cook more

Because it is the new year, I feel obliged to reflect on something from the previous year. Although I am choosing this particular reflection somewhat randomly, there is actually spur to choose it based on how I am feeling at this very moment: hunger. No, this is not going to be the typical declaration of resolution to exercise and lose weight (both of which I need to do more) because it is the new year. But rather, this is about the preparing of food.

When I look back at the last year (or three) I see a trend I'm not happy about as I count the number of meals that I've prepared myself at home, from base ingredients. I used to love to cook, to share my meals with people, and even took some kind of pride in making things myself. I'm sure that the things I cooked maybe didn't taste as good as it would have in a restaurant, or look as pretty as some of my friends seem to have a knack for plating, but by golly they were (almost always) edible!

If I went into my digital photos and searched the keyword "food" and pulled aside photos of all of the things that I made at home, I think I would seem a diminishing number of photos over the years of my marriage, and with a trend from somewhat complex or imaginative, to things that are more staple like pasta and pizza. Those last two are definitely the influence of my wife. Scrolling back a couple of years I find expansive palettes of color placed at my dining table. Where did this drive to create go?

I know that a lot of it was the change in my work-life balance at my last job. It was common for me to be in the office from 05:30 until 18:00 most week days, and when on-call I might be awakened every hour with alerts or a ringing phone because something wasn't working as expected. Between the long days and the wear of exertion, I came to a place where I did the least possible to prepare a meal. Kraft Mac & Cheese? Yes, please. Meals became something that if I made them myself would often be able to be cooked and cleaned in less than ten minutes: scrambled eggs and toast, cereal, boneless chicken breast with microwaved vegetables... No thought more complex than is it in my kitchen was allowed.

Things are a bit different now with my current job. While technically on-call more, the reality is that the volume of calls is minimal (like rare, even). So why have I not gotten back on the cooking bandwagon? Sadly, I think the answer here again is rooted in my wife and her preference for pizza, pasta, and some more pizza. She didn't grow up cooking, and while she'll make some tasty meals with enough prodding or begging, it isn't something she really wants to do. Couple that with the fact that when she gets hungry, she's borderline hangry immediately. This has translated to most of our meals that we do cook at home on weeknights being something super-quick and all-too-often prepared.

Looking forward, I think I can find ways around this by preparing ahead of time rather than making up a meal on the spot. There was a time when I'd get home an hour before my wife, and that gave me time to run to the store to get ingredients for dinner and have something cooking by the time she got home, but now that we're commuting together, that doesn't work as well. But I am not without options.

We have access to lots of things to help: pressure cooker, crock pot, sous vide, and vacuum sealer. With these tools at my disposal, I should be able to prepare meals ahead of time in part, if not completely. Some things will always need to be cooked when arriving home, but when I can dial up my sous vide machine from the internet and tell it to start cooking, or set a delay timer on the pressure cooker, it should be easier to have more complex meals that didn't come out of a box or bag. I may even be able to use my weekend to prepare large batches of things which could then be frozen or stored for consumption at a later date. It all sounds so easy when I say it right now.

One thing is clear right now: I need to go to the grocery store.

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