The holidays are over. I made more chocolate chip cookies than it’s even decent to consider, plenty of peanut butter balls, and lemon-frosted shortbread as well as tourtière pies and potato cheese soup. Clif made—not once, but twice—some of his wonderful waffles. Then there were the home fries and French toast. Our daughter Shannon, who is really getting into the cooking spirit, made us some treats from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. These included roasted chickpeas and pistachios (oh my, they are good!); stuffed mushrooms; an olive tapenade; and a chickpea soup with tahini and cumin. Well done, Shannon! Give this young woman a gold star, says her proud mother.
A few short years ago, Shannon’s claim to culinary fame was limited to scrambled eggs. Now, there is nothing wrong with scrambled eggs. I like them, too, but they can get a bit tedious if served every night for dinner or supper or whatever you want to call it. But things can change, and so it has with Shannon. She’s gone from being an indifferent cook to someone who fervently hoped that Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything would be waiting for her under the Christmas tree. (It was, courtesy of her sister, Dee.)
This ability to change, in turn, brings me to New Year’s resolutions. Some people dismiss them as unrealistic, nagging goals that can never be attained and whose only purpose seems to be to induce guilt. Certainly, resolutions can have this effect. But taken in the right spirit, New Year’s resolutions also can be seen as guidelines that encourage us to grow and to become more creative, more mindful. And here’s the good thing about resolutions: whatever progress we make is more than we would have made if we had done nothing. If we fall short—which, being human, we probably will—then there is always next year.
So in the creative, mindful sense, here are my New Year’s resolutions:
Buy more in bulk
This can be tricky when there are usually only two people to feed, the way it is in our household. However, nuts, beans, rice, popcorn, oatmeal, and spices are much more affordable when bought in bulk. In fact, so much so that it is often possible to buy organic, even with a frugal food budget. With careful planning and organization, a small family can take advantage of bulk prices. Unfortunately, because I am right-brained and rather disorganized, this one will be a real challenge for me. But this year I am determined to buy more in bulk, use what I buy, and thus save money.
Cook even more from scratch
Yes, I know. I cook a lot from scratch, probably more than many people do. However, I still have some weak spots, so to speak. The most glaring one is salad dressing. With all the meals I make, you might think that salad dressing would be a snap, but for some reason it isn’t. Somehow, I always turn to the bottled ones, which are loaded with ingredients that can hardly be pronounced and are certainly not good for you. Crackers are another weak spot. Mark Bittman has assured readers that crackers are a cinch to make. Not only that, but they taste better, are healthier, and are much less expensive than boxed crackers. Plus, they keep a long time. Crackers and salad dressings, I will master you in 2010.
Used dried beans rather than canned ones
This corresponds to my buying in bulk resolution. Canned beans have many advantages. They are quick, and they don’t have to be soaked. They can be a last-minute choice, say, when you are really craving black bean burritos. But compared with dried beans, the canned ones are very expensive, and I am a cook with a modest budget.
Eat less meat
While my husband and I don’t want to become vegetarians, we both want to reduce our meat consumption. The junk that is fed to commercially-raised cows, pigs, and chickens is the stuff of horror stories, and if people really dwelled on this, meat consumption in the United States would plummet. (For graphic descriptions about how our meat is raised read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma or watch the documentary Food, Inc.) There are, of course, healthier ways to raise animals for meat, but this meat is much more expensive, and, as I have mentioned previously, we have a modest food budget. Finally, there is the environmental impact—-the resources and the land that go into producing meat are far greater than they are for growing vegetables. When you consider that Earth’s population is projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, this is no small matter. How are all the people on the planet going to eat? By a happy coincidence, Mark Bittman, in his New York Times blog Bitten (http://bitten.blogs.nytimes.com/?ref=dining), has recently written about ways to fix lentils, and there’s a recipe for curried lentils with cashews that I’ll soon be making.
Waste Less Food
We all do it. No matter how conscientious we are, food gets shoved to the back of the refrigerator. By the time we come across it, this food has turned an alarming shade of green and has such a horrific odor that it nearly makes us pass out when we open the container. This year, I resolve to have more diligence when it comes to leftovers. Throwing them away is just like throwing money into the trashcan. Then, there is this to consider: According to a recent article in the New York Times, “One in eight Americans now receives food stamps, including one in four children.” In this light, throwing away food seems, well, worse than wasteful.
The quest for true spaghetti carbonara in Maine
I added this somewhat lighthearted one because I didn’t want readers to think it was all resolve and no play for A Good Eater. I love spaghetti carbonara the way my husband, Clif, loves turkey—with a zeal that goes beyond human reasoning. I could eat it once a week, maybe even twice. But here’s the thing. What most restaurants in Maine call spaghetti carbonara is, in fact, spaghetti Alfredo. Instead of being an egg-based sauce, it is made with cream. Now, there is nothing wrong with Alfredo, and I like it very well. But Alfredo is not carbonara, which should consist of eggs, garlic, some kind of cured pork, black pepper, and grated cheese. (I’ll be writing more about carbonara later.) So, do any restaurants in Maine serve true carbonara? In the course of the year, I’ll be going to Italian restaurants in Maine. I’ll order the spaghetti carbonara and then determine whether it’s true carbonara or usurped carbonara. I’ll be sure to keep readers posted.