When I was a child one of the most wonderful moments of the year was when peaches arrived in the store. I can remember the smell.... and peeling one where the peel slipped off the ripe flesh almost in one fluid movement.... and biting into it and feeling the juice run over my chin. I also remember sitting on the porch and listening to the crack of a watermelon as my dad stuck a knife in it and cut it apart. The thing is, you waited for peaches to be in season, or strawberries, or asperagus, and there was such a huge joy in getting a box of them fresh. It was so much better than the frozen, and even though we had to make a small amount go between a rather large family, they were so good, and I think the fact that you had to wait for the growing season made them taste even better.
Today of course, you can get almost anything almost anytime. I mean, pomegranates were strange rare things you opened like Howard Carter opening the tomb of Tutankhamun. Now you get pomegranites all year long, or if you don't want to open it yourself, you can get a plastic container (to throw away) with the seeds already cleaned and ready. Or you can get seltzer flavored with pomegranite, or candy with (sometimes artificial) pomegranite flavor.
Part of this is that fewer people are taking on the full time management of the household, and it is hard to work full time and cook everything from scratch. I mean, I have tried to bake bread weekly, and sometimes managed for 3 weeks.... But in addition to the pressures of how we live, there is the fact that processed packaged food creates big profits. And for packaged food to be able to be shipped on the global level, and make maximum profit it has to have stabilizers and additives. And cheerful thin people in ads, whose lives look so together, with their shiny kitchens tell us how we 'deserve' whatever they want to sell us. I mean, we had fruit candy when I was a child... it was called jelly candy. Now someone decided to call jellied candy 'fruit snacks', stick in some vitamins, and now people give their kids candy in place of actual fruit. I have bought them in the past. I have kids, and of course they loved them. Few kids do not love candy.
I think for most people making a big sudden change to growing your own vegetables, doing a weekly baking, and putting up your own jelly from your own plants (yes I did that, I even tried making cheese once) is a bit much. It is kind of like someone deciding they want to get fit and declaring one morning they will spend an hour in the gym every day, walk to work, and eat 1000 calories a day. It is very heady to stand on a hill watching the sun rise and state “today I will remake myself to what I want and know I can be”. But you know, first of all, eating too little is not healthy, loosing too much weight too fast is likely to lead to yoyoing, and trying to look like Arnold in a week is a good way to pull a muscle, or loose your motivation. Sometimes one does have a transformational moment. My friend Tom did. His commitment to fitness and healthy eating is matched by his spiritual and emotional quest to understand and connect to his world. He lost a ton of weight and has kept it off. He just certified as a trainer, and I suspect will be awesome. But.... I think there is no reason no have to wait to make some small steps until we are ready for a big transformation.
What are some small steps to try? Actually read labels when you shop. I LOVE potato chips, but I make myself read the label when I am thinking of getting some, and most of the time I just cannot put them in the cart when I think about the fact that that stuff is going into me, to BECOME me.
Take five minutes a day to meditate. It does not have to be a lighting candles, burning incense, chanting experience. It can just be shutting your eyes and counting your breath: in for 3 or 5, out for 4 or 6, feeling the rise and fall of the ribs.
Walk. Even just through your home if you cannot go outside. I used to walk blocks and blocks when I was an undergraduate. I got a car when I was 40 and walked less and less for the next 10 years. Lately I am trying to walk more.... and my dog is very happy for that.
Every once in a while, when you can, try to cook something from scratch.... something as simple as oatmeal cookies, or an omelette. Or bread. Bread takes some time, but reading the labels on the supermarket bread spurs me on as often as I can to do it. And if you have a 10 year old let them knead. It develops arm strength and makes a great alternative to wrestling with their siblings. Or make soup. Soup is the ultimate comfort food. I spent the last week with a lingering cold and have been thinking of soup a lot. When I am feeling better I am going to do a big pot of soup. And I think I will offer a gift to finish.... my recipe for chicken soup. I do not eat a lot of meat now, but do still eat some chicken.... that is my small step...
with apologies to Fannie Farmer who gave us standardized measurements (before which you might read “take a handful of flour” and “a few almonds”, I do not have this written down, and I do not measure it , so I am giving it to you the way I make it:
Put a chicken in a pot (yes, take it out of the wrapper and pull out the bag of gizzards, and yes, I do recommend cruelty free, for one thing the non kosher/free range chickens are full of hormones and other gross stuff) on the stove top. Add a box of low sodium organic chicken broth, enough water to cover, and some vegetable bits. I like to put in a few garlic cloves, a stick of celery, a carrot, and part of an onion. These will add nutrients to the broth. Cook until the chicken starts to fall off the bones. This takes an hour or so, maybe a bit longer, but it is hard to wreck it. I have left it on for a couple of hours and it is fine. Cover the pot while cooking. I usually turn the heat up to start, and turn it down later. After this you can put the pot in the refrigerator and finish cooking it later that day.
Strain the broth into a bowl, put the solids in another bowl. Discard the vegetables, pick the meat off the bones and discard the bones. Decide what vegetables you want in your soup. I usually grate some onion (maybe half an onion), and add a couple of carrots (I am the only one who eats them, so not too many), several potatos (my son loves potatos), definitely garlic (tiny pieces), sometimes green beans. You could certainly add leaks, or celery, or tomatoes. These have to be washed and cut into bite sized pieces. I do peel my potatoes.
In the now empty pot (which you have not washed) you put 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil (I do not really measure, so just enough to saute), and heat on medium just a bit till warm, but not burning. Put in your chopped vegetables and cook just till slightly darkening. (I acutually do my onions first, and cook them till quite golden, then remove them and do the other things and then add the onions back in, but that is because my family pick the onions out unless I caramalize them). Add the broth back in, and the cooked chicken. You may want to add some more stock or water. Another hour should be enough to finish, but you could lower the flame if you want it to take longer.
When you are about 15 minutes to dinner put a small pan on medium heat, put in one tablespoon of butter, and 2 tablespoons of flour, stir and cook till you have a not burned, but tan sludge. This is roux. Using a whisk add it to the soup. It will help thicken the soup. If you really must you can use olive oil, but I really like that small bit of butter. Add to taste: salt, pepper, thyme, dill (the dill is very important). Slice a fresh lemon and add a little squeeze.
I have been known to add matzo balls when I manage to remembe to mix and cook them in time, as they have to be done is a separate pot, and take a while to do.
Yes, I know it is a whole lot easier to get a frozen pizza or something premade, but for a special occasion, or when someone has been feeling sick, this is kind of like those strawberries that signaled the start of summer.