didn't have a lot of money but we were fed well. I love to cook as do my brother and sister. It makes me feel good to spend the time to make a nice meal and to share it with the people I love. There is something comforting about it.

Madeleine Vedel said...

Yes ms sue, we were raised in times of minimal to no processed foods. Hard to imagine how lucky we were compared to today's kids. Your home and food memories sound wonderful. Not a lot of money was necessary, but time, thoughtfulness, love and care.

And Zuleme - fermenting breaks down the grains which are designed to be relatively difficult to digest otherwise. Thus non-gluten people, etc., do better with long fermentation times rather than quick yeast. Your soups and veggies sound great!

Zuleme said...

Maybe sometime you can write up the process to make a starter. I can probably find it online somewhere if I ever have time to try.

Madeleine Vedel said...

I put my bread recipe on the blog way early on - -check out the month of February. Enjoy!