My kitchen is filled with that horrid pre-Thanksgiving smell of charred grease wafting from my “self-cleaning” oven and I’ve used that reserved energy from having to scrub and scrape the oven to sit here, sip hot tea and browse the internet. Aside from the foreign policy and political sites, Pinterest has become one of my favorite sites. With 72 boards and over 2,000 pins, I feel like a pro at pinning ideas to my boards. Naturally, Pinterest gets flooded with seasonal recipes, craft, and decorating ideas, which replaced much of my magazine browsing from years gone by. A new slow cooker sweet potato recipe caught my eye and I am going to try it out with my Thanksgiving meal, since I’m the only one who eats sweet potatoes and the new recipe, Orange-Sage Sweet Potatoes with Bacon, has a whole lot less sugar than my traditional candied sweet potatoes and might be a good change. Life in a modern kitchen cooking traditional meals has become so much easier and I enjoy the melding of the two.
In recent years, “brining the turkey” became a trendy new idea among American chefs, despite the fact that brining goes back into antiquity and my PA Dutch ancestors have been devotees for centuries. My mother brined all poultry before cooking and I do likewise. Now, I read a worrisome piece by The Thinking Housewife, “The Decline of Chopping”, on the demise of vegetable chopping due to pre-cut, ready-to-use produce that has come into vogue. She offers chopping vegetables as therapy, an idea that sounds like it fell from the lips of my own mother, who would give us something to do, if we uttered those words, “I’m bored” or “there’s nothing to do”:
“There is perhaps another reason for the decline of chopping. At the cutting board, one is sometimes alone with one’s own thoughts. Some people in our vain, heavily mediated and distracted world, perhaps through no fault of their own, have no thoughts at all. They only have sensations and emotions. Thus they discover at the cutting board that there’s no there there. For these people, much to be pitied, chopping would be therapeutic. Doctors should perhaps send some of the depressed home with prescriptions to chop so many onions and cabbages a day.”
In large families chores are often assigned by ability over strict rules of “fair distribution of labor” and I became the loyal chopper, peeler, mashing stuff through a sieve person. Between my mother and my oldest sister, who gained culinary artistry skills in her teens, there existed no room for any more management in our kitchen, so I was the one who would just ask what size they wanted the various vegetables chopped, diced, minced, etc. and then I found a quiet spot at the kitchen table to focus on uniform size and think about how someday I would like to pick my own recipes to cook and not be under their tyranny. Yes, I dreamed of revolting and trying my own culinary ideas, but to this day, I remain a very precise and diligent chopper and while my thoughts don’t quite plumb the depth of “there’s no there there”, most assuredly lofty thoughts on edifying topics never crossed my mind either. And really, a food processor can perform a wider variety of chopping functions than I ever dreamed of with a paring knife and chef’s knife (my two go-to knives) or even with this amazing Cutco Santuko-style knife. A neighbor’s daughter took to selling Cutco knives door-to-door years ago as one her first jobs, thus my one truly marvelous knife.
Frankly, most of the people buying fresh produce know how to handle it in its full state and while the pre-cut and ready-to-use stuff offers convenience, most shoppers do consider the cost and opt for the less costly whole vegetables. Farmer’s markets across America are thriving too, so I don’t share The Thinking Housewife’s worries on the demise of chopping. Yes, I use crinkle cut fresh carrots in my soups and stews if I get off from work late and want to throw a meal together, just don’t waste your money on frozen diced up onions and assorted peppers, in hopes of speeding up Tex-mex recipe preparation. I tried them, so you don’t have to have mushy onions and peppers in your chili.
My store sells a bazillion (yes, really we do) cans of sweet potatoes, but there are plenty of folks like me, who always buy fresh, whole sweet potatoes, and we sell through a bazillion of them too. That’s what I like about America, you are free to choose and for me, I love the traditional, but some years here in the Deep South, I have been known to rework my holiday menu to more summery foods like potato salad, if it’s one of those very warm Thanksgivings here. I don’t care if we have turkey or ham and one year the kids asked me to prepare roast beef. We always have plenty to eat, but being a Yankee at heart, I just can’t adopt sweet potato pie, no matter how many years I live here. Pumpkin pie, made from fresh cooked pumpkin (which used to be a must) to nowadays canned pumpkin, doesn’t matter a bit to me, and if I’m in too much of a hurry, I might even sink to a store-bought pie altogether. Yes, my mother is turning over in her grave, but there you have it – I opt for easy quite often in recent years.
This whole issue brought to mind a conversation with one of my sons years ago, after he had visited my very busy sister, who was still a full-time state trooper in PA, with a husband and two kids, involved in too many after-school activities. After his visit we were talking and my sister’s driving skills came up in conversation, because she can traverse the winding mountain roads back home at breakneck speeds. She also whipped through a lot of fast food lines while he was visiting, as she rushed between work, shopping chores, carting her kids around, etc. My son told me she told him not to tell me, the stay-at-home-cook-dinner every night-mom, how much fast food she buys. I didn’t judge her, because I didn’t know how she managed all the stress of her work, plus taking care of her family and all of the housework too. I admired her for working so hard all the time and rarely taking any time for herself. And I certainly wouldn’t think less of her if she opted for pre-packaged, ready-to-use vegetables from the produce department. Feminists make up straw man arguments to attack men, conservatives and anyone else who disagrees with them. I’ve noticed that vocal “housewives/homemakers/stay-at-home Moms” often do the same thing, heaping grave societal value on trivialities like the demise of chopping. Homemade, semi-homemade or store bought matters not a whit, it’s the time you make for the people in your life that really counts:-)