In pursuit of lunch

I’m trying to be a food person, I really am. I wrote recently about my nourishment woes, the fact that I was hardly eating two real meals a day (let alone three) while in the midst of a busy work season. In response to that post, multiple friends responded by literally feeding me. Inviting me over for dinner, bringing a meal to my workplace, showing up at my door with soup. I felt overwhelmingly seen and, honestly, ministered to by that tangible response. I said I was having trouble feeling fed, and all of a sudden everyone wanted to feed me.

As my life has cleared out over the past few weeks, I’ve lost my excuse. There is absolutely no reason for me to not eat well and often. I have all the time in the world, a fully stocked pantry, pots and pans and bowls and what have you. I could make whatever I want. But it is still difficult for me.

You see, I want everything at once. I’m almost embarrassed at what I want because it’s the dumb textbook feminine image of doing well. A perfect home, perfect dinners on a perfect wooden table, a garden out back, sun coming through the window, dough rising on the counter. I should be running free through the city doing shots, shouting about feminism and equality, and wearing halter tops, but instead I’m daydreaming about babies and gardens. There’s nothing actually wrong with that, in fact, even I would argue that these things are feminist in their own right. Homes and babies and gardens and dinners are good, real things. But I want to find those things for myself gradually, not all at once, and not in any set image or design. There is nothing but time, time time time, seasons for everything, and a season for right now.  I am twenty two and it’s just me and my husband in our little un-perfect apartment and I only need to know what to eat for lunch.

Which I don’t. I have no idea what to eat for lunch. I very simply don’t know how to feed myself right now. Maybe it’s because I’ve just been ejected from a life of college cafeteria food and eating cheerios as study snacks. I’m faced every day with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I want to do them well!  I really sincerely do! I even think about it! Often! I currently have about 15 food blogs open in tabs on my computer. I own some truly gorgeous cookbooks. I wade through beautiful recipe after beautiful recipe, pickled radishes, earl grey cupcakes, farrow and watercress and fennel and blanched white asparagus for days and days. I feast my eyes, truly. But my stomach isn’t interested. No, my stomach wants grilled cheese, oatmeal, caesar salad, pasta with lots of parmesan cheese, lattes, pizza, maybe an apple. Bland, soft, comfortable foods, the most boring of the boring and not all that good for me. I’ve been a darn-blasted picky eater for my whole dang life and I’m tired of it! I want to grow up, figure out something new, eat real, whole, interesting food. But that can’t happen overnight. I’m figuring out where to start. I’m in pursuit of lunch.

What I really want to find for myself is the know-how to make the classics. Nothing crazy, nothing revolutionary, no picked anything, no candied ginger, no spice that’s not already in my cabinet. Tell me how to make a perfect basic chocolate cake, tell me how to roast a chicken, tell me how to feed myself like a normal everyday gal. Because that’s what I am. I have cookbooks on my shelf that have all the classics comfortably nestled inside. Heck, I’ve got the classic Better Homes and Gardens red-spangled cookbook. But I always skip over it, look for something fancy, special, interesting. I don’t need interesting. I need lunch.

It’s complicated! It, like everything else these days, feels so existential! Like if I can’t do this I can’t do anything! And I know that’s not true. I know I’m worth way more than what I’ve made for myself to eat. But sometimes it truly doesn’t feel that way. Sometimes I feel very silly and sort of stupid for being bad at feeding myself. I’m self-aware enough to chase away those thoughts when they come, but they still arrive. They still knock at my door. The knocking is enough to shake me up sometimes, make me feel a little useless, a little lost in the world. So I’m trying. I’m standing up to those feelings and saying, “I can do it! I’m a lunch-maker! I have self worth!!!!!” Easier said than done.

I think it would help a lot to learn how to do things without a recipe. I was talking last night over some fabulous grain-y pancakes with my friend Margaret who is pretty much a wizard in the kitchen (and had made the pancakes). Upon hearing the suggestion that she should try her hand at writing some recipes, Margaret said that she feels like her recipes wouldn’t be very interesting because the way she cooks is formulaic. She uses the same basic formulas for meals over and over again just plugging in different ingredients as she goes. To which I said, “that’s exactly the sort of thing I need!”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we knew more formulas instead of recipes? If we could feel like we created something new based on what we already know rather than following a recipe to the T? When I work my way through a recipe without changing anything, I feel no real sense of creative accomplishment. It’s like a paint by numbers or a craft kit where all the instructions are laid out for you. It’s fun to follow the steps, but you haven’t really been creative. You’ve just made a thing. That’s how recipes feel. No creativity, just methodically following steps to get your product as close to the picture at the top of the recipe as possible. And often, at least for me, the product isn’t as impressive as I thought it would be, and by the time I’m done with the rigamaroll of making it I don’t even really want to eat it anymore.

I’m sort of suspect of recipes, I guess. I don’t quite trust them. Especially when I’m trying to make a dish for which there are about 500, ooo comparable recipes on the internet, all slightly different and all the “BEST”. What in the world does that mean? How do I know whether the recipe I sort of arbitrarily choose is actually good or whether it is terribly derivative and not worth the effort? Too much pinterest! Too many sweet awesome creative people trying to get me to click on their recipes and I’m dang confused! Blindly following recipes isn’t really working for me, at least not right now, not completely. I need something different. I need to approach it a different way. To look at a recipe and see it for what it is–someone’s idea of how a dish should be. Someone’s idea. I can have my own idea. I just need help. A push to get me started.

What I really need are formulas, like Margaret said. I’d rather know formulas, feel comfortable, even wonderful, cooking without any recipe at all. I want to know the mechanics of it all, what goes with what, how to throw normal things together into a real live meal. I know little pieces of it like adding some lemon or vinegar to something really brightens it up, or sometimes sugar in a tomato sauce makes it taste just right, things like that. But I want more! Rather than recipes, I want to understand how cooking works, what meals need to make them meals, how to balance, what sorts of ratios to use when I’m throwing things in a pot. It’s not intuitive, at least not for me. I need to learn it. And I don’t know quite where to go to learn.

I suppose the first thing I need to do is figure out what it is I want to eat. Obviously. (Existential in itself.)

And then I just need to go to my kitchen and make a lot of mistakes. It’s going to be wonky for a while. I’m going to make a lot of weird food that didn’t turn out right. I want to try like five different recipes for the same dish and see what the difference is, maybe figure out how it all works. I want to develop my own formulas so I don’t feel like I’m blindfolded with two left hands in the kitchen, holding on to my little random recipe I unearthed on pinterest for dear life. All I need is one way to make everything. One way for chocolate cake. One way for homemade pizza. One way for roasted potatoes. Once I know my one way, once I know something, feel like a master of that thing, I’ll be set.  Ready to make some meals, fill some bellies, do some dishes. Go back to the same dish over and over and feel some muscle memory, finally some instincts. That’s all I really want, to know things, to feel some sort of intuition. To be confident that what I’m making is worth making, good to eat, lovely.

I have faith in myself to figure it out. It’s just going to take some time. It won’t ever be perfect, no, not at all. But it will be something. Somehow, it will be lunch.

 


 

Whenever I feel sad and like something is hard, I always try to remember that I am probably not the only person for whom the sad/hard thing is sad and hard for. Other people have trouble with lunch too, right? Other people want food formulas too, right? I’m banking on the fact that at least some of you do. SO, as I wander the wide world trying to unearth little formulas, methods to making/doing things, I’ll try to share them as much as possible. I’ll try to post my food formulas, my one way to do each thing, as much as I can so that we don’t have to be so sad/hard/lonely. Also, posting these sorts of musings can stand as a record mostly for me so that I don’t forget where I wrote down the recipe on a rogue index card lost in the flotsam and jetsam of my life. I’m not sure how it will go, and I definitely can’t promise everything. I guess I’m just saying that I’ll keep you updated.

ALSO, if you’re a person who is like “oh goodness gracious, Amy, stop your worry-warting, I know all about food formulas and I want to tell you,” then GREAT! WOW! Tell me what you know! Fill me in! Send me an email with all sorts of info so I can finally have some lunch!

 


 

I’ve been doing my research, sifting through food blogs and seeing what seems lovely and worthwhile. Here’s a list of food blogs/websites in three different categories that are all at least encouraging and wonderful to look at, although a lot of them are sort of lofty and feature lots of ingredients that don’t fall under the category of “normal everyday gal.”

 

Food Blogs I Revisit Often and Definitely Like:

I suspect that as I’m looking for my formula-making recipes, the ones to make over and over, get into my muscle memory, experiment with, I’ll look these places first. When taking on a recipe, I want to feel like I trust the recipe-writer’s taste and judgement. That’s how I feel about these women. I feel like I have sort of gotten to know them, like I’ve eaten at their table, I know what sort of thing they like to make, I know sort of what the food formulas in their heads are. I know there’s all sorts of crazy pressure on food bloggers nowadays to be innovative and fabulous and interesting. These women don’t really let themselves slip too far on trying to be impressive. They just make good food, real food, and write about it. And that means something to me. That makes me return again and again. I don’t want to be impressed. I want to be fed.

  1. Orangette.
  2. The Faux Martha
  3. Smitten Kitchen
  4. Dinner, A Love Story

 

Big Websites With Really Good Tips, Tricks, and Recipes:

These people know food. I find these websites a little overwhelming, to be honest, but they are a wealth of just the sort of thing I’m looking for. I even remember Food 52 doing a series on “how to do blank without a recipe” which is exactly what I want. I feel like the trick with this sort of website is to not dig too deep, or you can quickly be wading through a hundred-page-long list of recipes, which for me always gets sort of scarily compulsive until I can’t stop and I’m not actually even looking anymore I’m just scrolling, scrolling, scrolling into oblivion. Don’t scroll into oblivion. You’re better than that.

Also, unlike a blog, on this sort of website I never really feel like I know who is talking to me so I don’t trust the voice as well. I think that’s why I like blogs, because I feel like one person is talking to me and I know who they are and I’ve decided whether I can trust them. These bigger websites take on a broader tone, and you don’t know who you are talking to. That’s okay.

  1. Food 52
  2. Serious Eats
  3. Saveur

 

Food Blogs that Look Cool but I Don’t Know For Sure:

I found most of these guys because they won Saveur’s Best Food Blog awards for 2015, so I’m guessing they’re pretty good. I just haven’t created a little relationship with them yet, you know? I’m looking forward to clicking through them, trying some things out. Maybe a few of these will feel friendly and make it to my list of go-to’s. That would be great.

Also, don’t you just love food blog names? Ah, so fun. All the puns, the alliterations, the imagery?! It’s great!

  1. My Name is Yeh
  2. Two Red Bowls
  3. What’s Cooking Good Looking
  4. Flourishing Foodie
  5. Reclaiming Provincial
  6. The Crepes of Wrath
  7. Brooklyn Supper
  8. Happyolks
  9. Dash and Bella
  10. The Yellow House
  11. The Broken Bread
  12. Fix Feast Flair
  13. Faring Well

 

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4 thoughts on “In pursuit of lunch

  1. I totally get what you mean about formulas, I think I just read scores of recipes and eventually one day it finally clicked. I also made the recipes over and over and over again so that I could make them without looking. That’s when I really began to see the ingredients for what they were and was able to pay attention to how they functioned. Once I saw how different combinations functioned, cooking became truly fun! I really love using the Nourishing Traditions cookbook and More With Less (Mennonite), and these two blogs: The Sprouted Kitchen and Oh She Glows!—they are both excellent.

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  2. Amy, I love this post and the way you are thinking about food. I have also been really struggling with lunch lately, since I’m home all day and Micah usually takes our dinner leftovers for lunch. I haven’t found a solution for that yet but mostly I wanted to comment about how differently we think about preparing food. I am constantly looking for something NEW – a new dish, a new way of preparing a meal, a new ingredient to add in… It might be that I have those basic formulas down and am craving something more – or it could just be a difference in opinion/taste. Regarding learning those formulas, I HIGHLY recommend the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook “Cooking For Two” which has been my steadfast manual these last twelve months. Every recipe is tested and tweaked until foolproof and there is plenty of variety, which suits my palate. I’m excited to keep following this journey of yours and I hope you’re able to figure something out about lunch, so I can piggyback off that idea! 🙂

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  3. You may well already own Mark Bittman’S classic _How to Cook Everything_. It was my go-to because it taught me how to cook from my fridge. You have, say, a head of broccoli, or ground beef; look up the ingredient; Bittman has some ways you can cook it, and then logical variations such as to make this kind of Thai, swap out the ketchup for fish sauce and add fresh ginger.

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