Monday, September 01, 2008

Is anybody cooking? And, today's run.

From Thanksgiving of last year. Mom and me making the traditional lefse



I love to cook.

"Well, duh!" you say. "Your so-called running blog contains more drivel about food than anything!"

OK, true. But I do love to cook. And as I get older, I am seemingly learning that more and more people don't. Or in some cases, don't care. Or maybe don't know how.

It happens on a regular basis. As I microwave some leftovers in the break room at work, I often get the "What's for lunch today?" question, followed by "Did you make that yourself?" My invariable "Yes" response to the second question occasionally elicits a surprised look, followed by something like, "Wow, you must really like to cook!"

No, you didn't hear me. I love to cook!

I have been cooking since I was a kid. I have great memories of food; making my own scrambled eggs when I was young, helping Mom and Grandma make lefse, and watching Dad brew up his beer batter mixture to deep-fry fresh walleye from the local lakes.

Both my Mom and Dad are excellent cooks. We always had great meals, even though we were not rich by any stretch of the imagination. Food and cooking was important, as was the act of the meal itself. My brother (also an excellent cook and grill master) and I learned this well, and we both spend a great deal of time in the kitchen pursuing our culinary interests.

I had a few recent break room conversations with coworkers regarding cooking at home.

One girl told me opening a box of macaroni and cheese for dinner was considered ambitious for her. Another told me she hadn't cooked in her kitchen for over two months. And, while nuking some of my homemade lasagna, a girl told me that her sister had given her a recipe to make lasagna in, of all things, the crock pot, which she couldn't wait to try. (Crock pot lasagna?!? Ewww! I actually did ask if you needed to blow torch the top in order to brown the cheese!)

The most amazing story was the coworker who has lived in her house for five years and admitted she has used her stove twice in that time. (Good grief, sometime I have that number beat in a day!)

It should come as no surprise to anyone that many of the TV shows I watch are food and cooking-related. I read essays and books by food writers Ruhlman and Bourdain, and my bookshelf is overflowing with cookbooks. I love reading about cooking as much as I enjoy cooking itself.

In the near decade and a half that I have lived in the Cities, I have seen a huge transformation at the Minnesota grocery stores. Previously hard-to-find foods and ingredients are now readily available.

For instance, fifteen years ago when I was cooking with chipotle peppers that I had to track down through mail order, nobody had any idea what they were. Now these smoky peppers are everywhere, in seemingly everything, and the eponymous McDonald's-owned fast food burrito joint has helped bring the word "chipotle" into the national lexicon. Nuoc mam (Thai fish sauce) was never seen anywhere outside of an Asian market, but now it appears in the Asian food aisle of my local grocery store. Honest to goodness heirloom tomatoes are available in the produce department. For crying out loud, there is now a guy making take-out sushi right there in the store!

We are at a time in America where we have a bounty of good stuff to cook with. TV's Food Network has soared in popularity. People are crazy about restaurants and chefs. The number of cookbooks printed and sold in the US has increased dramatically in recent years. Enrollment numbers at culinary schools are rising rapidly.

But nobody seems to be cooking. Or, at least the people around me that I mentioned above. Perhaps they are a bad demographic? All of them are younger than me by at least a decade, many lead busy lives, etc. But it also made me wonder; is it that the younger generation doesn't care about cooking? Or perhaps even worse, maybe they don't know how to cook?

While food television, food literature, celebrity chefs, and great ingredients are everywhere, many schools' home economics programs (my Mom's profession) have disappeared from the curriculum. People are leading busy lives and work long hours, leaving precious little time to cook for themselves, or to teach their own kids to cook.

None of this is to criticize anyone who doesn't have time, or doesn't like, to cook. Certainly, cooking is not everyone's thing, and just because I am passionate about it doesn't mean that you have to me.

Still, it does worry me because so much cultural identity comes from food. If the people who can and like to cook do not have time to cook, which translates into not having time to teach their kids how to cook, who is going to make the lefse in 20 to 30 years?

Or, are they all going to grow up thinking a proper lasagna comes from a crock pot?

I don't have the answers, just lots of questions and observations. All I know is that lefse must be turned using a traditional lefse stick, and I won't let anyone forget that! :)

Since this is a running blog...

I had a really nice run this morning. Temperatures were in the high 60's, and it was humid and kind of breezy, but I still had a good strong run.

Today was just a 5 miler, during which time I encountered 5 rabbits, making for a perfect 1.0 BPM ratio, the highest of the season thus far! A good day for the bunnies.

I also saw one of the resident eagles. This was a treat, as I had not seen the eagle family in some time, since they don't hang around the nest as much now that the youngsters have grown.

Tonight's dinner is Thai basil chicken with rice stick noodles. The leftover's will be bound to strike up new and interesting conversations in the break room tomorrow!

Hope everyone had a fantastic and safe Labor Day weekend!

Until next time,

Jean
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