Grocery Budgeting, 101: The Basics

In another life, I was a teacher of fresh, eager college students. For most of my very short teaching career, I had the immense pleasure of teaching a group of fiercely-talented burgeoning designers — the kind of kids you really didn’t have to teach at all. They were competitive and eager, which made it easy to come into class the first day and tell them that if they did enough to get by in my class, they’d make a C. That B’s and A’s were hard work, and I wasn’t giving them away (insert my scariest mean face, pretty much the opposite of this one in the Indy Star where I was caught at DigIN with food falling out of my open mouth).

This is how I approach the subject of grocery budgeting, too. There are levels of how much work you can do — and the fantastic thing about living in our plush western world is that you can choose how much you want to do. This goes for me, too — and on any given month, I make anywhere from an A+ to a resounding, thud-like F! when it comes to staying within our food budget.

So, today: the bare minimum. Do these things alone, and you’ll be facing solidly in a direction of staying within your real-food budget.
Continue reading “Grocery Budgeting, 101: The Basics”

Long-cooking stock in your oven

stock-in-jar

I know, I’m a stock-pusher. I’ve made my arguments not once, but twice, about why everyone should make their own, and kiss those cans and boxes of re-hydrated powdered flavorings goodbye.

Bone broth is nothing short of magical. It’s the reason chicken soup got such a good rep — medicinal for just about every ailment. Got a cold or the flu? Warm yourself with broth. Got the stomach bug? My pediatrician just told me that the gut irritation from a bug can be healed completely in 48 hours if your diet is broth-heavy. Break your arm? Just checking to see if you’re paying attention (though I wouldn’t doubt it somehow helps that too).

The healing qualities of bone broth come from — duh — the bones. But you need to cook it for a long time — 12-24 hours — to get the maximum minerals and nutrients out of the bones and into the liquid. This was something I didn’t always know — and once I knew, I didn’t know how to accomplish.

Some people cook their stock in a crockpot, which is totally safe to leave on for 24 hours, and extremely energy-efficient. But my crockpot is only a 4-quart model, which means I’d likely only get 3 quarts of stock. If I’m going to make stock, I want to get at least double that amount, so I use my 8-quart stockpot (though I’m shopping for a 12-quartinsert tween-ish squeal here).

The trick was always how to cook the stock for long enough. I’m fine leaving the pot on the stove all day, but what about at night? My obsessive tendencies would go into overdrive if I tried to sleep with an open flame left burning on my stovetop. The simple answer? My oven.

Stock is best-cooked when it barely simmers — just a tiny bubble or two breaking the surface every now and again. If you bring a pot up to simmer on the stovetop, you can transfer it to a 200° oven, partially-covered, and let it cook overnight. Totally brilliant (and not, mind you, my idea).

stock-oven

Other things to consider while you gather the things in your kitchen necessary for stock-making (since I know you’re going to do it):

  • Feel like you never have the right veggies on-hand when you need them? In my mind, only 3 are necessary: celery, carrot, and onion. Put a ziplock bag in your freezer, and when you have ends and pieces from other recipes, throw them in the bag instead of the trash. Or, buy celery and cut up a few stalks to freeze specifically for stock-making. You can toss them frozen into the pot.
  • You can make stock from just about any type of bones (though I don’t recommend mixing them up). I most frequently use chicken, but have made beef and lamb stock after buying bones from the farmer’s market (usually $2-3 a pound). A good ratio to use is 1-2 quarts water for every pound of bones (the less water, the richer the stock).
  • Once your stock is strained and refrigerated, you can scrape off the top layer of fat and freeze in Tbsp portions (I use ice trays) for future use. Animal fats are good for high-heat cooking, and add flavor and richness to soups.
  • You can freeze your stock in ziplock bags, but I now prefer to use wide-mouth (NOT regular-mouth) quart mason jars. You can read more about freezing stock here.
  • I have yet to try this, but I’ve read recently that you can use bones for more than one batch of stock. I’d be more likely to do this with beef or lamb bones, since chicken bones seem truly spent after simmering 24 hours. Even more bang for your buck!
  • Letting the bones soak for a little while in water with apple cider vinegar helps draw out the calcium & nutrients.
  • If your stock, once cold, is gelatinous, you’ve made a killer batch. Congrats!
  • Stock will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator. Freeze for longer storage.

stock-straining

 

Recipe: Long-cooking stock (bone broth)

: The recipe shows ranges of quantities because it depends on the amount of bones you have — thankfully it’s not an exact science!

Ingredients

  • 3-6 pounds bones (use any of one type: chicken, beef, lamb — if possible use some with meat still attached, and some with joints)
  • 2-4 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (optional)
  • 1-2 ribs celery, with tops, chopped into 2″ lengths
  • 1-2 carrots, unpeeled & scrubbed, chopped into 2″ lengths
  • 1-2 onions, unpeeled & quartered
  • 1-2 bay leaves (optional)
  • a few sprigs fresh parsley (optional)
  • 4-10 quarts filtered water (1-2 quarts per pound of bones)

Instructions

  1. In a large stockpot or dutch oven, combine the bones, vinegar, and water to cover. Let sit 20 minutes.
  2. Add the vegetables & herbs to the pot, and enough water to cover (only fill to within an inch of the rim).
  3. Bring to a simmer on the stovetop. Skim foam as it rises to the top (discard).
  4. Meantime, preheat oven to 200°.
  5. Once stock is simmering, transfer to oven and cook, partially-covered, 18-24 hours (set a baking time if necessary so oven doesn’t auto-shut-off). It’s fine to transfer the pot back to the stovetop at any point in cooking.
  6. Once done, strain the stock into 1-2 large bowls. Cool over an ice bath, and strain again into quart-sized canning jars (if freezing, only fill within 1 inch of the top to allow for liquid expansion).

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2011.

[print_link]

 

Honey (a persuasive argument)

honey-dripping

I’ve been going through a lot of honey lately. We’ve always used it for random things — our granola is partially sweetened with honey, and I use it in bread-making. My kids love it on their sandwiches and toast, and there’s nothing better for sweetening herbal tea in winter. But since I started the GAPS diet, it’s the only sweetener I can have (outside of the natural sugars found in most fresh and dried fruits) — so our consumption has doubled.

Honey is a classic example of the expression, you get what you pay for. Last fall, honey made headlines when it was discovered that large portions of the stock on US grocery shelves was likely obtained illegally from China — and could be contaminated with lead and antibiotics, or laced with artificial fillers. It’s apparently difficult to regulate the sources of large honey producers, which makes it easy for the honey cartel (only mildly tongue-in-cheek) to get away with selling a contaminated product & labeling it as pure.

Since it’s virtually impossible to know the source of honey on the shelves, why not play it safe and buy local honey straight from a farmer (or local grocer who can vouch for them)?

I’ll pretend I’m back in high school debate class and outline some points of my persuasive argument:

  • Local honey is actually honey. From actual bees.
  • Local honey can possibly help combat seasonal allergies. The medical evidence on this is sketchy (though people swear by it), but you can at least be assured that fake honey from China won’t help them at all, and might make them worse.
  • Local honey tastes better. If you prefer mild honey, go for clover (if clover isn’t produced in your locale, your health food store likely sells a regional version).
  • You can usually only buy raw (unpasteurized) honey locally/regionally. Raw honey has retained beneficial enzymes to aid in digestion — a thin layer spread on bread actually starts the digestive process for you.
  • Buying local honey helps keep a farmer in business. Those bees are helpful to your environment in ways more than simple production.

The cheapest way to buy it is in bulk — I buy it by the gallon ($35-$40, or around $5/pint) and even once split a 5-gallon bucket with friends ($3.50/pint). But if you don’t use it quickly enough, you could be faced with that ultimate frustration: a big batch of crystallized honey. I wrote a post last year that included a remedy for that problem, but since that process can be risky (I cracked two mason jars and lost 2 quarts of honey), prevention is the way to go.

Honey crystallizes fastest when stored at temperatures between 55° and 63°F — and in my kitchen in winter, the temps easily go down to that range at night. Last winter, I was voicing my frustrations to my honey farmer, and he suggested I freeze it. Freezing honey preserves its enzymes, protects it from crystallization, and is easy to do with a little extra space in your freezer.

honey-jars

The honey doesn’t freeze into a solid block — it more has the consistency of hardened taffy. When I buy a gallon, I immediately divide it into four quart canning jars, letting every last bit drip from the container. One quart jar stays out for use, the rest go in the freezer.

I’m feeling pretty good about my persuasive argument at this point (it helps that I don’t type “um,” — whereas if I was saying all this in person I would have uttered the word no less than 200 times). If you have a plastic honey bear in your pantry, perhaps labelled with the words “Great Value” (and really, who among us hasn’t?), have I convinced you to give a finger to the cartel and try local?

If so, I’ll be forwarding your answer to my high school debate coach. She should probably know that, though it took 20 years, her efforts were not in vain.

………………………………………………..

This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday.

Chocolate-covered grapes

chocolate-grapes

I keep a journal for each of my children. Wait, no, that’s a bit misleading. I own three small books with their names written inside, and hold firmly to a delusion an intent to keep a journal for each of them. When they were very small this seemed like an easier and more realistic task — they got a tooth, said something cute, pooped somewhere not-so-cute. These days, with all their new-found conversational, emotional, and philosophical needs, well, let’s just say I’m doing good to keep them fed.

So let’s back it up a bit. Let’s pretend I was good at keeping a journal for each of my children. If so, they would have plenty of documentation to take with them to their therapist’s office in 20-30 years. My son will flip to that page from 2008 when I moved him from his crib to a toddler bed, making room for his new baby sister (insert deep-seeded feelings of vulnerability, fear of falling, etc.). My daughter might be affirmed in her memories of severe pain after her tonsilectomy at age 5 — and, for sure, all three of them will read admissions of guilt from the days I am not up to my mothering best. But the one thing that at times seems like the most traumatic entry ever — the thing that causes the most confusion in their delicate child psyches is the fact that I don’t often buy grapes.

BUT IT’S FRUIT, MOM!

MOM, (insert any name here)’s MOM ALWAYS BUYS GRAPES!

BUT MOM, LOOK, THEY’RE ON SALE!

And, ok, that last one will work sometimes. If grapes are <$1.99/# (incidentally, that’s my exact shorthand for if/then statements on the grocery list when I send Tim to the store) then I will occasionally buy a pound or two. My complaint with grapes is twofold: economics and nutrition.

I know that grapes are delicious. They are juicy, sweet, and refreshing — like nature’s popsicle. And they do have nutritive value, I suppose (anti-oxidants, maybe?) — but they are really high in sugar content, and that’s why my kids can pop them like candy. Add to this the fact that they are usually from South America, where they are sprayed with who knows what (and who can ever afford the organic ones?), and also are rarely on sale — my kids can eat up $4 worth of grapes in one sitting, and could do so every single day. Not a good thing for the grocery budget, especially when so many other seasonal fruits give much more bang for the buck.

Laugh at me, if you will, but so runs my logic: when I came across a recipe last week for chocolate grapes, it was a no-brainer. If grapes, to me, are like candy, we might as well take that idea to its fullest end.

The method was in that big beautiful cookbook, the one I borrowed from Greg Hardesty, the one that left me longing for ripe red tomatoes. The recipe is French, which automatically makes me it cool. I made these as contribution for a dinner party, and while an amazing ganache-covered chocolate cake whipped up by my friend Amanda took top honors, my bowl of grapes was gone when the dishes were done.

And my kids? Let’s just say I’m writing this one down in their books.

…………………………………………

Recipe: Chocolate-Covered Grapes

: retold from a recipe by Michel Richard in Happy in the Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 1 pound firm grapes, stemmed and washed
  • 4 oz bittersweet (60-70% cacao) chocolate (I used a bar of Ghirardelli Bittersweet), finely chopped
  • 1-2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

Instructions

  1. Dry grapes thoroughly, and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour (the temperature of the grapes and chocolate is important — otherwise the chocolate won’t correctly set)
  2. Set a medium mixing bowl (glass or stainless steel) over a pot of simmering water (the bowl should not touch the water). Add the chocolate to the bowl, and stir until melted.
  3. Set chocolate aside and let cool to body temperature: dip your finger in the chocolate and touch it to your bottom lip; when it is the same temperature as your lip it is ready.
  4. Transfer the chilled grapes to a large mixing bowl. Drizzle the chocolate, a spoonful at a time, over the grapes, and stir the grapes to coat (the chocolate will begin to set quickly, so stir gently but quickly).
  5. Sift the cocoa powder over the grapes, and stir to coat, separating grapes that have stuck together.
  6. Serve immediately, or chill for up to a day.

[print_link]

 

Book review (& giveaway): a nutritionist connects the dots between food & childhood ailments.

As the mom of an allergic child, I have long been frustrated with what seems to be a gaping hole in pediatric medical care: the connection of food to illness. While most any doctor will tell you a child needs to have a “balanced diet” to remain healthy, that’s where the causal relationship typically ends in conversations at the doctor’s office.

For instance, when my infant son had severe eczema, I had to repeatedly (even forcefully) ask for a referral to a pediatric allergist for testing. Our doctor just kept saying that it was “dry skin” — that we needed to find the right lotions, bathe him less often, bathe him more often, change laundry detergents. But in my gut I knew it was food.

And there are other illnesses and/or disorders that many parents find improve by a change in diet: everything from autism to chronic ear infections. But the unfortunate truth is that much of this dietary knowledge comes primarily from online communities, obsessive research, and independent observation — not from the traditional medical community. Which leaves many parents feeling like they are going rogue with their children’s healthcare.

I was cautiously optimistic when offered a review copy of a new book by licensed dietician Kelly Dorfman, What’s Eating Your Child? The Hidden Connections Between Food and Childhood Ailments. If a licensed nutrition specialist was writing a book about this, I wanted to read it. Could this finally be a mainstream publication addressing the connection between diet and sick children?

Indeed it is. This book is an important step in the right direction — if for no other reason than it’s written (and well-documented!) by a professional in a scientific field — with a forward by a pediatric allergy specialist. These MDs, LNDs, and MSs give credibility to a topic that often gets pidgeon-holed into a category of psychosomatics and granolas, ripe with pejoratives.

Medical credibility or no, the most important thing the book does is empower the parent. She encourages parents to become “nutrition detectives,” becoming keen observers, note-takers, scientists on behalf of their child. Many of her own clients end up in her office as a last-resort — they have seen every doctor, specialist, psychiatrist (yes, food can be a culprit in behavioral disorders) for their problem and have nowhere else to turn. They have been given Rxs for everything from reflux to ADHD, but their gut tells them to keep searching before handing their kids the drugs (or they’ve used the drugs, with no improvement).

It might seem like a large task — and sometimes it is. But the book goes a long way to get a parent started. Each chapter details a different case study, along with her thought process during treatment and the end result. Does your child have no appetite? It could be a zinc deficiency. Does your child have reflux? Dairy is often the culprit. Does your child have bumpy skin (otherwise known as “chicken skin”)? It could be a deficiency in EFAs (essential fatty acids).  From chronic ear infections to high anxiety to constipation, the cases are covered. The book addresses picky eaters, too — limited diet is often a sign of allergy (but even if no allergy is present, the book offers practical ways to broaden your child’s diet).

The book gets a little long, and many readers might choose to skip chapters that do not relate to their child. But there is information to be gained in each chapter — nutritional information is given in such a way that it is generally helpful — not just in feeding our children but in feeding ourselves. I was happy to read that the author addresses pesticides as potential allergens, admits that popping supplements is not always a magic pill solution, and paints a true and demonizing picture of HFCS and sugar.

My major criticism of the book is that, while full of the usual disclaimers, it can give the impression that finding solutions to some of these problems is easy — like the mystery flick where, once solved at the end, seemed to be obvious all along. But most of us don’t have 20 years experience in the field of nutrition, two decades of gathering clues. We are simply busy parents who are trying to help our children while keeping our heads above water — and elimination diets are not easy, especially with children who have been eating the same way for years. I also wish the solutions didn’t rely so heavily on supplements rather than dietary change — but I understand that that is often the fastest, easiest way to get necessary nutrients into deficient little bodies.

That being said, I would recommend the book (and have already, more than once!) to any parent who seemed concerned about his child’s health, and is looking for solutions beyond medications that simply treat symptoms. The book can get a parent into the right frame of mind, and give her a starting place on the road to solution. Which hopefully, in the very near future, will by default include a nutrition-detective pediatrician as well.

…………………………………………

Giveaway

**UPDATE: This giveaway is now closed. Congrats to Gina, of comment #27, who “hated squash and chinese food, and still doesn’t like slimy foods.” Thanks to everyone who entered, followed, tweeted, updated, and shared their most-hated foods as a child.

If you are interested in winning a copy of What’s Eating Your Child, you have three ways to enter (each person can have a maximum of 3 entries):

  1. Leave a comment below, telling me the one food you most hated as a child.
  2. Tweet this giveaway. You might write “Hoping to win Kelly Dorfman’s *What’s Eating Your Child*– a book giveaway from @katyshecooks: http://bit.ly/kOtyT4&#8221;
    Leave a link to the tweet in a separate comment below.
  3. “Like” me on Facebook. If you already “like” me, you can post a link to this giveaway in a status update. Tell me which you did in a separate comment below.

You can enter anytime between now and Monday, July 11, at 8:59pm EST. A winner will be selected from the entries, using random.org. I will email the winner on Tuesday (make sure your email address is correct when leaving a comment) to get a shipping address — the winner has three days to respond, or the world might end (and another winner will be chosen).

Fine print: Other than the free review copy of the book, I received no compensation for hosting this giveaway.


…………………………………………

I linked this post up to Simple Lives Thursday, at GNOWFGLINS — a great blog resource for natural solutions to myriad household challenges, in the kitchen and elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Me and the buffet

While I love to use my tendency toward compulsion as a self-deprecating attempt to make light of situational anxieties that plague me in not-so-funny ways, I am not a germ-o-phobe. My compulsive traits do not involve excessive hand-washing, cans of Lysol stuffed into trendy hobo bags, or containers of hand sanitizer stashed in every drawer of my house. When it comes to exposure paranoia, I am much more likely to be afraid of chemical toxins than germs — for example, I love to swim but think chlorine is toxic. I therefore only swim laps once every two weeks (for the love of natural germ-killers, could someone in Indianapolis install a salt-water lap pool? Trust me, they are all the rage, so very Portland).

Some of my idiosyncrasies have developed in the past decade — it’s like I grew up, had kids, and realized that a behavior I once complied with naively was finally seen as the death trap it always was. Rides at the State Fair, for instance. I might let my kids ride the carousel, but you will not see me willingly climb aboard a car that is merely a shoddily temporarily-bolted experiment in airborne centrifugal force. As thrilling as that was in 1987.

One of my late-blooming fear-factors is the buffet. It’s not the fact that the food just sits out, exposed to every wandering hand or spray of untamed sneeze — though that’s undoubtedly part of it, from an ick standpoint — it’s more the quality of the food. I just can’t believe that food being sold out of a large bin, made in massive quantity and replaced as-needed, is of good quality. Add to this the fact that they are often priced per-pound, and it all adds up to one big exercise in controlled anxiety.

Call me a snob, an elitist, a paranoid freak. Make me a t-shirt, I’ll wear it.

Last weekend I was in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with three of my BFFs. One evening, freshly-pedicured (because that’s what you do at Girls’ Weekends, right?), we found ourselves hungry, driving in downtown Chattanooga during a rainstorm and River Fest, an outdoor festival that left hundreds of people wet and searching for cover. We had a 6-month old baby along for the trip, and none of us had raincoats or umbrellas. We needed to find an inexpensive place to eat that was easy to access. Cassia suggested a Mongolian grill — a place where you “get to pick a protein and vegetables and spices and they stir-fry everything for you.” It seemed inexpensive and quick, but a step up from fast food.

But then we walked in, and they handed me a stainless bowl, and guided me to a buffet. And in the buffet were giant vats of raw meat. Chicken, beef, just sitting their, in all of their bacteria-growing glory. And a few steps down, I was to pick out various chopped veggies and top it all of with a spoon of my spice blend of choice, then hand it to the guy with the giant grill and hope all that bacteria got cooked off and that I blindly seasoned it enough (but not too much!) to taste decent.

I stood and looked, and observed my friends, and hemmed and hawed, and found myself on the verge of minor hyperventilation. As much as I talked myself down from the ledge, I just couldn’t do it — couldn’t stick a serving spoon into the Bucket O’ Uncooked Poultry and start filling my bowl. I won’t say I’m proud of the fact, but in essence, continued hunger won out over vats of raw buffet meat. And the longer I stood, the more I wondered how this concept of restaurant ever made it past the VC stage. I envisioned the presentation payoff:

And so, the concept is that people who want to eat out really want to prepare their own meal. We know they really want to make all their own decisions, only not at their house, at a place they must get into their car and drive to. So we give them all the ingredients, and let them exercise their right of choice by choosing things to put into their bowl. And then — this is where the brilliance is blinding — we cook it for them, so they don’t have to put it in a pan in their own house. We cook it, while they sit at a formica table with a number on it. And then we deliver a bowl to them — tell them it’s what they came up with, and THEY WILL LOVE IT. Because they didn’t have to put it into their OWN pan.

And after that, I just obsessed over the state of America. While we sat at our table and watched the rest of the restaurant fill with people. People who wanted to put their own food into a bowl, but not cook it.

My three girlfriends love me, and graciously put up with my horror, albeit laughingly. And when their bowls came, I tasted them all — and truth be told, they weren’t bad. Maybe needed a touch more salt here or there (my fault entirely, as I was the one who seasoned the tofu bowl — but how was I to know, just dumping in spoonfuls of spice?), but edible. And no one died.

But they did choke a bit, when the “server” brought the bill. At this Mongolian grill, it costs about $13 to fill a small bowl with raw ingredients and let someone else cook it.

Only in America. Or, as they would have us believe, Mongolia.

 

 

 

Worst Food Moment

Can a moment be 25 years?

I’ve been trying to nail down a singular food moment that deserves the modifier “worst,” and am coming up empty. I’ll conveniently blame the hyperbolic state of food entertainment — having caught one too many episodes of Last Cake Standing (my husband despises that show, and really, so do I — how much drama can you possibly cook up in a cake-baking competition? [obviously enough to keep me watching to see if the cake! Really! Falls!] It’s like a soap opera of monstrous confectionery proportions). So when attempting to visualize a Worst Food Moment, I keep picturing this giant cake falling to the floor. The main problem being, of course, that my giant cake has never fallen, because I’ve never made one.

I’ve also never had food poisoning. Nor have I (to my knowledge) sickened anyone else with my cooking (though there was that one slightly-undercooked Thanksgiving turkey, which suspiciously affected only one family member). Those would be moments worthy of a one-upping storytelling contest at a party.

But I’ve got nothing. Except I keep coming back to the first 25 years of my life.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad. There was the occasional pot roast or buttered farmer’s market squash cooked by my Mom; there were pivotal restaurant meals, like the time my Dad took me to a quaint Italian dive for my 12th birthday, and I first discovered eggplant parmesan; there were the late 70’s super-8 memory clips of shelling beans and picking blueberries at my grandmother’s bungalow in south Mississippi.

But those moments were exceptions. The rules were Velveeta Shells & Cheese, Chef Boy-R-Dee pizza, and swimming pools of milk. I seriously drank nothing else.

It’s interesting, I think, that the vacuum of real food for most of my life is what defines a worst moment. Because — when you think about it — eating boxes of pasta and powdered cheese is a pretty safe way to live. Not healthy, but safe. You’re not likely to be food poisoned, and you know exactly what you’re getting every time you open the box. But like the woman afraid to leave her house for fear of dying in a car accident or being struck by lightening, all of that perceived safety comes with a price.

I don’t like to get too political in this space. Primarily because I’m not a very political person — I have my opinions, but don’t tend to share them publicly or try to win others to a cause (laziness and apathy help). But I can look back at my life, growing up in a suburban 1970s-80s America, and see it as a microcosm of our society (the food part, not the big hair and Units knockoffs, though one could make a case). Our generation has tended to grow up expecting food to be safe. Not only literally — we sterilize most foods we consume — but also sensuously. We like to know what we’re getting, and when we find something we like, we are repeat customers.

I can one-hundred-percent completely identify with finding comfort in routine. I am a woman who will not go to sleep without a glass of water by my bed, and this is just one of several nighttime compulsions habits. But there is something miraculous about food that allows my proclivity toward predictability to fall wayside. And it makes me sad, to think about all of those years that I didn’t like so many foods — simply because I didn’t try them or had never had them cooked fresh and not served from a can. I lived in a food desert of my own making, but didn’t realize it, because for a variety of reason — some self-inflicted, some circumstantial — I never ventured close enough to the horizon to realize there was a world beyond.

In the food movement as it currently stands, people of all ages are attempting a pilgrimage toward a closer, more adventurous relationship to our food. Part of this voyage involves turning away from previous habits of eating the same foods day after day, week after week, with no regard to season or consideration of what foods might be locally available rather than trucked in from across the country. A mistake I often fear is made by local food activists is setting the bar so high that people in transition — people like me who grew up in an environment antithetical to locavore eating — throw up their hands in frustration, unable to keep up with all the new (to them) rules. The way I see it, any small step toward better understanding the source of our food is a step in the right direction, and should be duly encouraged.

But, somewhat ironically, those steps often result in failure. We buy fresh beans, and steam them for a potluck, only to realize as no one can chew them that we bought shelling beans rather than an edible pod variety (me, in North Carolina, circa 2002). Or we join a CSA, and get a box-full of unidentifiable greens, and overwhelmed, let them go bad in our refrigerator (also me, in Georgia, circa 2006). We try to make yogurt and it’s lumpy, bake bread and it’s a brick, sprout grains and they mold, plant a garden and late frost kills every plant. All of those times, at the moment, seeming quite worthy of the modifier “worst.” We might curse, wring our hands in frustration, and wonder what’s the point.

Except there’s that tiny little part about learning something. Because those little mini-disasters turn into knowledge that we can’t gain from reading a cookbook — and with that disappointment under our belt we are all the more ecstatic when the next time (or the next) we succeed. The thrill of dirty-nail success, of being able to hand someone a thing of my own making and watch them enjoy it, of tasting something entirely new and wondering how I’ve existed without it my whole life — those are the joys I was missing for a quarter century. That’s the part that is most deserving of the superlative negative adjective. My Worst Food Moment, circa 1972-1997.

…………………………..

I wrote this post at the challenge of The Peche, as part of a fun little Pity Party on Twitter — never one to shy away from competition, especially when there are loads of other things to do. #Procrastination #WantingTheCookbooks