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Cooking phases

(post, Megan Scott)

We all go through phases — hedonistic and healthful, self-destructive and nurturing, persistent and momentary. We are taught from a young age, often by exasperated parents, that these phases aren't serious. 

"It's just a phase" is a cliché in almost every household, underscoring their transience and thus their unimportance. The implication is that the phase itself is distracting us from who we really are, a sideshow of ourselves; further, that there is something inherently better about staying the same, and something inferior about changing.

But the reality is that we constantly go through phases. Some are extensions of others or perhaps something traumatic occurs, leading to a dramatically different and new phase. Going through a phase isn't just peripheral — it is a state of being, and no less important for being in a constant state of flux.

Our relationships with cooking are no different. We learn, expand, evolve, progress. The catalysts are not only inherent — changes in our cooking styles due to our own progress and growing knowledge of cooking and food — but also external. The Information Age has given us a great gift and a terrible curse: that of more information than we can absorb from more sources than we can imagine (few of which can be called "reliable") every second of every day. That our cooking reflects this inundation is merely a small ripple in the vast sea of changes new technology has wrought.

[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="Fennel Pilaf with Toasted Cumin and Golden Raisins"]

As a consequence, we often stumble over our newfound knowledge. Is it local? Natural? Organic? Grass-fed? Seasonal? What do those terms even mean, if they mean anything at all? We imbue our eating habits with ethics derived from the ever-changing global food arena. Is it any wonder, then, that we cook the way we do? That we cling to our food blogs, Pinterest boards, and styled-to-the-nines food magazines for guidance, stepping into the kitchen armed with a battery of cookbooks and a smartphone?

My own cooking habits aren't altogether volatile, but they do change. Like many, these days I'm eating less red meat, I have a five-gallon bucket full of "ancient" grains in my pantry, and there are at least half a dozen items fermenting in my kitchen, bubbling away as I type. It hasn't always been this way.

As far as I can tell, change in our kitchens is mostly a good thing. It keeps our minds, creativity, and food from getting stale. We may never wean ourselves off cheap grain-fed beef entirely, but we're making the effort. We may never come to appreciate quinoa quite as much as white rice, but we discover when and where it works in the process. We may struggle with eating seasonally in those endless months of roasted root vegetables, but it becomes a fruitful exercise in creativity and innovation.

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This is an optimist's view, for sure, and I am not always an optimist. In my darker moments, I resent the relentless pace of food issues and fashions, bringing each day another travesty or trend to process. These are the days I put a pot of beans to stew on the stove (with a ham hock, just like my grandmother does) and try to recollect why I've chosen the career I have. If I put my head under the covers long enough, maybe the honey bees will stop dying and we can all leave well enough alone and stop drinking kale in favor of just eating it again.

For the most part, though, I am content to have my mind stretched by the gymnastics of food and cooking; content to progress through phase after phase, each with its own gustatory delights and displeasures. The important thing to keep in mind is that you have to eat what you cook.


reference-image, l