Apt. 11D Gift Guide 2019 – Food

I usually have the TV on in the background as Steve and the boys get out of the house in the morning. Lately, Dan Buettner, the National Geographic writer, has been talking up his new book, The Blue Zone Kitchen. When he comes on the TV, I usually stop putting away dishes and organizing my daily to-do list, and watch the segment.

Buettner has made an entire career around looking at the five areas of the world where people live the longest — Sardinia, California, Japan, Greece, and Costa Rica. His questions are always the same: What are those people doing right? What can we learn from them? The answers are clear. It’s lifestyle.

People in those areas have a life purpose that doesn’t end when they turn 65. They don’t immediately retire from a job, plop down in front of a tv, and remain there until heart disease and loneliness destroys them. The grandmas take care of grandchildren. The men keep fishing and providing for their families. They walk everywhere. They eat communally. All good stuff.

Now, he’s focusing on the foods that they eat. What are the commonalities? The answer is low meat consumption, lots of beans, vegetables, and fruit, low dairy. It’s interesting because so many of the fad diets put lots of those foods, like beans and squash, on the no-no list. Because we eat a pretty standard Mediterranean diet here, I am a fan of Buettner. In fact, this book is the only cookbook that I’m interested in right now.

We eat a lot of vegetables. At Sunday’s farmer’s market, Steve and I load up on at least four bags of vegetables. It’s fairly random. I grab whatever looks happy that day — leeks, cabbage, lettuce, corn, beets, radishes — and then figure out recipes later. The Sunday before Thanksgiving was the last day of the market until May, so I loaded up on squash, potatoes, carrots, and onions — items that would last in the bottom shelf of the pantry for a couple of months.

Because I work from home, I’m able to experiment with cooking. I probably spend more time in the kitchen than most people these days. If I was working in an office in the city, I might maintain our diet by planning ahead and cooking bigger batches of food every three days. But right now, I do this in my own disorganized fashion starting at 5:00 every day.

I do all this, not because it’s super healthy, but because it tastes good. I like the challenge of turning something humble and even ugly, like a turnip, into art. Because I was raised by the Italian side of the family, I associate food with love; it’s how I show my family how much I love them.

So, let’s talk equipment. What is in heavy rotation in my kitchen these days? What needs regular replacement?

The key to cooking vegetables properly is knowing how to clean them and cut them up. Everything else is simple – you roast them, sauté them, steam them, stir fry them, eat ’em raw. But you can’t get past square one without the prep work. Mostly that takes some practice, but good equipment is also important. So, you need the following items: three or four great cutting boards, an excellent set of knives, a colander, and a sharp peeler.

I like to pile up my cutting boards on the counter, because the wood is a nice accent in my white kitchen.

Another important, but often skipped step to cooking dinner is to transfer the food from the pots on the stove into serving bowls on the table. I know a lot of busy parents skip this step and just serve the food out of the pots on the stove, but that simple transfer of food from pot to bowl is essential. It keeps the food from over cooking. It makes everything look more appetizing. Somehow that two second step turns dinner time into an event.

I’m lucky enough to have a new kitchen with deep drawers where I pile up my various serving platters and bowls. I heavily rely on a set of really basic white bowls from Crate and Barrel, as well as some super colorful bowls from Le Souk. I just picked up an inexpensive set of three nesting bowls from IKEA that I’m using a lot.

We finally got an Instant Pot, but that’s Steve’s baby, so I can’t talk about it much.

Alright, this post is long enough. My running buddy is pinging me to meet up with her.

Living Well

I love these two profiles at the New York Times about Dan Buettner, a longevity expert.

I entered a cooking depression last week. Sometimes it feels so pointless. All that work goes into a product that is instantly gone. It’s not a book or a painting that will be there for eternity and has the potential to be appreciated by thousands. A meal is for a handful of people for an hour at most. When I started logging my calories into the iPhone app, food became a number, which made the whole process of cooking even more dull.

But there is more to food than a number. It shouldn’t be an artform either. It’s best when it’s fun and simple and honest.

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