When my husband and I started dating, I didn’t know anything about cooking. I grew up on pre-prepared food – macaroni and cheese, bags of salad, frozen fish sticks, jars of sauce. When I went to college I still didn’t cook for myself. I was the only one I knew who stayed on the university meal plan for all four years. What wasn’t to like about someone else cooking for you every day? And after three more years of 20-something-single-life-in-the-city, I had eaten more take out than I’d like to remember. My new beau was the first to suggest to me that we make spaghetti sauce out of… tomatoes! Over the past 14 years, I’ve come a long way.
It can seem difficult at first: my habit was to buy something pre-made at the grocery store, so cooking an entire meal from scratch seemed daunting. But I made little changes, teaching myself, taking pride and celebrating each accomplishment (who knew that jar of Prego was just a can of tomatoes, some garlic and Italian spices). I started reading the cookbooks in my closet – they’re full of fascinating information! Not just the recipes, but facts and techniques. I watched the Food Network whenever I could. And I relied on food mentors like my former boss, Stacey. Once I gained some skills, I began to apply them to lots of different circumstances. For example – I know how to make a flavorful braising sauce. So now I can use that braising sauce to cook chicken legs, a bottom round beef roast, or a pork shoulder. I know that cilantro and lime are the back bones of Mexican food; basil and oregano for Italian. So I can take whatever I have and turn it into something delicious. And I don’t have to pay someone else to prepare and package it for me. The best news is I know what is in my food and where it came from.
The more I started to get to know different ingredients, the more I wanted to know how they were grown and when they were in season. That led me to grow it myself or look to a neighbor/farmer to buy it. The more I knew about how the plant or animal grew, I began to respect that food and not want to waste any of it. Do you know how big a broccoli plant is (and how much real estate it takes up in the garden) compared to that little broccoli crown in the grocery store? Knowing stuff like this makes me want to make a broccoli slaw out of the stems. And this goes for so many other foods … bones, fat, feet, everything gets used in our house. Information like this leads us all to be better consumers.
The bottom line for me is: if it goes in your body, it is absolutely important to know what it is, where it comes from, and why you are putting it in your mouth in the first place (what nutritional value it has). If you have that frame of reference when you are looking at a Twinkie or a strawberry, it helps you make the better choice! Hopefully it also makes joining a CSA or shopping from a local farmer’s market sound more exciting. If you don’t consider yourself a cook yet, I hope you’ll think about giving it a try. It’s such an exciting time of year to be cooking (and eating) fresh, local ingredients.
Hey – if I can do it, you can do it.