Thursday, September 19, 2013

What should we have for dinner?

Julie's post, What's For Dinner, she talks a little bit about the different factors that come into play when deciding how to answer that question.  I've been thinking quite a bit about how the answer would differ from household to household.  Reading the blogs and comments of my fellow Food and Culture bloggers has shattered some of the silly illusions I've had about other people and food.  I'm guilty of assuming that others make similar food choices for reasons similar to mine and I'm beginning to see there are so many different shades and nuances of responsible, clean, and healthy eating.

As I may have mentioned somewhere in the comments in our facebook group, our household went from two incomes to one shortly after we were married.  We were already eating organically and in order to maintain that kind of diet, we cut back on meat quite a bit.  I started volunteering at a local organic grocer in exchange for a 25% discount and we stopped buying convenience items.  With all this cutting back, you'd think our diet would be quite spartan but it turned out to be quite the opposite.  In response to this crisis, I became very experimental, creative, and resourceful about putting food on the table.

Every two weeks I sit down with a yellow legal pad (because I just inexplicably have so many hanging around), a binder full of recipes torn from magazines, and pinterest and I create a two week menu.  I source nearly all our meat from a local farm that delivers pork, beef, chicken, and lamb biweekly on Saturdays so I take that into account and if the farmers market is up and running (in the spring/summer), I'll include some seasonal recipes with veggies I know I'll find there.  I don't cycle through the same old recipes week after week like some people do.  I might slip one or two go-to recipes in but I mostly try to fill the menu with new ideas (usually from pinterest).  I frequently alter recipes and sub ingredients but I rarely fly by the seat of my pants by cooking without a template recipe.  I'm not confident enough for that yet!

Years ago, I started making lazy sourdough pizza dough in huge batches which gave birth to our die-hard tradition of Friday night pizza.  I purchase tomato sauce in bulk cases of 102 oz cans so I also tend to make huge batches of pasta sauce (canned in the pressure canner) that will double as a pizza sauce.  I also make my own yogurt (also a shortcut, lazy version) which tends to be more runny and because I don't feel like straining it to firm it up, I tend to avoid recipes that call for Greek style yogurt.  After roasting a whole chicken, I use the frame, along with saved veggie scraps, to make several quarts of stock that I pressure can.  When I have a lot of stock in reserve, I favor soup recipes, especially as it gets chillier outside.  I always make my own salad dressing because it's absurdly expensive to buy and if I'm feeling really ambitious, my own ricotta (also absurdly expensive).

A lot of families drink juice and soda but just about the only drinks you'll every find in our fridge are kombucha and iced tea.  I have a Mr Coffee devoted solely to iced tea making and we drink so much of it, I have to keep 3 jugs cold all the time.  Our town saturates the water supply in chlorine (smells like a pool in the kitchen sometimes) so we have a reverse osmosis unit that purifies the water.  Since it strips everything from the water, I'll throw a tiny grain of sea salt into a glass I'm drinking just to replace some of the minerals.  I have no scientific basis for's just something I intuitively hope will help.  We also brew our own beer so there's likely to be some homebrew rattling around in the back of the fridge.  I'm not a big wine drinker but the village market up in Gambier carries a decent selection of organic wines for the yuppie hipsters going to Kenyon College.  Wine with added sulfates gives me one hell of a headache so I try to stay away from it.

Another factor in deciding what's for dinner is health.  There's conflicting information about fat and oils these days.  I tend to think your body needs fats in order to function.  I don't shy away from real butter and bacon but I am careful with my oils.  I only use olive oil for very low temperature sauteing or raw in salads and I use only coconut oil, butter, and ghee for cooking and baking.  If I don't feel like fussing with solid oils when baking, I'll sometimes use sunflower oil but I try to avoid bringing oils to the temperature in which they oxidize.  I buy most of our meat from a local organic farm, as I mentioned, but the rest such as bacon (when the farm runs out which they always do) or my favorite turkey sausage are brands that don't use nitrites or nitrates, which are linked strongly with cancer.  Recent studies have found that BPA exposure is more harmful than previously thought and I try to make every effort to buy Eden brand canned goods which contains no BPAs.  My organic grocer is not concerned with BPAs though and only carries them sporadically.

Which brings me to the next factor.  My organic grocer.  Meat and produce can be obtained from the farm or the local Krogers but as for the rest (oils, bread, cheeses, etc.) I depend on the organic grocer and since they're going through a change in ownership at the moment, the availability of products has been fluctuating wildly.  Even before the change, there would be weeks at a time where buttermilk would be strangely absent from the refrigerator case.  These days it's unsalted butter.  The owner doesn't agree that unsalted butter is necessary for cooking (and I guess none of the other customers have mentioned it).  I have to be flexible with my menus because although I may expect to bring home my brown coffee yogurt treat, I may find it out of stock for several weeks at a time or in the case of feta cheese, it might disappear completely.  With small health food stores and businesses, the customer base doesn't always support the continuity of variety that you get in a big box store and the big box stores don't have the kind of selection that the smaller businesses do.  I have been unable to find any tamarind paste, organic or otherwise, for several weeks now so I'm slashing a thai dish from the dinner menu for the week.  I may have to travel an hour to the city to find an international grocer.  Food availability plays a big part in my meal planning.  Although the local Krogers stocks a good bit of organic produce, it's availability is more seasonal than the conventional produce.  We had organic bok choy for weeks earlier in the year and now there hasn't been any for months.  The conventionally grown bok choy seems to be available year round.

Well I've prattled on long enough about how we decide what to eat.  It may turn out to be of little interest but the writing of it is still an enlightening experience, condensing things that have never been fully brought together in my mind.  If you've read this far, thanks!  What about you?  How do you decide what to eat?

No comments:

Post a Comment