I started cooking mostly because I felt like I had to. My mother-in-law is a former chef and an impressive home cook, and when I began dating the man who became my husband, I felt intimidated by her knowledge in the kitchen. Maybe I felt like my meals would always be compared to hers, but regardless, the intimidation had a positive outcome: I improved my quality of life through food.
I had been uneasy in the kitchen and fed myself mostly baked chicken breasts, boxed pasta with sauce from a jar, store-bought dressing and bagged lettuce, and restaurant takeout. My mother-in-law suggested that the best way to start cooking is to get one dish solidly under my belt. I started with pasta Bolognese. Despite the fancy name, this was a meal I learned to serve my family and even cooked for parties. All it took was that one dish to make cooking from scratch seem possible.
Cooking truly changed my life. The benefits range from keeping food expenses low to finding a creative outlet and a newfound love of entertaining. It also gave me the gift of health. My complexion improved, my energy levels skyrocketed and I simply feel great.
Any good cook will tell you the final dish is only as good as the ingredients used to make it. I became obsessed not only with cooking from scratch, but also with finding the freshest, most flavorful meat and produce. The money my husband and I used to spend going out to eat was now used to purchase extra-virgin olive oil from Napa, the first spears of local asparagus, and milk and meat from pastured animals. We joined a CSA (community-supported agriculture group) and began receiving a weekly box of fruit and vegetables from a local organic farm.
Near the end of that summer, we visited the CSA farm for a tour and dig-your-own potatoes event. I was beyond smitten — the scenery, the fresh air, my hands in the dirt. I craved the lifestyle. By the end of the year, I left my office job and began an apprenticeship at the farm. My body was being nourished by both the literal and figurative fruits of my labor as I reaped the rewards of the physical and intellectual challenges of operating a small farm.
Toward the end of my first pregnancy, my husband got a job opportunity in Manhattan, and the timing felt right to start a new journey. Although today I live in the city, the lessons I learned from farming are still a major influence. I strive to feed my family using whole foods from local farms, and we grow herbs in our backyard. As a result, I feel a genuine appreciation for the people, animals and earth that make our nourishment possible.
In addition to my mother-in-law’s advice to find one meal you feel confident about cooking, I recommend fearless experimentation. Go to the farmers market or grocery store, find whatever produce is in season and go online to learn how to prepare it.
If you’re interested in pursuing a farming apprenticeship or even if you just want to spend some of your free time volunteering in the arena of local agriculture, reach out to your local farmers. Check out Local Harvest, an excellent resource for farms, CSAs and farmers markets. Yearning to combine travel while you learn to work the land? Explore World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).
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