Thursday, January 14, 2010

In Defense of Food

One of my New Year's resolution is to cook more and especially - cook better. My goal is to use vegetables and spices which I have never used before and make dishes I have never made - or even tried. I also wanted to start cooking with better ingredients and start using local and "in-season" vegetables and fruits.

I have always liked to cook but somehow I lost my cooking-groove since I have moved to the US. Stuff tastes different than it tastes in Europe. I didn't quite understand how all the recipes that I used to make in Europe with great success all the time didn't come out here. I just finished Michael Pollan's book "In Defense of Food" and things are a lot more clear to me now. For example - the butter in America is white - that was one of the first things I noticed in terms of food. In Europe - especially in Austria and Ireland - the butter is yellow, not white. I now know that American butter is white because the cows are corn fed. If cows get to graze on grass the butter will be yellow. There are a lot of reasons why it's better for cows to eat grass than corn but I am not going to go into it all now - if you want to know I recommend you read Pollan's book.

So I realized instead of trying to make my old stand-bys taste like they used to be I should just try new stuff. I decided that nutritionally and taste-wise it would be best to start eating food that is in season where I live. Right now a lot of different greens like Kale and Chard and squashes are in season. To be honest I have never really tried those foods. In Holland you can get whichever food you want whenever you want since most foods are either raised in green houses or imported from warmer places so I never thought about eating seasonally.

Well, let me tell you guys - this New Years resolution was probably the best New Years resolution I have ever made. In the past two weeks I have been in culinary heaven. For the first time since I have moved here I feel like I can cook. I have tried new recipes every night except once - when we went to a restaurant - a restaurant which follows the same food principles which I have been following (thus the food was incredible). I have cooked butternut squash, spaghetti squash (a squash of which the flesh looks like pasta and surprisingly tastes pretty similar too), kale (in many different ways), winter soups and my favorite - oven roasted grape tomatoes with rosemary, garlic and olive oil. I also try to cook mostly vegetarian and if I use meat, I try to use really good quality meat.

But not only have I really enjoyed every bite I have eaten in the last couple of weeks, I have also felt great. I am starting to think that those winter vegetables contain exactly the vitamins and minerals one needs to get through the winter without getting depressed and sick. One of the first dishes we made was a "green" soup with kale and spinach. The next day E and I felt energized and alive like we just got back from a long stay at a spa.

In short - I have been feeling fantastic.

If you are interested - here are Michael Pollan's 7 rules for eating - but please keep in mind that these make a lot more sense if you have read his book which I can very much recommend:

1. Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
2. Avoid foods containing ingredients you can’t pronounce.
3. Don’t eat anything that wouldn’t eventually rot.
4. Avoid food products that carry health claims.
5. Shop the peripheries of the supermarket; stay out of the middle.
6. Better yet, buy food somewhere else: the farmer’s market or CSA.
7. Pay more, eat less.
8. Eat a wide diversity of species.
9. Eat food from animals that eat grass.
10. Cook and, if you can, grow some of your own food.
11. Eat meals and eat them only at tables.
12. Eat deliberately, with other people whenever possible, and always with pleasure.