Why Wednesdays? – Why I Eat . . . Series Recap

A Note About This Feature:  Why Wednesdays is a Move Eat Create weekly feature determined to turn the mid-week doldrums upside down and celebrate things I love to do and blog about.  Currently, the focus is on food, cooking, and eating.

 

Food is serious business.  As I’ve discussed over the course of this series, it impacts our health, our energy, our brains, our emotions, our bank accounts, and so on.  It’s a need that every human being has in common, yet we all have our own unique relationships to it.

Plate of raw veggies - edited

Food is also fraught with contradictions, making it a complex issue.  For instance, consider how a meal made of just a few humble ingredients can taste so complex and flavorful.  Or, how a $2.00 taco from a food truck can taste utterly rich with flavor, while a $30 pasta dish can be bland and dull if not prepared with attention.  Think about how sitting down to a meal by yourself may feel lonely on certain days, but incredibly indulgent and peaceful on others.   Also still, enjoying that same meal with loved ones can be a long-lasting memorable experience.

My point, of course, is that food is one of the most complex aspects of our lives and societies, but for some reason, we spend so much of our time treating it as if it is inconsequential.  We shove it down without patience, swallow without tasting, purchase without reading labels, and toss it away without consideration.  We may encounter food dozens of times throughout a single day, yet not spend more than a few seconds ever really thinking about it.

This has to change.

Fortunately, I think it’s starting to.

tofu - edited

With a focus of late on obesity and food costs to start, people are starting to think about food on a deeper level.  Advocates for local and sustainable food consumption and production are making some noise.  Activists are fighting for clear and proper labeling on packaged foods.  Governments are realizing that youth need help with intervention directly in schools.  And people like us are being a bit more thoughtful.

As I’ve shared in prior posts, my relationship with food has morphed dramatically over my lifetime.  I’m still not perfect, nor would I ever expect to be, but I do think that I have made great strides to not only be more sound in my food choices from both a health and social standpoint, but I’ve also made strides in enjoying it more.  I used to think I was enjoying food, but really I didn’t even know what real food was.  Fast food and processed packages just can’t hold a candle to ripe fruit, well seasoned vegetables, hearty muffins straight from the oven, or homemade bread.

Pile of muffins - edited

Plus, I was so caught up in the blame game with food that it cast a gloomy cloud over every encounter I had with it.  I was so busy telling myself I was bad for eating this or I’d eaten too much of that or I’d never look like so and so if I ate this, that all eating did for me was reinforce negative feelings and beliefs.  Sadly, this is not unusual, especially for women (though I’m sure you guys have some of it, too), but it IS unacceptable.   I don’t want to pass this habit onto future generations.

I did a quick Google search for an actual definition of food and here is what I got:

Food:

Noun; Any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink, or that plants absorb, in order to maintain life and growth.

Read that carefully, please.  Any NUTRITIOUS substance that people or animals eat or drink, or that plants absorb, in order to maintain LIFE and GROWTH.

That says so much to me about where we need to head when it comes to our beliefs and actions around food in our country.  Nutritious.  Life.  Growth.  I’m going to remember those three key words and try to apply them in my own diet.

It only takes a minute to ask myself:

  • Is what I’m about to eat going to be NUTRITIOUS to my overall diet?
  • Will it help me maintain my own quality of LIFE (and of others involved in its production)?
  • Will it help me continue to GROW in healthy ways?

If I can answer ‘yes’ to those three questions, I think I’ll be off to a fine start.

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Previous Entries in This Series:

#8 – Why I Eat . . . Some of My Favorite Foods

#7 – Why I Eat . . . Strictly For Myself

#6 – Why I Eat . . . Local

#5 – Why I Eat . . . To Heal and To Fuel

#4 – Why I Eat . . . Food From My Own Kitchen

#3 – Why I Eat . . . Plants!

#2 – Why I Eat . . . With Reverence

#1 –  Why I Eat . . . Thoughtfully

How To Make Homemade Vegetable Stock (and A Few Thoughts On Sustainability)

It’s difficult to put into words what it is exactly about making vegetable stock that makes me feel so satisfied.  But of all the things I have cooked, baked, assembled, or concocted, the process and product of homemade vegetable stock illicit in me a feeling of contentment that is uniquely its own.

Go veggies, go!

I think ultimately it comes down to frugality and sustainability.  I am always looking for ways to save money where I can, especially in the kitchen.  Saving money in one aspect of food costs allows me to splurge occasionally on indulgent, but amazing ingredients at other times (vanilla beans come to mind, for instance).  So making my own vegetable stock is a very budget friendly endeavor.

But even more than financial savings, making my own vegetable stock feels like such a simple way to practice sustainability – a concept which is very important to me.  We use a lot of vegetables in my home and instead of tossing out stems and stumps, all of the veggie odds and ends get tossed into a Ziplock freezer bag.  Every few weeks, I pull out that bag and put those forlorn vegetable scraps to good use.  It is an immensely satisfying process to take something otherwise destined to be unused and discarded and rather to make something wonderful out of it.  And, homemade vegetable stock is a wonderful thing!  It has so many uses.  You can use it in the obvious places – soups, stews, and sauces.  But you can also use it in place of water as the cooking liquid for rice, quinoa, beans, and other grains and legumes.  It adds a nice subtle flavor and richness to these items.  You can even use it as a substitute for some of the oil in dips and spreads, such as hummus (don’t replace all the oil, but about half can be substituted with great results).

So, if you’re a tosser-outer of vegetable scraps, consider brewing up your own stock from time to time.  Your budget, your ‘green’ nature, and your meals will love it!

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Homemade Vegetable Stock Tips & Method

Common Ingredients:

You can use just about any vegetable – just know that their natural flavor profiles will subtly flavor the stock.  So, if you want a sweeter stock use items such as bell peppers, carrots, and other root vegetables.  If you want a spicier stock, think of items like radishes.  I generally go for a balanced flavor profile and my most commonly used vegetable scraps include carrot tops and leaves, bell pepper caps, broccoli stems, onion wedges and celery bits.

Fresh versus Frozen:

As I mentioned, I freeze my vegetable bits so that they don’t rot before use.   You can also use fresh vegetables, too, and I do this when I have them to spare.  When I make a batch, I often go through my vegetables on hand.  If I know that there is a lone carrot or a random stump of cauliflower that isn’t going to get used before it turns bad, I’ll surely throw it in the pot with my frozen pieces.  Just remember to never use vegetables that have turned bad or spoiled – they will harm the flavor or your stock.

To Season or Not to Season?

There are differing opinions about whether to salt and season a stock or not.  My general modus operandi is to salt the stock sparingly, just to help bring out some of the flavors of the vegetables, but not so much that it will later overwhelm whatever dish I use it in.  I have in the past added sprigs of parsley and thyme to my stock and that has been a very nice addition as well.  Ultimately, you get to be creative with your flavor development here.  Make the stock’s flavor as subtle or as bold as you wish!

Cooking Time/Method

It’s very simple.  Begin by tossing your vegetables into a large stockpot.   I usually add quite a bit, covering the bottom of my pot in a layer or two of vegetables.  Then fill pot with water to about an inch or two below the top.  If you are adding salt or other seasonings, do so now. Bring water to a boil over high heat and then reduce to a low simmer, covered.  Let simmer for 1 – 1 ½ hours.  Don’t cook longer than this, as the vegetables can leach out all their flavor and may turn bitter if overcooked.

Straining & Storage

When the stock is done cooking, scoop out the large chunks of vegetables and discard.  Then, pour stock through a strainer and cheese cloth to get out all small bits that may have broken down into the liquid.  I think a cheese cloth in addition to a strainer is essential to this process – it will really catch all the small particles floating around in there.  Finally, scoop your desired amount of stock into storage containers and freeze or refrigerate.  I use inexpensive food storage containers (i.e. Gladware) and store my stock in 1 cup servings.  They stack nicely in the back of my freezer.  When ready to use, simply defrost as many cups as you need.  Of course there is no need to freeze if you use the stock within 2-3 days of making – just refrigerate it.  The frozen stock can be stored for several months before using, though it is unlikely it will last that long if you cook regularly!