My mother is an adventurous cook, and rarely meets a new recipe she isn’t game to try. I was raised eating meals that were at times delicious. At other times, they were, charitably described, unusual. One meal that immediately comes to mind is her “Athenian Stuffed Cabbage.” Looking back at the meal, I am forced to examine it through the taste buds of a 7-year-old. Frankly, it wasn’t terribly delicious. Maybe I will always have a strong aversion to raisins and cabbage, at least when they are combined.
Mom never lets these failed forays bother her. Her motto is, “There are too many recipes out there for me to spend my time worrying about this one.” She moves on, and dinner the next night will be something wholly different. I admire her for being so casual and playful in the kitchen. I am not like her.
When I got married, I had plans to spoil my new husband with delicious (but also nutritious!) food every night. He would always be blown away by the perfection of my cooking, and everything would be made from scratch. (Also included in these plans was the our-home-will-always-be-spotless clause, the I-will-never-wear-sweatpants-past-8:00-AM clause and the we-will-never-argue-about-anything clause.) Unfortunately, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and my cooking turned out to be like my mom’s, except without tasting good. It was always adventurous, especially for my poor husband, who had to try to eat a little before he gave up and put a pizza in the oven as a last resort against starvation.
I finally discovered the wonders and joys of…the boxed dinner! With just a pound of beef (or chicken, or a couple of cans of tuna) and some water or milk, I could create some dish that tasted like food. I got all the satisfaction of “cooking my husband dinner,” and my husband got all the satisfaction of having a meal he could actually eat.
Fast forward several months, after turning to boxed dinners and frozen pizza each appearing on the dinner menu at least once a week. I read the most amazing book on the way to Virginia: Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.” This book reads like an extended essay on the intangible (and admittedly tangible) benefits of eating real food in the context of traditional diets. Pollan observes that many of the items filling the shelves at the grocery (or grocery section of your local supermarket) are not actually food; they are edible food-like substances, manufactured by scientists who cannot quantify the benefits of eating an apple, a carrot, or a small piece of beef. The fact is that many foods and the chemicals in them interact in ways when they are digested by the human body that scientists cannot reproduce in laboratories. As one scientist was quoted, “You can’t do a study on broccoli.” (But you can do one on folic acid, or beta carotene, or omega-3’s!)
I have been inspired to cook real food, and to cease relying on boxed dinners or frozen pizza to keep us from starvation. Bye, chemicals whose names I can’t pronounce, and high-fructose corn syrup. If the item isn’t what it says it is on the label, better not to buy it. Over the next few months (let’s say 6) I will post what I’ve been cooking and how I am doing with avoiding processed food. I will probably have a few posts unrelated to food, because I don’t exclusively think about cooking. (Or I try not to. Yeah.)