Have you scrapbooked the story of your food evolution yet? You might not think you have a story to tell about your food — let alone an interesting one. But there is an innate human attachment to food that bonds us to our families, our friends, our cultural heritage, and even sometimes to our own emotional instabilities.
I have three questions that will probably make you realize that you actually do have an interesting food story! You can answer these three questions for one layout or mini-book, or you can separate them into different projects.
- How has your food evolved since you first started cooking?
- How is your food different from the food you were raised with?
- What’s Your Planning, Shopping, and Cooking Method?
I’m already making a mini-book for the third question, and I might combine the other two into a larger mini-album. For the next three posts I’ll share with you the words of my stories, the photos I’m pulling together, and a description or pictures of the starts of my actual projects. Maybe my own stories will spark even more ideas for your own!
Today let’s start with the first question.
How has your food evolved since you first started cooking?
I started this story with my journaling and then I gathered some digital photos into a set on Flickr that will help me illustrate it. Below is my journaling and photography with a few extra notes to answer questions from people who have asked me about our way of eating and how to transition. I’ll also share my idea for how I’ll pull this together into an album.
In The Beginning
I learned to cook in the Philippines and it was Filipinos who taught me. So when I first got married, I mainly cooked Filipino food!
At some point Izzy confided in me, saying, “I really love your Filipino cooking, but I also kinda miss eating American food, too!” So I taught myself to cook by trying new recipes almost daily for at least thirteen years. I love trying new things, and it’s through that experience — noticing consistent patterns in how to do things — that I learned to cook non-Asian foods!
The Middle Stages
One day I mentioned something to a friend about the menu I had planned for the week and she looked at me funny. “You plan a menu?” After a little conversation I discovered she cooked the same handful of things over and over again. That was a completely foreign idea to me. She bought the same things at the store every week and then picked one of her regular meal options from her pantry at dinner time.
It turns out that’s the method of a whole lot of people and I realized my cooking ways were different from those of my friends and family.
We had some favorites that I repeated three or four times a year. That left the rest of the meals to new recipes. This practice led to many gradual shifts in the foods I chose to make. By the end of the first decade of our marriage I had almost completely eliminated red meat from our at-home diet. We ate chickens and turkeys (mostly the white meat — oh, the waste) and fish or shrimps. Shrimps were my favorite and I probably served them in some form or another close to once a week.
I learned to use fresh herbs in addition to dry and we have always used only fresh vegetables. I almost never buy canned or frozen veggies, though we do get frozen fruit for smoothies.
The fresh veggies and herbs, along with my years of new recipe experiments, prepared me for what might seem like a drastic move to some, though it was an easy switch and one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.
In 2008 I made a two-week transition from being a healthy meat-and-dairy eater to a vegetarian — vegan, to be exact. During that two week transition into veganism I was fully vegetarian and that two weeks existed only to give me time to learn how to eat healthfully and do a bit of shopping.
A note for those of you who have expressed a desire to transition toward some level of vegetarianism: If you almost never try new recipes, I suggest you try one new vegetarian recipe every week. If you already do try new recipes here and there, maybe try new veg recipes for half the nights that you cook. Eventually you will collect a whole new list of favorites and you won’t miss the old stuff. In the meantime, you don’t have to completely abandoned the foods you’ve loved for so long while you’re trying to find new stuff you like. Also, if you want to become vegan, this will give you time to learn how to do it healthfully.
While there are vegan cheese substitutes that I’ve heard are very good, I’ve never bought them. Why would I want to cover up all the amazing flavors in tomatoes, onions, basil, sage, rosemary, cumin, tarragon, cardamom — I could go on and on with all the different flavors we enjoy!
Our staples are beans and tofu.
And yes, we love dessert. I bake vegan desserts if I have time on Saturdays.
We use very few processed foods, including vegan processed foods. Once in a while we have vegan bacon or cook with veggie crumbles, just for texture variety. And for the holidays we’ve discovered how much we adore Tofurkey. Why did it take us so long to try this? Oh yeah — because I shy away from processed stuff.
That was a mistake in this case.
Our life has gotten much, much busier over the last two years, so Izzy cooks at least as much as I do, or we cook together, and we do more recipe repetitions. Even more than than that, we make stuff up on the spot with whatever we have in the fridge. I still love trying new recipes but it’s a luxury I only indulge in here and there, maybe once a week or possibly less. For now it’s all about keeping things simple and easy.
I’ll probably pull together a color palette from the light blue, the light blue-green, and the golden yellows and oranges that you see in many of the photos. I want to find an actual mini-album with actual page-protectors (as opposed to the mini-books I usually make).
And I’ll probably keep it very simple, with a photo or photo collage on one side and my journaling on the other. I’m sure there will be a bit of digital work involved!
Bonus Question: What are Your Most Regular Foods?
I might add the following, but it will be more simple, with less explanation. One of my scrapbooking mentors asked me to write a blog post on the subject, so I’m posting it here and we’ll see how it goes!
The Simpler Meals We Eat
Fajitas - tons of veggies roasted with a fajita marinade I make myself + black beans. If we’re lucky, we have avocado in the house to make guacamole, but we’ll have fajitas even if we don’t. I don’t eat mine with tortillas but the kids do. I just slap my fajita veggies on the plate and throw the beans on top!
Fried tofu - Slice extra firm tofu (not silken) into strips. Sprinkle some Seasoning Salt on the strips (my Sprouts store has a bulk jar of this without MSG that I scoop into a bag). Fry in a small amount of oil on medium heat. Leave each side for a good few minutes until the exterior is crisp. Yum!
Beans and lentils - there are so many kinds of beans and so many simple ways to prepare them. My favorite recipes are from New York Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers. It’s not totally vegan, nor even totally vegetarian. It’s a combination of seafood, vegetarian, and vegan recipes, and even though I only use the vegan recipes, their books are so worth it for me. Moosewood and the Compassionate Cooks podcast taught me how to cook vegan dinners!
I love black beans just the way they are when cooked. They have so much flavor. But I also make things up all the time. I start by sauteing onions and garlic, and through the process I add different things like tomato chunks and herbs.
Note: beans are an everything-food and a super-food. Beans are your carbs, your protein, and one of your vegetables all in one! If you have beans + a veggie, you’re all set!
Tofu with Carmalized Onions - Izzy made up a favorite dish of ours! He cuts one or two onions into long strips and sautes them until they’re carmalized. He adds tamari (a kind of soy sauce), garlic and then tofu and a small amount of honey or agave nectar.
Smoothies with tofu instead of milk or yogurt - Put silken soft tofu into your smoothies instead of milk or yogurt and you will have the creamiest, most amazing smoothie ever. I learned about this from a meat-eater while I was still a meat-eater. So trust me on this one.
Soups - Amy’s has great vegan soups.
Tomato sandwiches - dijon mustard, Vegennaise (which tastes better than mayo), onions, and spinach or kale all make this delicious! This is another inherited favorite from Mom!
Tostadas - We skip the cheese. If you get good salsa and good fresh veggies you just don’t need the cheese (or sour cream).
Old Fashioned Oatmeal (also called Rolled Oats) - Quick cooking oatmeal and instant are hardly worth making when the real stuff that actually has its nutrients only takes ten minutes. If we don’t have ten minutes to make something so healthful and amazing, then something is seriously wrong. :)
Fresh Easy Vegetables
Tomatoes - Sliced tomatoes with salt or sprinkled with balsamic vinegar and fresh basil if I’m feeling motivated. Our favorite are these baby heirlooms and our farmer’s market has them all year round. The red ones are the very most amazing.
Spinach - If you can get curly-leaved spinach, do! It’s a million times better than the flat leaf most stores sell. It doesn’t shrink down into water and it tastes amazing. But whichever leaf you have, I found the best way to prepare it.
Heat oil in a pan on medium heat. Add your spinach and let it sizzle. You’re basically frying it at a high temperature for a very short time. If you have the curly leaf kind you’ll even get some awesome crisp parts and it’s so good. Then sprinkle Bragg’s Liquid Amino Acids — just a few drops. Those tiny drops have tons of flavor. Give it a stir and let it cook a little longer — but not much! Don’t wait until until it’s a wet pile of mush — I don’t know why people do that. You only need it to be browned, heated, and only barely softened. Pull it out and enjoy!
Asparagus - Break off the tough bottoms. Lay in a single layer on a cookie sheet, preferably with raised sides. Sprinkle some olive oil and garlic salt and put it under the boiler until it looks done to your liking. Maybe ten minutes? Turn them over partway through.
Bruschetta - I don’t eat much pasta or breads but when I do, this is a favorite!
Olives * apple slices with peanut butter * hummus and vegetables or crackers * nuts * fried tortilla with Earth Balance Buttery Spread or quesadillas with hummus instead of cheese * tomatoes * toast.
We used to love cheeses but now we’re more than satisfied with hummus. We haven’t bought dried fruits in a couple years, but those are a sweet and indulgent snack too. You can see them as chunks in the background and on the platter behind the cheese. What you see in the photo was actually a family dinner. We love simple dinners like that.
I love dessert and you can make almost everything without eggs, butter, or milk. I learned how to bake with the most awesome baking recipe book – The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. I cannot recommend this book and this way of baking enough. Risk-free beater-licking goodness comes out of this awesome recipe book!
Quick Reference to My Favorite Sources
The Joy of Vegan Baking
Moosewood Simple Suppers
Moosewood New Classics
The Vegan Table
Compassionate Cooks – audio podcast and website with videos. (It was this podcast that did me in and changed my life for the better!).
Google Search – when I want to try something I don’t have in a recipe book, I google it and choose a recipe that has responses from others who have tried it.
What’s Your Food Story
Is it different from mine? Then you have a story! The American diet changes dramatically from one generation to the next. Why not share yours?
This is part 1 of a 3-part series.
You can read parts 2 and 3 of Scrapbook Your Food Story by clicking on the links below:
Your Food Revolution
Your Food Execution