Eat Your Heart Out

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Thankful Friday is here! As January came to a close this week, so did something else. I completed a "challenge" I set out for our family. A challenge that I've kept relatively silent about because, frankly, I was genuinely unsure if I could complete it...and, well, I didn't want to fail with an audience. But, I'm proud to now report that I absolutely went the entire month of January without eating out or ordering in ONCE...not even a cup of coffee! So, this week, I am really thankful that my mom taught me how to cook!

Remember when eating out was a treat? Well, it was for our family at least! Maybe it wouldn't have been that way today, but when I was growing up on the farm, eating out was simply not an option in our daily life. We lived 9 miles from the closest gallon of milk, let alone a restaurant. And there wasn't even a McDonald's in the town 17 miles away from us until I was in high school. Nope, for the most part, if it wasn't in our pantry or growing out back, well you were out of luck, my friend. There was no temptation of a drive-thru simply because you hadn't planned ahead what would be for supper that night. Sure, there might be the occasional casserole-ala-experiment for
dinner...but, for the most part, my mom cooked up a mighty fine spread each and every night. And each and every night, all of us got around the table and ate together as a family. It wasn't unusual. It wasn't a rarity. I'm sure it wasn't effortless, but it never seemed like my parents had to stop and force themselves to make sure this was something that got on the calendar. It was part of our life: Supper's on. Come and get it.

This is something I've always desired for my own family. Dinner time. Togetherness. Meals shared, leading to conversations that vary in color as much as the vegetables. I'll admit I'm not the best at it. As a self-admitted TV-a-holic, it is often easier and more entertaining to prop up the tray tables, hand out the paper plates, and all face in one direction while we stuff ourselves in the much-welcomed moment of self-indulgence. No focus. No thought. Just pure, tasty entertainment fed straight to my brain with a side of extra mashed potatoes into my mouth. Maybe it's not Norman Rockwell, but if we were all being honest here, it's what the modern American family looks like today.

As a resurgence of simplicity and nostalgia seems to be sweeping the next generation of young families, I, too, have found a longing to put down the iPhone, pick up a recipe book, and get my hands dirty with some real, old fashioned, unprocessed life. So, I'm starting with small things. Like yeast. Did you know that to make your own French bread is just flour and yeast and a little salt? Did you know you can actually make your own English muffins? And they are delicious! And did you know that most food from scratch is cheaper and tastes better than the store-bought-found-in-a-pretty-able-to-microwave-box? It's true!

Not going out to eat for an entire 31 days was not easy. I had to plan ahead. I had to plan ahead everything. I had to make sure the pantry was stocked with some good staples. And I had to know how to use those staples and to make a meal out of just about anything that was there - or be willing to go to the store to get it (which, with two kids in tow, is basically not worth it for last minute needs). I got to be inventive. I got to be experimental. I got to make some unpalatable failures and some scrumptious successes. It took less money and more time. It was messy and there was a lot of dishes. And it was a lot of fun.

Not to mention, there was an added bonus of unexpectedly losing 4 lbs while eating at home?! It's true! And, sure, I didn't sit around eating Fritos and BonBons...but, I did eat homemade cookie dough, and chocolate croissants, and about an entire loaf of French bread in one sitting. Sure, I am nursing and chasing a toddler around (I don't call Matilda my personal trainer for nothing). But, I can't stress to you how much I was not even trying to lose any weight, literally eating whatever I wanted, and the only change I made to my lifestyle was not eating out at all. So, take that for what it's worth - but, I honestly feel like it has a lot to do with taking a step back from overprocessed junk and embracing some hearty whole foods (like my friend, stick-of-butter!)

Will this stick? Am I giving up restaurants for good? Certainly NOT! My goodness, I'm far too much a lover of food to not enjoy the fruits of another chef. I love going out to eat. I love the experience of sharing food and time with others. I love the gamble of trying something I would never have the confidence to dare cooking at home. I love the convenience of not cleaning up after the meal. And sometimes we are just thankful for that Chic-Fil-A on the corner that will hand me my giant Diet Coke and waffle fries without judgment that I'm splitting them with my 2 year old in the back seat. I am by no means swearing off the joys of dining out.

But, thanks to my mom, I'm not forced to dine out. It can be the exception. My mom, who couldn't cook a hot dog before she married my dad (true story), taught herself the ins and outs of many-a-recipe book...and passed it on to me. She took the time. She let me messily stir the muffin batter. She let me burn the meat loaf. She ate my concoctions. She smiled and asked for seconds when even the dog wouldn't lick the bowl. And today...I'm a pretty awesome cook (thank you very much) and Matilda is a total terror to my kitchen...and it's wonderful.

Maybe I'm no Barefoot Contessa (but, I'm watching you, Ina Garten). I find great joy that learning to cook is an inexhaustible art. I think it is one of the most invaluable skills you can learn. It literally pays for itself in multiple ways: in the joy it brings to the the the time it promotes being with the ones you love, either in the kitchen or around the table. And those are things you just can't order off a menu.


  1. Hi Emily,

    A couple of thoughts as I read your post. First of all, I too was shocked to discover it is easier and cheaper to cook from scratch than from a box. The upside to this is that once you are accustomed to keeping staples on hand, you don't have to plan ahead to have brownies or biscuits. It's really nice!

    Second, if you have any good bread recipes, please send them my way. I enjoy baking bread but so far don't have a recipe I love.

    Third (last), when my kids were Matilda and Daphne's age, they pretty much never ate at the table. There have been many, many dinners in front of the television. I finally got tired of the mess of everyone eating in the living room, and just turned it off one day. I expected some resistance from my kids, but they surprisingly adjusted without a word about it. They will still occasionally ask to eat while watching a show, and sometimes I let them. But most of the time, I call everyone to the table and they are happy to oblige. I only bring that up to say, if you're doing this while they're tiny, don't let it worry you too much. It is definitely not irrevocable, and honestly, sometimes you just want your two-year-old to stop talking and eat already, right? =)

    Glad to hear you're well.

  2. Really enjoyed your post! Eating whole foods has been a long journey for me especially since I have so many allergies so going out really isn't an option any more (but there are days when I really really miss it). The fist time I felt really empowered by cooking was a few thanksgivings ago when we did the whole thing from scratch gluten-free. It was awesome! Gravy, biscuits, pies, chutney-the works! I have been dreaming about hosting dinners with whole-foodies like me: the challenge-cook everything from scratch, no cans of this or boxes of cake mix. Maybe one day there will be enough people interested in this that it doesn't come off haughty, but rather fun! :)


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