Gourmet home cooking isn’t easy or quick

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/11/the-myth-of-easy-cooking/417384

The Atlantic serves up a legitimate beef with a myth that I think any housewife of the last 20 years is quite familiar with.  Women have put vast amounts of effort into trying to make the “gourmet meal in 20 minutes” fairy tale come true for their own households or claiming they manage it…somehow.  This mother just threw down her spatula and picked up her laptop instead.  I appreciate her doing it.

She does live in New York City, the paradise of eating out pretty cheaply and decently if you want to do that, but her basic point that a watered-down fancy-chef recipe simply isn’t reasonable for normal life is a sound one.

Many women are afraid of not being “diverse” in the food they give their children, especially SAHMs, who believe that because they’re home all day they need to provide “real, HIGH QUALITY food” that they prepared with their own hands from numerous exotic ingredients.  An example of this is the homemade bread fad.  Although is it a fad if it, like homeschooling (which it did not come out of but which was one of the subcultures dragging it into acceptable non-fringeness) is now something all kinds of non-home-centered women feel is something they ought to do?  Making one’s own bread at home daily is relatively modern.  Like other kinds of cooking, in the past anyone good at it did it for most of the other people in their neighborhood.  But these days women are supposed to “easily” make their own bread all the time, with all kinds of “one weird tricks” to make it not take a long time or be physically demanding.  (It still does and is though.)

Cooking is one of those things where a lot of women would be better off buying the decent takeout and ready meals without being shamed over it because they’re housewives.  This is so totally a real thing, it’s super sad and depressing how women beat themselves up over this, or make little snippy comments to other women for the crime of buying potato salad from the deli instead of making it at home “Because it’s so easy and quick, why spend the money?” Because my time isn’t actually worth zero dollars and including my time, it’s cheaper to drive to the store or fire up GroceryDeliveryExpress2015 if you live near one and order the salad in bulk.

Anyway, the article is interesting and talks about how cookbooks used to be written by fellow housewives, but then EVERYTHING CHANGED IN THE 1980s.  Thanks Boomers!

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30 thoughts on “Gourmet home cooking isn’t easy or quick”

  1. Maybe they should peruse some old cookbooks? Entire chapters about casseroles and other frugal, time-saving dishes. Casseroles got a bad rap, but they’re easy and fast. I can cook quickly, but when I do, we eat plain food. It’s good food, it’s homemade, but it’s plain – and I lean on my oven to do the heavy lifting while I go do something else. Soup’s another good every-day food. Healthy, cheap, but not interesting.

    I did have a year of baking my own bread — but I spent one afternoon a week baking, just like the tea-towels suggest, you do labor-intensive things in big batches, or you don’t do them. (It doesn’t take a lot longer to do four loaves of bread, which is how many loaf pans I have/my oven’s capacity with lots of airflow, than it does to make one – so why make just one?) I enjoyed making bread, but yeah… at some point you want a bit more variety (never really did get a sourdough sponge going) and you go back to buying your bread. So long as you’re a good shopper, you can do almost as well.

    People are odd. Yeah, our foremothers did cook from scratch. But they didn’t have filet mignon every night. Because other things to do.

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    1. I’m sorry, I can’t see how casseroles made properly are timesaving in the slightest. What is timesaving is dumping cream of mushroom soup on stuff in a casserole dish and putting it in the oven. That doesn’t make any kind of sense in 2016 if you can get to a Trader Joe’s or Costco.

      And no, most of our foremothers did not cook from scratch for families. That’s an American frontier aberration. Most of them either had cooks, were cooks, or bought cooked food.

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      1. I’m from an immigrant family where home-cooking was a must. I wasn’t raised on the typical American Midwestern food (what people eat where I live). I’ve had more exposure to it in adulthood than childhood. My upbringing was quite different, as people in the “community” respected things like domestic duties, home schedules, etc. It sucked while I was a child, but I could never join after-school groups or activities until my teens because it interfered with my mom’s cooking and chores. The traditional style of cooking can take anywhere from 2-3 hours and you have to babysit the stove.

        I didn’t marry a man from the community, so needless to say he doesn’t tolerate 2-3 hours of cooking. Or cooking dinner every day. To him, spending a lot of time in the kitchen is a waste of time, especially since we both have to work. It’s another reason why I like leftovers. Technically speaking, I probably cook close to gourmet, but I “cheat” a lot in the preparation by using tools and storage to cut down on time. I’ve found preparation takes the most amount of time.

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      2. MY foremothers were frontier gals-or married to sharecroppers-or farm women… so yeah, um… they did in fact cook for their families. It just wasn’t fancy. I cooked every night for 6-8 people after work… it’s totally possible to get good plain homemadeish food on the table in 45 minutes or so. -hands you a burrito-
        BTW Casseroles are a way to turn leftovers into today’s dinner.

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  2. I think one of the problems is from the idea that leftovers are bad. I’ve met plenty of people who dislike the idea of eating 1-day old food because “it makes my stomach sour.” The McDonald’s doesn’t make your stomach sour? Whatever. If you aren’t willing to eat the leftovers of food that’s supposed to be nutrient-dense and simple to make, then expect to spend time cooking every night.

    To me, that’s such a waste. As a full-time worker I don’t– and won’t– spend time and energy every night cooking so-called “gourmet meals” because it’s nonsense. It’s simple to make a chicken, rice, and vegetable baked casserole and know it’ll feed your household for at least 2 days, or a married couple for 3. If I’m feeling stovetop cooking, from prep to table takes an hour and still yields leftovers. If there’s no shame in ordering decent and relatively takeout, there shouldn’t be any in having leftovers.

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  3. In our house leftovers are tomorrow’s lunch. Occasionally they get retooled and made a part of another meal 2 days later. But as a general rule, we don’t do a lot of leftovers for dinner.

    If I’m going to cook a big batch of anything I split it and freeze half for later use. Like next week.

    My husband is one of those people who don’t want to eat the same dinner two nights back to back. But we don’t waste it either. It gets eaten. All of it.

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    1. If I’m going to cook a big batch of anything I split it and freeze half for later use. Like next week.

      This is kind of a foreign concept to a lot of people, sadly. I like using a main ingredient– chicken– and then every other day using it little by little in a different dish. One day I’ll bake it in lemon juice and pepper, a couple days later I’ll make a stir-fry, and then toward the end of the week I’ll make a stovetop dish in a sauce. I learned this from watching Sandra Lee’s Semi-Homemade!

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      1. What I liked about Sandra Lee was she showed time-saving methods while using real food. I never used any of the store-bought suggestions, but she was raised on welfare so I get why she teaches what she does.

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  4. Some thoughts:

    1. We have made a lot of bread machine bread over the years and it is fast (under five minutes prep), but I am not thrilled with how the whole wheat turns out in the machine (way too dry and hard). So the end result of regular bread baking is to increase the amount of white bread we eat, which we don’t really need.

    2. One of the worst offenders I have ever seen was a salad cookbook I once bought that turned out to have 1-2 dozen ingredients per recipe. Give me a break.

    3. Potato salad is a really good candidate for industrial production.

    4. They sell frozen French toast, waffles and pancakes in the freezer aisle. Hallelujah!

    5. World Market has a nice array of Thai and Indian jarred curry sauces. Highly recommended (we used to mail order Patak’s online).

    6. I agree that we are living in a golden age of counter service dining.

    7. Atlantic lady, why don’t you have a bottle of fish sauce at home already?

    8. “There are no garnishes of thyme leaves in simple weeknight dinners, and no appetizer salads.” I think there actually can be herb garnishes–if you happen to grow the herbs at home. Otherwise, yeah.

    9. “Quick cooking rarely comes from a recipe so much as it does from intuition built over the course of hours and hours mucking around in a kitchen.” True–speed comes with a lot of practice.

    More in a bit.

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    1. Amy, I have two bread machines and make a wheat bread out of the softer Ultragrain white whole wheat flour. I also just let the machines make the dough and first rise. Then I shape the dough and let it rise again in bread pans and pop it in the oven. I agree about letting it bake in the actual machine. It’s just awful. It is about ten minutes more work to shape the dough yourself but worth it IMO.

      I make homemade bread usually because we like the taste better and the simpler ingredients but I’m also not adverse to picking up store bread when I know I’ll have a busier week. It seems from October through January I’m always buying store bought. Just too busy with holidays and a few birthdays in those crazy months. Homemade simple food is better but as moms we shouldn’t be so fanatical about it that we can’t be practical and pick up pre-made at the store when we need to. Flexibility is key. Where people get in trouble is when they turn home cooking into a religion that makes it a moral issue. “Don’t you want your family to eat the very best food made by your own two hands with the best of ingredients? It’s unthinkable to give them food made in a factory. Good moms who love their family don’t do that!” I fell for that line when my girls were just little and about drove myself nuts for awhile. With age, I’ve learned to relax and while I strive to make things from scratch for health reasons, I’ll still pick up a bag of chicken nuggets when I need to.

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      1. “Where people get in trouble is when they turn home cooking into a religion that makes it a moral issue…”

        THIS! EXACTLY!

        I third this. Not sure how and when we got to the point where the worth (let alone holiness!) of a wife and mother became measured in part by the amount of time she spends in the kitchen. Utter nonsense, and underscores to me how so many people don’t even realize they are meddling where they don’t belong in the name of Bible teaching. Some husbands- including mine!- are not the least bit interested in having their wife stretched thin from sun up to sun down.

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  5. Our family has an unusual set up that means that we don’t normally need to cook at home during the school year, but we have to do a lot of cooking during vacations.

    In our experience, while on a no-cook school night, we only have maybe 3/4 of a dishwasher full of dirty dishes for the whole day, during the cooking part of the year, we have 2+ full dishwasher loads every single day. We have a growing kitchen crew, but the burden of planning, grocery shopping, cooking, dishwashing, and scrubbing down the kitchen is enormous. During that time of year when all of us are eating at home all the time, it sometimes seems like we can’t do anything but just feed ourselves and clean up. And even during the school year, keeping us supplied with adequate breakfast and lunch supplies is a formidable task.

    I personally find that the American dinner standards are just too much trouble for the results obtained or not worth eating. We mostly cook modified ethnic when we cook for ourselves and use short-cuts like curry sauces, rotisserie turkey, sausage, and frozen vegetables. We also do prepared meals (store quiche or tamales) but have been finding that as our family grows, it has become less and less economical to buy prepared food–a single store quiche just isn’t enough anymore. I tend to do a rough estimate of costs for different dinners–homemade non-holiday meals tend to run between $10 and $16 a night for the five of us. I believe that our dinner prep is normally between 20 and 30 minutes (plus an early start for cooking rice), but we rarely cook new stuff out of recipes for dinner. I hope to get back to cooking in a year or two (McDermott’s Quick and Easy Thai really is), but we have a preschooler, and I want to keep things simple for the time being.

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  6. One of the Atlantic commentors says, “And it certainly did not help that none of us enjoy the canned soup casseroles/meat & two sides of my Midwestern youth.”

    That’s a very important point–I also don’t want to eat the stuff that I grew up with and I definitely am not going to feed it to my kids.

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    1. Weirdly, I’m moving back to what I was raised on to feed our household, which was Asian food and rural Southern food. We just don’t eat the beans or do cornbread very often. But fish, rice, vegetables, stir frying (or buying same) and game meats along with beef/goat/lamb/chicken/pork from neighbors and the backyard.

      One of the reasons I finally decided to not pursue cooking constantly is that buying from the grocery store is buying local. Many farmers with more than ten animals sell to the local chains.

      My husband comes out of hotdish culture and we will probably pick up a few of those dishes when our kids can do the cooking. I shouldn’t be surprised though, we both thought we’d totally live differently than we were brought up and yet we’re just doing a more competent version of our childhoods. At least in some ways.

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      1. “Well Asian and Southern food is good food, whereas American Midwestern food is truly horrible.”

        Yes.

        I grew up on the following casserole:

        –white rice or macaroni
        –barely seasoned fried ground beef
        –spaghetti sauce
        –Velveeta on top

        The only thing that made it edible was the Velveeta on top. Once you got down to the lower layers, it was pretty grim stuff.

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  7. I dunno, I am of two minds about this. On the one hand, if you don’t want to cook, then don’t. On the other hand, if you are a good cook, it’s infuriating to not be able to get the general neighborhood support to be able to do it – I can’t push my kids out the door so I can pay attention to what I’m doing at the stove, I can’t get other people to respect the schedule I need to adhere to if cooking is going to happen, it’s actually exactly like homeschooling now that I think about it.

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  8. I’m doing a whole lot more cooking at present because I’m doing Whole30 at the moment. Actually, I’m really liking it a lot and I’m figuring out new ways of “bulk” cooking so that I can recycle food for lunches (I eat A LOT on this program which is kind of making me crazy).

    Thing is, expectations have gotten completely divorced from actuality. No. Life is busy – families are busy and they’re having to be budget conscious in terms of money AND TIME. Rotisserie chickens have saved my life more times than I can count on.

    Look, I used to post all these highfalutin menu plans which ended up pretty much never getting cooked because TIRED. That’s right – come 6pm, I was exhausted from a workday which started around 6am (not get up time, sit at desk time). So yes – exhausted. Then the people would come in from their job/school (and they’d leave the house at 0645, so they were TIRED too). Frankly, after working my job for 12 hours, I was in no mood to tackle a lovely gourmet-takes-a-couple-hours-to-prepare meal; plus nobody wanted to wait for one, because we were also HUNGRY.

    Then the clean up (did you know that any given Rachel Ray 30-minute meal will not only take an hour to prepare, but will also result in 45 minutes of cleanup because it requires every freakin’ pot, pan, and utensil you own?) – yep – you have to face the clean up. I was looking at finally being done 9-ish. NO already (and yes, have help from the people).

    But, back to my cooking these days – a sheet pan fully of chicken thighs (boneless or not) roasting away for 40 minutes while I make a salad is just fine. Same with pork tenderloin. Same with burgers. Saturday I made spaghetti sauce with meat some of us eating it over zucchini noodles, others over pasta – quick and dandy. I bake potatoes on the weekends and we have those warmed up during the week. I make soup – we have that. We can eat well, and we do, without me going BSC trying to live up to some completely ridiculous ideal of what should be the “evening meal”.

    Rant over.

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    1. Very nice.

      “…did you know that any given Rachel Ray 30-minute meal will not only take an hour to prepare, but will also result in 45 minutes of cleanup because it requires every freakin’ pot, pan, and utensil you own?”

      Yes. It’s very noticeable how much less dishwashing and kitchen cleaning there is with less intensive cooking.

      As a kid with dishwashing duties, I used to dread those pots and pans and casserole dishes with the baked on/fried on crud.

      Another issue is that school kids are no longer automatically the dishwashing crew. It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but our big kids have only just started having regular unloading duties and I’m hoping to get them on the crew this summer. (I have had our oldest do a number of cooking classes and she has an age-appropriate level of competence there.) In our defense, school homework and evenings are much busier than they were when I was a kid, so we don’t have time for the epic dishwashing fights I used to have several times a week with my mom when I was a tween and teen.

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  9. Now that our older girls are often working 2 or 3 nights a week, my husband has started helping by doing dinner dishes when I am tending to other things. He’s been doing this for the past 6 months and it still looks strange to us to see him in there. Every well functioning family adapts no matter how traditional.

    He takes the two younger kids in there so that they know how to wash the dishes properly. That’s something I never took the time to do with them when I’m in there because I was always working so fast to finish and move on to the next thing.

    The way we handle the excess pots and pans is to try very hard to wash and reuse things as we go. Cuts down tremendously on the amount of washing after all the dinner is done. Oh, and line your pans with heavy duty foiled sprayed with cooking spray, people. Much easier cleanup!

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  10. oatmeal and rice are common lunches in our home. Made with a rice cooker so I don’t have to do much. We’ll had fruit and yogurt to the oatmeal (or choc chips), and meat and veggies to the rice. Although some of my kids just eat it with butter.

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  11. When I was younger I went through a homemade bread phase. Then I realized how much moldy, stale bread I was throwing away each week. We just don’t eat enough bread to justify how much time and money it cost. In a typical week we probably eat 1/2 a loaf.

    The internet is a boon for finding new recipes to try, but the orthorexic types and their self-righteous nagging is just so tiring. There is nothing immoral about feeding the family a casserole.

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    1. “We just don’t eat enough bread to justify how much time and money it cost. In a typical week we probably eat 1/2 a loaf.”

      Our family usually eats a homemade loaf within the course of a single day but we shouldn’t.

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      1. Yeah. First homemade loaf of bread disappears *that day*, because homemade bread is amazing. But at least two of us are wheat sensitive, so … um… no. And calories? Oy.

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