Coffee klatch, Food shopping, Seeds to table
Comments 10

When cooking goes stale

Early Girl tomatoes, fresh from the Farmer's Market

“How would you like your hamburger tonight, Dear?”

Many a meal, back in the day, began with a pound of frozen ground beef like this one

Many a meal, back in the day, began with a pound of frozen ground beef like this one

As a young bride, then mom,
that’s what I asked my long-ago husband, the father of my children, nearly every night.

Sound familiar?

With a slim budget and a belief that we couldn’t get enough protein, iron and B vitamins without meat, hamburger was my almost-nightly mainstay. And I hated it.

Back then, I disliked cooking almost as much. Spinach, slimy and disgusting, came in cans. So did green beans and corn. Meat, nearly as disgusting, stunk and made me want to retch, and it wasn’t just during pregnancy. I still react to raw meat with an urk reflex.

What can I say? My main cookbook was Better Homes & Gardens, and it gave me lots of recipes using canned, boxed and highly processed foods. Incidentally, that link is to a much revised, newer version. Mine was published in the Sixties.

Salads came in three main shapes: Tossed, with pale iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and onion, or occasionally with apples and oranges instead of the savory vegetables; Cole slaw, made with shredded green cabbage, one chopped orange, one chopped apple, some raisins and half an onion, minced, or sometimes a grated carrot and celery instead of fruit; or a Waldorf style salad, with mayo for every-day and whipped cream on holidays.

Chopped slaw with apples, raisins and a bit of minced onion, dressed in a tangy yogurt-citrus dressing

We still make a fruity slaw, chopped, with apples, raisins and a bit of minced onion, dressed in a tangy yogurt-citrus dressing

Well, of course, there was potato salad in the summer, maybe a watermelon salad with seasonal berries and more melons for family picnics.

Baking eased the drudgery

Even then, I made bread. My own, sure. More often, Rhodes Frozen 100 percent Whole Wheat Loaves. Back then, their loaves didn’t have so many objectionable ingredients (high fructose corn syrup, canola oil, just to name two).

Lucky for us, we lived just miles from the Seventh Day Adventists’ Challenge Bakery. The Seventh Day, as we referred to them, known for their healthy lifestyle, made the Rhodes stone ground whole wheat frozen dough loaves, which they sold to the local supermarkets in 3-packs and 5-packs.

All I had to do was throw a frozen loaf into a greased bread pan, let it thaw and rise, and bake it for 35 minutes. Home-baked sandwich bread! We ate a lot of bread in those days.

Tomato avocado sandwich on homemade whole wheat bread

Tomato avocado sandwich on homemade whole wheat bread

If cooking is a chore …

Cooking, though, was a chore I did not enjoy. My best friend, childless and happily so, offered to take my children under her wing and give them cooking lessons. They each got one. Just one. “I really don’t like children,” she said, apologetically.

Of course, I invited the children to cook with me. Showed them how to measure both liquid and dry ingredients. Taught them the difference between folding and stirring, and how to use a knife safely.

Just as I taught my children to measure dry ingredients, now I teach my grandchildren

Just as I taught my children to measure dry ingredients, now I teach my grandchildren

But they sensed my boredom with the routines of hamburger, tuna, and canned vegetables and usually didn’t stick around too long.

Expand your food palette, add color, crunch and scent

I was nearly fifty before I discovered I liked cooking, and that I probably would have liked it all along if I’d just expanded my food palette a bit. We lived in a town with a thriving co-op and lots of fresh, organic produce, much of it local. Plus I had a little time on my hands to permit creativity and experimentation.

After years of relying on the same old recipes–I knew them so well, I never had to look at a single one–I had time to try new ones. Gruyère cheese puffs! Potato soup made with real cream, not 2 percent milk, and leeks instead of onions. Baked beans from dried beans I cooked myself and side pork, not the canned beans and thin bacon I had always used.

Salads made with crinkly escarole, tender baby spinach leaves and hot-sweet red onion from a local truck farmer. Stir-fry with baby bok choy and colorful bell peppers.

Baby bok choy with slices of red and orange bell pepper, ready to add to lightly sweated onions and garlic in the stir-fry pan

Baby bok choy with slices of red and orange bell pepper, ready to add to lightly sweated onions and garlic in the stir-fry pan

The colors of seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables delighted my work-weary eyes. Cutting into their farm-fresh skins released minuscule scent-filled droplets of moisture that made my olfactory and salivary glands dance for joy. Take this mango. Messy as it is, the scents and colors filled me with gladness as I cored, peeled and diced it for a quick mango-kale salad that took only ten minutes to make.

Even the sound of the knife cutting into the crisp flesh of a bright orange pepper or a crunch-on-the-outside-tender-on-the-inside cucumber satisfied some need in me for fresh food, not far from the garden.

I’d grown up on such foods. Well, not the mangoes, baby spinach and the colorful peppers, but plenty of vine-ripened tomatoes, cucumbers, and green beans, along with bib lettuces, crunchy radishes, sweet green onions that tasted of the earth, and tree-ripened apples, pears and peaches.

Vine-ripened Early Girl tomatoes, fresh from the Farmer's Market and oh so tasty!

Vine-ripened Early Girl tomatoes, fresh from the Farmer’s Market and oh so tasty!

Though for years I’d bemoaned tasteless, mushy supermarket tomatoes, squishy cucumbers and juice-less apples, I hadn’t realized just how much I’d missed real food, grown for taste and texture, not for ship-ability and shelf longevity.

Look for the freshest, locally grown fruits and vegetables you can find

So if food and cooking have become a bit of a yawn for you, consider finding a fresh produce source a little closer to home. Go to the farmer’s markets and find one or two that specialize in heirloom produce. If you’re lucky enough to have a co-op in your area, become a member and encourage the group to order more locally-grown food from small farmers who pride themselves on the freshness and taste of their fruits and vegetables.

Experiment. Try new recipes, or add something unexpected to an old one, as I did to our simple quesadillas when I spread a little whole grain mustard on a warm tortilla shell before adding homemade hummus and grated cheddar. What a difference! Suddenly our long-time lunch-time standby became a treat all in itself.

I bet you’ve got a couple of those tricks up your sleeve. Care to share?

♥ ♥ ♥

Note: I’m currently participating in a Blogging 101 class. One of our assignments is to write an article based on a “writing prompt.” My prompt was ( YAWN ), and from it came this post.

10 Comments

  1. Pingback: MAKING A (CORN) MEAL OF IT – Talking Pictures, a Sound Decision

  2. I get my baby bok choy from one of the several Asian supermarkets, and it is much fresher and cheaper (and smaller) there. Sometimes I don’t know what we are having for dinner until I am making it; depends what’s in the fridge. For example If I am left with one carrot, half an onion, perhaps half a pepper and a celery stick, it’s Chinese for supper. I’ll write a blog about Chinese cooking one of these days.
    P.S. I’m doing 101, too, but not too much on expansion yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You and I cook alike, it seems. Quite often dinner is based on what’s in the fridge. Always a fun challenge to change up the ingredients a bit, isn’t it?

      Like

      • And I shop for what’s on special, not what a recipe calls for; I’ll pick a recipe (if I’m out of ideas) which has what I have on hand. Surprising what you can do with a bit of this, and a bit of that, isn’t it? And sometimes because something needs using up. Over-bought cornmeal, just now – I’ll blog about that.
        Cheers, B

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Sharon L. Grace says

    I’ve never really enjoyed cooking, perhaps for similar reasons you mention. Your pics of tomatoes and mango salad are enticing enough to make me consider changing my ways! Thank you for offering a fresh perspective!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s nice to know that food/cooking can be boring for others too. I fall into that rut once in a while too, then I head to the recipe books and the supermarket to find a different ingredient to experiment with.

    Liked by 1 person

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