Thursday, June 03, 2010

Home Cooking

We got some gorgeous produce in our Tanaka Farms CSA box today.  It looks almost too pretty to eat.  Actually, we often put some of our carrot tops and greens in a vase with Trader Joe's flowers and call that a centerpiece.

At the annual CSA coordinator meeting last year, farmer Glenn Tanaka says that he was surprised by the low number of subscribers per school.  If you figure that a school of 400 students has about 200 families and 40-50 staff, then he expected about 50 subscribers per school.  Instead, there are about 10 per school.

Are so few families cooking?  Or are so few cooking for scratch?   Are the veggies too odd?  Not novel enough?  Leave a comment if you can explain the mystery to us.

I wonder if the art and craft of home cooking is not being transmitted via either family or schools.  That is, mothers went into the workplace about the same time that schools stopped offering home economics.  Like I mentioned in How to become a home cook, TV shows and cookbooks from celebrity restaurateurs are not a good way to learn home cooking.

I agree with Russ Parsons about weeknight suppers.  Don't take such an either or attitude to cooking from scratch.  Do what you can in the time available to you, with the ingredients you can easily obtain.  Improvise.

To me, home cooking is about the pleasure of creating and the pleasure of eating.  If it isn't, then it must be Bad Dad's turn to cook.  ;-)

Seriously, during Bad Dad's recent 6-week national tour*, I either put mostly pre-prepared dinners on the table on weeknights (cooked during the weekend) or Iris and I went out to eat.

Jennifer LaRue Huget links the growth of child obesity with the decline in home cooking.  I am not convinced.  Correlation does not imply causality.  There were many compounding factors over the same time period.

I am more inclined to agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates:
The greatest tool in the arsenal of weight loss was not running, it was not my gym membership. It wasn't buying low-fat foods, swearing off fried chicken or going low-carb. It was trying to understand, in as much detail as possible, exactly what I was putting in my body. It was closing the distance between preparation and consumption.
Cooking--and really cooking from scratch--creates a consciousness about food. It creates a respect, an understanding of what, exactly, you're putting in your body. It's not that cooking is magically healthier. I'm not convinced that, say, my fried chicken has less calories than KFCs. But that isn't the point. The point is doing the actual work of frying a great chicken. It's actually having to see all the oil and eggs (depending on your recipe) used in the process. For me at least, doing that, has made it unlikely that I'll fry chicken every day, or even every week.
* From the Monday after we got back from NYC, Bad Dad was scheduled to be home 8 of the following 35 days.  His last week-long trip was canceled, to my great relief.  But then he and the spectrometer were redeployed to the gulf to take measurements of the oil spill.  For two weeks.

He has often said something to the effect that the life a field scientist is not as glamorous as it sounds.  Well, that is doubly true for the spouse who stays behind.  While trying to hold down a job.  While dealing with all the end of year activities at your child's school.  While recovering from a medical setback.

Anyway, it was a 6-week slog for both of us, hence the blogging break.   But, tonight, we are all home and we had strawberries from our CSA box, picked fresh this morning.  We served it with chocolate ice cream, which Iris and I made last night.  Hat tip to Eric and his girls for sharing their home-made ice cream and telling me about this ice cream cookbook.

Bad Dad would like to tell his side of the story.  By his accounting, he was home for much of week 5 and 6.  He only had one trip, lasting from Friday through Wednesday.  But he then turned around and left for San Diego the next day to help deal with a family health crisis.  I stand by my assertion that I spent more time with his dirty laundry in the last month than with him.  And that is the secret to the longevity of our marriage (20 years).


  1. I love that broccoli pictured, it's almost too pretty to eat. I made ice cream this week too, and every time I make it I am always blown away by how amazing homemade ice cream tastes. We cook almost everything here, and neither of my kids grew up with a weight problem, but I noticed none of their classmates did either. So maybe childhood obesity might really be regional/class issue as well, and not just a "mom's working causes kids to get fat" issue. This will take some thought.
    I hope that you are feeling better.

  2. That is a very pretty vegetable. And the scientist in me wonders what mutation makes it do that? A little nugget filed away since grad school- broccoli, cauliflower, and one other veggie that I can't remember are all essentially the same plant, with different mutations that screw up how their leaves are formed.

    As for the low number of CSA subscribers per school, I can tell you why we haven't signed up- we'd never get through all the veggies. It isn't that I don't cook from scratch. I actually cook from scratch at least a couple of times during the work week and both weekend days. (Hubby often makes dinner one or both weekend days, to make up for the fact that I have to cook every week night.) But I need fast recipes, and don't have a lot of time for experimentation. My current goal is to try one new recipe a month. So the fact that I'd get a box of whatever was growing is a bit intimidating, particularly since most green veggies taste bitter to me, so I need recipes that mask that.

  3. Holeyfiber10:03

    Wow, our CSA distribution does not offer anything remotely so pretty and interesting! And strawberry in Virginia are gone already...
    Also, according to my daughter, the best "home-made" ice cream is the one you do with liquid nitrogen. Yummy!

  4. @Cloud
    Yes, they all belong to the Brassica or cabbage family.

    We got purple cauliflower and cone cabbage last month. It's fun to look at each box's contents.

    The boxes arrive on Thursday afternoon. We take inventory and put them in the fridge when we get home from work. That weekend, Bad Dad and I clean and chop the veggies, ready for weeknight meals.

    On Wednesday, Bad Dad makes a CSA Frittata to get rid of the contents of the fridge.

    What self-respecting physicist has not made liquid nitrogen for their kids? Eric's youngest girl is still talking about the time he did that in her classroom. Iris has begged her dad to do the same. Perhaps this Saturday, at our company's open house?

  5. I do not get CSA veggies because the pickup is one more errand at a specific time every week that I have to worry about, and I would still have to do a separate trip to the market for other foods. It suits my schedule better to purchase all our food at once whenever I can fit that in.

    Our small family can't use all the veggies, either. Even at the grocery, I tend to buy more fruits and veggies than we use, and end up throwing them out or resorting to a guilt-infused soup.

  6. Oh, I wish I took that photo--but it's been a hard week here, so I grabbed it from a free images website. Wikicommons has several others.

    The CSA pickup doesn't add much to my week's errands, because I have to go to the school to pick up my kid anyway. In that sense, it actually saves me a trip--I can skip the farmer's market some weeks if we have sufficient CSA produce to eat.

    We've learned a few ways to make the amount of veggies less overwhelming. For example, I boil and puree the carrots upon arrival--the puree will last a good long while and is easy to use in muffins, soups, cookies, pancakes, etc. But finding strategies like that takes practice--the first few deliveries *will* be overwhelming, until you develop a rhythm for using the contents. I think some folks gave up before they had a chance to build that.

  7. We've just signed up for a brand new CSA, only a few miles from us in rural Washington state. Very exciting for us home-cooking vegetarians who never met a vegetable we didn't like and who love love love to cook. And eat. Our pet geese will be happy to accommodate any left-over produce, in fact they're counting on it. We're a little late getting started... our first pick-up won't be until July 2. Will let you know how it goes. Here's a link:

  8. Rosa22:29

    This is the first time in a decade we haven't signed up with a CSA. It's just too hard - on me, since I'm the only one who does it - to process all the vegetables at one time. We do a lot better stopping at the farmer's market twice a week and getting half as much stuff each time so there's not one big processing night.

    The other part is there are some veggies we just don't like (turnips, kohlrabi, radishes, bell peppers) and after 10 years I'm pretty secure in feeling that's not going to change, but those are all CSA box staples here.


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