Last season, a certain CEO asked me, “Are you a better cook?” We were picking up our CSA produce. Jokingly, I said, “yes.” But I started thinking about that answer. I realize I’m a different cook. And, perhaps, a better one. I believe I can trace this improvement to being a CSA member.
No, I’m not trying to plug the CSA here. The delivery of fresh produce, weekly, has forced me to change my relationship with food. It has also forced me to plan menus differently.
How? My cooking now revolves around the actual vegies in my CSA half-share. They determine what I’m preparing. My brain has shifted to figure out how I can use this lettuce, or that cucumber, or geez I have all those little tomatoes. And tomorrow is pick-up. It’s like I’m trying to drink from a fire hose.
My previous approach was a carryover from my years in Dallas. Cooking was focused on making as few trips to market as possible. I used a spreadsheet and planned a week ahead. Meals would include restaurant trips, reuse of “doggie boxes” in meals, and use of leftovers from our Grand Sunday Dinner. I loathed going to the grocery store (and it was a Whole Foods to boot) because it was still a big box store, requiring driving on nasty Dallas-area streets, and suffering through an ocean of parking.
So the CSA has changed my habits by allowing me to focus on cooking. Not on the logistics of acquiring food.
In addition, I pay attention and use seasonal produce. It’s a mindfulness thing. No longer can I pick a recipe because it “looks good” or “we haven’t eaten this for a while” and assume the ingredients are available somewhere. I either adapt my favorite recipes, or try new ones with what’s available at the moment.
Now I feel I’m moving up to the next level of cooking: from being an adequate house cook, to perhaps a gourmet cook (but still a long way from a prep chef). Instead of taking a recipe to market to find ingredients, I’m presented ingredients and must find a suitable recipe – or create one. This isn’t bad. It’s actually kind of fun. Now my creative juices are engaged. My memory is tested. But it really is moving to the next level of the culinary arts.
Since the word “better” is so subjective, I will adopt the meaning: “showing some tangible change or improvement.” With that definition, yes, I’m better. Being a CSA member has inspired me to be flexible, creative, and to value the quality of freshness. And so my answer to Jason was correct. Yes, I am a better cook. And like so many things in life, I can’t go back. Although I would like someone to tone down the fire hose.
About the author: Dave Gillen didn’t want to eat hotdogs for the rest of his life, so he learned to cook. His mother taught him to boil water, fry an egg, and make oatmeal cookies. Dave forgot how to make the cookies, barely remembered how to fry eggs, but is spot on at boiling water. Currently, he divides his days between being wife Lois’ in-house techno geek and personal chef…and walking his greyhounds.