Some of you (okay, I flatter myself: the one non-friend who is reading this blog) might wonder who exactly am I and why I think that my experiences are worth putting out there for all to read. For that one soul, here you go:
I love food. LOVE it. The combinations of flavors and smells and textures and temperatures absolutely delights me. I am not a chef. I don't cook for a living. And frankly, until recently, my love affair with food was mostly conducted in restaurants, sampling what others have made. I do have a few staple recipes that have held me in good stead; however, I wasn't one to really branch out too often and cook something completely unfamiliar to me. One reason for this trepidation was that I didn't have a good idea of what tasted good with what; another, I thought I just plain didn't have time. Though I did compulsively buy and read cookbooks and cooking magazines, I rarely made the recipes. It's just so much easier to go out: you can talk to your friends while waiting for dinner to be served to you and there isn't any cleanup involved.
Then I had a baby. When I was pregnant, people would approach me and say, "Oh, your life is so going to change."
I would reply, "Yes, I know."
THEM: "No, you have no idea; it's really going to change."
ME: "O-kay, thanks."
THEM: "You really don't know. Life will never be the same for you again."
ME: (aloud) "Thanks, gotta go." (inside) "Jerk, of course it isn't going to be the same, but if I really don't know, then stop harping on it. I'll figure it out."
You know what? They were right. Still jerks, but right. Life does change, hugely. One of the biggest changes (besides extreme lack of sleep) was that I started to actually care about the foods I put into my body when I was breastfeeding and then what I put into my son's body when he started eating solids. I didn't care about spicy or broccoli or milk products (though many nights I kicked myself for not caring when I was pacing with a colicky baby); I cared about the quality of the food. Was it fresh? Was it organic? Was it farm-raised or wild? Was it pumped with hormones or not?
Part of these concerns were latent ideas from my mom. In the 70's and 80's, we were the family that had a huge garden in the back of our suburban house (and later mountain cabin). We kept goats for their milk and meat; let chickens run free through our yard; raised either a sheep, cow, or pigs a year for meat; butchered our own turkeys for Thanksgiving (not doing this on Thursday, by the way). My mom ground wheat berries to make her own bread (not using a bread machine), made wild blackberry preserves, canned her own applesauce, pickles, and tomatoes, and grew, dried and made her own pinto beans amongst a million other things. Please don't read this and think we were some NorCal hippies, living in a commune. My parents are both SoCal born and raised. They grew up in Anaheim. Our first family residence was in a suburb outside of Perris, CA, and we had the garden and poultry and livestock there. When we eventually moved to the Sierra Nevada foothills, we didn't stop bathing or using electricity. We still maintained ties to civilization. We still ate candy and drank soda on occasion, but my mom was very concerned with our overall dietary health. I still remember her Back to Eden cookbook, dogeared and stained. She made sure that what she served us regularly was something that would not only fill our stomachs but nourish us. Now, get this, my mom hates cooking. She really doesn't like food all that much. She was also incredibly busy with her various roles in life that were not solely "housewife." Yet she cared enough to make good and healthy food for us. With that kind of background, how could I not do the same for my child? I was brainwashed. It was inevitable.
"And you may ask yourself
How do I work this?
And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?"
Or you may ask yourself when you are done listening to Talking Heads, "now that Breeann has a child does she suddenly have more time?" Those of you with kids are laughing at that question. No way. Kids are indeed a full time job, and any woman (or man) who stays home with them should get a small tropical vacation island and a month off a year as a reward. However, I found I am not strong enough to survive nonstop contact with my son. As Taylor Mali put it, "I need intellectual simulation." In addition to caring for my son, I teach full time at a private university in San Diego. Though I feel as if I am uber-busy, I have learned that you have as much time as you make. You have to prioritize life, and I am working on that skill (don't quite have it yet).
You may also ask yourself if I've suddenly develop an instinctive feel for what foods go best with others? No. Trial and error continue to be the best way for me in figuring combinations out as well as relying on the testimonies of others who have gone before me. And I do rely on others. The web, cookbooks, and magazines are wonderful troves of culinary wisdom. I love websites that allow you to put in one ingredient (say Swiss chard, the bane of my existence) and search for recipes that feature that ingredient. I get so many recipes off of epicurious.com and Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, that I should take stock out in Bon Appetite and Gourmet magazines as well as in the publishing company that does Deborah's stuff. I intend to share the ones that work the best for me on this blog as well as any other places I might find recipes.
I do have a confession to make for any of you who may want to follow along with the recipes: I don't measure anything. This sad fact is why I am not a good baker. Also, I rarely make recipes as they read. I tweak. Sometimes for the good of the recipe, sometimes not. My logic is that if one clove of garlic tastes so good, then five will be five times as better.
Friday is CSA pickup day. Now that you are well situated in my background, kitchen, and obsession with cooking tools, we can start actually discussing the produce.
The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.
--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History
--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History