In pondering my ardent support of home cooking, I started thinking about why I feel so strongly that we should be preparing more of our own meals. I realized that my firm convictions are founded more on a reaction against restaurant eating than for home cooking, per se. I mean, while I do enjoy the process of cooking most of the time, sometimes it does feel like a chore and sometimes I would rather be doing something else (and then there’s the dishes you have to wash afterward).
Here’s my beef with restaurants: It would be very, very difficult to eat in restaurants frequently and be healthy. Not impossible, but very difficult. Basically, you would have to:
- Have enough disposable income to eat at restaurants that use fresh, local ingredients with a minimum of the pre-made soup bases and other industrially produced shortcuts that many restaurants use.
- Have the discernment to choose the healthiest dishes from the menu.
- Have the willpower to stop eating before becoming full, no matter how much food was served to you.
Hard to do? Yes. That’s why I think restaurants are best reserved as treats, not a form of daily sustenance. You know, the way it used to be in the “olden days.” Even the better restaurants (with few exceptions) do not base their business model on being healthy. They base it on filling seats and selling as much food as possible. To achieve those ends, the food needs to make people want to eat more of it, in that visit and on subsequent visits. So even restaurants that use quality ingredients will likely use more fat, sugar and salt than you would at home.
There was a time when Jeff and I ate in restaurants a lot. Some nice restaurants, but a lot of the “upscale casual” chain restaurants, too. And a fair amount of fast food. I’ve eaten at McD’s once since 1999, and BK twice (and once was a salad). As the years have gone by, I’ve added more and more restaurants to my “never again” list, because I realize that their food is either a) kind of gross, b) overpriced for what you get or c) no more satisfying than what I could make at home.
Observe the photo at the top of this post. That was last night’s dinner. A to-die-for egg salad that I’ve made twice before on a slice of crusty bread from Whole Foods. Dandelion greens from yesterday’s Full Circle box tossed with a warm vinaigrette (olive oil, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper). Peas from our garden, boiled very briefly and tossed with good-quality butter and salt and pepper.
Really, other than a few favorite ethnic restaurants, an occasional jaunt to a local bakery for a scone or croissant and a few great sandwich spots I like to go to once in a blue moon, I have no love for restaurants anymore. Been there, done that, and I’m so over it. I like to know what it is I’m putting in my body, and restaurants offer too much mystery in that regard.
So imagine my dilemma when Jeff and I realized that our 15th wedding anniversary is coming up in a few months (followed closely by the 20th anniversary of our first date). That calls for a celebration, right (especially since I was in a cast and on crutches for our 10th anniversary)? A trip is out, since I’ll be in the middle of the school term with my nose stuck in a book. A fancy restaurant date? That thought did not fill me with joy. I don’t like the idea of spending the amount of money it would take to have a really memorable meal, but if we’re going to dine out, I certainly don’t want it to be mediocre!
Yesterday, Jeff texted me with a brilliant solution: Whole Foods! We can choose a bottle of wine, put together salads and an appetizer plate at the food bar, pick out a piece of meat (I’m thinking lamb chop) from the meat counter and have them cook it to order. There are any number of wonderful, small-portion desserts in the bakery, and the espresso bar is conveniently located right next to the dining area. Perfection! We can eat exactly what we want, in exactly the portions we want. We know the ingredients are high-quality, we’re not paying restaurant mark-ups…and while we’ll have to bus our own table, we won’t have to do dishes!
Hmmmm…didn’t quite make it to the tips for the newbie cook. I guess I got distracted. As a consolation prize, I did add more volumes to my Cookbook Library page, and tomorrow I will offer some suggestions for some cookbooks and recipe-based websites that would be great for newbies, whether it’s yourself or a son, daughter, niece or nephew who is starting out in the world.