11 April 2015

Weekend Cooking: Thoughts on Mark Bittman, Real Food, & Home Cooking

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

A Bone to Pick by Mark BittmanMark Bittman, cookbook author and New York Times columnist, has a definite viewpoint when it comes to how and what Americans eat. I happen to agree with most (all?) of what he has to say, so I try not to miss his articles when they appear on the Times Op-Ed page.

A Bone to Pick, available in bookstores on May 5, is a collection of Bittman's op-ed pieces, written over the last five years or so. His principal focus is on the connection between food and health and on issues of food safety, federal laws concerning food production and labeling, and agribusiness. He also talks a lot about real food and home cooking (a la Michael Pollan).

While I was listening to the audiobook edition of A Bone to Pick, I was struck over and over again by Bittman's lament about how younger people (not all of you, of course) don't really know how to cook. Is it the demise of home-ec in high schools? Or is it the power of fast-food advertising? (Bittman has things to say about this.)

cbl © www.BethFishReads.comRegardless of the cause, the idea made a strong impression on me because I was in the middle of my busiest season, and yet in the six weeks I worked every single day, I think we had take-out only three times and almost no processed foods.

I don't say this to be holier than thou or to brag. Instead I'm interested in starting a conversation.

First, I think I need to point out how I'm likely different from you:
  • I work at home.
  • I don't have to feed children.
  • My husband is easygoing about what time we eat.
  • I have been cooking for many years.
All of these facts are significant. Especially not having kids, which can fundamentally change the game. Working at home is big because I can get dinner started and then return to work. Experience and ease in the kitchen are also huge because I don't find the whole cooking dinner thing to be stressful. I know I can throw something together . . . perhaps made possible by Mr. BFR's total acceptance of whatever I serve.

Although I didn't bother take photographs (the photos are from random meals in my files), I decided to track our dinners for a week to see how much real food I served and to get an idea of what we eat when I'm crazy busy.
  • Sunday: grilled salmon, tossed salad, braised endive
  • Monday: roasted chicken, roasted sweet potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts, tossed salad
  • Tuesday: leftovers
  • Wednesday: pasta with a light tomato sauce, asparagus, tossed salad
  • Thursday: lentil soup with broccoli rabe and various other veggies
  • Friday: leftovers
  • Saturday: risotto with asparagus
cbl © www.BethFishReads.comThe only processed foods were the canned diced tomatoes and whole-grain pasta. Other than that, everything was fresh or homemade (even the salad dressing). Using the pressure cooker, I was able to get the lentils and risotto made fairly quickly and painlessly. And roasting is pretty much totally hands-off. Also, these are all dishes I've made so many times that I don't have to use a recipe.

So what do you think? Could you have a week like this? Am I nuts? What if you moved the roasted chicken to the weekend?

 Is it possible to eat real food, made at home, every night? It is for me, but what's it like for those of you who commute to work or who have young children or who need to juggle their kids' after-school activities? Can you do it? Do you even want to try? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Note: My audiobook review of this title will be published by AudioFile magazine.
Published by Crown / Pam Krauss Books, May 5, 2015
ISBN-13: 9780804186544
Source: Review (audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Tina 4/11/15, 7:10 AM  

I am fortunate that my husband also likes just about everything I put on the table. We eat fairly healthy foods but I can say, feeding two adults makes meal planning a lot easier than when I needed to accommodate for a young child. I don't mean in terms of eating junk such as hot dogs (although we did have to consider some "kid meals" on occasion) but having mealtime at a set specific times because of soccer practice, homework, bedtime, etc.

I think I will write what we eat for two weeks and see.

Kay 4/11/15, 8:40 AM  

We're empty nesters at our house and so don't have to consider others very often. We have been talking about making some changes in our eating habits and I'm interested in learning more about the 'clean eating' trend. I do cook at least 4 nights a week, sometimes more. I think I've shared that my cooking over the years has changed somewhat and so I don't feel as confident with some of the foods as I did in the past, like fish. And my husband is somewhat of a picky eater - but I am too about some things. I told him we may have to think outside of our usual box. LOL

rhapsodyinbooks 4/11/15, 8:54 AM  

Your dinners sound great! Too bad I don't live close enough to "pop in" around dinner time LOL

Karen 4/11/15, 9:02 AM  

Having 3 busy teenagers definitely makes it tricky around here! But I have to admit I got kind of lazy/apathetic over this horrible winter.... We relied quite a bit on Trader Joe's frozen foods, but I intend to get back to "normal" this spring!

Anonymous,  4/11/15, 9:12 AM  

We eat home-cooked from scratch, non-processed food basically every night, too. We have a young child (not busy activity schedule), but I don't work outside the home.

Part of this is from necessity: Fast food isn't really an option in mostly rural, smallish town middle America when you need to be gluten free, as I am.

We've found ways around the time constraints of having a child, though. (We do eat at a pretty set time every night, but that's not necessarily the boy's fault.) We don't cook every night, or even most nights, really. We cook a few things, and then that's what we eat for the week.

I, too, have been cooking from scratch for many years, which definitely helps.

To cook the menu you listed, I'd be checking a cookbook for a few details (time/temps for roasting, dressing recipes probably, and risotto proportions), but I could probably pull that off if I had to. (In other words, my go-to recipes for busy days are different than yours, but that's not really a surprise.)

Jackie McGuinness 4/11/15, 10:02 AM  

I'm much like you, no kids, love cooking, husband will eat anything I cook, and used to work at home, now retired.
We travel several months a year, often in condos so that makes it easy to cook our meals.
This year the challenge has been being on the road and staying hotels so eating properly has been hard. We especially miss having vegetables!!! Also the HUGE portions we end up.
Looking forward to getting home and getting my pots and pans out!!

bermudaonion 4/11/15, 10:09 AM  

I think many young people grew up eating take out and processed foods so they think that's the norm. When Vance's friends learned to drive someone always showed up at our house at dinner time for some good food and conversation. I think people think they have to cook complicated meals and that's not true.

Les 4/11/15, 11:12 AM  

We're also empty-nesters and my husband is very easy going about what I fix for dinner, as long as it has some sort of protein (chicken, fish, pork or beef). He doesn't feel like it's a real meal if it's just a big salad (which would be fine with me every few nights). I don't work from home, but I do get home between 3:30 and 4:00. I have time to run an errand and walk the dog before settling into my dinner prep. We never eat microwaveable meals, but I'll occasionally grab something from the frozen section at Trader Joe's. 99% of our meals are homemade. Some are more complex than others, but I'm proud that I'm capable of cooking something nutritious and fresh. It helps that I love to cook. :)

Anonymous,  4/11/15, 11:38 AM  

I don't have children, but I have a VERY picky husband and we both work 9-12 hour days outside the home five days a week (sometimes six). So that being said, I find it very difficult to make real dinners on a regular basis. I try to put together something most nights, and I rarely eat out during the week, but I confess that frozen pizza does make its way into my kitchen from time to time. I find my slow-cooker extremely useful and I've found a few easy go-to recipes that work for my husband and myself. But to be honest, it's a constant struggle.

Linda 4/11/15, 12:12 PM  

I do strive to make real food every night but I work outside of the home and want to eat quickly so we can move on to other things (90% of time). Sometimes I like to make a more complicated meal during the week. But I usually save the more complicated dishes for the weekend.

Alba Forcadell 4/11/15, 1:59 PM  

In Spain it's not usual to have take-aways often. Also, we have dinner at nine or even later so there's plenty of time to cook something from scratch. I always enjoy cooking and try new recipes often. When I lived in USA with an American family, they said a healthy diet and only ordered take-aways or went to a fast-food place twice or 3 times max. It surprised me that as unusual! I think with a bit of organisation, you can cook something nice without taking a lot of time. But as you say, having kids would be quite a different story! Very interesting post!

Belle Wong 4/11/15, 2:16 PM  

I don't do the cooking around here, and on days when my husband is home in the evenings, we eat home-cooked meals. On the two nights when he's teaching, I usually get subs or sushi or Cobb salad from the grocery store. Before my husband discovered he liked to cook, we ate a LOT of frozen prepared foods. It was just easier to throw something into the microwave and then pair it with a bagged salad. Plus I didn't like doing the actual cooking (still don't) as I could never get seem to get recipes to turn out!

Nan 4/11/15, 3:41 PM  

I so loved reading what you wrote. I almost whisper that I make meals at home, from scratch mostly, because I don't work outside the house. People think that I can do this because I'm home, and they are way too busy to cook. Even when the kids were little we ate 'real' food. They grew up with hummus and tabouli and beans and rice. Dishes that may take a while, but are delicious and nutritious. I put this quote up on my blog years ago, and I think it is just great.

Other people are prepared to put so much effort into other areas of their lives. I mean, nobody says it's wrong to go out shopping for hours on end. People go to salons and have their bodies mucked about with and have their hair and nails done. But five or six nights a week, they come home and they don't want to cook when it takes only half an hour to make a good supper. It's actually quite a relaxing thing to do at night.
Tamasin Day-Lewis

Les 4/11/15, 3:49 PM  

I love that quote from Tamasin Day-Lewis. Thanks for sharing it, Nan!

I remember someone hearing about what I was cooking for dinner for the next few nights and said, "Do you eat like that all the time?!" They were truly astonished that I went to "all that effort" during the week for just the two of us. I really don't think it's all that much effort and I find it relaxing, too.

Claudia 4/11/15, 4:34 PM  

I especially enjoy Mark Bittman's little cooking tutorials. I have one of his books, but he seems to come across better on video.

I work outside the home only 3 mornings a week, and really enjoy cooking and making preserves, wine, etc. etc from what we grow. My husband is quite happy with whatever I fix (well happier about some things) even if it's just a big salad. We're both eating less, and no children left at home. Interesting hearing what everyone is doing with meals.

Carole 4/11/15, 10:12 PM  

sorry I'm late - have had a nightmare time getting broadband sorted at the new house - finally have it today! Cheers

Emma Litttlefield 4/12/15, 3:40 AM  

I work hard to eat home made meals as much as possible and plan out what I'm eating a week in advance. It lets me take into account busy days and really helps. My bad eating is when I'm travelling and weekends when we eat out a lot.

shelleyrae @ book'd out 4/12/15, 7:00 AM  

With 4 children who have busy schedules and individual tastes cooking can be a trick proposition around here but really it's my budget that determines what we eat. For convenience sake we do have frozen food (like pies, or battered fish) at least twice a week but otherwise it's mostly homemade. On the menu this week is spaghetti Bolognese, sweet and sour chicken Stirfry, and Burrito's.
Takeaway is a really rare treat, it's just too expensive for the 6 of us.

Unknown 4/12/15, 8:28 AM  

We're empty nests also. Though I do spent time with 3 g'kids 1-7 yrs old. And prepare meals for then couple times a week, either packing lunches, showing up for those breakfasts when parents have am early start for work. They eat what we eat and what their parents eat. That's also how I raised my three kids.
I've always cooked with leftovers in mind. And still do. I'll roast four chicken bone in breasts and freeze leftovers to add to stir-fried veg or soup or pot pies. Etc.
Lately I've been making taco beef mixture from 500gr ground beef and my own slice mixture and spend the week adding it to things. One week it's chicken in everything the next it taco mix. I also started buying a cabbage and using food processor to shred it. Giving me big freezer bag of shredded cabbage that I keep in the fridge and add to the veg stir or soup or whatever, one cabbage good for two + weeks.
If I'm not home ( and that happens sometimes couple days in a row at mealtime if I'm with g'kids) my husband complaints "there's nothing to eat in the place". That's usually cause he's too lazy to put a quick meal together. He's been spoiled over the years. So lately I keep stuff around to make what I call a grazing plate for him. Usually cut up smokes or ham or chunks of leftover chicken and some snow peas, carrots, grape tomatoes some cheese sliced, pickles etc. Otherwise he might starve poor dear. I can my own tomatoes in pint jars so id be hard pressed to find something processed that we've eaten lately. Pickles? Cheddar cheese? Courage cheese? Bread? Bacon Hmm is that considered processed?
I usually have a pound of chopped up bacon and shallots that I've fried up together handy for adding to stuff for the week also. It's a sad day when there's no bacon mixture to add to salad or omelettes or oven grilled cheese with sliced tomatoes and sprinkled bacon stuff.
I'm hungry just thinking about the grilled cheese on a Kaiser bun for breakfast.

Unknown 4/12/15, 8:43 AM  

I've read Bittman's cookbooks, from the library. Trying to figure out what so wonderful about them. When I read a cookbook, I read them cover to cover.. I want to read the story. His have always sucked. There's no kinder description. What kind of cookbook author are you if you add recipes for salad that ingr.list is tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste. Then there's a pic and directions read slice tomatoes, fan out on a plate and add salt and pepper to taste. And that little number takes up a page. I couldn't believe it. Only a MAN would have that in his cookbook. Honestly lost any respect I might have ever had for him after spotting THAT recipe. A little narsassistic (that doesn't look spelled right... My auto correct failed me in think) is anyone posting or adding a dopey recipe like that. Haven't bothered even casually flipping thru any of his books since.

Laurie C 4/12/15, 11:50 AM  

My husband cooks like you! He works from home and can whip up a really nice meal in a half-hour without breaking a sweat! No cookbooks needed, except maybe for inspiration. I'm more of a weekend cook, but I used the slow cooker every so often over the winter, to try and do my (unequal) share of the weeknight dinners! ;)

Roberta Gibson 4/12/15, 4:40 PM  

What an interesting topic.

Don't tell my SIL, but last time I visited her I noticed all she had in her cupboards was a jar of peanut butter. She had no staples like flour or canned beans, not even boxes of cold cereal. That is when I realized cooking every night might not be as mainstream as I thought. :-)

Booksnyc 4/12/15, 5:12 PM  

I aspire to be you! I am trying to eat fewer processed foods and less take out and I agree that experience in the kitchen helps. The more I put meals together, the easier I find it. Great discussion topic!

Melynda@Scratch Made Food! 4/12/15, 5:14 PM  

I think cooking has come back in a big way for some of us, others not so much. Some folks don't want to and other's haven't learned. I think the Bittman cookbooks have helped with getting the message that cooking does not have to be hard, out to the public.

Beth F 4/12/15, 5:25 PM  

Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful comments. I've loved them all and realize that each of us have our own issues to face when feeding our families, and of course not all of us even like to or want to cook.

Fascinating stories, you've given me much to think about.

Deb in Hawaii 4/12/15, 8:27 PM  

Great post. I love Mark Bittman and I am looking forward to reading this new book.

I am solo and my house and work at home a good part of the time. I don't cook every night but I do cook a couple nights and on the weekend (always soup as one dish, usually beans and grains) and eat the leftovers in variations during the week so I end up w/ home-cooked food all week. But it is easier as I only have myself to please and love leftovers. ;-)

Just wanted to say that I am linking up to your Weekend Cooking event for the first time after seeing Claudia, Tina and other friends taking part. A book review and recipe this round. Thanks for hosting & I look forward to joining up again. ;-)

Deb, Kahakai Kitchen

Deb in Hawaii 4/12/15, 9:18 PM  

And I am a dork and hooked up the wrong post--today's soup instead of fritters and a review. Whoops! Don't think I can fix it so I'll add the link back to this post on my soup post too. ;-(

Sue Jackson 4/13/15, 6:55 PM  

I'm very much like you when it comes to food/cooking (which I think we both already knew!) I cook pretty much every night and mostly used fresh stuff, other than canned tomatoes and broth. Though I have always enjoyed cooking and my husband and I liked to cook together before we had kids, I felt even more strongly about eating homemade, healthy food once my kids were born. We brought them up eating a WIDE variety of real food and it has paid off because they both like a wide range of foods now. I also made an effort to teach them to cook (2 sons!) and can see that beginning to pay off, too. My youngest was SO into cooking when he was about 8 - 12 - watched the Food Network, collected cookbooks, made up his own recipes even! He's lost interest, BUT I know he still has the skills. My older son is living in an apartment at college. He is still on a meal plan on campus because he doesn't always have time to cook the kind of healthy meals he needs for his medical conditions, but I love when he calls me up to ask for a favorite recipe!!

Great discussion topic!


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