I once read an article that had the rather gloomy title, "Is Cooking at Home a Thing of the Past?" The author cited convincing research from the Food Marketing Institute in Washington, D.C., which reported that with each generation meal-preparation time is being cut in half, that our grandparents spent two hours, including picking their vegetables and killing the chicken, on the evening meal. Our parents spent an hour, we spend half an hour, and our children spend 15 minutes on dinner prep—or sometimes less, depending on how much time speed-dialing for pizza delivery takes. What the author concluded from this was that declining minutes in the kitchen was a sign of an anti-cooking trend. We want to eat; we just want someone else to prepare the food.Of course I agree with Ms. Gray's basic sentiment (although I bet there are potatoes as good as from Maine around here). Still, this bit dovetails into a big eat local issue. Yesterday, someone bought me lunch so I could talk local (how's that for a treat). She wanted to hear problems with eating local. To me, more than cost, more than availability, more than anything, the problem is time.
Baloney, I say to the anti-cooking thing. Cooking is as basic and central to our being as the fire we use to accomplish it. And if we've really lost interest in cooking, then what's all that foodie stuff—a gadget for every kitchen task, the lessons in Tuscany, the explosive proliferation of food magazines and TV shows—helping us do in our kitchens? I don't deny that we're looking for quicker fixes for dinner—quick is part of the culture now. But beyond that we're searching for novel cooking prerogatives, innovative methods for building good meals—and meals that taste great. For better or for worse in America we no longer eat only because we are hungry.
But there is a solution for fast and good that also gives us a chance to cook the meal. Somewhere between reconstituted mashed potato flakes and Julia Child's pommes souffles is a simple, delicious and very flavorful plate of mashed potatoes—I'd use Wood Prairie Farm's Rose Golds to get there.
Because I work at home and my wife does not work, we have the luxury of working with our local ingredients. The forty-five minutes it took to boil beets to prepare them for a dish; the hour to make good polenta; the surprising amount of work (and time) to prepare a dish as simple as mushrooms with pasta (brush the mushrooms clean, slice, mince garlic, 10 minutes in the pan, turn, another 1o, add the garlic, cook a few more minutes, add some herbs, some butter, some cream, all this while water has come to a boil for the pasta). Now think of this, do you want to eat just mushrooms and pasta for dinner. Some salad? That CSA lettuce does not come triple washed.
As I lamented yesterday, my companion brought up some solutions. Make your local food ahead. She says she makes a few weeks worth of food every few Sundays. Or, make like Rachel Ray, prep your food when you first get it. In other words, some investment in time can allow for much needed time later. Rebecca Gray points out that great ingredients demand less work. My family has found eating pleasure in our local potatoes plainly boiled, baked or roasted. Dinner time does not have to be a hassle.
OK, some hassle. I want you to eat local, so I am not gonna pull any punches. Local takes time.