my food philosophy is very simple. it is to cook as nomads and peasants cooked, very simply and with some purpose in the utility of the operation of cooking (i.e. it doubles as a way to heat the house) and with need to preserve or conserve ingredients. cleanliness, a few good dishes; a few essential tools, these are those things which make cooking possible.
ingredients are like new and old friends. you get to know them and their qualities from working on them, cooking with them, trying out something new to do with them. some have special properties of transformation which as a cook you must respect. the egg and the yam, for instance, can both be utilized in multiple ways. a yam is used a lot in japanese cooking which is very elemental. the japanese utilize rice in about fifteen different forms. like the egg, rice is transformational. it can do this. it can do that. this is a very creative aspect of rice which westerners do not know but which the japanese celebrate as they haven’t much choice. rice is so plentiful and sometimes all one has to eat. other ingredients, as you use them, also gain in their flexibility. bacon, for instance, starts as something one thinks of frying…but the fat can be reserved, used in beans…cook the lot and reserve some to go in salads. it is sometimes almost impossible to really say what one is doing when cooking. it is so innate. but, saving and retaining and using every part of something is essential to good cooking. this process and knowing can be applied to other art forms as well.
the free farm stand has made me a more inventive cook at times. i never know what ingredients i may get and there are many fresh herbs so i tend to try things i would not buy. different kinds of beets for example, and when getting fresh farm vegetables the idea of the root, the earth, the eating from the earth, something which grows down into it for nutrients becomes its own kind of narrative for good living. i have started eating golden beets, mustard greens, garden grown bok choy, quince, and meyer lemons as a result of the farmstand. the same vegetables, were i to purchase them at rainbow grocery would cost me more than i could afford. as a result of studying the cooking of japan and going to the japanese supermarket, and reading their food magazine, i have started to utilize yams differently and try more varieties than the orange ones. what i know about yams and squash is that they make bases for pasta sauce, soups, stews. from a vegan perspective they can be pureed to become the “cream” in many recipes. the japanese have excellent things to do with yams from yellow to purple, curries to dessert. i don’t like fancy when it comes to food, or rather, i like dishes that do one thing and are what they are. cooking is deeply economic. mostly it is good if it fits in one dish and can be baked…but, for complexity, to know the ingredient and to practice good preparation techniques are the two most important things when it comes to cooking. knowing the ingredient comes from using it and trying out different methods for cooking it…and preparing it and with different flavors. my favorite dishes come from italy, lebanon, and france. mexican food one can learn much about life from. the dishes are very simple and made from a few ingredients. oregano is the dominant spice. beans, corn, rice, tomatoes, basic cheese all make them up. these are easy to grow, store, and cook with. the bean is one interesting food. there are so many kinds and indians the world over eat dried beans, cooked. lentils are stable to Indian and pakistan. red, white, pinto beans to mexican, central american. black beans to china. i often become a good cook of a specific ingredient because it has come to me. gingered black beans for instance. i had no idea what to do with these. i use them as a spice.
this room is the heart of the house in many ways. it is where we congregate and where the cooking happens and the eating happens and so it is very important. i work all around the stove. i keep the cupboards…i can see after some time how i can make it better or improve the kitchen. there are some things i have done which are decorative but not that meaningful. i like spices and i found a spice rack and filled the jars up with spices. spices are plentiful and fresh where i live. spices of all kinds are sold in the mexican and central american food shops. they are inexpensive and more are sold at rainbow or another good organic shop. i also get a lot of dried or fresh herbs which can be dried. it is important to use up you ingredients. if you get a spice you like, use a lot of it. or make dishes with it until you can’t stop and must replace it. i have found this strategy to be a very good one for clearing out the cupboard and making sure that the spice rack has fresh spices. my favorite spices are: ginger in any form, but mostly dried and powdered, celery salt, paprika, oregano, cracked black pepper, tarragon, dill, basil in summer, “italian seasoning”, turmeric, garlic, sage. i also burn sage because i was once told it was the way to rid the house of evil spirits. i can also get a lot of it…at the farmstand and use it that way – fresh or dry. so, spices are essential to cooking as are oils and vinegar. soy sauce is also essential to my cooking. i use a lot of it. lately i have been doing this 99 cent thing. i can buy one pound of something for 99 cents…so i cook a pound of white beans, or use a can of tomato paste which actually allows me to make three dishes it is so dense and potent. i made tomato soup, baked beans, tomato sauce for paste all from one can of tomato paste for 99 cents. 99 cents will buy me a pound of fresh apples, usually organic. that’s about three apples which i use in tomato soup instead of sugar, make fresh applesauce with, use in my child’s lunchbox, or eat for a diet snack. more vitamin c than an orange. and apples are hugely versatile as an ingredient. its easy to make apple rings, apple sauce, apple pie. in fact, once you get going with knowing ingredients and knowing tools, you can make anything. i recently invented my own pie crust recipe, from scratch, having only read a few recipes which i have followed. what cooks don’t often know or people who are insecure about cooking is that there is a lot of leeway. you don’t need to do everything the recipe says, if you know what you are doing. so read the recipe but change it. pie crust is notoriously difficult. the basics stand. don’t handle it too much. my recipe is unequivocally the best i have ever had. another 99 cent item i’ve been exploring is the orange. 99 cents buys a few oranges. eaten raw they keep you from getting colds and help you get over being sick. so i keep them around. there is an aspect to my nutritional sense which is the medicinal part of food. i am attracted to this type of thinking. broth as tonic. this is very japanese. very jewish in sensibility. raw juice mentality and the mentality of loving fruit. to love fruit is to know how good it is for you to eat fresh fruit everyday. this could also apply to steaming. i steam a lot of vegetables and then eat them. to love steaming is to know how good it is for you and for the vegetable’s worth to your body.
what i keep
i mentioned the spices and the spice rack. i am reasonably fluent in spices for the moment. i spent some time cooking indian food and became very fluent. i learned to use garlic from italian food and the joys of both onions and lemons from studying lebanese recipes in which they are featured. good tips should be kept. a cut of meat from the butcher if you don’t use it straight away, should be washed, put on a plate and covered. use a lot of plastic wrap and plastic bags. covered dishes. washing meats and vegetables came from a jewish woman i cooked for. she was adamant because we never knew where anything came from. these are rules of meat freshness and tastiness. everything should be eaten within a day. i always keep some butter but have lived without it when very poor. i have lived without butter at all and only had oil. olive oil preferably, but you can still eat well if all you have is a plain oil. and as for olive oil, i like spanish olive oil, with very olive taste. as with everything, it is essential to use it in quantities that suit its flavor.
stocking and buying food, cleaning the space, utilizing tools, presentation and cooking.
there are basics to the kitchen. at the very least you need a knife, a bowl, a frying pan, a sauce pan, a fridge and a stove and sink. but it is more complex than this. you need to add to your kitchen and embellish upon it, with regularity, when you can afford to. my kitchen has always been very bare bones and practical and what i could afford, yet, the pleasure of a new serving dish or expanded repertoire of spices would not go unnoticed. the kitchen is central and the soul of the house. it is the hearth and the heart. everything happens in the kitchen and around my table. in the past few years we have completely cut salt out of our diets as a result of a health condition which sodium brought on. i have learned to cook without salt, to avoid all prepared foods in order to manage the sodium content of our diet, this includes things like baked beans or franks and beans and
the mind – reading and studying specific aspects of food culture, cookbooks, recipes, and food related stories
the community – food activism at Treat Commons as community gardener and coordinator of the garden, showing, learning, managing, organizing; growing and at the Free Farmstand which I helped to start six years ago to enable neighbors to obtain organic produce, and as an outlet for backyard garden surplus and the Treat Commons harvest.
the art and economy of food, eating, planning, making, diet and nutrition – creating food, dishes, menus, and budgeting for a family of three
the food we eat comes to us. we make food and we share food. food is highly cultural. it reflects the culture and especially the geographic region and types of trade in a given region. food tells stories. it is about memory. it gives value to life. we are what we eat. food is the taste of memory. food has many shades and degrees and is very complex. there are basics to food and food prepration and its economy. food is an economy of means.