Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Beef...It''s Hardly Ever For Dinner

I read the first sentence of Margaret Visser's introduction What Shall We Have For Dinner (from Much Depends On Dinner) several times.

"The extent to which we take everyday objects for granted is the precise extent to which they govern and inform out lives."

Not because I didn't understand it.  Because for someone who prides herself on being somewhat of a deep thinker, I usually don't give the everyday things a second thought.  Once I remember realizing that OCTober was the tenth month, not the eighth, then that November was the eleventh, not the ninth, etc.  I have other fleeting moments of curiosity about the often invisible minutia of our lives but I've never particularly thought of examining what we take for granted with our eating and cooking habits.  Visser suggests that "food shapes us and expresses us even more definitively than our furniture or houses or utensils do".  I wrote a big fat "REALLY????" in the margin and had to think on it.  I'm in the habit of thinking it's me who shapes the food, chooses the furniture and utensils.  But I will admit, my choices are constrained by my economic station.  If my food choices define me, then so must my financial means.

Although I'm not as limited by income as I once was, most of my food purchasing and preparation habits were born out of desperation.  After losing a job and collapsing to a one income family, I wasn't prepared to relinquish our organic diet.  I finagled a 25% discount at an organic grocery store in exchange for a few hours worth of work.  I opted into bulk buying, favoring dried beans over canned and used it as an excuse to store all the pretty rices, grains, and beans in large mason jars that feel more natural than plastic and cardboard packaging.  We went flexitarian so we could continue to purchase our meat from a local farm; we just ate less of it and made what we had last longer.  Every two weeks I'd buy a big roaster chicken, separate it into parts and have the leg joints and wings one night, the breast another, then brew a stock from the carcass, and chicken salad from whatever I could pick out after that.  (We only eat beef a few times a month.)  I saved bread heels in the freezer for homemade breadcrumbs, croutons, and bread  pudding and also tossed all the veggie trimmings in the freezer as well to augment the stock.  To fill in the gaps left by meat, I took an interest in dishes starring beans and lentils which invariably led me to Indian and other middle-eastern cuisine.  Lunch is always leftovers.  Always.  I was reminded that my habits are abnormal while reading Visser's section on North Americans classifying leftovers as garbage.  Even if I'm wealthy, I'll never succumb to that kind of economic wastefulness.  I'd rather spend my imaginary loads of money on shoes.  Or pretty house things.



Over time, some of the habits evolved but for the most part, my habits are the same.  The desperation I experienced after job loss transformed me from a reluctant and lazy cook to an extremely efficient, open-minded, and adventurous one.  Spending half of every single Wednesday volunteering at a grocery store grew tiresome so I've switched to every other week, which of course means I only do major grocery shopping every other week, since I only get the discount when I show up.  I sit down with my binder of magazine recipes and pinterest recipe boards and I plan out fourteen meals, making a grocery list as I go.  I pick up stray produce items at the local chain grocery store (Kroger) as needed throughout the week.  My garden, the farmers' market, and Kroger have a small selection of seasonal organic produce so I've learned to revolve most meals around the seasons.  Kroger will usually have cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers throughout the winter but I buy them sparingly and try not to make them the stars of any particular meal or side.  Food out of season is always exponentially expensive so I try to stay away from it unless it's a special occasion.  I try to preserve and can the extra garden stuff but I can never seem to get organized enough that nothing goes to waste.  I just threw out the last of my wilty basil that went brown before I had a chance to turn it into freezer pesto.  Breaks my heart every time.  It seems most of my preserves end up in Christmas stockings but some of it manages to make it to the winter table.  I managed a new recipe of tomato jam this year, tried a new salsa recipe, and canned some dilly beans.  I'm still hoping I'll get around to some applesauce.

One of my household's unfailing food traditions is Friday night pizza.    Triweekly, I make a big batch of no-knead dough using the lazy sourdough method and store it in the fridge.  The toppings are always different but cured olives and nitrate-free pepperoni are always a favorite.  The triple-garlic pizza we made once will always be legendary.  I'm a fan of the Canadian variety of pizza...ham and pineapple (although I prefer turkey ham) but my husband says pineapple on pizza is worse than blasphemous.  Of course he's the one that tolerates the insufferable Ohioan way of cutting pizza into SQUARES.  We don't usually order out for pizza, mostly because mine is better, but when we do I have to request that it be cut properly or the pie turns up cut into silly little non-pizza-like squares.

While reading Visser's words and processing her occasional assessments of the habits of Americans or North Americans, I've decided I don't belong.  I don't care if my food touches.  In fact I would prefer to cook it all in one pot; it's easier that way and there's less to clean up.  I eat my leftovers.  I fry my chicken for special occasions, rather than roast because roasting is less messy and frying covers the kitchen in oil.  I have always eaten my salad last rather than first and I don't really think corn is a suitable side dish (unless it's pudding).  I'm not very American about many other things either though.



If anything, this little introduction we read shook me up and got me thinking about all those little things I take for granted everyday.  The fork.  My iron skillet.  Sitting at a table to eat rather than on the floor.  She said "boredom arises from the loss of meaning, which in turn comes in part from a failure of ... connectedness with one another and with out past.  This book is a modest plea for the realization that absolutely nothing is intrinsically boring, least of all the everyday, ordinary things".  I aim not to be bored.

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