Sunday, February 21, 2010

Why I Cook

Michael Rhulman got me rambling on why I cook. And why do I cook? I cook so I can feed the people I love.

I think about food a lot. Not because I have some sort of eating disorder, but because when you have young kids, you always have to preempt food meltdowns. You always have to be ready to feed at a moments notice. I always have a snack in my purse. I never thought I'd be that person, but I am. When I'm not feeding them, I'm thinking about what I will feed them. When I'm feeding them, I'm thinking about what's next, and have I fed them enough. When I'm not feeding them, I'm preparing future meals. In my mind, I'm always feeding them.

So I didn't cook anything before I was 20. Not once, did I cook food. I baked, and I loved it. But I never cooked food; knives and flames scared me. I was so bad at it, that it was a source of pride. "Oh, I don't cook. Trust me, it's not even an option for me!" This pride began to dissipate when I found that trying to feed myself without a drive thru window was impossible. I have a small appetite, but between all of the junk food I was surviving on, including my baked goods, I began gaining weight. That said, I didn't realize I was gaining weight until I lost it. I lost it by going to the gym and eating less junk. "Interesting," I thought.

Anyway, I spent the next few years cooking, but not really. Pasta was common, as were salads, sandwiches, and so on. Then I bought my first cookbook, "Pillsbury Best Chicken Cookbook," which was great because it wasn't complicated and broke down every step. I've made some good meals from that book, and I still have it today.

When I met my husband, I started cooking more because I found that it's more fun to feed two people than one person. I was also encouraged by my husband's interest in food; he loves cooking, eating, and savoring. He's a great guinea pig!!

But it wasn't until I stopped working to stay at home with our first child that I started cooking in any real way. I had more time to think about food. I began going to our local farmers' market in Santa Monica, which is truly impressive. At first, I bought fruit, potatoes, and onions. Then I began trying new foods (to me) like sprouted lentils, leeks, jerusalem artichokes, and so on. I began feeling challenged by the exposure to new foods. I began reading cookbooks for fun. I began looking at food as a source of personal growth because it was no longer about feeding people, it was about expanding my horizons and learning by doing, which is how I learn best.

When my son started on solid foods, I made it all. I cooked, pureed, and spiced it up. And with his massive diet, it worked well because everything he ate was unprocessed and healthy. Yes, my son loved lentils and broccoli. And his sugar intake was in the form of local, fresh, organic peaches, strawberries, cherries, and grapes.

My daughter has been a lot more picky with her food intake. I tried pureeing foods for her, but she couldn't stand being spoon fed. She didn't start on solids in any serious way until she was about 10 months old, and it was as soft finger foods (e.g., peaches, avocado, tofu). So I didn't cook for her on an individual level, but in my defense, I tried!!

And here we are. I cook most days of the week. I've ebbed and flowed between complicated, quick, labor intensive, simple, and time consuming foods. I stopped baking for a while because I no longer had time to do so while still making dinner. But we've found a balance once again. I bake again, but only if I can find a way to distribute the goods (e.g., friends, kid's friends). Dinners during the week aren't complicated, but everyone is happy enough eating it (e.g., leftover chicken with pasta and sauteed veg, or smoked salmon sandwiches). I save more complicated or time consuming endeavors for the weekend (e.g., berry tiramisu, roasted chicken).

In sum, here's why I cook:
  • Cooking makes me a more well-rounded person.

  • Seeing me cook in the kitchen has taught MetaBoy about food, cooking, and eating. He loves getting in there and "helping." It teaches him how food is cooked into the food we eat. It teaches him about processes, patience, responsibility, and how to be careful with things he doesn't understand. He learns every time he joins me.

  • When I cook, the kids inevitably join me in the kitchen. MetaGirl rummages through drawers and MetaBoy grabs his apron to help. We spend time together and have some fun learning about food. The other day, they each insisted on munching on a bulb of fennel. Who am I to argue with a request like that?

  • Eating home made food at the dinner table leads to good habits. We all sit together and enjoy talking and recounting our days. We all eat the same food, and MetaGirl is constantly trying to eat things that I'm not ready to let her try. I usually give in. She's convinced me to let her try carrots, apples, and broccoli. I didn't think she was ready, but she showed me. You learn things about each other when you sit together and share.

  • Having kids and cooking for them has taught me how to find balance. Sometimes, it's not worth stressing them out by spending an hour in the kitchen. Just assemble something they'd like in 15 or 20 minutes (an episode of something on TV) which keeps their tummies full and everyone happy (them, me, the neighbors).

  • They're growing so fast. They need food and energy to grow, and I feel a lot better cooking for them because I know that they're not being loaded with sugar, empty calories, and pesticides. The less processed foods, the better. Though I'm not a monster...they get a few treats every now and then ;-)

  • Cost is a relative thing. I buy a lot of organic, hormone/antibiotic free foods, which isn't cheap. We would probably spend less eating from the drive thru every day, but our long term health would suffer, and isn't there a dollar cost associated with that?

  • Speaking of health, cooking at home has improved my diet and that of my husband. We eat less junk because there's always something healthy around to choose from. Sure, we still have some "treats," but nothing's bad in moderation. Personally, in making sure that the kids like water, I've taken to drinking water at most meals. And I never would have thought it had such a big impact, but dropping soda and juices and doing nothing else to speak of aided in an unintentional loss of about 5 pounds. Something to think about, huh?
So over the past few years, the reasons and processes of cooking have changed, but it's something that I know will stay with me for as long as I can muster the energy. Thinking about food is now engrained in me. I'm now that mom who wants to feed everyone. I'm that wacky lady who's insisting on giving you leftovers "you know, for the kids!" And that's pretty fun, too.