Pepper: I grew up cooking. Both of my parents worked outside the home and we were expected to cook dinner after school with written instructions for making many basic dishes. We rarely ate out when I was young and I don’t think we actually went to a sit-down restaurant until we were in elementary school when we made a spectacle of it by declaring, “Look! Real forks and knives!” I certainly could not afford eating out when I was in college, or just starting my career, or raising three boys on an educator’s salary. We just never really had the luxury of eating out very often; it really was a treat.
Now that we have more disposable income, you would think we would eat out more often but we still consider it a treat reserved for special occasions. When it comes to take-out, we have the same feelings. Why have someone cook for us when we can eat just as well at home for a fraction of the cost. We actually have a jug where we deposit the money saved by driving past the take-out joints and cooking dinner ourselves. We cash that jar in right before vacation and use it for meals and entertainment; that jar usually contains over $500!
It only recently hit me just how many people do not cook. I mean, like, DO NOT COOK! Their meals consist of take-out, fast-food, meal kits, or a sandwich in front of the TV. My world of cooking is just as foreign to them as their food world is to me! A few years ago I made a nice salad at work with lettuce, chopped peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots and few other veggies. It only took about 5 minutes to assemble. A young couple was in the breakroom reheating their take-out leftovers and watched my progress in making a beautiful salad while we chatted. When I finished, he said, “Wow! You just made that salad right here? Incredible!” I asked him how he made salads and he admitted that he bought salad kits. It was simply inconceivable that someone would buy the different ingredients, then chop, dice and assemble them. If a simple salad is that daunting, imagine cooking a full dinner! No wonder so many people avoid cooking!
Say what you will about Rachel Ray, but her TV show about cooking nutritious, delicious meals in thirty minutes was really important. Each night she would break through the mindset that cooking your own dinner was impossible after working all day by using fresh, readily-available ingredients to make appetizing meals in a mere thirty minutes. You don’t need to be Rachel Ray to do this. You really only need a little guidance and a change in routine. That’s what this Year of Joyous Cooking means to me. While some of the recipes are going to be a bit more labor-intensive and are definitely the ones you want to make on a lazy weekend, many of them are going to be something you can make on a weekday after work and still eat before 10:00 pm.
Look, I know what it’s like to juggle family, career, exercising, socializing, volunteer commitments and the many other things that call for our attention. Even on the craziest of days, cooking is not a chore; it’s a joy, a time to relax, unwind and focus on something truly productive. Cooking stimulates all of the senses: the tactile feel of chopping, peeling, stirring; the scent of the spices and ingredients as they cook; the sounds of sizzling, sautéing, popping; the visual appearance of the raw ingredients, the cooking process, and the finished product. Oh, and don’t forget the taste! What else have you done today that involved all of your senses? Name another instance where you stepped back after twenty or thirty minutes to admire a completed project. Such a rarity!
When we pair this with using locally-sourced ingredients, we improve our local economy, generally enjoy superior products, and unite the community through food. The lettuce grown by the farmer in your community is fresher and has more nutrients than that head grown in another state or country and shipped hundreds or thousands of miles. Unfortunately, not all of us are able to find local lettuce in February, tomatoes in May, asparagus in October. But we can try. And we can eat more seasonally by enjoying tomatoes in the summer and asparagus in the spring. We can enjoy the myriad winter squash all winter, along with onions, potatoes and other crops that store well. And don’t forget vegetables that were frozen or canned at the peak of their freshness for consumption later on! We can join a CSA that delivers right to our door!
It is my hope that people will become inspired to cook more of their meals after reading our blogs and social media posts. You will save money while eating more nutritious meals. You will slow down, appreciate the act of cooking, and experience the joy of eating something you produced. Maybe start with only two meals per week and see how that goes. Maybe add a more challenging recipe on a lazy Sunday afternoon, filling your house with tantalizing smells and creating a memorable dinner with leftovers for lunches. Maybe try a basic cooking class to hone knife skills or get a better understanding of basic techniques for braising, sautéing, broiling, roasting. You can even check out YouTube for these types of tutorials!
The upside of this is that some of my favorite cookbooks are going to pick up more smudges and spatters, while my husband and friends enjoy the fruits of my labor and I enjoy their company and good conversation. I’ll also get to check out more markets and specialty stores in my area (or while traveling) and take a few cooking classes. I’m so excited to share my year of joyous cooking using locally sourced products!
Pepper, January 2020