Last year’s experiment of trying to eat more naturally is one that I will never regret. I feel like choosing two things a month (even though some months I went crazy and did a lot more than that) made things sustainable enough to feel like I was making a difference that I could actually maintain. Of course there is always room for improvement, but I am very pleased with the general trajectory our eating took during 2012. Would I love it if half a grass fed cow suddenly fit in our budget? Sure! But as I have been reminded time and again, it’s the little things. And the little things do add up.
It is strange to think that I have not purchased sandwich bread or chicken nuggets for a year. I used to wonder what Isaac would eat for lunch if I didn’t buy the weirdly shaped breaded chicken product from Aldi. And somehow, he has survived! I will never regret starting to bake my own bread either. I love that the ingredients are minimal and I like the ritual. I have a bread machine sitting upstairs that I will never use and need to sell because I like the process of mixing and kneading, and letting rise. I like that Isaac wants to know if the bread is done “napping” because he thinks making bread is normal. I like how good the house smells and I like that making bread is an ongoing experiment of sorts. It also helps that I like the end product!
One thing that this year taught me, that I did not necessarily anticipate, was to appreciate the taste of things. For most of my life I have defined the goodness or badness of food by its health claims: low fat, low sugar, no sugar, burgers made of soy particles and who knows what else that are supposed to make me think that I am eating a hamburger, sodas with fake sugar that I can drink without consequence. My stock answer when asked how I could stand to eat or drink X was that I couldn’t tell a difference. In other words, I would rather ingest fewer calories than actually eat something that tastes good. And I will be the first to tell you after this year that real stuff; sugar and cream and butter and whole milk, all those things taste good. (As an aside, I am also at the same weight I was at this time after having Isaac when I was buying egg beaters for breakfast and Boca Burgers for lunch – so the butter and cream have not had an adverse impact on my body.)
I have two little tubs of fake low fat butter spread that I bought last year that have hardly been used. After practically buying stock in cubes of real butter I will tell you without compunction that the reason that the stuff in the tubs hasn’t been eaten is that it doesn’t taste good. It doesn’t melt like butter. It doesn’t taste like butter. If I am going to go to the trouble to make homemade bread, the last thing I want to smear on top is some faked out version of the real thing. And so I have eaten my weight in butter this year as my fake butter has languished in its colorful plastic tub. Real food tastes better.
I used to think that I would be a “real adult” when I could choose to buy and consume Boca Burgers or the equivalent for every lunchtime meal. This past year I meant to try various veggie or bean burger recipes that I could flash freeze and reheat at will, but only recently did I get around to making one of the recipes. I made black bean burgers with black beans, salsa, cumin, flour, and corn meal (I may be forgetting something in there). The result tasted like a spicy cumin flavored black bean burger. Of course! What else would it taste like? And yet I feel like we have been sold a certain right to healthy food that tastes like our favorite junk food. But why would I want my spicy black bean patty to taste like a hamburger? If I wanted a hamburger, surely it would make sense to eat a real one, right?
It was interesting to me that even my husband, after mostly giving up creamer this year and drinking homemade eggnog in his coffee instead (sugar, milk, whipping cream, eggs, nutmeg) could tell when I switched recipes and guessed that there were fewer eggs and less sugar in the recipe! It was, to tell the truth, a little unnerving, but at the same time, if we get used to eating real foods that taste like something we should be able to tell when things are changed. I think that this year has done good things for all of our palates.
There are things I thought I would make this year (homemade wheat things, anyone?) that seemed ultimately to be too much work. I feel like I am constantly walking the line between cost and expediency, between more natural eating and what sometimes sounds good (or what Isaac would prefer). I want to do the best with what we have, eat good things that actually taste good, and acknowledge that my 14 month old apparently can eat 5 chicken nuggets from McDonalds (!?!?) according to husband. Yes, we still get food there even having seen the pink-slime-that-is-their-chicken video on YouTube.
So in a nutshell I could say that 2012 came down to cooking more, being lured by fun (artificial) flavors and packaging less, while enjoying real food with real flavor. And with that said, it’s time for some bread making magic this afternoon!
Happy cooking and eating, friends!