Wednesday, September 29, 2010

As I write, the smell of Swiss Steak slowly simmering in the crock pot is wafting through the house. I have been on a cooking jag. In the past 3 days, I have cooked $600 worth of food and put it in the freezer for my family.
Cooking is my creative outlet -- some folks paint, I cook! Of course, it's not just about me. I really want to know what my loved ones are putting in their mouths.

It's not only that I wonder what price we will eventually pay for all these chemical cocktails we consume, but also because of how that manufactured food affects our brains. We are created to respond to the most striking impetus so that we can pay attention to what truly matters and thus prioritize that the mammoth or saber-toothed tigers chasing us is more urgent than how absolutely beautiful the sunrise is. Food manufacturers trade on that impulse by using chemicals to create extra-palatable foods and before we know it, we're hooked. They cry out to us, "pay attention" and unless we are very disciplined, we do. In addition, highly processed -- aka manufactured -- foods speed through our digestive system, so our "full" sensors don't go off and we keep eating long after we've consumed enough calories. With processed foods being such a major part of most contemporary Western diets, our mind-body connection is in imminent peril.

Processed foods and fast food were not part of my childhood and as a young adult, I did not realize the dangers. I did not know that a steady diet of these foods would skew my sensory perceptions of food. I don't want my girls or my young foster kids to be hooked on these food substitutes. I reason that if I am able to keep them mostly off the road of manufactured foods, maybe it won't become a super-highway. Maybe if they aware of the dangers, as I was not, they will choose a more wholesome and health-some route.

I also want them to have the joy of eating! I want them to know the crispness of fresh vegetables and the depth of flavor in olive oil. I want them to have to chew their steak and to know the natural sweetness of milk and of bread. I want them to have the sense of "enough" that I had as a youngster. But more, I want them to know the joy of anticipation, of smelling a meal for an hour as it is prepared, and to enjoy its unfolding at the table. I want them to have "slow food;" food that is lovingly and thoughtfully created and then enjoyed with conversation and reflection.

So I cook. And with seven people currently in the house, I cook . . . and cook some more. And in the process of creation, I find that I am re-created. Cooking is a sensual experience. The fragrance of fresh herbs and sauteing vegetables is intoxicating. Chopping and mincing is meditative - it nurtures in me some ancient inner longing. Tending a pot of simmering, thickening sauce is prayer. As each dish is parceled, wrapped and frozen, it is filled not only with a short list of whole foods (every ingredient of which I can pronounce and identify), but also with hope and with love. It's me, being faithful.

The point of all this is to inspire you, dear reader, to this week be faithful. Do whatever it is that makes the most of you -- that nurtures your inner longing -- that fulfills and sews together whatever is becoming fragmented in you. It doesn't matter if a masterpiece is created or merely table scraps. What is truly created endures -- regardless of how long the artifact lasts.

PS - Just in case you want to know, here's what I created this week (all in 8 portions per package):

3 Pasta e Fagioli Soup
3 Marinated Flank Steak
3 Flank Steak Fajitas with Artichoke Chick-Pea Hummus, Sweet and Spicy Salsa, and Steak-Sauce
4 Chicken Cacciatore
4 Taco meat
4 Sausage gravy (occasional special breakfast for the kids)
Everta's Sourdough Starter for pancakes, biscuits and breads
4 Red Beans, Cajun style
3 Nancy Lee's Chicken Pie
4 Swiss Steak
3 Refried Beans
Molases Cookie dough - enough for 12 dozen

To these I just add some fresh veggies, fresh fruit and memories! Mangia, mangia!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Saving Dinner (and Myself)

At first glance, this is not going to look like a weight loss blog! And I suppose, on the face of it, it's not. It is about meeting two main objectives in my journey: 1) Giving my kids a good start in nutritional health (aka helping them avoid the addictions and dangers of highly processed foods). Instead of corn syrup, fillers and preservatives, they are getting intact foods like fruits, vegetables, brown rice, oats and whole-wheat flour.

(2)I am moving my own needs up the priority list so I'm not so distracted by feeding my large family that I just shove whatever I can find in my own pie-hole! A side benefit is that I'm not heating up my kitchen as much every day since the initial stage of cooking has been done already on all these foods!

Hence, I decided it was time to put some yummy home-made meals in the freezer. I took about a week to complete it all, but I did the bulk of the shopping and cooking in one 24 hour period with a lot of help from Chanelle (Allison was out of town at the time).

To put the sheer volume in proper perspective, Chanelle and I bought the majority of the ingredients at a warehouse club and it filled TWO carts and rang up a $550 bill! One of the carts was so heavy, it was exercise to push it! I estimate that by buying most of the ingredients in bulk, I saved 30% to 50% of the cost of producing each of these dishes individually.

Here are the results:

3 Meals of Shepherd's Pie
3 meals of Parsley Parmesan Chicken
24 cups of Spaghetti Sauce (about 6 meal's worth)

4 meals of Cheesy Taco Rice
3 batches of No-Bake Cookies
7 batches of Oatmeal Cookies
24 cups of Granola

6 meals of Mac and Cheese (bye, bye blue box)
12 cups of White Sauce (to go into the mac)
4 meals of Freezer Slaw

12 Breakfast Sandwiches (quickie breakfast for the girls for school)

4 meals of Pulled Pork
2 quarts of Barbeque Sauce
3 meals of Baked Ziti (not actually baked yet!)