Food and Me:
Food has always been central to my life. My Grandma & Mum handed down a long-held belief that women should be able to cook, and that was a pretty central concept in my upbringing, my heritage. Friday nights were homemade fish and chips at my Grandma’s and even mid-week we often had guests and large numbers around my mum’s table. I was very much raised on traditional British food-meat, veg and lots of dairy and wheat, even puddings after every meal! I was also raised on the concept that eating together is central to our social interaction and a large part of the celebration of family and life.
When I met my husband as a teenager and started to see this focus on food reflected in his Italian family, and how central eating is to their tradition too, it cemented my lifelong passion for this extraordinary gift. I love food, and sometimes think I live to eat-something my mum will say to me anyway. I know my family, colleagues and friends would all say that I am mildly obsessed with lunch and thinking about my next meal!
Although my cooking has evolved quite a lot since my childhood, my relationship with food is very much unchanged. Food is still central to my family life and the tradition of sitting and eating together is something that we, and many other families, hold onto. Even as other traditions fall away, there is something so nurturing about eating together-it feels good I guess and enhances our connection to each other. I must spend several hours a day, on most days, preparing and cooking food. This is of course around work and kids and everything else. However, I see it as a real investment in my own and my family’s health and it is now so much a part of my day, that I don’t really think about it. However, if I wasn’t motivated by the idea of the food I was cooking, it would kill my passion! If I felt I had to be ‘too healthy’ or be too constricted in my food choices, I can see very quickly that some of my enthusiasm would die. Sometimes, it is thinking about a chocolate pudding or slice of brownie that I’m going to make, that will get me through the afternoon. This is also part of the fun of being the cook-you get to choose the menu (especially as kids grow up!).
Like everyone, sometimes I have real fatigue at the idea of cooking another week’s meals and I feel I must just to buy in a pizza or have a takeaway and have a break…but that is just balance. Normally, the fire rekindles pretty quickly, and I am feeling enthused again about what to make next. Latterly I have also found that I am more and more aware of being grateful for my food and for the choice & availability of food that we have. Supporting local, free-range and organic has become part of the enjoyment and responsibility that I feel tied into my food choices now. I way of being more grateful and present in the rush to get food made.
Cooking Without Recipes:
Over the years I would say one of the most liberating things I have done-something that has allowed me to speed up as a cook and consequently be able to cook stuff for dinner early in the morning or get the slow cooker on before work- is to cook without recipes. It sounds obvious and I’m sure many of us will have some stuff that we cook without a recipe, however for the last 5 or so years, I have tried to abandon all ‘quantities’ in main meals-baking and desserts are different-and go by feel.
It is a skill that we only need practice at. We start to get used to getting feedback via texture, look, smell and taste. We start to learn to trust ourselves as cooks and we learn to trust our intuition. I browse recipes all the time, but only for inspiration on what to put together with what. Broad beans with mint and feta- a fritter maybe, or a salad with rice or quinoa.. or a frittata-a myriad of options come to mind from one recipe suggestion. When making basics such as pancakes-put in some flour, crack in an egg and start stirring, top up with as much milk as you need to get the right texture…it takes a few goes, but in the long term I can honestly tell you, it saves you loads of time!
I really am an advocate of cooking from scratch. I strongly believe that it is still one of the quickest and easiest routes to feeling more in control of our diet, and hence making more positive choices that will then impact our long-term health and wellbeing. Cooking from scratch is empowering and once you feel more confident in the kitchen, you can direct your own health a lot more easily. Cooking from scratch takes time to start with and yet can also be massively sped up as you learn ‘hacks’ that will help you as time goes on. One of these cooking ‘hacks’ is to start to discard recipes, cook more from principles and get a better understanding of food combinations, and free your inner creativity!
Other blogs of interest may include…
Lunch Recipes and Gluten Free Cooking Hacks