I used to like junk food, just like every other American. I wasn’t brought up that way, which is key to how I came to approach food after my younger adult years. My Mom was very careful about what we ate, with a balanced diet, low chemicals, lots of fruits and veggies. I think my first food was an avocado, to which I attribute my continued love of that particular fruit. But of course, when we are teenagers and college students, all of us eat the crappy stuff. Easy Mac. Fast food. Slim Jims. Potato chips. Desserts that use high amounts of sugar to mask the lack of flavor. High fructose corn syrup. Soda pop. I certainly ate my share of it.
I remember when I was in seminary and my friend Natalie had come back from a trip to Europe and she said, “American food is gross.” I just had no idea what she was talking about. But I do now. With every new indulgence I have into really good food, I understand more and more. There have now come to be many foods that I can hardly bear to put into my mouth because they are, as Michael Pollan calls them, “foodlike substances,” things that my grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
Every few months I try have a cold cut sandwich because I forget why I don’t eat lunchmeat. Today I did that. Now, this lunch meat was fairly decent. It was from Costco and was thick cut, good quality. But it’s still pressed meat, you know? It’s still full of a crappy salt mixture that makes me feel a bit nauseated when I put it in my mouth. It’s still slimy. Yuck. I couldn’t even finish my sandwich. Half of it went into the garbage.
Apart from the lunch meat misstep today, it was a lovely day for food. Burrito and I have been trying to eat more fruits and vegetables as well as protein. And since I have a tendency to run around the house or busy myself on the computer all day, failing to eat as much as I should, I am making the effort to sit down with her and have a snack when she has one. This helps her to finish her meals too (or at least eat a little more). And I’ve been noticing that when I eat a little bit every few hours, I feel so much better. Our morning snack was composed of splitting an orange and having little almond butter cracker sandwiches. We both finished the whole thing. For lunch, I made her grilled cheese and homemade applesauce with cinnamon. It is amazing what cooking apples will do to them. These apples were the kind you get cheap in a bag, so they weren’t the best quality—rather tasteless raw, to be honest with you—but when I cooked them, they got sweet and tangy and delicious. I made the applesauce chunky, skins on, and it was just perfect, still warm when we ate it.
Tonight was the best though. I am of the mindset that vegetables artfully prepared are even more delicious than meat. I'm sure this is a crazy idea to state in the middle of Montana. And I'm not a vegetarian. I love a steak as much as the next person. But I do love well-prepared non-meat dishes. They are savory. And if you give me the choice between savory and sweet, I’ll choose savory almost every time.
Ever since I saw pre-cubed butternut squash at Costco, I’ve been looking forward to trying this new convenience. As everyone knows, it is a hassle and a half to cut open the tough skin of a squash, scrape out the seeds and fibers, peel the thing, and then cube it. So it was very exciting to skip all those annoying steps and just get to the deliciousness that is a butternut squash. Tonight I made Giada’s Butternut Squash Soup (with sage!). Then I got a little creative and made an awesome Bruschetta. I diced tomatoes, minced garlic, sliced basil, and drizzled it with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, finishing with a couple of grinds of sea salt. I put this mixture on top of warm artisan bread, added a pinch of Parmigiano-Reggiano and toasted it in the oven. It was divine. I could have eaten it all night. The sharp savoryness of the garlic and the complex tang of the cheese particularly hit me. Wow, that was flavor.
The amazing thing about something like Bruschetta is the simplicity of the ingredients and preparation. Good food doesn’t have to be complicated. I think oftentimes with food the important thing as a cook is simply “Don’t mess it up.” I was explaining this to Burrito today when she ate her sugar-free homemade applesauce. I told her that God made many foods so delicious that they didn’t need extra sugar. To which she replied, “Yeah!” I hope she got it. It’s a really important lesson.
Of all the cooking lessons I hope to impart to her, the main ones are:
1) Butter will make everything better
2) Garlic—and lots of it—will improve every dish except dessert (Hubby adds: “And cereal.” I’m not sure…maybe garlic could improve some cereals)
3) Don’t mess it upOh, and we made homemade chocolate chip cookies today too. With butter, of course.