Thursday, July 26, 2012

Keeping Food (and everything else) Simple

Once upon a time, back in one of my former lives ... pre-husband, pre-baby, pre-permanent address ... I was a college student who arrived at school with three suitcases and one large box. All of my worldly possessions fit in those four containers, with the exception of a few items back at my parents' home which had been deemed too cumbersome to ship. I set up house in one wee corner of the dorm room and proudly sent pictures of my new home to my family, who immediately expressed great concern about my lack of ... you know ... stuff. But by that point, I had learned a secret - once you pare down to the bare necessities and few, well-edited luxury items, you don't miss all the items you left behind. In fact, you start to wonder why you let them clutter up your life in the first place.

I know this is supposed to be a food blog. I'm getting there, I promise.

Anyway, times have changed. Here I am with a marriage and three year old and an address that hasn't changed in a whole two years. And yes, there is something to be said for putting down roots and getting comfortable. But with comfort, clutter inevitably follows. So we've had a month of sorting - evaluating - purging wardrobes and streamlining the processes that make our little household hum along smoothly. It's still a work in progress, but opening a closet door and seeing only half of what I used to see is so rewarding.

So ... Food. Simplicity. Where am I going with this?

Well, as I've been working to simplify my home and trim our possessions down, I've felt the urge to apply the same ideas in my kitchen. Eating real food tends to mean a lot of cooking and cleaning up - A LOT. And many times, it means starting with scratch ingredients and not reaching for as many convenience items as you used to. So my question from day one of my journey toward better eating has been, "How do I do this without losing my mind and feeling like I'm trapped in my kitchen all day??"

Now maybe some of you lovely readers never have these crazy feelings of your kitchen walls slowly closing in on you, and if it brings you joy and relaxation to cook up delcious eatables all day long - by all means - carry on. If however, like me, you maybe like to cook, but scare easily at the sight of a long ingredient list, you may find the whole process of putting food on the table much more enjoyable if you pare it down to the neccesities, plus a few luxury items.

All you really need to make a meal is a protein (so many options ... quinoa, beans, eggs, dairy, meat), a simply prepared vegetable or fruit and maybe a starch to round it out. This idea seems elementary, but I've found it immensely helpful when faced with cookbook after cookbook filled with beautiful, glossy images of perfectly crafted meals. Don't you just love it when you pick up a book with an innocent-sounding title, that promises easy and simple meal ideas, only to find that EVERY RECIPE requires 50 ingredients and hours of prep time? I dare any one of these cookbook authors to make one of their meals in my teeny kitchen, with my three year old clamoring for more Veggie Tales and a snack every few minutes and then tell me how simple they are. Argh.

Here's my point - you can make simple, yummy meals from basic ingredients, get them on the table within a reasonable amount of time and not lose your mind in the process.

Try this - next time you run across one of those beautifully photographed recipes that - let's be honest - we all love to dream about making, try to reimagine it in a way that makes sense for your life. Sometimes, I run across a single element of a recipe, like a sauce, that I love - but I wouldn't bother making the whole recipe for everyday meals. So I just take that yummy sauce and apply it elsewhere. For example, I stumbled upon this recipe for skirt steak with parsley-garlic sauce. I've made the recipe a couple of times, but steak is not something we can afford to eat regularly. However, I haven't found a protein yet that doesn't match well with that sauce. It's reallyreallyreally good on pretty much anything! Eggs, sausages, fish ... Using a punchy, flavorful sauce is a great way to dress up a simply prepared protein item.

And vegetables ... sometimes I forget that all you really need to make most veggies yummy is a quick steam or light sautee, a drizzle of olive oil or butter and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Easy. Simple. No involved preparations. Once of my favorite things to eat in the world are steamed new potatoes, left whole in their jackets or quartered, with melted better and sprinkling a fresh herbs (any kind you like). So. Good.

~Carrots slowly sauteed in butter, seasoned with salt, pepper and a pinch of cumin~

I may or may not be obsessed with this recipe for falafel sandwiches - it starts with canned garbanzo beans for speed and convenience, but if you cook beans yourself on a regular basis, by all means substitute those instead. With the help of a food processor to mash the ingredients together, you can have them on the table in less than 30 minutes. I'm terrified of deep-frying anything, so I simply fry small patties of the falafel mixture in a few tablespoons of coconut oil. Falafel sandwiches are particularly yummy with this tzaziki recipe, which I just started making recently. It's shockingly easy and it's the perfect complement for the falafel. It also makes a great appetizer for guests when served with pita chips.

*Note: I add an egg to the falafel mixture because I think it helps bind the ingredients together a little better. However, without the egg, this recipe can be made vegan.*

Those are just a few of my favorites - how do you keep it simple in your kitchens?
Please feel free to share!

Rebekah Pike 
Rebekah is happiest with her nose in a book and enjoys making the most of her pint-sized, apartment kitchen. After leaving work in media production to become a full-time mommy, she began exploring the sustainable living movement, reconnecting with the back-to-the-earth ideals of her hippie parents. She met her husband, Darian, in 2005, working as a camp counselor in Oregon's rugged outdoors. Most of their time is spent chasing after their three year old daughter, Ashlynn, and doing serious “research” at Portland's restaurants, coffee shops and markets.


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