Chez Songbird, Children, Crazy Busy, Food and Drink

Slow Cooking

Because I've worked every day since I returned from vacation, I took off early yesterday and have a full day off today. All three of my children are here, as well as #1 Son's new friend, Pretty Poet. She arrived by bus from Slice of the Big Apple yesterday.  We spent part of the afternoon looking at his baby pictures and most of the rest cooking another ridiculously complicated and delicious dinner. #1 Son is clearly his grandfather's grandson. Papa has always cooked for pleasure, studying with James Beard years ago in a class at Beard's brownstone, making every family meal an event. #1 Son and I thought up the menu, and he expanded it by including everything in the refrigerator that could possibly be a part of it.

After reading Michael Pollan's article in the NY Times Magazine (online version, I admit) and then hearing the interview with him on Fresh Air last week, I want to cook more. I want to be part of a movement to keep cooking alive! But wow! Really cooking things takes a lot of time. The big meals we cooked this week reminded me of cooking on holidays. They felt like Summer Festivals of Dinner!

When we played D&D the other night with the kids and Snowman's good friend, Underhill, I planned to cook, but Pure Luck suggested pizza instead. Why? Because if we cooked, the boys and I, he could see we would never get around to playing!

Hubert Chopping things takes time (unless you are working with Hubert Keller).

Cooking sauce instead of simply heating it takes time.

Yesterday we made pesto to serve on tortellini, as well as red sauce with vidalia onion and grape tomatoes and fresh basil to serve over linguini. #1 Son created a vegetable dish of rainbow chard and baby carrots and more vidalia, with chili powder and red pepper flakes. We bought the chicken sausage and a big crusty loaf, and we didn't even make dessert, but the whole thing took hours. We sat down to the meal as if finally going to a long-awaited party, and every bite tasted delicious.

Washing up takes a long time, too, when you have spun greens in the salad spinner and used the food processor and cooked in every pot you own and served the dishes family style at the table. I got a load into the dishwasher last night then came down to finish cleaning up this morning.

I was, you see, exhausted, and the young people had gone out to a concert.

Another load is washing now, and I washed all the knives by hand and returned them to the knife block. A few stray pot lids remain in the sink.

I loved cooking with them, and I think one of the factors Pollan didn't mention is that in the old slow-cooking days, when you had to catch the chicken and butcher it yourself before you could eat it, people cooked together. Life centered around the home. Most of the time more than one person helped prepare the meals, at all levels of society. Now, not only do people commute and work long hours outside our homes, which means we take and perhaps need short-cuts in our more solitary cooking, we seem to be losing the art of the family dinner. I'm not sure how to overcome this trend. LP and I, when we are the only two at home, will sit in front of whatever is on The Learning Channel and eat together. Our kitchen table functions as my home office, and the big dining room table feels, well, big for two people. We're cozier perched on the sofa.

I'd like to thing it's eating together that matters most, but I'm beginning to feel cooking together counts, too. I'm glad my sons both know how to cook and enjoy doing it. Now we just need to bring LP along, too. Maybe we need to hand her a knife and let her simply start chopping.

15 thoughts on “Slow Cooking”

  1. Actually there are a lot of good things you can make that take less than a half hour to prepare. Do you get the food network? Melissa’s “Meals for Under $10 are cheap, good and don’t take much time”
    Also not everything was good in the good old days of cooking. My mother used to WAY overcook vegtables (which is probably why I hated them) Fresh green beans, a little water, and 5 min in the microwave, a little lemon juice and butter and you are good to go.

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  2. I read Pollan’s latest book on my vacation. I was gung ho for his approach (basically he recommended eating any nonwestern diet) until I realized that while he was recommending non-seed foods, most nonwestern diets don’t contain a lot of leaves. It’s all seed based.
    OTOH, I think he’s right about avoiding seeds (rice, bread, corn).
    I’ve been trying to cook more. It’s both harder and easier to cook for one. Blessings on your endeavors!

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  3. Try the book 30 Minute Meals from Scratch by Marrion Burros.
    Read the introduction, follow the meal plans and they really do take only 30 minutes. I grew up in a cooking-tarded household. I was in my mid 20s before I realized that you could really *mash* potatoes to make mashed potatoes. This book taught me how to cook and how to cook yummy food.
    There is a 20 minute version for meals for 2 people.

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  4. I have been on a cooking jag these past few days. Yesterday I picked a couple of books up at the library, Last Chance to Eat by Gina Mallet, and The Man Who Ate The World by Jay Rayner.
    They are not so much cooking books as eating books…
    But I’m kind of famous around here for my love of chopping shallots.

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  5. I agree with Joelle and Sherry – there really is no need for cooking to take more than 30 minutes of actual doing-it time; a pasta bake, for instance, such as I plan on making tonight, takes about 10 minutes to prepare, even if it does then want 40 minutes or so in the oven!
    And we would all be better for incorporating more leafy vegetables into our diets! Again, chopped and steamed takes very little time, especially in a microwave steamer.

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  6. What a wonderful post to read on the day after we’ve sent our farm’s first beefer off to the butcher to become this winter’s food!
    Aye, cooking together, and cooking with unprocessed food, takes time. We use our slow cooker and rice cooker quite a bit, planning ahead for a series of two or three meals made from the initial dish with variations, then package up & freeze anything that won’t be realistically be consumed by a two-person household in three days.
    By the way, if anyone wants to come over and help me next time I butcher a chicken, we could probably start after lunch and have it ready for supper with from-scratch biscuits and freshly-harvested veggies… (I imagine my grandmother could have done it quicker, but I’m a slow worker in a less-spacious kitchen and I like my chicken very thoroughly cleaned.)

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  7. I hear ya! My son is the one in our family who is passionately convinced that cooking together is a wonderful community-building activity, but it does take time and planning. (Tonight he and eight of his friends are coming to our house for a grand sleepover to say farewell to one of them as he moves on to grad school in another city, and a big item on the agenda for the weekend is a dinner cook-in.)

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  8. I love the idea of a Summer Festival of Dinner. I suspect I will have to have one next week, when Sweetie and Intrepid Anthropologist get home and the rest of my kitchen things are unpacked.
    When I was young I went back and forth between two households. My mum didn’t really enjoy everyday cooking; she did like baking for special occasions, and I still use her recipes.
    My dad was more interested in everyday cooking and made a point of getting me involved from a very early age. This often took the form of “What would you like for dinner?” on the morning of (or perhaps the night before) a day when we’d have time to cook together; we’d plan the menu together, see what ingredients we already had in refrigerator and freezer and then go shopping to get the rest, then spend all afternoon in the kitchen. Because he was so much more experienced than I was and could see where things would go wrong there weren’t really any instances when we made things inedible, but when I did worry about messing everything up he always reassured me that if it was horrible I didn’t have to eat it, we could always have peanut butter sandwiches or order pizza if we got desperate. As I got older and gained confidence we’d invite friends and family over to share the eating and, sometimes, the cooking.
    Now I enjoy cooking with friends, though I find that some are easier for me to cook with than others.

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  9. there’s totally a thread of a sermon in there! i went shopping yesterday and got ingredients my shelves haven’t had in a long time… setting out to cook with dolcejava this weekend. having someone to share the experience wtih in all facets… makes it a much more enjoyable journey. although the dog, god bless him, if i turn my back will sample things as “quality control”… hee hee

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  10. If I don’t cook, then I don’t eat. When that’s the case, you learn to make time. There are very few pre-packaged foods I like – most are far too salty, and often even savory foods are oddly sweet. There are tricks and shortcuts to real cooking, but it’s worth it because the best – and often healthiest – foods are homemade. Unless you’re a really bad cook, that is.
    I don’t eat out much, mostly because I can’t afford the luxury. I was just telling a friend that the last time I ate out (that includes ordering pizza, getting carryout and fast food) was my birthday, three and a half months ago.

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  11. I love cooking, and I feel much better when I’m eating foods with fewer preservatives, but not having an abundance of time, I’ve become really attached to tricks like freezing marinara and pesto in ice cube trays (and then emptying them into plastic bags. It takes about 2 ice cubes then, to make enough sauce for one meal (given that most of the time, I make one dish dinners). Maybe that trick would be useful for you, too?

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  12. When you and a loved one are cooking together, you’re also talking together and just enjoying each other’s company. The beautiful meal becomes a celebration of the love you share, as well as leading you to give thanks for all your blessings…of nourishment and love.

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  13. This makes me want to cook with Michael more. We take turns: his night to cook, my night to cook. Etc. But we don’t get much teamwork that way.

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