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I first tasted steaming-from-the-oven bread in college. It was an extraordinary, arguably life-changing moment. And yet, due to matters of time and the ease of buying decent artisanal breads nearby, I have never gotten into a regular rhythm of baking my own. But I would like to. With two new baking books on my cookbook shelf — “Inside the Jewish Bakery,” by Stanley Ginsberg and Norm Berg, and “Bread Alone: Bold Fresh Loaves From Your Own Oven,“ by Daniel Leader and Judith Blahnik — I am hopeful that this will be my year of dough.
•Donate to food-related charities.
I believe in paying a premium for good food, and supporting farmers and food producers who work with integrity. Meanwhile, many Americans do not have the luxury to be discerning about their food. In 2012, I hope to make more regular donations to the organizations — such as City Harvest, Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, People’s Grocery, Ample Harvest, Center for Food Safety, Feeding America and others — that work to create a just and safe food system. The goal: Donate to one organization each month, gifting the amount I would spend on a dinner out.
•Stop hiding behind food.
In a room full of cocktail-swilling partygoers, you will likely find me next door in the kitchen, restocking the platter of deviled eggs. I may appear to be the super-hostess or a very helpful guest, but in truth I am hiding. I am more comfortable busying myself with a task than facing the potential awkwardness of small talk or networking. But the real gift of any gathering is not the food — it’s the people that food brings together. This year, my aim is to step away from the kitchen and into the party.
•Learn about the Farm Bill.
The U.S. Farm Bill is a complex piece of legislation that allocates billions of dollars toward agricultural subsidies, hunger relief, emergency food aid and food stamps, among other food policies. The Farm Bill is up for congressional review in 2012. Considering the bill’s wide-reaching impact on farmers and food, I should really know more about it — but I am stuck in the realm of buzzwords. The online environmental magazine Grist has written a lot about the 2012 bill, and the Jewish environmental organization Hazon is working to galvanize Jewish communities around this critical piece of food legislation. I will start there.
•Exercise enough to justify my sweet tooth.
I have never had much willpower when it comes to eating. For the most part, I have been fortunate about satisfying my cravings (within reason) while maintaining stable health. And yet, my exercise-to-cheese-and-chocolate ratio is far from ideal. Last year saw some gains on this front. I did more yoga and began a semi-regular pushup and jogging regimen. With a long winter ahead, I hope to sustain and build on this foundation so I never have to say goodbye to macaroni and cheese or the occasional late night diner milkshake.
•Cook more adventurously.
Like many home cooks, I, too, often fall into a dinner rut. This year, spurred on by a wildly delicious recipe I recently made from Peter Berley’s book, “Fresh Food Fast” (the dish: balsamic-roasted seitan with cipollini onions), I am inspired to make better use of my cookbook collection. I would also like to get acquainted with unfamiliar ingredients, such as chile paste and lemon basil, and figure out how to maximize that jar of pomegranate molasses in my cupboard. Because — while I will always be warmed by a pan of lasagna — life is too short to eat within one’s comfort zone.
Leah Koenig writes a monthly column for the Forward on food and culinary trends. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.