Last weekend I was invited to speak on the Frugality panel in Vision Forum’s recent food conference, Reformation of Food & the Family. I was also privileged to attend Chef Foucachon’s 6 hour cooking class with 3 of my teen daughters the following Monday. We loved it!
We may not be ready to take on gourmet French cookery, but we came away inspired to do more with what we have. While the emphasis was not on frugality, I couldn’t help but think there was a strong connection just waiting to be made. The French put a heavy emphasis on presentation – on making their food more appealing before it ever reaches the taste buds by making it more beautiful. I was struck by how much of this was done not with expensive ingredients, but just by applying a little thought and attention to the planning, cooking and arrangement of food on the plate.
Another thing that struck me was the idea of serving a meal in more than one course. We may not have the dishes or the time to prepare and serve dinner in 7 separate courses, but we can do two. We can serve a cup of soup, an attractive salad or an appealing appetizer, chat a bit, maybe wash up the dishes, and then continue with an artfully arranged main course.
One of the benefits: those of us who tend to eat too much, too quickly will probably eat less. After the first part of our meal, our digestive system will have a chance to send the message to our brain that we are not as hungry as we thought, and when the main course comes a smaller serving will satisfy our appetite. This is a normal physical process, but when we are served our entire meal at once we often eat so quickly that we have to rely on a full stomach to tell us to stop rather than sufficiently elevated blood sugar. This easily translates to overeating.
Of course others who don’t eat so quickly - little children who dawdle at their food, for example, or naturally slow eaters – will not notice as much difference since we already rely largely on our blood sugar cues to tell us when we’ve had enough. Some will still have second helpings, but seconds may be easier to resist for those who don’t need them.
Another way this style of eating could be more frugal is that I am encouraged to incorporate foods even when I don’t have 12 full servings. Two pickles or tomatoes, a mango, or a single orange can become a tasty garnish rather than languishing in the fridge because there’s not enough for everyone. One cucumber can provide 2 or 3 slices per person to liven up a plate. The remains of a bunch of fresh cilantro purchased for last week’s taco salad can become pretty garnishes on this week’s meals.
A few days ago Kaitlyn created a spectacular chicken/walnut tart dish that stretched 1 lb of chicken into 12 small but rich servings, a nice change of pace from a meat-stretching casserole.
Of course if we hadn’t started with a hearty appetizer, this wouldn’t have been enough. As it was, I could barely finish mine and even the heartiest eaters were satisfied.
Part of the reason these changes are so exciting for us is because Perry is totally on board. Since he was diagnosed with diabetes, he has worked hard to improve his overall diet, eating smaller, more frequent meals with less carbs and more protein and healthy fats. This style of eating fits perfectly with his goals, and is better for the rest of us too.
We have also talked to each other in the past about how feasting glorifies God, so we love the idea of using our daily to food to glorify Him as well. Food should do more than just fill our bellies and build our bones and muscles. When we make our food beautiful and appealing rather than approaching it in a purely utilitarian sense, we are better able to appreciate the wonder of God’s creation and His daily gifts to us.
To celebrate these new changes, I have a potted mint plant. It seemed like a good place to start, since mint is notoriously difficult to kill. If it survives until next payday, I plan to reward myself with a potted parsley plant, followed by basil and cilantro if I can find them. I love fresh cilantro, but it’s last on my list because:
A. It’s cheap and plentiful in South Texas. Any WalMart produce department will provide a big bunch of fresh cilantro for 28 cents, and
B. Most of my family does not appreciate the flavor of fresh cilantro as much as I do.
I’m finding new joy in cooking and serving modest portions of rich foods that seemed too expensive in the larger quantities that I thought our family required. A little heavy cream goes a long way, and a single portobello cap can be sliced into 10 small portions. Sauteed in butter or bacon grease with some salt and pepper, a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar, and a splash of heavy cream, it’s pure heaven – and most of the little kids don’t know it, so the wiser among us can eat theirs too.
And French cooking? We may just give it a shot. Perry ordered me a copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and I have to admit that I’m more than a little eager for it to arrive!