There’s a great conversation going on over at the Facebook page today, centered on this vastly irritating op-ed in the New York Times stating that it is “nearly impossible for a single parent or even two parents working full time to cook every meal from scratch.” Let’s set aside the fact that people without kids, married or single, can find themselves too busy to cook just as often as their child-rearing friends, and focus on the real problem with the piece: the premise that it is nearly impossible to cook every meal from scratch.
I call bullshit. Certainly no one explained this to my Mom, who worked full-time as a waitress nights & weekends, while raising three kids and putting from-scratch meal after from-scratch meal on the table, day in and day out. Certainly no one explained this to my Dad, who worked 12 and 13-hour days as an accountant in the city, yet always managed to be home by 6:30 pm for dinner with us kids. Certainly no one explained it to me, when I spent a month taking care of a dear friend’s three year-old a few years ago, and cooked three squares a day for her, myself and her grandmother, all the while cramming my own 8-hour work day into the evening hours after she had gone to bed. And certainly no one explained it to the thousands of you who make the choice to cook from-scratch, whole food meals, day in and day out, despite living busy, active and yes, sometimes hectic lives.
Ah, there’s that word: choice. All too often, I fear, we like to abdicate responsibility, to exclaim, “I literally don’t have a choice!” Literally, you do. We all make choices each and every day: the choice to get out of bed and go to work (or not), the choice to iron that shirt or look rumpled (or ditch it entirely for a sweater), the choice to grab an apple from the fridge, to get up 15 minutes earlier and make oatmeal or scrambled eggs, or to simply pick up a latte and danish on the way into work.
Choice: it’s a volatile word. Heady. Controversial in its implication that it’s not society, or the government, your parents or your god who is to blame if something is going wrong in your life: it is you. Your choice. Someone will invariably bring up the working poor, and how they have no choice: no choice but to work long hours for shitty pay, no choice but to shop at the corner bodega in their food desert neighborhood, no choice but to skip meals and grab takeout and fill up on the cheapest, least nutritious calories available. And yes, I have to agree: in a country where wealth can basically be defined as the extent to which your choices are limited – or not – the poor get the short end of the stick in the choice department. But they still make choices, just like everyone else. And make no mistake: cooking is a choice. We choose to cook, or we don’t. And don’t think I’m judging you if you choose not to cook: I’ve spent long and happy periods of my life choosing not to cook at all. But I am judging you if you tell me that you don’t have a choice; because that, my friends, is bullshit.
Take this crumble for example: I’ve made some version of Heidi’s original recipe dozens of times. It’s an easy choice to keep pantry staples like flour, oats, sugar & butter on hand. I always have nuts, in the freezer or on the tower shelf, for making Tai’s granola. And as for fruit: I made this one with rhubarb fresh from the farmer’s market, but I’ve used frozen with one fruit, frozen with two fruits, canned, even a gluten-free version with two fresh fruits, and for none of them did I need to make a trip to a market to make it happen. Because I choose to stock my pantry for impromptu crumble making and I have the ability to wing it with whatever fruits & flavors I have on hand.
And so: I chose fresh rhubarb, Meyer lemon, and lots of frozen grated ginger to flavor this particular crumble. I chose to leave out the booze this time (knowing that plenty would be flowing that evening). I grabbed cashews off the shelf. The experience of dozens of previous crumbles taught me that I should reduce the rhubarb juice before baking, to keep the crumble topping crisp and make the filling thick & jammy. And the resulting crumble was fantastic: every one raved. It doesn’t always turn out that way, but when it does, when you’ve made the choice to whip up a dessert from scratch with whatever ingredients you have on hand: the resulting triumph, small though it may be, is powerful. Suddenly, all those little choices; to stock the pantry, to buy fresh rhubarb with no real plan, to freeze some ginger, to juice a lemon, to experiment; they all come down to this: good friends enjoying great dessert. An easy choice, indeed.
- 3 oz (¾ cup) whole white wheat flour
- 3 oz (⅔ cup) cashews
- 1 and ½ oz (½ cup) rolled oats
- ⅓ cup raw sugar (organic turbinado)
- ½ tsp sea salt
- pinch cayenne pepper
- 2 and ½ oz (⅓ cup) butter, melted
- ⅓ cup + 2 tbsp raw sugar (organic turbinado)
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 and ¼ lbs trimmed rhubarb, sliced
- zest + juice of 1 medium Meyer lemon
- 2 heaping tbsp grated fresh ginger
- pinch sea salt
- Make filling. Whisk the cornstarch and sugar together in a medium bowl. Add rhubarb, lemon juice + zest, ginger, and salt. Stir well and allow to macerate, stirring now & then if you think of it, for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours (or hold overnight refrigerated).
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Make topping. In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, nuts, sugar, salt and pepper. Toss well to mix. Add melted butter and toss with a fork to blend; mold the topping into 4 or 5 patties with your hands, then place in the freezer for at least 10 minutes.
- Assemble crumble. Drain macerated rhubarb, collecting juice into a small saucepan. Taste juice and adjust sweetener if needed. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat: boil, swirling the pan gently, until juice is reduced and syrupy, about 5 minutes. Transfer fruit to a 9-inch pie plate and drizzle evenly with reduced syrup. Remove topping from the freezer and crumble over the top of the fruit, including a mix of large and small pieces of topping.
- Bake, on a rimmed baking sheet to prevent drips, until the topping is a rich golden brown and the juices are bubbling, about 40 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Serves 6 – 8.
- Choose to add cashews, or pine nuts, pecans or walnuts, or no nuts at all. Choose to sub in strawberries, or cherries, or a half-jar of marmalade; choose to add rosemary, or cardamom, or slivered fresh chile. Choose to cook – or not. Choose.
At room temperature, lightly covered with a clean kitchen towel, for up to 3 days.