Local, sustainable, seasonal. What influences how you cook?
We operated a small bed and breakfast inn in Southern Vermont for 18 years, and as you can imagine, I have spent a lot of time in the kitchen, much of it looking for ways to save some of that time while still offering something memorable to my guests. We were one of the first Green Hotels in the state, and member of the Vermont Fresh Network. We are now open only for special events, cooking classes, and a little catering to keep things interesting. I write a food column for our local newspaper, focusing on local foods and products and our fabulous southern Vermont farms, seasonal and delicious.
Some of my earliest memories include cooking with my mother, or watching her cook and create feasts for our family and friends. There was always something luscious baking in the oven, or a pot simmering on the back burner, and there was always an extra chair at the table, or two or three.
My mother had four children, a cranky, elderly mother-in-law, a hungry husband, and a full-time job outside of the home, and yet the food on our table was home-cooked, fresh, and creative. We had one car, few modern conveniences, and a homemaker who must have been more stretched for time as we are today. Of course, she had no options; she could not afford the pre-packaged fancy foods and had to cook from scratch. She managed time without batting an eye, and she did so wisely and with techniques that not only freed her from the kitchen, but ensured we had a full and balanced meal on the table every night.
“She taught me how to spin gold out of straw, and for that I will be eternally grateful.”
I try to keep a “green kitchen” and cook from scratch as much as possible (of course, I’ll pick up something form the grab-and-go section in our local co-op on shopping day), using traditional tried-and-true methods, but certainly I look for the modern time savers available to us. My food processor, blender, and mixer remain on my counter ready for quick service, and if I end up kneading my bread with a machine rather than my hands in order to save time, I’ll not apologize! Although, I’d rather the meditative moments kneading bread by hand. I’m not always a fanatic about measuring, which is why I get into trouble sometimes baking, but cooking by the feel of it works fairly well for me most of the time!
“The way I cook is local, seasonal, and sustainable. It makes a difference in our communities and on our plates.”
I look to the seasons when planning what to cook. Cooking by the calendar with local foods means the freshest flavor, saving both the beauty of the produce but also lessening the environmental impact. I’ll wait for asparagus, because it is that much better eaten the same day, or hour, it is picked. The same with so many of our fruits and vegetables. I don’t want to eat corn on the cob from Florida, so I’ll wait. Plus, a head of freshly picked romaine will also last much longer in the refrigerator than something that has been trucked from another coast or country.
Many of my updates lighten up the old standard fare, or add whole grains where none existed before. In the past few decades, the availability and understanding of foods from around the world has made it easy to jazz up the week night meal, and broaden our understanding of how we can feed our families using unique flavors and techniques.
Working around the issues
Our family also has quite a few food allergies and restrictions. Among other allergies among us, my daughter and granddaughter both have severe nut allergies, we have some in the family who cannot tolerate dairy, and others who need to watch saturated fat and cholesterol. Vegetarians, vegans, those watching carbs, gluten, fat, or cholesterol, it is often a puzzle planning an extended family meal, but it is also fun and rewarding when everyone at the table is treated to a lovely meal they don’t have to fret about.
With a few swaps, many of the old recipes are reborn, and often the addition of an herb or other ingredient can turn an old standby into something special, even on a weeknight.
The modern “vintage kitchen” includes a little of the old, a lot of the new, and an outcome that is sure to please – good food served up to family and friends with pleasure and pride.
Join me at the table, there’s always an empty chair!