I am a freelance writer and editor by day, cheapskate plant-obsessed DIY food-loving cat guardian by night.
You could say this blog is about urban homesteading. In summer I mostly post about seasonal cooking, foraging for wild foods, and gardening. In winter it’s food, thrift and DIY. Sewing and cats are sprinkled throughout.
My Food Philosophy
Food is fuel for living. It should also be enjoyable.
My parents taught me to cook early on, but I didn’t take up the past time in earnest until I became a vegetarian in high school. I immediately started experimenting with tofu, much to my family’s chagrin. (One might have expected my dad, who lived in Japan for six years, to be delighted at the development. Alas, tofu pumpkin pie is not exactly Japanese.)
After college, I worked in a health food store and lived in a co-op house with a dozen other people. Cooking for that many people on a regular basis can teach you a lot about food. We had one guy with celiac, several vegans, a diabetic, and lots of different religions as well as none. Lent and Pesach were always interesting times of year. I was constantly modifying and making up recipes to accommodate people’s dietary needs, and I kept a little notebook in the kitchen where people could leave their feedback. I made my first gluten-free cake with canned chickpeas. My favorite comment from that experiment was heloful for its brutal honesty: “Tastes like hummus, except not good.”
I got better at cooking. I started making foods from über-scratch: soy milk, rice milk, vegan sausage from soy and wheat gluten, and vegan and dairy yogurt and cheeses. At the health food store, I had access to produce that was no longer sellable. I learned how to ferment it into vinegars: apple, pear, pineapple, strawberries.
Once a week, I’d go out to a friend’s community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm and harvest for the next day’s deliveries. I got paid in produce that was too dinged up to sell. I started canning. The basement was filled with jars of salsa, pickled jalapeños, mincemeat, potato soup, and jams, jellies and juices of every kind. I wasn’t fond of vinegar pickles, so I learned how to ferment them in salt brine. My favorites are the classics: kosher-dill cukes and sauerkraut.
Walking and biking around my city, I noticed that food is growing all over the place. There are apple and crabapple trees on traffic islands, raspberries off the lakeshore, wild bergamot by the river, juneberries along the bike path, and cherry trees in parking lots. The birds get some of the bounty, but of this food ends up dropping to the ground and going to waste. I looked into the ordinances in my area and found out that I could pick whatever was growing on public property, and that friendly landowners are often happy to have someone picking fruit – otherwise it rots and attracts wasps. I started harvesting some of this bounty. Sometimes I ended up with so much, I had no choice but to make wine.
For various reasons I won’t go into here, I eventually started eating meat again. But it’s not the center of my diet, and I still like to eat and cook vegetarian and vegan meals. Developing vegan baking recipes is especially fun, because I learn a lot about the ways that different ingredients behave and how they contribute to the end result.
I am not an aficionada of any particular diet, and I don’t buy into dietary hype. There is no one perfect way of eating for everybody, and no one perfect food that will revolutionize my life. Wheat is not evil, but it doesn’t agree with everybody. If eating a certain way – Paleo, South Beach, Atkins, raw, gluten-free – makes you happy, go for it. I’ll even develop recipes to help you stick to that diet. But I won’t tell other people that they have to eat that way. We each know our bodies the best.
Similarly, I think organic foods are awesome. But I think it can be taken overboard. Here’s the backstory: I used to try to eat only organic-certified food (if I hadn’t grown it myself). Then I realized that I wasn’t getting as much fruits and veggies in my diet as I would if I allowed myself to buy conventionally grown foods. Why? Because I had to live on a budget, and the price of one organic grapefruit was the same as a pound of organic dry rice or beans – and a pound of dry rice and beans goes a lot farther than a grapefruit. So now, I have a goal for how much veggies and fruits to get into my diet each week. If I can get all of it as organic (through buying, growing or wild-harvesting) within my budget, great. If I can’t, I buy conventional.
When I develop recipes, I have these things in mind:
- It should taste great.
- Veggies and fruits are good. Use them aplenty.
- Keeping dirty dishes and time in the kitchen to a minimum is also good.
- I tend to focus on what’s in season.
- I strive to be frugal. Occasionally, the frugal choice is not to opt for the cheapest ingredient, but instead for the one that provides more value in terms of flavor or nutrition.
- Is this something my body wants? Are the ingredients nutritious, or are they empty calories (fuel without nutrition)?
That’s why I load my muffins with fruits and veggies. It’s also why I prefer whole grains over refined grains, and sweeteners like xylitol or stevia over sugar. But I’m not going to be offended if you sub white flour for whole wheat when following my recipes, or use actual sugar. It can take time to get used to new ingredients, so introducing them into your cooking bit by bit – for example, using a ¼ cup of whole wheat flour the first time you try it in muffins, then upping it to ½ cup, and so on – is a great idea. Once I became used to them, I started to prefer them. Now, I’ve been eating whole wheat pastries for 25 years.
One last thing: I will never talk about weight loss on this blog. Physical activity is a better predictor of health than weight.
So that’s my food philosophy in one very large nutshell. As I have time, I’ll add more here about my other interests. Until then, enjoy exploring the blog!
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The background is from this crazy quilt.