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.
Rhubarb Crumble with Ginger & Meyer Lemon
- 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.
I love this post. And I do make every meal for my husband and I from scratch. 🙂
This was great! It is all about choice…funny how complicated that word can get! 🙂
Totally agree with you. I grew up in a home where we got 3 made-from-scratch meals per day. I feel like I’m an anomaly in my generation, though. I think lots of people don’t realize how easy it can be. So many of my friends are convinced they couldn’t cook even if they wanted to!
Also: O. M. G. Freezing ginger. Why do I not think of something that simple? I never use it fast enough, it seems.
Freezing ginger – it’s the best tip ever, no? I had heard several times before I finally managed to make it stick. And now I add ginger to *everything!*
Great post! You’re absolutely right about choice being a volatile word.
This is particularly timely, because my husband just took a rhubarb crumble out of the oven- and while I’m sure it will be delicious, we’re laughing because it is entirely too liquidy 😉
Ha! That does tend to happen with rhubarb, but I always forget: hence I try to macerate, because the thinness/thickness of the juice will remind me. I’m sure it was still delicious!
I learned to make rhubarb pie using egg rather than cornstarch. Does anyone else do that? I must confess, I’d rather have it be a bit liquidy than solid. I love the idea of cashews in the crumble. I’ve never tried that and I think I will now.
I also cook from scratch and I agree about choice. But three meals a day does not necessariy mean three complicated meals a day. Many mornings I just have yogurt and granola or even just coffee and milk (I’m not much of a breakfast person). For lunch, a simple sandwich (I don’t mean PB&J, although that’s fine too on occasion) is just fine, and for dinner, if I don’t cook, I often eat leftovers (which I cooked earlier). What I don’t do anymore is eat TV dinners if I can help it, although I do sometimes start with something boxed and add to it. It’s all a matter of what one wants to do.
There are some things that are harder to do on a small budget and it makes the word choice difficult. If your health isn’t great then sometimes you don’t have the choice of making meals (or the ability to lose sleep to do that). If you don’t have the right friends or family, then no one will come over to do it for you when you are needy (you sound like a great friend Kaela).
It is incredibly difficult to get money for vegetables (which are quite expensive). Some of us really do not have the choice of buying at a farmers market (the one here is incredibly expensive). If one doesn’t have room to garden, then that choice to buy local becomes difficult. While I am lucky to be living in a place where I can garden and charity includes veggies at the food bank, I think that I could see in some places and circumstances that the choice between healthy fresh food and not so healthy starchy prepared food would be near to having no choice. Sometimes a choice is between a rock and a hard place.
With that said, I do agree with you that one should take responsibility for ones actions at least, if not ones choices. And I have chosen to try cooking with fresh ingredients if and when I can get them.
Anyway, I’ve gone on too much, but I do love your blog. Keep on writing!
If it sounds like I’m picking on the poor & disenfranchised, well then, I wrote it badly. This is not my offhand take on manifest destiny: “Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps, son: if I can do it, anyone can!” I’m fully aware that I struck gold in the life lottery simply by being born white, to loving & supportive parents, in progressive New England. All of that comes with privilege that I did nothing to earn and the path of my life has directly benefited from it.
What I am saying, with regard to choice, is as much to myself as to anyone else: there. is. always. a. choice. For people in food deserts, the choice is rarely local organic vegetables vs. generic brand TV dinners. The choice may be a can of beans, a jar of salsa and a half dozen eggs vs. a frozen pizza. And what I am also *not* saying is that I would always make the “virtuous” choice: I haven’t always in the past, and I’m sure I won’t always in the future. Sometimes you are just flat-out stick-a-fork-in-me DONE and the thought of having to stand on your two sore feet for 30 seconds more than you need to is more than you can stomach. I get that. What I am saying is that it brings me peace to recognize the choice: to take control. I choose to suffer the pain and stand here and cook these eggs. Or I choose to lay my tired body down on the couch while the microwave cooks frozen pizza for me. Recognizing that there IS a choice is a comfort to me: because where there is choice, there is opportunity for change.
Great article. Great reply.
I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it that way (although I see that that could be the easiest interpretation). Maybe the best way to explain is to say that my thoughts were (while reading):
1. Gee that’s a really good looking rhubarb crumble and it has cashews in the crust!
2. That’s a cool idea about choices.
3. My, that friend with the three year old who needed help has a good friend (I sure wish some of my friends were like that). I hope that I am that type of friend.
4. Hmm, that’s interesting. I go to the food bank twice a month and have noticed that some of the food choices that people make are quite interesting and often due to lack of education.
I think that I was simply trying to make the point that our choices are circumscribed by the situations that we are in and our backgrounds, but I did use the extreme cases (maybe because they make good illustrations). Once again, I’m sorry and did not intend to have it come across as it did.
What a wonderful crumble, Kaela! I am doing a crumble today as well with rhubarb and strawberries combined, and I hope it will turn out to be such a beauty as yours.
I agree with you about the from scratch thoughts and I find the discussion going on in the comments interesting. Food blogging is not only about recipes but also about topics like this an I love your article and the contributions to it for that.
I would like to add a little thought (which might be due to my background as an ethnologist): When it comes to healthy eating in western societies it’s of course about availability of foods, about education and about money like already mentioned and I don’t want to underestimate these facts. But it is also very much about cultural habits. For example, buying fresh vegetables and flour and doing a pizza or a vegetable soup from scratch is in most cases less expensive than buying a processed deepfreeze version and it’s easy to do. But you need to be in an environment that thinks of cooking as something that is good and not “uncool”, time-consuming, housewifely, difficult or what-so-ever, otherwise you will most probably not be inspired to cook.
In Germany, this phenomenon is often reduced to socially deprived people (and of course this is a special field as most people who have to struggle for a social perspective have to face a lot of challenges, healthy eating just being one of many). But there is an ever growing market for high level convenience products as well and it’s wealthy people who buy it. It seems to be a part of their lifestyle and the convenience food industry provides not only products but also the fitting philosophies that come along with it. On the other hand, more and more people disvover that cooking from scratch is not just healthy but also a cultural technique that is crucial for self-determination. In most cases those people are interested in many other topics like sustainability, political participation, fair trade etc. as well. So cooking from scratch is not just a reasonable decision but a cultural habit as well, wether it is handed over by parents and family or self-acquired later in life, and it embraces much more than the things going on in the kitchen.
Oh my goodness, this might be the longest comment I have ever written on a blog ;-). Sorry for that – and also for some difficulties I have in finding the precise words for such a topic as I am not a native speaker – hope that I did not write something mistakable or offending.
Reading my comment after having pressed the button makes me feel like I have missed a crucial part: I love your blog exactly for the from-scratch-whole-food-attitude! It’s among my biggest blog inspirations (and my comment is meant as an agreeing addition to the topic, not as an objection to from scratch cooking which I do myself every day).
Interesting that alongside choice inevitably comes a discussion about education. And not necessarily just education on a primary/secondary or tertiary level (although this can apparently also have an influence). Sometimes I think to allow us to make the choice to move to regular and healthier, home cooked meals we need to educate ourselves in what is possible…what can be done in what time, what is healthy while still simple, what is genuinely cost and time effective and what isn’t. And anyone can benefit from evaluating their lives and educating themselves in this area. I have to do it all the time! Great thoughts, and nice to see someone sticking their neck out.
Thanks, all, for chiming in with such insightful comments.
EL: Please don’t apologize – you did not offend. There are two conversations going on at the moment, here and on the Facebook page, and it may be that I’m interpreting through the lens of both. At any rate, I just wanted to make myself perfectly clear, that, as much as I can from my position of relative “privilege,” I try to understand the situation of those living in poverty, those struggling to make ends meet, those working 2 & 3 jobs, those raising kids.And essentially, the one thing that ties us all together is this: we all have to eat every day, and we all make choices to accomplish that task.
Claudia: Great points. It reminds me a bit of a TED talk I posted yesterday, on guerilla gardener Ron Finley, who reinvents vacant lots and median strips as vegetables gardens in South Central Los Angeles. He said something to effect of “We need to make gardening cool. We need to flip the definition of gangsta so that you take your gangsta shovel and plant you some gangsta tomatoes.” It’s a great talk and worth the 11 minutes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=EzZzZ_qpZ4w (And: I think your English is perfect!)
It also reminds me of conversations I’ve had with many of my blogging friends, specifically those of us who have sort of fallen into eating sustainably, canning & preserving, and DIY cooking later in life. None of us are rich (though none are desperately poor) and many of us came to adopt more home cooking because if we wanted to eat sustainably, home-cooking was the only way to afford it: the meats, dairy & cheeses ARE more expensive. Fancy preserves & marmalades made with exotic organic fruits are very expensive: but not if you make them yourself. Organic fruit and vegetables ARE more expensive, but not if you buy in bulk, at the height of the season, and preserve what you don’t use for later in the year. Some of us came to this out of family tradition, some of us came to it because of the influence of our own micro-culture, and some of us just happened upon it by chance, taking the road less traveled, as it were. It’s the choice to stick with it, to abandon some practices and embrace others, to see your own relationship to food evolve, that always interests me.
Thanks a lot for the very inspiring link (and for the compliment for my English). Thanks to your reply and link I know a very, very lovely new expression now: gangsta shovel & tomatoes ;-). How great is that? The project sounds great.
We watch TED Talks time and again and are always impressed by the way they handle topics. I did not know this one yet but I had heard about similar projects (or maybe it had been this project) – two people from L.A. were talking about it when my mother and me had been in a very nice and familial bed & breakfast in Vancouver last year. It had been always the same interesting situation in the morning at breakfast there: all guests, including the hosts, were in enthusiastic conversations about food in general (including the gorgeous breakfast we had been served each morning) and topics like urban farming, food education etc.
I like a lot your thoughts about a personal evolution of one’s own relationship to food. And you are right: if you stick to season, home-made organic treats are not more and even less expensive than processed conventional ones.
Great post and wonderful conversation. The crumble sounds good, too. I grew up eating food made from scratch, which could be something as simple as homemade waffles for dinner on nights when Mom was frazzled. I learned basic cooking and shopping techniques from my mother (although I got interested in preserving too late to learn my grandmother’s techniques and recipes). Soon I will be moving from my family household to a household of two: my boyfriend eats a lot of convenience food but loves my cooking — we will be combining a low income food budget, but I’m betting we will eat better. I’m trying to stockpile money now to set us up with a pantry of staples.
Pingback: Très tragique | The Albrecht | food & real life
Such a well-written post, and fantastic discussion in the comments section. I live on the other side of the world to you… in Perth, Western Australia. Similar discussions about the time-poor working folk happen in our media all the time, and I share a very similar opinion to you about our ability to choose. My husband and I are currently surviving on a single income (mine… as he is completing a largely unpaid internship at an animation company. I will reserve my opinions about this!!) and we still manage to eat well, from scratch, every day! I leave work and shop and cook and we generally have dinner on the table by 7.30pm. I choose to buy fresh, free-range ingredients, alternate proteins if the budget is tight, and good meat if it’s not. I take the bus instead of spending heaps on vehicles. For us, it’s about priorities. My mother, who raised me single-handedly, did the same thing. From scratch. I won’t go on too long and I definitely also validate the point made earlier about income, poverty and restriction of choice (I’m a community social worker so I know about the plight of the poor all too well… BUT, in saying that, they still have choices. Especially with the social security system in Australia) but I just wanted to say that I admire the strength in the ‘voice’ that you are expressing here. This is my first visit to your blog and I can tell I’m going to spend a lot of time reading your archives. Gorgeous recipe too… love crumbles!
I love my shovel (and my trowel and my weeder and . . .)!!!!
We are a family of 3 (17-month-old boy) and rarely eat convenience foods. I work full-time and my husand is a stay-at-home-dad. I do most of the cooking, though am working on getting my husband to do more than grill. Last weekend I taught my husband how to make yogurt (he’s at home all the time, not me!).
Our son has never eaten “baby food.” We have made all his foods from the start. The only ready-made food he gets is graham crackers. Well, now he’s eating store-bought green beans and applesauce because he ate every last jar I canned of each!
Why do we do so much home-prepped food? Because we’re a single-income family whose breadwinner works in education. Because I can make your rhubarb crisp (although next time I’ll reduce the ginger… whoa!), chicken piccata, rice, and a lovely salad for less than what 2 “value meals” at a fast food restaurant would cost. Because I can pull things from my pantry and freezer to whip up a home-cooked meal during lean times – and believe me, there are plenty of those. Because my half-gallon of yogurt costs around $2, and will last us a week, whereas a comparable amount of yogurt from the grocery store costs around $8 and has extra ingredients that are not necessary. Because home-prepared meals will play a part in teaching our son patience and self-sufficiency.
Yes: I say all the time that my husband & I could not afford to eat the way that we do, and choose the organic/sustainable/humane producers that we buy from, if I did not cook most of what we eat.
And, yes, I should have warned you all: the ginger in this crumble is not an afterthought! 🙂
Pingback: Crumble-licious: Rhubarb & Strawberry Crumble on Film | Food with a View
I finally made my crumble, and Arne and me did a little film about it. As I like your wholemeal treats this much (I used whole spelt flour for the crumble as I don’t get whole wheat flour that is fine enough), I mentioned you as a source of inspiration in my post. I hope, this is ok for you.
Still very inspired by Ron Finleys gardening projects. There’s something similar over here in Berlin which I forgot to mention, it’s the neighbourhood project Prinzessinnengarten: http://prinzessinnengarten.net/about/
Lovely little video, Claudia!
Love the way this is written and the point you make! Kudos.
I prepare my rhubarb crumble in a different way (i guess it’s always awesome), anyway it’s a guest on our table every single Saturday, as soon as the rhubarb starts growing in my mom’s garden:)
Pingback: blueberry rhubarb crumble - hearts & beets
Pingback: Strawberry Crumble with Ginger and Lemon - Key Ingredients