I hate to cook ... less.
Nearly two years ago, I wrote an unapologetic rant about the miseries of being someone who has actually cooking skills but despises having to use them. Given the limited down time I have after work, I described cooking as a "hamster-wheel activity that would fall to the bottom of my to-do list if it weren’t for the small matter of starvation."
But last summer, I confess that my attitude toward cooking changed, marginally, for the better. It started out as a matter of happenstance.
The Buffalo News sent out an email last spring saying Porter Farms, an organic farm just north of Batavia, would be delivering fresh vegetables directly to The News building for anyone who wished to buy a community farm share. For a flat fee, they would deliver a bag of organic vegetables once a week from mid-June to mid-November.
I deleted the email, but then a representative from the farm showed up in our lobby. Being a reporter, I peppered her with a bunch of questions, took a flier and thought about it.
The sad truth was, very little fresh produce made it through the front door of our house. Most dinner items were dried and boxed or frozen. I didn't care if it tasted blah and overprocessed as long as I didn't have to make it, but living in a house occupied by three athletes, two of whom are growing boys, the Porter Farms offer seemed like a sign.
Fresh, healthy food was coming right to my doorstep. I just had to get over aversion to cooking for six months. Then I was off the hook.
So I signed up, splitting my enormous bag of veggies with another colleague. Thus began a long, strange fresh food odyssey.
Here are a few things I learned along the way:
- Swiss chard is not some kind of cheese.
- If you try to make soup with red cabbage, your family will be stuck eating muddy-colored purple soup.
- Butternut squash must be peeled. So start on your bicep curls now or you won't manage it.
- Celery is not recognizable in its natural state.
- Raw kale tastes like cardboard. But simmered in a skillet with bacon? Yum. Yes, I'm saying it: I like kale.
Last summer and fall marked the best stretch of at-home dining in my family's eating experience. We lingered at the table and circulated dishes as we all reached in for seconds and thirds. I even received unsolicited compliments from my children.
Naturally, problems surfaced. First, there were more vegetables in the farm share bag than I could reasonably cook each week, even after splitting it with someone else. After being repeatedly reminded as a child there were starving children in Africa, I had – still have – a high aversion to food waste.
The second problem was time. It was extremely difficult to get dinner on the table at a reasonable hour if it required me to actually cook. Even after finding super easy recipes that would take relatively little effort on my part, I was still dealing with raw vegetables in their whole, unprepped, organic glory.
Finally, there were a number of vegetables I simply couldn't identify. Have you ever seen kohlrabi? Imagine a Martian in vegetable form.
Each of these problems was eventually resolved.
In terms of excess veggies, I had to get creative with storage and with recipes. One day, I complained to News Food Editor Andrew Galarneau about losing all my fridge space.
"Frittatas," he answered.
Frittatas, I learned, are basically thick, baked omelets. You can chop up almost any assortment of vegetables into small pieces, add it to a scrambled egg mixture, throw it in the oven, and voila! Dinner is served. The other all-purpose veggie medium was pasta. Same deal. Start boiling the pasta, add cut-up veggies partway through. Drain. Sauce. Dinner.
The issue of finding time to prepare dinner was resolved by broadening our family's definition of what hours constituted "dinnertime." During farm share season, dinnertime became 8:30 p.m. Any homework or chores that would normally come after dinner were moved ahead of dinner, along with a plate of snacks.
As for identifying vegetables, Google was quite helpful. I will never confuse a zucchini with a cucumber again. I also got help from the farm's site and emails.
Even with those tools, well, let's just say mistakes were made.
One time, I was confronted with a very leafy, long-stemmed vegetable that stumped me. It had a strong aroma, with leaves that resembled flat-leaf parsley. OK, I decided, Porter Farms is growing some bionic parsley. So for a couple weeks, I was chopping up the leaves, sprinkling them in dishes and throwing out the long stems.
I was chagrined to later learn my "bionic parsley" was actually a fragrant and anemic-stemmed bunch of celery! Here I was throwing the stalks in the trash. In my defense, this celery looked nothing like the fat, sterile-smelling, non-organic celery in the grocery store that has most of its bushy leaves hacked off.
When growing season ended in November and cooking was no longer an issue for me, I actually felt kind of sad about it.
The farm share truck returns this week and I, a professed cooking hater, find myself caught by a sense of eagerness. It's a feeling worth sharing.
So, if there's interest, I may occasionally write up some of my borne-of-desperation veggie recipes and tips for fellow cooking-haters-who-cook as the growing season runs its course. I'm living proof that even cooking haters can survive a farm share experience and come out the other end feeling richer.