I don’t fancy myself much of a baker. If given the choice I would roast a chicken or make a risotto instead of a teared cake with buttercream. But there’s an exception I make for pies. I don’t know if it’s because they were one of the first things I learned to do in the kitchen (and make successfully,) that they’re most fun to make in the summer (cherry, blueberry, rhubarb, peach) and the fall (apple and pear) which are my favourite times of the year, or to get really Hallmarky here, if because I’ve grown up hearing stories about my great grandmother, Viola, a woman who would happily churn out a pie using the fruit from her sprawling and well-loved garden. Whatever reason it may be, it makes pies a category unto themselves in my book; something that I can happily spend an afternoon making, spending hours shaping leaves, weaving a lattice and plaiting dough. Throw on a radio drama or podcast and I’m set. Now all I need is that sprawling garden, some fruit trees, and quintessential window sill. …
I recently read this article by English journalist Helen Russell, who has been living in Denmark for the past 4 years. My initial reaction, after wishing I was tromping through the snow in my wellies and eating endless pastries in my cozy and perfectly decorated home, was that we are totally doing this wrong. Seriously guys. What about working til 7 or 8 every night, burning out before we’re 30, not eating properly or on a set schedule, going to bed without dinner or having a bowl of cereal because it’s all we can manage, is working for us? What are we trying to achieve with that? (Not productivity—those Danes are better than us at that too and they leave the office at 4.) And, most importantly, not a well balanced life and basic kitchen skills.
I’m not arguing for a Betty Crocker homemaker lifestyle either. Don’t get me wrong, I love a vintage apron and have a nice collection, but I’m also independent to a fault and once told a guy chivalry was dead when he tried to walk me to the subway (needless to say we’re not dating anymore.) We don’t need to swing to the other end of the spectrum here, but not having a basic handle on how to plan and shop for meals, and how to make good, honest food for ourselves and loved ones is doing us a disservice.
Russell says it comes down to leaving work. Keeping a work/life balance in check has helped Denmark win happiest country to live. And now France is making it illegal for work emails to be sent on weekends and holidays. Can we take a cue from them? None (ok, very few) of us would be leaving life or death situations. Russell jokes that we’re not Hillary Clinton–apart from my friend who is currently working for Hillz (sorry B). But seriously, otherwise, unless you’re doing life saving work, what’s going to happen if that last bit of paper work isn’t filled out, or last article edited. What about tomorrow at 9am?
Our answer to “finding more time” has been convenience food–but that continues to feed the cycle. Ordering Seamless, picking something up on the way home, or dealing with a meal kit aren’t teaching us the necessary skills of planning and shopping, improvising with what we have, stretching ingredients to feed a crowd or work for multiple meals, or learning flavor combinations we like. With time, as things become more second nature, having little time won’t be an issue anymore. But we have to give ourselves the chance to learn. Because really, if in our 20s we can barely feed ourselves, what do we do when we have kids?
We have to start looking at food beyond sustenance. I first saw a difference in how I ate when I moved away from home at 18 and had to start cooking my own meals. I realized I was eating to survive, not enjoy. Mostly because I didn’t know how else to approach it. I didn’t have the skills to play with flavor and different techniques to achieve exciting meals. What I’ve learned since then is that it truly is easier than I thought. The key is to use the best ingredients you can get and to keep things simple. That’s how my dad, in all his years in the food industry, has always approached it. A handful of ingredients, used well, to achieve exceptional food.
It’s that change in mindset that will align us with countries and cultures that are doing it properly. Taking time to prepare meals, caring what goes into them, and sharing them with friends and family. Again, the Danes beat us there too. Hygge is the all encompassing word that mean to enjoy life’s simple pleasures: family, friends, food, ad being kind to yourself.
Change starts at home. How can your kitchen help you? It’s where we nourish ourselves. We couldn’t do what we do all day without it, but without the necessary tools or skills how do we do that? Instead of putting it in the hands of someone else give yourself the power to make meals you’ll be excited to eat, are fun and simple to prepare, and that let you enjoy time at home with friends and family.
This is bigger than food, but it’s the yummiest place to start and we’ll all have full bellies going forward.
One of my favourite things to do is bash and muddle garlic, pine nuts, something green and some olive oil into a pesto. Not only is it delicious, but it takes about 10 minutes, gives me one of the only upper arm work outs I ever get, and it an excellent way to relieve stress.
In this case the pesto is a parsley one, mainly because I had a shedload of parsley in the fridge and not a leaf of basil. But it shows how the need for using something up can result in some delicious improv.
Serves 4 as a side | Prep + cook 30 mins.
- 1/2 cup quinoa
- 1 cup water
- 10-12 cherry tomatoes
- 2 bell peppers
- handful of parsley
- 1 clove garlic
- olive oil
- parmesan cheese
- pine nuts (or walnuts)
- salt + pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Add the quinoa to a pot with the water, cover and bring to a boil before reducing and cooking for 18-20 minutes. While that’s cooking:
- Put cherry tomatoes on a baking sheet (cut some in half, keep other whole) and pop in the oven for 15 minutes, stir and put them back in for another 15 mins.
- As the quinoa is cooking and the tomatoes are roasting, in a food processor or mortar and pestle, bash the garlic with a pinch of salt, add a small handful of pine nuts, bash (or blend) into a paste, add the cheese, parsley and a glug of olive oil and combine until it forms a pesto.
- Cut the peppers in half lengthwise, remove the seeds, and add them to the oven for the last few minutes with the tomatoes. To assemble: Mix the pesto and tomatoes into the quinoa and then stuff the peppers.