Gift Guide 2021 #3 — In the Kitchen

This is the third installment of the Apt. 11D Gift Guide for 2021. Here’s the Intro. Part 1 was on investment clothing. Part 2 was about exercise and outdoor activity.

I love the transformative process, the magic, of converting a bag of ugly roots and berries, meat fresh from the butcher, and a handful of fragrant leaves from the pots on the back patio into a feast that lasts for days. It connects me with centuries of women across the world, who have fed humanity with these simple ingredients, a pot, and some fire. When I’m cooking, I’m on the prairie making venison stew in a hearth, reducing fish sauce in a stone home in the hills outside of Rome, grilling fresh caught salmon over a campfire. Those women, not the Instagram food stars, are my cooking role models.

But then there’s reality. Pre-pandemic, my reality involved feeding two constantly hungry teenage boys, while managing heavy chauffeuring after-school chores, without the help of a husband who was processing contracts on Wall Street. Since there wasn’t much time to channel my inner ancestor-women to create a three-hour stew on the average Tuesday, we resorted to burritos and other lower end, take out food.

After March 2020, food production in my house increased dramatically. Jonah wasn’t eating in the college cafeteria. Ian didn’t get lunch at school. On Fridays, Steve didn’t get his lunch at the biryani cart. Four people ate 21+ meals in my kitchen. Now that the boys are back in school and college, things have eased up, but we’re still not back to pre-pandemic eating styles.

We stopped get convenience food, because we are rushing around less, and Steve is home to help. In addition, the price of restaurants has gone up so significantly, that we don’t want to waste our restaurant budget on bad food. I would rather have one really good meal at a beautiful restaurant with energy and ambiance than get three tasteless, cold take out meals.

Last week for Thanksgiving and afterwards, I channeled the ancestor women, while brining my turkey that I got from the farm. I stuffed the bird with onions from the farmer’s market, and rosemary from Steve’s garden. Steve’s cranberry sauce recipe came from his great grandmother, whose roots go back to the second boat after the Mayflower. We roasted pumpkins for the pies. On Friday, I boiled down the bones of the bird, along with some nubby carrots and other leftover root vegetables to make ten quarts of stock, which are now frozen in mason jars. Broth is liquid life.

With all this cooking and stewing and boiling, I need solid, quality cooking tools that can withstand heavy use: Le Creuset dutch oven, solid knives, a thick cutting board, roasting pans, pots that nest together neatly in drawers, serious oven mitts, and salt and pepper shakers that won’t quit. And we use gadgets, because primitive cooking has its limits. So, we have an Instant Pot as a bean shortcut, a pasta machine, and a Cuisinart food processor.

At the same time, I am rethinking my cooking methods, because it’s suddenly become important that Ian quickly learns to cook. We’re looking at a residential program for him, where the students cook all their own meals. My pioneer woman thing isn’t the right approach for a 19-year old with autism living in an apartment, so we’re building a list of some no-nonsense meals under his belt, like hamburgers/salad/tater tots, chicken patties/frozen rice/frozen corn, and pasta for one. I spent some time with him in frozen section of the supermarket talking about possibilities.

The good news is that frozen dinners have come a long way from the Swanson frozen dinner days. (Ah, remember the Salisbury steak and apple pie? I loved frozen dinner night!) Anyone can easily eat really tasty, nutritious meals using all frozen ingredients. (I suppose I can channel a Siberian hunter gatherer cooking up some frozen mastodon steaks.) So, we making him a basic bachelor pad, autistic kid cookbook and buying some some basic tools. The best way to make those tater tots and frozen chicken patties is with an air fryer. So, I’m giving him one for Christmas along with his Switch video games.

Last night, Ian was in charge of making hamburgers. He cut the ground beef into five equal rectangles and then molded them into patties. I have to say that it never occurred to me to cut up ground meat like that before. So logical and smart.