I’ve been noticing some chatter about how Americans, in the midst of this economic downturn, are cooking again at home. I have been a home cook for as long as I can remember. Started out as a latch-key kid making food for myself: instant mashed potatoes (yep), sandwiches, “doctored-up” ramen noodles. In my single years I added steamed rice, tofu, beans, pasta, salads, and sautes. For the past 11 years, I have cooked for Jason and I. Doesn’t matter what the outside world is doing, I regularly cook the food we eat at home- always have.
No doubt, my life has been laced with memorable meals prepared in restaurants: a 6 course “customized” menu for two girlfriends and I at Picholine, a multi-course birthday dinner #31 at Lidia’s with Jason, dinner at Brennan’s with my mom and sister in New Orleans, brunches at Maroma in Playa del Carmen, and a simple, seasonal Northwest feast with my nephew Alex at Park Kitchen in Portland. I relish eating out, but over the last year our budget has been steadily constrained. Eating out ended up on the chopping block.
Still, it is not only because of our current circumstances that I cook at home almost exclusively. Sure, Jason and I have been forced to optimize our food resources. As renters who move around a lot, it is difficult to grow our own food. I do try to grow herbs and tomatoes, etc. And I do a lot of pickling every summer (and it’s a real treat pulling those jars out in these leaner months). Our meals now more than ever optimize pantry staples and home baked goods. Figured it’s better tasting and cheaper to make my own pizza dough and cookies. Pantry staples, mostly Whole Foods 365 brand, include canned whole tomatoes, canned tuna, pasta, rice, quinoa, farro, canned beans, tahini, frozen spinich, Tillamook cheddar loaf, olive oil, olives, and parmigiano reggiano. I suppose the most luxurious of all items is fresh, local, seasonal vegetables and fruit. Now that the farmers markets are starting to “get good” I am already mapping out future visits for green garlic, asparagus, morels, gherkins, and early season strawberries. Heaven on earth!
I believe home cooked meals enrich our lives and gives us strength to deal with the outside world. Jason prefers my cooking vs. going out so admittedly his gratitude is more than enough incentive and I really enjoy cooking for him. The act of preparing food and cooking in the comfort of my home is also my preferred creative outlet. I do not paint or play a musical instrument: I cook. It is my time to think, to sense things, regardless of whether I can afford a specific ingredient or not. I make do, and the end result is often immense satisfaction. As a cook, I wield the power to create what I eat and what I feed the person I love. We don’t always eat at the table. Sometimes we eat while watching Rachel Maddow. It’s still the food that I prepare.
If it’s true that this recession means more people are cooking at home then I think that’s not such a bad thing. Even though I have always cooked, the current state of affairs has forced me to be more creative, to think ahead and plan my meals with thrift in mind. Expensive shortcuts, like going out to eat when I’ve had a stressful day at the office, simply aren’t optional. I cannot afford but to be smarter about my choices and to possess greater reverence to things that are truly nutritious, delicious and valuable: locally grown, seasonal produce.
I believe that the current events will continue to shape how we as a society eat in the future, even after the markets recover. I believe this just one of life’s beautiful lessons. So take it in stride and go make dinner.