Cooking a meal every night, night after night is not a new thing for homo sapiens (which I assume we all are).
We have been struggling with this problem since our forebears had to put themselves under threat of being eaten for someone else’s dinner if they wanted to feed their children and themselves.
And while we don’t often have these issues today, the process can at times seem almost as daunting.
Which is why I guess so many are choosing to fix this problem by getting others to do some of the work for them. That is, to send them either the complete meal or at least the different parts which they then simply assemble.
Now I could rave on and on and on and come up with numerous moral, philosophical and environmental arguments why I am against this as a solution.
But that is not really my style and last time I checked this is still a reasonably free country. A lot of our nation’s best and brightest are doing it. And you are probably quite rightly saying, “It is all very well for her, she likes to cook”.
So, I won’t. Rather, I would like to swing this into a more positive light and focus on ways to answer the question: “What’s for dinner ?” So, when you hear it next, you can respond, without your body immediately going into a spasm that takes weeks to recover from.
Hmmm … maybe before I do this I will just allow myself just one wee moment!
Possibly the most important argument against being delivered tiny packets of turmeric in lots of packaging once a week is one that you have at your doorstep. Well not quite, but definitely in your neighbourhood. There are numerous local people getting up every morning dedicated to sending you turmeric and peas and apples, potatoes and sausages. And their livelihood is being brought into threat not by drought or war or the government, but by people buying partly-prepared meals from other parts of the country.
One of the pleasures of my line of work is the contact I have with growers, food retailers and wholesalers. And for a wee while now the common theme of my conversation with a lot of them is how their business is being affected negatively by My Food Bag. There, I’ve said it, now let’s move on …
So firstly, I will state the obvious, which I am sure you have already tried. But I challenge you to try again.
On Sunday night after you have mowed your lawn and your mother-in-law’s and the one at the bach. Get together whoever lives in your home. Somewhere neutral and not too comfortable, as you want everyone’s attention. And have a – what’s the term? – a brainstorming session, put the question to the group: ‘What’s for dinner?’ In this way you are sharing the load and the responsibility.
Your mission is to come up with a dinner plan for the week, so everyone not only knows what is for dinner, but can be given jobs towards preparing it. If not the whole meal, at least part. And if your children are too young to help, you and your partner could discuss it over a chardonnay or three.
My advice is not to go straight to the latest food blog and glossy food magazine for inspiration. Instead, first delve into your mother’s and grandmother’s old recipe books.
Ask them what they used to cook for dinner. Yes, there will be a lot of rich meat dishes and possibly cream and butter, but you don’t have to cook like this every night. And you will find the odd treasure and, if nothing else, a wonderful trip down nostalgia lane (which is very good for the soul if not the waistline).
There is huge pressure today to make every meal good enough to be in a Netflix series. We have so many authorities telling us what we should eat and how and when. It can become very overwhelming and I can quite understand the urge to just escape all this and leave it up to one of them … food included.
But really it does not have to be like this. We need to go back to what we are trying to achieve and simplify it. Keep those long complicated Ottolenghi recipes you have been wanting to try for the weekend, and during the week be kind to yourself … keep it simple.
And if Granny’s or Grandfather’s (though let’s face it, Granny did most of the cooking) recipe books are nowhere to be found, here are some suggestions.
Roast anything, chook especially, takes about 10 minutes to prepare. Throw the potatoes, fennel and garlic in there as well sprinkle with big branches of thyme and olive oil, salt and pepper, squeeze some butter in between the skin and the flesh and you are done. And if you want greens these will take another 5 or 3 minutes at the other end.
Get a traditional Italian pasta recipe book. They are full of hundreds of very simple, very delicious meals that only have a few ingredients and take just a few minutes. Then all you need is a bowl of green salad leaves and one of Ya Bon’s baguettes and whamoo you are done.
When I was painting the whole interior of Pipi Greytown upstairs and down before we first opened, every night I would steam a big plate of vegetables and have a feast with simply these and olive oil and salt and pepper and they gave me enough energy to paint far into the night. And if you need excitement you could get really carried away and drizzle and pour over any number of delicious hummus, oils or sauces.
Go with what you feel like eating. Listen to your tummy, not your mind. Don’t make something because you think you should; your body has a wonderful ability to tell you what it needs and the more you listen to it the louder the messages get!
I guess what I am trying to say is that I find it hard enough to keep my feet firmly planted on the earth. My head’s natural inclination is to fly into the clouds and beyond, and one of the things that really grounds me here is food. Holding it, cooking it and I guess eating it.
I really treasure the food producers and retailers and my connection with them is something I cannot imagine living without.
I know life picks all of us up and pushes us at such a rate that we really do not have time anymore, and this is certainly not meant as a judgment. I just cannot stand the thought of people missing out on this connection that I find integral to my being here in Hawke’s Bay and part of this community.