I won’t deny that I’ve mourned some aspects of our former urban life: riding my bike to the grocery, popping in to yoga class or the gym after work, picking up a London Fog at the local coffee shop, walking the dog to the park and people watching in my neighborhood (T will laugh at that one – since having to walk the dog was always a point of much grumbling and bargaining in our household – ah, but the grass is always greener…). And then there was eating out, which, despite its detrimental effects on agriculture and ecology, my health, and my pocket book, was one of my favorite forms of entertainment.
I simply love food, if you hadn’t picked that up already. When I’m traveling to a new city or country, trying out the local cuisine at restaurants is part of the cultural experience for me. I enjoy cooking too, but don’t want to bother if I don’t have the time, energy, or focus to make it a really good meal. Its frustrating to do all that work only to end up with something mediocre. And who doesn’t enjoy having someone else do the cooking, serving and cleaning, for a change?
The problem was that in my life “for a change” started to become “more often than not”. I wish I could say that I look back on this period in my life as a gustatory bacchanalia of diversity and delight. But unfortunately, the truth is that we’d end up at the same places over and over again. Most of the time, the food was just okay, even at the expensive places. Maybe once we had a really great meal there, and we’d go back looking for the same high – but would never quite get it again. I’m sure you’ve experienced this. Most restaurants are pretty inconsistent – maybe the cook changed; maybe they are buying their ingredients from a new source; maybe they changed the menu entirely to remain “fresh”, and now your favorite dish is gone. When one of your major sources of pleasure in life is food, an unsatisfying meal you just spent too much money on is a major disappointment. But we kept going, less for the experience than out of a default response to the stress and time constraints of being a dual career couple.
And let’s face it, even when, or especially when a restaurant meal tastes really good, it probably isn’t very good for you. I put on about 12 pounds during our time in Albuquerque – despite being able to bike to that yoga class and gym.
Now we are living at least half an hour from the good restaurants in our area. I know, that really isn’t very far – I’ve driven further for a good meal in my former homes of Albuquerque, Baltimore/DC, or Atlanta. But somehow that big mountain out my window makes 30 minutes feel like a real pain. Then there is the smaller bank account, the effort to live more sustainably, and the fact that I have all these fresh vegetables in my garden that will be wasted work if we let them go bad. I remember frequently having a crisper drawer full of rotten produce in Albuquerque. Money is money, whether you spend it at the grocery, or on seeds and supplies for a veggie garden. So I always feel guilty letting any food go bad. But there is something about growing my own produce that motivates me to make better use of it.
So, in short, we’re cooking at home a lot more. As T can attest, on occasion I grumble about the (admittedly only perceived) inaccessibility of restaurants. And at times the burden of cooking a meal, along with all the other things that need to be done around here, causes me a little stress. But the fact is that we are eating really well at home. Not just extremely flavorful meals, but food that feels good for us too. Nourishing, fresh, balanced, diverse, lots of veggies and color – soul food.
I’m also remembering the joy of cooking, and I’m doing it frequently enough that I’m getting better at it. I’ve learned enough about the qualities and properties of certain ingredients that I can actually improvise, jump off of the recipe to suit our tastes, or even make up my own recipe. These aren’t always successes, but most nights we pat our bellies with a satisfied sigh.
I’m certain we’re saving money (though I haven’t quantified how much), and I’m pretty sure I’ve lost some weight too. But mostly, I’m surprised at how pleased and proud I feel when T exclaims, “Damn, that was a good meal!” There’s something really special about making a meal that brings joy to your love as well as to yourself.
More on food (and some recipes!) next time…