06 November 2011

Giving Thanks, November 6th

Today, I am thankful for what my mother taught me about cooking.

My mother isn't the best cook in the world. She tends to be scared of both flavor (except curry) and disease, so she boils everything beyond recognition and doesn't use seasoning. That said, she did teach me a lot about how to put a meal together, and what staples to always have in the pantry to get me through lean financial times.

Her meal guidelines look a lot like the old food pyramid: start with a grain (pasta, rice, bread), add a serving of protein (usually some form of meat), then pick one green vegetable and one red/orange/yellow vegetable, and maybe a little something sweet for dessert. Following this plan, my pantry always has a variety of grains (pasta, rice, and couscous) and some shelf-stable protein (lentils, canned tuna), my freezer is stocked with veggies (Hannaford's fiesta blend is becoming one of my favorites) and meat (sausage freezes well), and there's always enough flour/sugar/baking powder to bake up something tasty.

And for the flavor and techniques, well, that's why I used to watch a lot of cooking shows before I went TV-free. Alton Brown taught me the science, Graham Kerr (both as the Galloping Gourmet and in his more recent, health-conscious work) taught me the flavors, Jamie Oliver taught me to relax and have fun, and Anthony Bourdain taught me how to appreciate the meal as an experience.

Oh, and Gordon Ramsay taught me that some people are just jerks and should be ignored, but that has very little to do with cooking.

I suppose I could summarize my mother's food-related lessons like this: plan your meals a week at a time, use as few pots as possible (because the dishwasher only holds so much), make it balanced, and always have something to fall back on. After all, you never know when the power's going to go out (in which case, having a gas stove helps, but so does having a couple cans of tuna and a manual can opener), that pound of beef you were counting on is going to turn out to be freezer-burnt (I think Mom has venison in her freezer from two presidents ago, so this is more of a risk for her than for normal people), or you're suddenly going to have hungry family members pouring in from distaster-stricken areas (as happened a week ago, and boy, was I glad to have put a few pounds pulled pork in the crock pot that morning).

Speaking of food, it's about time to go grocery shopping. What staples do you keep in your pantry for emergencies?

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