On my first day back in the “World of People Who Can Eat Out,” I found myself at a table full of homemade food. It was Shabbat, and my hosts had transformed a box of local produce into tangy carrot-ginger soup, mashed potatoes with roasted red turnips, and vibrant purple coleslaw.
Even after 31 days without sit-down restaurants, take-out food, or even coffee to go, I wouldn’t have traded that for a Michelin-rated tasting menu.
Locally-sourced veggie dishes weren’t my only reminders of how good home cooking can be. During that month, I rediscovered several general categories and specific dishes that I had once loved but abandoned over the years. Many of them sync nicely with a locavore lifestyle.
For anyone interested in trying the month-long experiment, or who just wants to up their dose of home-cooked and local foods, here are a few of those ideas:
Start with a few handfuls of farmers market spring mix. Add sliced seasonal vegetables, some canned salmon, or a scoop of leftover beet salad, coleslaw, or kimchi. Dress with oil and vinegar, and you have a quick meal in.
I found it helpful to make these ahead. Then they’re ready to slather on bread for a quick sandwich any time, or pack in a small container with carrot, celery, or kohlrabi sticks for lunch.
Even though I eat fish, I still love the mock lox cream cheese I came up with when I was a vegetarian.
I also love feta spread. To make this, start with a ½ cup or so of plain yogurt, then add a few tablespoons of mayo and farmstead feta cheese. Add a clove of chopped garlic for a little kick.
There’s something about eating homemade lentils that helps me understand the whole Jacob-Esau birthright situation in a whole new way. Start by simmering 1 cup dry green lentils and a bay leaf in 3 cups water for 30 minutes, add a sprinkle of salt, and simmer for another 15 minutes. For soup, add a sautéed mirepoix of about ½ cup each of carrots, onions, and celery, then simmer again until the vegetables are tender. Easy! Simplify even further with a one-pot take on this.
For an Ethiopian flavor, caramelize a chopped onion in 3 Tbs. butter. Turn off the heat, add a few pinches of berebere spice mixture (which you can mix yourself or buy at many Ethiopian restaurants and international food markets), and allow it to brown. Add the seasoned onions to your batch of lentils and simmer for another few minutes. Add salt and more berebere to taste, then serve over rice – or the injera you couldn’t resist picking up when you bought the berebere.
If you want to eat in, remember these ubiquitous root vegetables available virtually year-round at farmers markets. Whenever you’re baking something, oil up two or three russets, pierce with a fork, and nestle on a bed of foil on any open oven rack for 45-90 minutes. Or cube and boil a few on the stovetop. (Reserve the water to make a sourdough starter). Refrigerated cooked potatoes slice and fry so beautifully, they put take-out fries to shame.
Do the same things with sweet potatoes, reducing cooking time by about half.
Overall, the month left me full of gratitude, which I will take with me as I continue to live on a limited budget and figure out my place in various food movements. I am grateful for becoming reacquainted with those foods above, for my refrigerator and kitchen, for the cooking skills gleaned from unexpected places.
I’m grateful for the forces that encourage me to see how people eat and grow food from many angles, like The Color of Food and the Paid Sick Days D.C. and Real Food, Real Jobs campaigns. I’m grateful for tools like the ROC United Diners Guide, Seafood WATCH, and the upcoming greenEase that can steer a night out in a sustainable direction.
I’m grateful for reminders like [this article] that is required reading for my undergrads and probably should be for all food writers.
And yes, I’m grateful that the first week of February was Restaurant Week in D.C. (I made three reservations before my month of eating in was even over!) It was also the week that political figures in one of the wealthiest counties in the country [took a SNAP challenge]. I don’t know if or how that month will change me in the long run, but I look forward to many more dinners in.
Rhea Yablon Kennedy has written about food, culture, and sustainability for The Washington Post’s On Faith blog, Washington Jewish Week, Examiner.com, and Edible Chesapeake magazine. Rhea lives in Washington, D.C., where she also teaches and gardens.