Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Time Sucks & Vinaigrette

Time sucks? Here I mean the black holes that absorb hours of the day, where time goes somewhere else. I've got two. They are not pointless meetings, or folks who interrupt and talk off point too long, nor are they administrative tasks that accomplish nothing but cover tails, that used to be parts of my day at work.

Mine? Children and food, both of which require an inordinate amount of time-- not that I'm not willing to abandon either. However, I am open to better methods, approaches, or ideas for both. There are some things that take time and that all of us could benefit from, here I mean the food time suck.

An American friend in Japan impressed me with the number of creative adventures and activities she managed to combine with two children. She was involved in Girl Scouts, a theatrical production, she knitted prolifically, and she was writing a mystery novel. I was blown away with her productivity. While I struggled to knit yet another stockinette stitch scarf, she was turning out crazy critters full of color and whimsy with her yarn and needles. Thinking I was doing it wrong since she clearly managed to get so much more done, I asked her the question I most often want to ask everyone, "What do you cook for dinner?" Her answer? "Oh, I don't cook. We order out or eat frozen pizza." Her answer revealed two things for me. How she had time to participate in activities in the early evening and that though the option existed, I could not embrace not cooking as an answer to my own conundrum of creating more time.

I once lived on the cookings of others and relied on processed foods, but having been exposed to culinary delights in Europe, the Middle East, and Japan, I arrived at a fork in the road. I  either needed a chef or had to become the cook. I opted for cooking, and though I got into the game later in life, I'm a full-fledged junkie now. I cook, for better or worse, breakfast, lunch, and dinner at my house. Turning back is not an option.

Food that stirs my passions, gets me into the kitchen. I cook what interests me. Still there are shortcuts I could learn or recipes I might try, but food sits at the center of my day. I didn't inherit a repertoire of tricks and tips. My grandmothers both cooked for their families, but in their later years accepted the labor saving offerings at the grocery stores to some degree. They made their own pie dough, but sometimes used fillings from a can. They tried boxed mashed potatoes often enough that as a kid, I tried to avoid having to eat them. Salad dressing, pudding, and cereal were all national brands served at the table.

As a teenager in Spain, I was blown away by the taste of olive oil and vinegar. Why did we ever drift from homemade? I know! It's the time factor we save, but we fork over our tastebuds, health, and our connection to the food on our plate. There is no zest in a bottle of Italian dressing that compares to homemade, but some how we talk ourselves into it to loosen the grip of the kitchen on our lives.

Here is why you need the food time suck: taste, health, and environment. We save ourselves time and replace it with what? Meanwhile factories make our frozen pizzas, produce a bottle of dressing, and trucks deliver it, generating wastes or efficiencies? I think my grandmas and us were slipped a Mickey. We were duped out of the kitchen and its inherit labors for food that isn't good for us or the planet.

Cooking three meals a day is easier when you eat, say, rice or tortillas at every meal. I make my own pain by trying to mix it up. I want to try everything. I do rely on staples for simplicity. I don't regularly make my own pasta. I stash homemade gnocchi in the freezer from time to time. Sometimes we go out for lunch or order pizza. My kids don't always like what I cook. This week's avoiders included sushi cake, broccoli breadcrumb casserole, and about every soup I made besides miso. I could be meaner, strictor, or I could pack it in my husband's lunch or make smaller portions, which I do. I can't live on butter pasta and yogurt to the extent they are willing. The compromise? There is a pot of salted water boiling when I sit down to eat.

I'm always in search of recipes that interest me. Maybe some day I will exclusively eat my own soup stock, pasta, and granola like I do bread, but not yet. I aim to try to get there anyway, and maybe drag a few of you with me. Being the cook is a worthwhile pursuit for all of us and each of us-- better food on the table, healthier, fresher, food to eat, a cleaner planet, more local shopping, more local gardening, and perhaps even a barter economy of trading beer for jam or tofu for bread. Get to work, be the cook!

In the meantime, here's a recipe for a vinaigrette to stash in the fridge for at will salad dining.

Serves 4
It’s always a good idea to make more salad dressing than you need! I prefer to double this recipe. Change the herbs or leave them out as you like.

First Press Olive Oil, ½ cup
Organic Lemon, 1 (zest & juice), 3 Tbsp (use wine vinegar if you need more)
Garlic, 1 clove grated
Oregano, ½ tsp (fresh) or 1 tsp (dried)
Salt, 1 tsp
Pepper, 5-6 cranks

What to do
  1. Whisk altogether and adjust to taste.
  2. Place into bottle and serve over greens. 
  3. Store in the fridge, but bring to room temperature before serving.
Get your own bottle & fill it :-)

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