“Just as it is good to get one’s fingers into the soil and plant seeds, so it is good to get one’s fingers, and fists into bread dough to knead and to punch it.” – Edith Schaeffer
Yesterday my friend Lisa talked about the art of food as a way of health healing for the body. Today I want to talk about the art of cooking. This post is all about the skills, processes, and particulars of actually cooking the food we love and serve.
I grew up on pop tarts and casseroles and when I became married I knew how to cook macaroni and cheese and apple pie really well, and that was it. My husband, on the other hand, grew up in a home where he received a huge hot breakfast every morning. Pop tarts and cereal were not going to cut it.
I looked up recipes and tried new things; I learned from my husband as well. He was actually a much better cook than me when we got married. He still prepares certain meals much better than I can, but now I have a handful of meals that I am really good at as well, and others think so too!
There are only a few other things in life that brings joy the way the responses of others do when they encounter a table and food experience of leisure and refreshment.
I will not lie; I had to go through a lot of swallowing my pride, being teachable, and taking the time to learn new skills, but now cooking is one of my favorite things. In fact, Ernie and I love to cook together. We love coming up with new ideas for our recipes, and trying new ones. This has even transferred down to our children. It is kind of like a family thing now.
I can think of where everything changed for me. It was when I started watching Alton Brown on the Food Network. Alton Brown talks about food and cooking on the principle level. He explains why, not just how. Because of this I began to learn the principles of cooking. This enabled me to apply the principles to other areas of cooking.
Not long after that I discovered a DVD course called ‘The Everyday Gourmet: Rediscovering The Lost Art Of Cooking‘. I watched the trailer and thought we might have fun watching this as a family. Eventually, the course went on sale at The Great Courses’ website, and I bought it. Then we invited some other homeschool students in the area to complete the course with us. We had SO MUCH FUN! Chef Briwa divided all the cooking up by process and principle. So rather than learning a series of unrelated recipes we learned each process and its governing principles. This enabled the students and me to apply what we learned to countless cooking situations. My husband, my son, and my daughters all got in on it and now this way of thinking about food and cooking is a part of our family culture.
The only problem came when I couldn’t figure out how to meal plan and execute that plan, given our busy schedule, in a way that held up all these wonderful things we learned. That is until I found my friend Mystie’s resources at Simplified Pantry. Mystie organizes meal planning routines by cooking process. I am not sure why I hadn’t thought of that given what we learned from the Briwa course, but Mystie had, and I am grateful. Now I feel like I have the best of both worlds at the table, art and practicality.
:: Start with one process
Begin learning the principles for ONE process at a time. Choose the one your family enjoys the most and use the pockets of time you have available to develop that process. For instance, if your family really loves pasta dishes, then learn about ways of preparing noodles and sauces. One of Chef Briwa’s sessions is about sauces. In this session, Briwa teaches you how to make the base sauces that all other sauces come from. The two fundamental skills of creating sauces are reduction and creating a roux. Once you learn these two skills you can create any sauce well. You just need a recipe for the particular sauces. Mystie’s Simplified Dinners E-Book does this beautifully. In the pasta dishes example, she summarizes the process at the top of the page and then lists our several variations of that process below the summary, notating the differences in each rendition of the process in a super simple way. So, on the Pasta page of her Simplified Dinners resource I have excellent recipes for 3-4 different cream based pasta dishes and 3-4 tomato based pasta dishes, and a couple broth based dishes.
:: If you are on a special diet keep your substitution method simple
We try to limit the grains and dairy at our house. We still eat these sometimes, but it is the exception when we do, not the rule. Rather than buying specialty foods or using complicated recipes we have a simple substitution list. This enables us to use most recipes and substitute when necessary. We will substitute coconut cream for cream, unsweetened almond milk for milk, spaghetti squash or lentil noodles for regular noodles, applesauce or flax seed soaked in water for eggs, coconut and almond flour or regular flour, and arrowroot powder for corn starch. The changes are very minor, and we have not had one complaint in our house with these substitutions. We just have the habit now of whenever we see an ingredient in a recipe we choose not to eat we use an “approved” substitution instead, and it almost always works.
:: Make it a family affair
“People support that which they help to create.” This is a business principle named by Mary Kay Ash, in her book ‘Mary Kay on People Management.’ If we want our families to appreciate the changes, we are trying to make in our homes we must invite them along. We cannot impose all our perfectly thought out plans on them. To do so would be tyranny. Rather, invite them to play along with you. If they oppose you, wait. Maybe they are not ready or maybe they need something else. Pray and lay down your agenda. The Lord is faithful and will show you what ought to be done. If the thought of doing one more thing makes you want to cry and run away, stop and go to the Lord. I do not know what particular situations you are dealing with, but I know when I have felt like that I am tying myself to thoughts or activities that are not for me to bear. It is only in the presence of the Lord that those things are revealed, when they are revealed be brave sister. Lay them down, it is always worth it.
:: Make it a community affair
Maybe you feel a bit unsure about even trying something in the kitchen. Maybe someone told you were a horrible cook, and you believed them. Friend, you can do this too. Invite some friends over and try a process out together. You could even get a video like The Lost Art of Cooking and watch it together and make the meal Briwa does. What a fun afternoon with friends.
“Food should be chosen for nutritive values, of course, but also to give variety and interest to meals. Food should be chosen to give pleasure, and to cheer up people after a hard day’s work, to comfort them when they feel down for some reason, to amuse them when things seem a bit dull, or to open up conversation when they fell silent and uncommunicative…Meals should be a surprise, and should show imagination.” -Edith Schaeffer
:: Make you kitchen a fun place to be
Sometimes we don’t want to be in our kitchens because they are cluttered and dirty. Especially being in our home ALL DAY LONG with kids adding more dishes to the pile and spills on the counter it can feel a bit exhausting. One thing I do to help remedy this is my coffee pot challenge. I start a pot of coffee and see how many dishes I can do while the coffee is brewing. I can pick up my whole kitchen now by the time the coffee it done (about 15 minutes). I also try to add quaint elements to the décor of my kitchen. I have laid Christmas tree lights along the top of my cabinets. It provides a warm glow that changes the atmosphere instantly. I also always have a candle in the middle of the kitchen on some beautiful looking tray or plate. We keep a basket out with fruits and vegetables that can be left out without harm and fill mason jars with our dried good and put those on display rather than piling bags of beans and pasta in the pantry in the dark. All of these elements make the kitchen an enjoyable place to be.
“The kitchen should be an interesting room in which communication takes place between child and mother and also among adults. It should be interesting in the same way as is an artist’s studio, as well as being a cozy spot in which to have a cup of tea while something is being watched or stirred, or while waiting to take something out of the oven.” –Edith Schaeffer
You can also play some worship music or some other selection of beautiful music. If it has been an especially hard day maybe pray over your kitchen and speak blessings out over your family and children. Darkness cannot exist in the same space the Spirit of living God exists.
Whatever you decide to do with food, cooking, and your kitchen, just do it. Any effort put forth in this area will be well worth it. The power of food and the table to bring people together is astounding. May the Lord be with you and inspire you as you seek to affect the atmosphere of your home. To God be the Glory.
|This part is a member of our 31 Days of Playing with the Arts Series|