Happy 2012!

You guessed it, one of my resolutions is to blog more! Perhaps in doing so, I can help you with one of yours? If food made it onto your list then you’ve come to the right place!
I often hear people say that they don’t know how to cook, or that they can’t cook, and friends beat themselves up over their lack of souffle baking skills or what have you. What I can suggest is a few steps that are a little more concrete.
To begin: everyone can cook something, whether that be scrambling eggs or boiling spaghetti. The key to making more food (or healthier food, or cheaper food, or tastier food) for yourself is to build on what you know. I did a whole lot of that learning and building at Food Not Bombs.

Food Not Bombs

Food Not Bombs is a loose-knit collective that rescues food that would otherwise go to waste, transforming it into healthy vegan meals for people in the community. I was introduced to FNB when I lived in Hamilton, Ontario. There I met a brilliant group of young folks who could whip up a semi-gourmet meal for 50 out of bruised potatoes and leftover carrots. They had a great relationship with their local farmers market (and with one another), and built bridges in the community with their weekly meals served in a downtown public park.
When I moved to NYC, I looked up the local chapter of FNB right away. This group was significantly different than the previous, not to mention it took place in a decaying (and condemned) community center with limited kitchen faculties. A few short months later I became a key holder for the group along with a couple of amazing other volunteers. What I didn’t anticipate at that point was how much teaching we would do.
Unlike the tight-knit Hamilton group, FNB NYC had new people every week, with a small core group of rotating volunteers. Many of the newcomers were young, disillusioned punks, travelling teens just passing through, and college student activists looking to make a difference. With a few notable exceptions, these individuals had limited experience in a kitchen. It soon became clear that we were as much a cooking school as we were providers of food to the community.
What I learned:
  1. Even a minor skill, like learning to chop a potato, can provide a major boost in self esteem.
  2. Delicious food isn’t always beautiful (the group was once described by a local magazine as serving “delicious vegan sludge”).
  3. Overcoming the “I can’t” and “I don’t” is often the hardest step.
  4. Anyone can learn to cook!
I left FNB with a host of cooking and teaching skills, having learned a tremendous amount about food. These days, every time I hear someone say “I can’t cook” I think back to the 8-year-old volunteer who could chop carrots like nobody’s business, the teenage drug addict who learned to make hot soul-satisfying soup, and the scores of angry, sad and lost volunteers who found solace in the slicing of an onion.
If we could put together a hearty meal for 50+ in an afternoon with this motley crew of volunteers and some discarded produce, I have no doubt that you can prepare yummy meals at home!
My advice:
  1. Start small. Don’t expect to whip up a souffle your first time in the kitchen.
  2. Be forgiving. It doesn’t have to be beautiful or gourmet, and we all make mistakes!
  3. Experiment. Not every try will be fantastic (or even edible), but experimenting is the best way to learn!
  4. Build up staple dishes. Come up with a few quick, easy recipes that you can practice until they’re second nature.
Chopping onion
I am toying with the idea of starting a “back to basics” series of posts, about the various tips and tricks I’ve learned about cooking along with some easy recipe staples to have on hand. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Soup - All you need to make a good basic soup is to saute your veggies and/or meat with a tiny bit of oil in the bottom of a big pot with some chopped garlic and onion. Add broth and simmer until delicious! Throw in some cooked beans at the end for an easy protein and fiber boost.
Salad - No cooking involved here! Throw together greens of your choice with a couple of veggies (or fruit!). For a homemade salad dressing, simply mix together 1 part vinegar of your choice with 1-2 parts oil of your choice, add your favorite spices (try oregano, garlic and a pinch of salt), and mix! Adding a dab of mustard or mustard powder can help to emulsify the dressing.
Stir Fry - Start with frying some onion and garlic in oil, this time in a wok or large frying pan. Add veggies of your choice (try carrots, broccoli, mushrooms and ginger) and a splash of soy sauce, and cook until veggies are tender.
Is there anything that you struggle with in the kitchen? What is holding you back from cooking more/better/healthier?
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