Despite some opinion to the contrary, I am not a very good cook. I am careless. I am usually more concerned with convenience and efficiency than I am with cooking. Although I love to eat, I do not have a nuanced palate and thus am perfectly willing to substitute one ingredient for another at my whim.
So where does the reputation come from? To start with, I do cook. I cook all our meals and always have. I don't own a microwave and would leave my husband in a New York minute if he ever brought one home as a surprise.
So the first leg of the stool is that I do indeed cook. The second leg is that I read a lot, retain about half of what I read, and thus can talk a good game. Ask me about something culinary. Go on, ask. If I don't know the answer off the top of my head (or if I can't manufacture a plausible answer), then I can find it for you quick as a wink (and not on the Internet). So I sound as if I might be able to cook.
The third leg of this milking-stool story is that I cook from scratch. My husband says that our back room is full of large bags labelled "Scratch," into which I dip as I begin to prepare a meal. I pride myself on making my own this and my own that. (Someone spoke to me recently about letting go of my "pride"and I scoured my brain hunting for instances of pride. Well, I just found a major one!) My own ricotta. My own catsup. My own pancetta. My own lard. My own bread.
Anyone could do this, since it isn't difficult cooking. It takes a little time, but not much talent. I've always done it. This is who I am. So the question is, why? Why bother?
Have you inferred my politics from things I've previously said? It isn't as if I don't wear my heart on my sleeve. Politics is why I make my own lard and ricotta. I have always distrusted the corporate world, and I've seen nothing over the years to change my opinion.
Here's my view. Imagine a baker named Susie Q. When Susie made cakes in her kitchen, all those many years ago, she made very good cakes. When she turned her cake-making into a small local business, she made very good cakes. When Susie Q went corporate, her responsibility was no longer to her customers but to her shareholders. Susie's cakes began to decline in quality. Using all butter, which was more expensive than other fats, cut into the profit margins. Powdered eggs were cheaper than fresh eggs, and much less labour-intensive. Susie's mixer, which made three cakes at a time, was replaced with industrial mixers that made 3000 cakes at a time.
The bottom line is this:. Susie Q's cakes are no longer what they used to be--and might not be what you want to put into your mouth or the mouths of your children. Susie Q no longer has control of her product; it's all about shareholders and profit.
I make my own lard because lard from the supermarket is hydrogenated (though why they need to hydrogenate lard I don't know). I like to cook with lard, and I want animal fat, not genetically modified oils that have been hydrogenated. So I make my own.
I make my own ricotta because I can, and because I've never found a source for ricotta made from organically produced milk. It's easy and it gives me a by-product of whey, which I use in making soups and breads. (I could be buying powdered whey supplements instead, but see the Sara Lee story above.)
My point is that because I am so cynical about our corporate world, I have no choice but to make as many food items as I can. The corporate concern does not include my health or my nutritional intake. Their concern is their own bottom line, and I refuse to contribute to it.
Substitute "agri-biz" for "corporate world" and you will understand why I buy as much produce and meat as I can from small family farms. Three cheers for the Dufferin Grove Organic Farmers' Market!
I must tell you, however, that when I eat outwhether at a cheap-and-cheerful place, at a high-end restaurant, or at the home of friendsall bets are off. I eat what's put in front of me.