pre-moving to europe, there were some kitchen items that were just self-evident. lean cuisines. a microwave. pancake mix. a toaster. a coffee maker. (alright, actually i’ve always rebelled against these, but they certainly are a staple in most american kitchens) a microwave. because EVERY good household needs a microwave, right? how would i heat up my lean cuisines otherwise?
here’s an old kitchen behavior for you: i used to keep this giaaaaant container of minced garlic in the fridge that i was so proud of ‘cause whenever a recipe called for some, you could just reach in for a pinch. no chopping or peeling necessary. bam. so smug about that. clearly, i had found a life-hack.
a couple years later, i was reading kitchen confidential (highly recommended if you’ve ever worked in food service) and came across this quote by anthony bourdain: “if you don’t use real garlic, you don’t deserve to use real garlic.” after reading that, i scoffed a little bit… surely it couldn’t be so black and white. i still regularly sought out the big container of minced garlic rather than by the plentiful and delicious czech-grown garlic you can find everywhere. i can’t remember at what point we actually decided to give real garlic a go, but it was kitchen-game-changing. freshly cut garlic tasted completely different than this pre-minced kind. and that’s only the start.
one of the first things i noticed about czech supermarkets after moving here: “where the heck are all the frozen foods? what are we even going to eeeeeat?” there really wasn’t many (if any) instant type meals to be bought at all. and instant foods? pshhhh, yeah right! a crude shock i was in for when there were no sauce packets to be found or boxed noodle and rice dishes (a la rice a roni) to be seen. what in the world was i going to do? i remember the day about a month or two in when, drawn in by the need for pancakes, i typed into google “homemade pancakes” and my world changed. YOU GUYS. pancakes are literally just made up of milk, flour, egg, and a bit of baking powder. THAT’S IT. i thought snoqualmie falls (you know you’re a washingtonian when…) had some kind of secret (and they probably do) but that’s basically it. ingredients you can find in any kitchen. mind grape explosion.
it was really incredible to start finding out that standard sauces can be made easily from a bit of butter, flour, and milk by making a standard roux …. or that making dough from scratch was really worth it. being forced to make the recipes that i have always taken for granted (because there literally was no other way around it) helped me become such a better cook. infinitely better.
(below, enjoying a taste of italy… in prague)
not only that, but as well as continuing my love for health foods, especially of the vegan and vegetarian persuasion, i really started loving how the food i was taking the time to cook was so fresh and free of chemicals and preservatives. i felt that through food, i can take care of us and our family. the idea of living in the kitchen and the typical italian philosophy of looking at food really started to appeal to me after not too long. i was here, living this simple life with a lot more time on my hands than i used to have (while getting started as a teacher), why not use that time to make the freshest, healthiest, best possible meals for us?
this feeling has fortunately stuck. i spend a lot of time in the kitchen, usually cooking a meal from scratch five days a week if not more…. but when i think about that time spent, i consider it an investment worth making. sometimes when i feel lazy or uninspired, i surround myself with my most uplifting bloggers who put a great emphasis on quality food and its preparation, like drea and amanda, for example, who place fresh, healthful ingredients and food preparation above other things in order to care for their family. that’s how i want to care for my family too.
it has also been fun watching alex’s tastes change. this all-american michigander who wouldn’t touch a mushroom and always ordered “no onions” before moving abroad with me has embarked on his own, notable road to eating well and health-consciousness as of recent years. it is important to him to make a positive change every week, like no sugar in his tea or no meat. (this is a guy who used to subsist on hot dogs, burgers, and gas station food in the states) i feel proud to have played a part in showing someone that healthy food can really be delicious if the flavors are right. now he requests things like, “something healthy this week” or “something with lentils, chickpeas, etc”.
i have to note that things have changed a little in the czech republic than they were over three years ago when i arrived. you can find a few more frozen food options. (our favorite supermarket carries bryndzové–sheep’s cheese– pierogies!!) coffee creamer has really just started making its first appearances this year. i have seen off-brand lean cuisines. the wave of pre-packaged or frozen convenience foods is coming and i plan to resist… unless boxed macaroni and cheese ever shows up, then i’m not holding back.
(clockwise from top left, spring vegetable samosas with seared halloumi and cous-cous, “southwestern” chicken in a soup,
it took leaving america to really make big changes with regards to what i eat, how i eat it, and what sort of ingredients i use; starting accidentally but then grew into a new way of life. with the typical american working hours and lifestyles, i am sincerely impressed in anyone living there that can pull of this sort of thing in their kitchen, so i acknowledge that it isn’t always practical or doable. but, one can make it a priority. i’d like to say i want to continue this style of life for years to come, and i suppose i’ll at least give it a shot. i would rather spend time on food preparation than other things, in the end, because this is the sort of simple life i want for myself. for me, right now, this is worth my energy.
do you have a similar food philosophy or are we completely different?
check out past posts in the “noms” series – posting about everyday meals and food projects around these parts.