Update: This is already long, but I learned one more interesting thing about cooking seasonally, which is that it really helps with the cooking simply thing. Cooking simply works best when you stick to ingredients that are flavorful themselves. Just letting the food be what it is, you know? But if you cook out of season, veggies are often kind of bland. Sticking to what’s in season means that you get maximum flavor, and that helps a lot.
After doing this for 25 weeks, it’s sort of hard to let go. I started off this project with two goals:
1) To show the workings of one ordinary (extremely flawed and somewhat half-assed) cook who still tries to make sustainable, vegetarian food the centerpiece of her cooking. The reasoning behind this was that our various conversations on the blog about food politics before centered around what makes it hard, and part of the perceived difficulty was the result of being intimidated by foodie culture. I love food blogs and cookbooks, but the problem with them if you’re a perfectionist or inexperienced is that they center around recipes more than techniques. This intimidates because it makes you feel like you can’t cook unless you have all the exact right ingredients, and some times the jargon can be intimidating. It also all seems so time-consuming, that it’s often tempting just to eat out instead. My hope was this could be another step towards a form of cooking knowledge spreading that was less about perfection and more about just getting it done. Taking the stress out of it, as it were. The comment sections were often the most helpful in this regard—obviously, what works will be different for everyone. By showing one way one person does it isn’t to say that it’s the right way or the only way. It was more about showing how much one person could get done by giving herself permission to wing it. My hope is far more people start blogging about food in this way; I recommend Jamelle Bouie’s blog as one that I think is helpful in this way. I also want to recommend Simply Recipes as the best food blog out there for people who are interested in everyday cooking. They are interested in seasonal cooking, for one thing, and the site is super easy to search. But the man to really learn from is Mark Bittman. Yes, he gets praised a lot, but it’s because he deserves it. His cookbooks How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian are geared completely towards technique and feeling confident about modifying recipes to suit your own tastes and what you have on hand. Many to most of the recipes are, “Here’s the baseline and here’s some suggested variations.” He writes recipes in a way that make them seem easy, especially compared to how other cookbooks describe them. I’m currently reading his book Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipes. It’s even more focused on theory and general techniques, and therefore even though I already know a lot of that, I’m getting some more knowledge and inspiration.
2) To challenge myself and become way better at cooking focused on sustainable, seasonal ingredients. I’d already moved into direction of reducing the household’s carbon footprint by not cooking meat, but I had long desired to go the next step and have a much bigger chunk of our food coming from local sources. But as Jamie Oliver has noted repeatedly, this requires moving away from the modern way of cooking with just any fresh produce you want whenever you want it, and more towards cooking the seasons. What had always intimidated me on that front was that cooking the seasons doesn’t mesh well with the kind of cooking where you start with recipes, since they often have ingredients listed that aren’t in season. But I realized that if a I joined a community supported agriculture project and vowed to cook everything I got in it, then I would basically be forced to learn the skills necessary to cook seasonally. That would, in turn, save me money and keep me from wandering around the farmer’s market, all bewildered—I could just buy whatever there’s lots of on hand that is therefore inexpensive. On this front, it’s definitely been a smashing success. I learned how I like to eat beets, turnips, and even cabbage. I learned how much you really can do with squash. No vegetable feels off-limits or intimidating now.
There were a couple unforeseen side effects of all this, on top of the goals laid out up front. I learned that I like baking, and have started to do a lot of it. I managed to move more away from relying solely on one-dish meals to making many meals that are a collection of smaller dishes. (I don’t like calling them “sides”, since this implies meat at the center.) I overcame an obstacle in moving to New York, which was much less access to ingredients I was used to in Texas, where the emphasis is far more on Tex-Mex, and I learned that I didn’t have to give up eating a lot of spicy food because of this. And there was weight loss, too, which I wasn’t expecting at all. But it makes sense; we were obviously eating out more than I thought we were, and being forced to cook so I didn’t waste food kept us from buying restaurant meals. For that reason, as well, I think money was saved, too.
I could probably go on, but I should wrap this up. It’s been fun—even with the still-baffling flame wars that crop up when you discuss food, no matter in how flexible and positive a manner. I hope the lessons I learned help me going forward. I hope it’s been useful to readers. And I hope that the project of discussing food and sustainability in real world terms continues.
I want to note that while these posts show that I only cooked 3-4 dinners a week, at least some times, it often doesn’t reflect the reality of how much I eat at home. Of course, I work at home, so 95% of my lunches are homemade, either as leftovers or something I whip up while I’m working. We also often ate leftovers for dinner, because we often have to eat on the run because we have shit to do. I’m big on homemade breakfast, too, though I know this is one that has a lot of personal variation. Like, as I’m posting this, I’m eating some lentils with one of the roasted beets chopped up in it and some cornbread. I work out a lot, so if I don’t eat a substantial breakfast, I would turn into a vicious ogre who bites people’s heads off. Prepping
1) Cut open the pumpkin and roasted it. I usually throw the seeds away, but this time I took the time to clean them up and roast them, too.
Just boring old stir-fry, mostly because I still had a bunch of cabbage left, and this was a quick way to get rid of it. Plus, I’m the queen of pan-frying tofu, and I just love to eat it that way. So, cabbage, green onions, pressed-and-pan-fried tofu, a green bell pepper, garlic, and a jalapeno went in. Ginger and the dreaded cumin went in with salt and pepper. Once the tofu had a firmness to it, I put in some soy sauce, a touch of fish sauce, and then a dash of white wine. Served over rice.
Time: As long as it takes to make rice.
When I was growing up, one of my all-time favorite dishes was pozole, which is a pork and hominy Mexican stew, and one of the few things my adult self misses about eating meat. But I found a great vegetarian pozole recipe in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. It’s basically a matter of substituting beans for pork. First I soaked a bag of mixed beans overnight, and then cooked them when it was closer to dinner. Added minced onion and jalapeno, two cans of hominy, oregano, cumin, pepper, and garlic. I usually make this with green chilis, but I didn’t have any, so I decided instead to toss in the roasted pumpkin seeds and about a cup of roasted pumpkin. Cooked it for a half hour, and then served it with yogurt and tortillas.
Time: A little over an hour, if the beans are thoroughly soaked.
Leftovers: Tons. This is particularly tasty for breakfast.
The cauliflower I’ve been getting has been getting used. I just eat it with lunch, either over whatever I’m eating or steamed on the side.
Roasting extravaganza: roasted beets, pumpkin, the carnival squash, and garlic.
1) Made pumpkin cornbread with this recipe. It was, by the way, awesome. Highly recommended.
2) Cooked up some lentils. When they were done, used a modified version of this recipe, by scrapping out roasted carnival squash and pumpkin into it, along with the other ingredients. I skipped out on both the arugula and the mint, since I didn’t have any. Mine didn’t look as nice as hers, but it tasted great.
Time: An hour.
Soundtrack: Wayne County, Etta James.
Leftovers: Half of the apples and the lentils, most of the cornbread.
I’m making a rich, yeasty pumpkin bread for a dinner party tonight. It’s a tad stickier than it should be, so wish me luck.