Monday, September 29, 2014

Declaring I Have A Cooking Style and Letting Go of Guilt

Most days I think of my "cooking style" as throwing together some food for my kids of whatever I've got handy, whatever I need to use up, and whatever I think won't take forever. I've got precious little time to devout to sautéing, dicing, multiple preparations, and complicated recipes. Usually I've got to hose kids down, find some who may have gone missing in the yard, then corral them to the table in hopes that what I've been cooking hasn't completely burnt on the stove while I've been gone.

Other days in the mix I feel as if I'm living life on the edge of having nothing at all for when 5 pm rolls around and the natives are starving and I end up throwing something together that would normally not be classified as a "meal". It's a lot of work getting three meals on the table for seven people, and usually what's on the table isn't too exciting. Then when thinking of cooking attempts I feel guilty that I haven't meal planned, budget shopped, paleo-fied everything, or not touched my stack of beloved cookbooks in months.

Which I hate to admit because I used to love cooking, trying new recipes, using fancy ingredients, taking all the time, even sticking up my nose at people who bought pre-washed lettuce (lazy cretins!). But I've just wound up with a pile of Type-A guilt when it comes to making most of my family's meals from scratch, always serving vegetables, and really not buying much processed foods. Which I should be pretty proud about, not feeling guilt that it's not always blog-worthy or 100% organic.

Last week I read this great post at Keeper of the Home, and it sums up pretty much how I cook on an everyday basis. I thought to myself: that way of cooking sounds not so bad when it's written down.

Because it sounded much better written down, I thought about how I cook a little more and made the self-proclamation that it's a completely legit cooking style. My cooking style is now officially called: sometimes-survival/cook from the pantry/occasional great recipes from my favourite cookbooks/80-20 healthy and homemade/with as much flexibility as I can muster style. I feel so much more accomplished and much less guilty because of that silly, yet intentional decision. 

Instead of living in a dream world of what I wish I could cook, I've looked at what I actually cook the majority of the time and it looks a lot like this:

Pantry Cooking

I'm a half hour away from the nearest grocery store. A grocery store which has fresh parsley and cilantro on good days. I usually grocery shop for fresh fruits and veggies, milk and eggs once a week then do a more thorough (read, huge) monthly shop at Costco about an hour and a half away, or the other cheaper city grocery stores. I hate paying $5.00 a pound for butter in my town!

This works out to me mostly cooking from what I've got on hand. Since I rarely meal plan I usually just look at what's in my freezer that morning/day before/after lunch and see what I can use for protein and work from there. My family has to have a meat or protein each meal. My husband has the highest metabolism I've ever seen and I think he'd basically melt if not given meat each meal. This goes for his 5 offspring as well. I, on the other hand, could eat just salad for days on end but not lose a pound!

We also eat fairly close to paleo, although we like cheese. So that means usually one or two meals per week will have gluten or bread. My husband swears it makes him feel better overall, and I say to myself it helps me loose weight.

These Cookbooks

I love how that Keeper of the Home post pointed out that to make life simpler stick to a couple tried and true cookbooks that fit your style and the way you eat. As soon as I read that I realized I use these three cookbooks without fail if I'm going for a recipe meal.

 Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys by Lucinda Scala Quinn

The longtime food editor for Martha Stewart wrote a surprisingly practical, approachable, and very real life cookbook that is applicable to families! She has 3 boys so all the recipes have basic ingredients, a lot of meat, but very high flavour. This style is definitely what I like to cook the most and every recipe I've ever used has been a hit with everyone. I go back again and again to this book and highly recommend it!

The Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond

The classics of comfort food, I find myself going back to this cookbook for great recipes for the basics. Her pot roast, pizza dough, meatballs, chicken fried steak are all massive hits around here and even when I dial back half the butter and sugar everything still tastes delicious.

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

This one I admit to not making as many main dishes from because they lean towards being fairly time consuming, but I've tried tons of breakfast, dessert, vegetable and sides recipes from this book and loved them all. I find the book handier than the blog which is bonkers, of course.


Remember how I live far from civilization? It practically eliminates the option of opting for take out on the crummy days. So I just cut my losses and go for something somewhat processed, maybe fish and chips, or a tasty frozen number from Costco. Maybe breakfast for supper -- we have omelettes almost on a weekly basis and they're great for Fridays. Or cheese and crackers and chopped up veggies, maybe a loaded nachos, or salami and bread. I always have a variety of cheeses, different sausages frozen or in the fridge, and salami. Easy meats are great for throwing together a meal from what seems like nothing. I know these meals aren't 100% balanced, but because I know the majority of our meals are, I just let it slide.

Those are my key cooking tenants. I go through phases of batch cooking and freezer cooking, but I can't help but feel they're so much work and then are gone in a blink of an eye. It may be because I haven't gotten into the swing of things. Whenever I make meals like soups or pasta sauces I end up freezing a good portion for maybe one more dinner. It's not a big contribution, but it helps.

Again, it's not worth the guilt to lose our minds about a couple meals here and there. Or worry that it's not a meal because it required little effort from ourselves. Those days all work into your "style". See, adding that word to what you do just delightfully combines what you do into an eclectic yet collected mix of cookery. Guilt begone!

And so ends a post of too much information about the exciting topic of cooking for a family of 7. God Bless you for making it through!

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  1. Love this! And I think you're doing a great job (even though I don't eat with you lol). I just wrote about this today only I'm a meal planner. It's what keeps me sane right now. But I think that's just my style. I totally get the guilt thing. Those seasons of survival mean that we can't eat/cook/plan the way we want to. I remember feeling so guilty for feeding my family frozen pizza for dinner a couple months ago. But we were in the middle of a move while pregnant and there's only so much you can do in a day. NOw that I'm super pregnant, those types of meals are sneaking in again because I just don't have the energy to make a nice meal right now.

  2. I think our cooking styles are simpatico, and I think you hit that nail square on the head about how batch cooking and freezer cooking is actually so stress inducing because it takes SO much energy to do it, and then bam, they eat it! Thank you for putting words to it, I could never figure out why a. it was so hard for me and b. it made me feel so guilty that I didn't do more of it. Gonna check those cookbooks out for sure -- we also love every single thing PW has ever cooked.

  3. I totally agree about batch/freezer cooking not being worth the time involved. I never really could get into it.

    The best thing I've found is to come up with easy, healthy recipes that don't require a lot of steps or coming. Things like roast chicken, baked potatoes and green beans. It really takes very little time or effort to throw a chicken and some potatoes in the oven (just advance planning to put them in in plenty of time) and steam some beans on top of the stove. I've learned how to really just throw stuff together in a way we like that takes little effort. I don't do lots of dicing or chopping or sauteeing or making sauces or things like that. Too much effort. I basically throw osme salt, spices on olive oil and throw it in the oven (for just about everything..meat, potatoes, veggies, ) call it cooking and be done with it.

  4. I love this and adore the idea of listing fave cookbooks. Maybe I steal your inspiration someday, yes?

  5. Christy, I love this so much. In an ideal world, I cook just like you. We used to eat all organic/raw dairy/grass fed meat/paleo-ish. And then I couldn't afford it anymore and the guilt took over. I've only recently allowed myself to not feel so guilty all the time. Those cookbooks look super-fab, especially the first. Must check them out.

  6. Those cookbooks look great! I'm still trying to figure out my cooking style. I'm totally at peace with sticking with "what works" for me, but so far my style "spend too much time stress too much still make dinner last minute" - I probably need to give up the "how other people do it must be best" idea and really commit to something that works for my family. I also need to figure out how to grocery shop. We live in the middle of a major metropolis but we're still really far from decent grocery stores. Blergh. Thank you for writing this!!!

  7. I live in the middle of a big city, but my husband's gone long hours and I am not taking 5 kids to the grocery store for fresh cilantro. I shop on Saturday only, plus once or twice a month at Costco.

    I love your cookbooks! I need the Man & Boys one!

  8. This post is great, Christy. Love your style. I'll have to check out those cookbooks! Thanks for sharing the recommendations.

  9. The more kids we have, the less variety there is in what I cook... And I'm fine with that! I used to hate repeating the same meal within a two-week or one-month time frame but now? I'm cool with eating breakfast for dinner at LEAST once a week! The only problem is I feel like we drink so much milk and eat so many eggs that it might be cheaper just to get a cow and some chickens of our own just to save money :P


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