Monday, April 25, 2011

Cooking on the Edge

Guest post by Emily Rosenbaum 

You know what people tell me a lot?  “If you were working, you couldn’t cook like that.”  I’m serious.  People say this to me almost weekly.  What they are really saying is, “Sure, it’s easy to spend hours a day in the kitchen if you’re home all day, but if you had a real job…”

For the record, I do have a real job.  I’m a freelance writer, a career I pursue during the fleeting preschool hours or after my kids are in bed.  I publish consistently and take on bread-and-butter work on a regular basis.  

But, you know what?  That’s beside the point.  The fact is, every person I know is balancing about twenty-three different balls, and it’s hard to keep them all in the air.    
I am committed to Real Food for any number of reasons: reduced packaging, tastier meals, less monosodium somethingoxide in my food.  But one of the biggest reasons I try to cook from scratch is that it reduces life to what matters.  Instead of stressing about how many people are following my blog or reading my book, instead of worrying about the fact that people I went to college with are famous while I’m toiling away in obscurity, I am creating meals.   

And I mean “creating.”  Not opening cans or dissolving bullion cubes, but creating from raw ingredients.  My relationship with food is deep and powerful, and it smells something like yeast dissolving.  

I love food.  I love everything about it.  The creation, the freshness, the smell, the feel.  Food is not about surviving or calories or points.  Food is worth taking the time, and I’d feel that way even if I had a “real job.” 

I know a lot of people feel the same way but are having a tough time figuring out how to work cooking into an already packed day.  So, here are a few things I’ve figured out about preparing real food on a limited schedule:
  1. Plan ahead.  I soak chickpeas the night before, then start them cooking the minute I get out of bed.  They’re cooked by 8:00 AM, ready to be used for dinner that night.  Or, I cook black beans on Monday night, which means they’re ready for Tuesday evening’s dinner.
  2. Lay things out.  If I’m baking the next morning, I measure out the dry ingredients in advance and lay out everything I’ll need.  That way, I can get it in the oven within fifteen minutes, and it can bake while I’m in the shower. 
  3.  Reuse an ingredient throughout the week.  Not to harp on chickpeas or anything, but if I cook them on Sunday, I use them in about three different dishes the rest of the week.  I love chickpeas.
  4. Don’t be afraid of simple dinners.  If you’ve baked muffins in the morning, puree some fruit, yogurt, and honey (plus a couple of ice cubes) and have smoothies with muffins for dinner. 
  5. Finish everything you cook.  I have been known eat the same soup for eight meals in one week.  I love variety, but it sure cuts down on preparation time and food waste.
What’s the secret to balancing kids and work and exercise and cooking?  I’m not sure there is a secret, other than a certain level of commitment and a drop of lunacy.  But I’d love to hear how other people work cooking into their days.  

Emily Rosenbaum is a writer, mother, adult survivor of child abuse, cook, and lousy gardener striving to live sustainably in New Jersey.  Her collection of essays and recipes, Cooking on the Edge of Insanity, is a window into her special brand of craziness. 

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