What the hell is breakaway cooking, and what does it have to do with this baby?
Easy part first: This little buddha girl is our daughter Daphne, as many of you know by now. And I just turn to her whenever I need a good image for an abstract post! I often open up random spices for her to smell. She seems to enjoy it.
I’ve been defining breakaway cooking for more than 10 years as a style of “weeknight” home cooking that uses a lot of global ingredients and good produce in freewheeling and untraditional ways. The food tends be to unfussy, healthful, relatively quick, nutritious, and packed with flavor. It leans heavily on the great culinary ingredients and techniques of Japan, India, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia without “sticking” to any of those traditions. We’re interested in making food that makes us deliriously happy, and if we have to break a few traditions and rules to do that, so be it — we’re just not worried being “authentic” (whatever that means — it’s an endless source of argument for chefs and cooks in every country on earth). All we want is breakfast, dinner, and lunch on the table, and we want it to be good.
So how can the breakaway approach to food make you cook, feel, and live better?
It all starts with a simple acknowledgement: that food is important, that eating has a HUGE impact on the nitty gritty of daily life. When you eat well, you feel good — you work with a clearer mind, you have more energy, creativity flows better. Your body’s various biological systems just work better. Conversely, when you eat crappy food, you feel crappy — you might feel lethargic, you tend to crave MORE food because you’re not satisfied with what you’ve just had, you might upset your digestive system. How we feel throughout the day is, at least in my experience, strongly correlated to what we put inside our bodies.
One way or another, we have to feed ourselves. Many of us cook, and many of us don’t — we just somehow get by with takeout, we go to restaurants, we succumb to fast food, we buy frozen meals from Trader Joe’s or supermarkets, we assemble salads occasionally, make a pasta here and there. We just sort of … make do.
This business of eating takes a great deal of time and energy, no matter what we do. If we cook, we have to shop for ingredients, prep them, cook them, and clean up. If we don’t cook — that is, if we outsource our need to eat to food companies — we still have to get to the restaurant or takeout counter or supermarket deli or wherever, pay (usually too much) for it, and come back home.
Once we accept that food plays such a massive role in our health and well-being, the next step seems painfully obvious: we have to make it priority to feed ourselves well.
In stark contrast to just a few generations ago, feeding ourselves well is so much easier today! Most of us can walk out our front doors and find very high quality raw ingredients, we have access to the world’s great cuisines just by visiting some ethnic markets, and we can order just about anything on earth with the click of a button and a credit card. Everything is available from anywhere, anytime! The earth continues to radically shrink, and home cooks continue to be the beneficiaries of it.
The flip side: it’s also easier than ever to buy packaged crap, heat-and-eat frozen meals, calorie-laden meals in restaurants that rely on hyperpalatability. It’s almost as if the “work” of feeding ourselves has been outsourced to those that can do it the cheapest and who can make it the most convenient. What’s missing in all this convenience, however, is the concept of “taking ownership” of what you put into your body. Breakaway cooks don’t look at the concept of feeding ourselves as work, or an unpleasant chore to get through. Taking a half hour or an hour to prepare something wholesome and tasty is the opposite of a waste of time; it’s an ideal opportunity, one that comes three times a day, to be in the moment, to become absorbed in the very old dance of connecting to the natural world. It delivers huge benefits to both the cook and to his or her family and friends. It’s a practice that has a lot in common with yoga or meditation. You get more comfortable, and freer, with it as you do it more. So please don’t think of cooking as a waste of time. It’s the opposite! And the breakaway approach can help.