Monday, May 09, 2016

Evolution of Eating

The other day, I noticed that we had consumed half of a bottle of rice wine vinegar in the space of two weeks. In the past, a bottle of rice wine vinegar could sit in my pantry for years before it was used up. In the same vein, I was grumbling to myself at Foods of All Nations the other day because they didn't carry gochujang, a product I hadn't even heard of a few years ago.

I didn't start cooking proper meals until after I got married. (Growing up, I was often responsible for cooking the family dinner, but that doesn't seem to count.) During the year between graduating from college and getting married, I lived alone in an apartment, and I don't remember cooking much of anything other than coffee. Soon after Jon and I married, I bought my first cookbook.

The Cabbagetown Cafe Cookbook (1986) by Julie Jordan changed my life. Its recipes show a quaint type of vegetarianism with unashamed use of dairy, gluten and grains, and not a single recipe that contains kale. No glossy photographs either, although there are grainy black and white pictures of some of the Cabbagetown Cafe staff (it was a vegetarian restaurant in Ithaca). I decided that from now on, we would be vegetarians. Which we were, for about ten years, and the Cabbagetown lifestyle helped me fit right in with the La Leche League crowd I ran around with back then. Not that I was a stranger to hippie food. My mom wouldn't even let us eat commercial peanut butter because it had too much sugar. Her cooking was strongly influenced by the time she spent as a Fulbright fellow in Ecuador, and a later friendship with a family from India. She grew her own hot chili peppers and put them into many of the things she cooked, along with generous amounts of cumin and other pungent spices. Due to her influence, I rely on cumin and chilies in my own cooking.

For years, I cooked meatless but somewhat heavy meals: vegetable quiches, pasta dishes, bean or tofu burgers, cauliflower or potato curries, cheese pizza, an endless variety of pita sandwiches and stir fries. When we started eating meat again (partly because I became aware of the fact that carbs make you fat) I lost ten pounds and never regained it.

Switching from vegetarianism to meat-eating was a conscious decision, but the more recent changes to our eating style have been more subtle. They are caused by a combination of new trends in nutrition, changing tastes, and my practice of getting many of my recipes from blogs and pinterest. We used to eat pasta two or three times a week. Now we eat it that many times in a month. We used to eat a lot of spinach.  Now I rarely buy it, but we eat kale, collards, and Swiss chard instead. Sweet potatoes were something we ate once in a while, now we eat them almost every week, whereas our consumption of white potatoes has dropped. We eat fewer carrots but more radishes, fewer onions, more ginger, fewer grapes, more avocado, less vegetable oil, more coconut oil.  Fish sauce and Siracha are staples now. Back in the early '90s, I hadn't even heard of them. I once thought of yogurt as something you sweetened with maple syrup and ate with fruit or granola. Now, I like nothing better than full-fat Greek yogurt mixed with salt, lime juice and cumin, dolloped onto sweet potatoes that have been roasted in olive oil and chili powder. The foods we continue to consume consistently are eggs, cheese, broccoli, dried beans, and garlic, Mexican food and Italian food. (Although now, I'll poach eggs or meatballs in homemade tomato sauce rather than serve it with pasta.) And bread. I know, grains are bad and fat-making, but I will never stop baking.

So that's it. Just a ramble about how our eating habits have evolved. In other kitchen-y news, my pantry project is almost ready for the big reveal! (One of the things I did during this project was shift the Cabbagetown Cafe Cookbook down to the cupboard with the infrequently-used cookbooks.) I am just waiting for new cabinet knobs to be delivered.

Last night we had a quinoa and green lentil curry with coconut milk and baby Kale.
We still eat vegetarian several nights a week.

Have your eating habits changed in the face of new food fashions and/or the latest nutritional research?


  1. I don't really like anything that's good for me but I do enjoy spicy food with a lot of flavors. I know people who cook without garlic or onions and I think I know why they're thin. Most dinners I see on blogs look like punishments.

  2. One of my first cookbooks was an ethnic vegetarian one, so that inspired all sorts of cooking when I was first learning. We've been primarily vegetarian for 20 plus years, but a few years ago I started trying to have a vegan dish at least one night a week, if not more. I've definitely gotten more creative with grains as we've cut back on pasta (we're right with you on going from a few nights a week to a few month, at best). The biggest change has probably been from eating so many black beans to eating more of the white varieties, particularly cannellini beans. We've always eaten a variety of greens, although now that you mention it, we have been eating less spinach than we were 15 years ago.
    I've gotten into fermenting in recent years and while I'm pretty much the only one that eats anything fermented on a regular basis (my new favorite lunch is a peanut butter and fermented ginger carrots sandwich), I do sometimes get them to try something. I've also gone from just canning tomatoes straight up to putting them up in things like pizza sauce, for quicker dinner making. I still put up a few bushels of plain canned tomatoes every summer though. That definitely hasn't changed in the last 20 years.

  3. Mind Blown: full-fat Greek yogurt mixed with salt, lime juice and cumin.

    Also can you talk about how to poach an egg in sauce?? We still eat a lot of pasta (#gluetenfulllife) but it's really the sauce I like. Eggs in sauce could be a revolutionary shift in our household.

    1. Sure! I got the idea from Smitten Kitchen. Her two recipes are "Eggs in Purgatory" and "Shaksuka."

      She serves them with bread on the side, which I eliminate. You just make your favorite tomato sauce and once it is finished and simmering, you drop raw eggs directly into the sauce. I was surprised at how long it takes the eggs to cook--much longer for some reason than if you were cooking them in water-- and it is a bit tricky to get them to cook correctly, but I'm not super fussy. I put feta cheese in the shaksuka dish and parmesan in the "eggs in Purgatory."

  4. I think my cooking habits have circled back around. In grad school I learned how to cook lots of meals of different ethnicity from friends. My first cookbook was one of the Moosewood books. We were also mostly vegetarian at that time, but it was mainly because vegetables are cheaper than meat.

    Years later (we were both 35) I met and married Rob. He's allergic to everything in the onion family, but I continued to cook different dishes until Emma came along. Then it all went to heck :-) Between the two of us working some (but not the same) nights each week, and a kid who wanted mac & cheese, cooking became a pain. Emma seemed to always prefer to just make herself a variety plate from the various fresh foods in the fridge, and I'd eat a sandwich.

    Then, after I got my hips replaced and was able to walk and stand without pain again, I remembered how much I had enjoyed cooking. Now Emma is old enough to want to try all kinds of different things and we're back to making a variety of fun dishes. Sure, we have to leave the onion and garlic out, but if you move away from American and Italian food, there are so many other ways to add flavor :-) Over the last year we started to use the Blue Apron service (great for a small family) and have been really enjoying all the variety.

  5. Ours definitely have. We are all eating healthier here, even my son who last night opted to drink WATER instead of juice, saying "I should stop eating so much sugar." And D made steaks on the grill the other night and said, "we don't need bread if we're having potatoes with it." FOR REAL!