Keeping it REAL in the Kitchen
Sometimes when I least expect it, stories are unearthed that help me re-shape and re-think the very premise of my blog, food and our connection to it. Over the weekend on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, I heard a story about how a REAL chef creates pastes, pestos and other assorted culinary delights with a mortar and a pestle, not electronic devices. At the heart of the story, however, I found that the mortar and pestle represent something greater than just objects being used to get a job done. These tools are extensions of ourselves, (thank you Philip Hensher for this concept) and allow us to come closer to the core of what it means to prepare food for not just ourselves, but for others.
What do I mean?
There are a number of electronic devices that were created, essentially to help us consolidate our kitchen time. All of you working women and workingmen try this new (Insert Crazy Kitchen Gadget Here) and save yourself 15 minutes in the kitchen during meal prep! This is of course, if you’re the type of patron who bothers creating a meal for yourself, beyond hitting the ‘cook time’ button on your microwave. (No judgment placed here, really.). And though I am certainly an advocate of time efficiency, (ask my husband :P) I also feel as though we are short-changing ourselves as consumers if we turn the process of nourishing our body into a race to the finish line, a gormandizing fit, a gluttonous charade. It is because I have these feelings that I also have a sense of urgency to share them (my feelings) with you, in hopes that you too, will momentarily contemplate your kitchen habits, and perhaps those reflections of ‘pace’ will spill over into other parts of your already drenched schedules.
So, I’m sure to some degree, I am preaching to the choir, but I stand on this soap box in hopes to penetrate even those of you who’ve made thoughtful kitchen behavior a common practice because it is my understanding that a soft nudge or kind reminder, never hurt anybody. I would like to use the rest of this blog post to go over a few ways in which you could stylistically approach your time in the kitchen and still come out feeling time-fulfilled. Connecting yourself to the food that you’re about to eat will make a world of difference, and an essential place to start is the heart of any home, the kitchen.
- Use your HANDS…Salads: When preparing greens that come on big-stemmed leaves, rip away! For at least one part of your meal prep you can forget about the sharp tools and get your hands moving. For example, take large kale leaves and in a downward motion, cup your hands around the leaves at the farthest end of the stem from the tip, pull the bulk of the leaf off of the stem. Repeat, and after all of your bundle is complete, rip up each leaf into smaller pieces. Rinse. You can get multiple leaves done at once by stacking them and ripping in vertical motions, then re-stacking and ripping in horizontal motions. If my wonderful explanation (ahem) wasn’t what you needed, just know that you’re doing yourself a disservice if you spend time cutting these greens, over ripping. Additionally, texture is a big factor in salads and nobody wants to taste over-manipulated greens.
- REUSE: In a world where natural resources are being depleted (sorry for the doom & gloom) and so much of what we purchase is chemical laden, I’m and advocate of re-use. Of course, having new, shiny objects is fun and oddly fulfilling to the aesthetic side of us all, but I say, why not re-use in ways that will bring you a tad closer to your purchases and your food? For instance–forgive me, this is not a novel idea–but I re-use old jars for a multitude of things: homemade sauces, dressings, marinades, smoothies, juices, teas, left-overs, and most recently a co-worker gave me the idea of strategically layering a salad in a wide-mouth jar for freshness. This is just one example, but there are many more ways to reuse in your kitchen. Please, tell me some of your favorite things to re-purpose.
- Go NUTS: Yes, you could buy those nuts in a cardboard, foil lined container with salt added and a pre-roasted label, but will these nuts really work for you and your body? Are they really the freshest? Hmm….Granted, the idea I’m about to cover is something that is of more convenience in the cold weather months if you don’t have a dehydrator, but either way, check this out. Take your raw nuts and soak them in water with apple cider vinegar for 6 to 8+ hours (depending on the density of the nut–i.e. almonds need to soak longer). Rinse them and then spread evenly onto a cookie sheet. Season according to your tastes. Set your oven to its lowest setting and dry out the nuts. Lightly toast them to increase top absorption of minerals like zinc (walnuts). Trust me, this does seem tedious, but most of the work is done for you while those nuts are soaking. Why soaking your nuts is important: You can counteract enzyme inhibitors and break down phytic acid and tannins which are not digestible and inhibit you from actually absorbing that much-needed zinc, etc.
Below is a list of useful items in the kitchen that remain both useful and important in the line of connected cooking and food prep:
- timer (If you’re in an old-school kitchen as I am, you’ll need a cute little timer to keep track of your cooking times, forget about the cell phone and try for a simple device you devote to your kitchen space.)
- mortar and pestle (Open up the life of your herbs and spices with this grinding device, that can be extended to many more purposes in your kitchen.)
- ceramic knife and steel cleaver knife with sharpener (Ceramic is more precise and useful for vegetable prep, from my experience, but not especially good for cutting through thick skins of winter squashes like acorn and butternut. This is when I would recommend getting a steel cleaver and learn to sharpen it on your own. This is an upcoming challenge for me.)
- hand whisk (Reduces time and acts as another type of bodily extension in cooking.)
- spatula (I couldn’t live without my spatulas, waste not!)
- manual juicer (Sometimes a little elbow grease is needed.)
- hand crank can opener (For those who use canned goods.)
- sieve (Assists in the post-soaking process of fine grains.)
- cast iron skillet (Use as a pan for baking in the oven and on your stove-top for iron distribution).
- bamboo spoons
- crock pot
- spray bottles (Make your own oil sprays for salads!)
The manner in which you do or do not utilize your kitchen (be it small or large) is up to you, but one area to easily initiate a close bond with your edibles, is here! After such a massive food holiday (Thanksgiving), food connection is certainly a pertinent topic to keep in mind; I hope you will. Please, send your commentary, criticisms and thoughts my way; I would love to hear from you.
And remember…bite responsibly!