Everyone seems to be posting their meals on social media these days. It’s like the boring old days of Facebook, when everyone posted photos of their restaurant meals. We’re all trapped at home now (in the US, anyway), so no one is getting those restaurant meals anymore. They are trying to replicate them at home. So I guess people’s cooking skills are improving, which is good, but social media is getting a bit dull. Well, except for the apocalyptic fire and flood posts, and the Black Lives Matter posts, and the election posts, and the “wear your damned mask” posts. But aside from those, it’s a lot of food.
And I’m not even going to go into the sourdough bread posts. Soooo many sourdough loaves on display. Someone I know posts a picture of their daily loaf. It’s amazing.
The food I cook has never been photogenic, and I’m usually too interested in eating it to take a picture. I tend to cook one-pot meals with some veggies or salad on the side. I used to cook fancy food from actual recipes when I was in my 20s and 30s (i.e. before I became a solo parent at 39). I used to love cooking. Indian food. Chinese food. Thai food. West African food. East African food. All of it. Since I had a kid, and a kid with a limited palate, cooking’s become more of a chore. I still love cooking when I do it, but a lot of what I loved to cook, Emma wouldn’t eat, so things have gotten simple over the last 14 years. I also work, and I don’t have time to cook a bunch of different meals every day. Emma likes her food plain (steamed veggies, pasta with marinara sauce or butter, boxed mac and cheese, basic salads, and my one-pot meals like lentil stew or chili with rice). Not a lot of incentive to cook gourmet meals. But at least she’s happy eating the same foods over and over, which keeps it simple.
Also, I’ve got to admit, I’ve barely been cooking at all since March 2020. I’ve been preparing all our meals (except the very occasional take-out from our favorite Thai place). But I do my best cooking when I’m feeling happy and content, and I haven’t been feeling much of either of those since this whole pandemic thing has blown up in our faces. We are in the middle of an absolute shitshow, especially here in the US with our psychopathic dictator-wannabe “president.” It’s just not cooking season. I have to force myself to make something, and when I do, I make a lot so we have leftovers for days. Yesterday we finished up a big pot of lentils that I made on Sunday. Or was it Saturday? Who knows?
I think it’s great that people are doing more of their own cooking instead of eating out all the time. It’s healthier, for sure. Although of course it depends on the home-cooking and the restaurants you used to eat at. I remember talking to one of my students a couple of years BC (Before COVID), and I mentioned something about while I was cooking dinner. Her jaw dropped. “You can COOK?” I nodded. She went on, “I can’t cook. My mother NEVER cooked.” Her mother would have been my age. I guess it’s not something we do anymore.
I heard a lot of this sort of thing from my students over the years. There was the young man who grew up on Hot Pockets, for example, because he had a single working mom. I know this, because he wrote his research paper on Hot Pockets for my Politics of Food course. So if the COVID-19 pandemic brings back home cooking as a habit, I think that’s a good thing. Because those prepared frozen foods will kill you.
In the hopes that I will cook again someday, I save recipes from my favorite vegetarian food blog, The Circus Gardener’s Kitchen. Go there, now that I’ve given you the link, and tell them I sent you. You’ll love it. We won’t get referral bonuses or anything; this is social media the old-fashioned way, where you don’t buy popularity by giving away freebies. But trust me, you’ll enjoy the blog. What I love about the Circus Gardener is that aside from having some fantastic and very doable vegetarian recipes, Steve also writes about food politics, which is one of my favorite topics. He writes about global supply chains, the greenhouse gas contributions of the dairy industry, why obesity is prevalent among the poor, and so on, and then he gives you a delicious recipe, too. It’s a great combination.
I will probably cook again someday. I mean really cook. But in the meanwhile, we get by on my toddler’s—I mean teen’s palate. She likes my cooking. Loves, it, really. She used to brag about my chili to her friends, and she even shared it with a teacher in second grade. She says, “Yay!” when I tell her I’m cooking lentils for dinner. But she’s also perfectly happy with her boxed mac and cheese, our Friday night frozen pizza (heated up, of course), and whatever else I manage to throw together when I’m not working or writing or reading the news.
Hooray for simple tastes. Especially in a pandemic.
(Note: The pictures in this post are actually of food I prepared in Mongolia. I haven’t photographed any of my food since.)
Oh, and here’s the chili recipe. I usually wing it, but I was asked to teach a cooking class in Mongolia how to prepare something from my home country, and this is what I made them, so I had to write it down. It was too spicy for them, even the mild version I make for my kid. Many Mongolians are not into spicy food. If you’re into spicy food, add cayenne pepper to the recipe. I used to. Oh, and sorry about the “English” measures (I am American after all); you can search up the equivalents.
Jericho’s Famous Vegan Chili (Adapted for people with kids)
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil (I use grapeseed oil, usually)
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped (I leave out most of the garlic these days because my kid hates it, so I mince one clove really really small)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (or more) ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon (or more) chili powder
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano (though once my kid was like, “What’s that green stuff?” I add it anyway.)
- Salt and ground pepper to taste
- 1 green or red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch dice (but who measures? Just cut it up!)
- 3/4 cup (6 ounce can) tomato paste
- 2 cans (15.5 ounces) red kidney beans, rinsed and drained (I used to use dried beans until I had a kid; now I’m more in a hurry. I try to get the “no added sodium” cans.)
- 2 cans (14.5 ounces) diced or crushed tomatoes (my kid hates tomatoes, so I use crushed; they are less obvious)
- 1 cup frozen corn (optional; it makes it more colorful if you have a little kid)
- 2 cups water
Directions: In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent and garlic is soft, about 4 minutes. Add cumin, chili powder, and oregano, and cook until spices are fragrant, 1 minute. Add bell pepper and tomato paste; cook, stirring frequently, until tomato paste is deep red, 3 minutes. Stir in canned beans, tomatoes, and the optional frozen corn. Add 2 cups water and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce to a medium simmer and cook until peppers are tender and liquid reduces slightly, 20 minutes. Adjust spices to taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with rice or grain of your choice. Or a slice of bread, even. Keeps for days in the fridge (tastes better as leftovers, even) and can be frozen to eat later, so double or triple the recipe if you want. I usually do.