Sunday, March 22, 2009

Who am I?

(me and Squirt)

A question I often ask myself.   No, really.  And some of you might be wondering the same thing, so I'll do my best to give you a little bit of insight into my thoughts on food, cooking, and blogging.

My interest in cooking has waxed and waned throughout the years, based mostly on the amount of time I had to dedicate to the process.  There were times (in high school, I believe) that I spent hours upon hours watching Food Network shows and trying to soak up as much as I could.  But, throughout grad school there have been many times when I ate a lot of pasta with simple tomato sauce and frozen veggies.  It was quick and it got the job done.

My sustained love for cooking resulted from a dramatic shift in the way that I think about food.  It all started last summer (2008) when I read "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," "In Defense of Food," and "Omnivore's Dilemma" in quick succession (see my previous post for more about these books).  I began to realize the importance of paying attention to the food that I'm eating, and I became interested in eating local food, avoiding processed food, and eating a lot more whole grains, fruits, and veggies.  But I quickly realized that this eliminated virtually everything that I was accustomed to buying (especially snacks), and I was going to have to start cooking everything from scratch (or spend way more money than I have at the natural foods store) to avoid the weird chemicals in EVERYTHING.

Luckily I made this decision at the perfect time.  I'm the sort of person that needs challenge in life.  When things get simple, I get bored and very unhappy.  I had just finished my dissertation proposal, and grad school, while challenging in some regards, had become too monotonous and routine.  The solution?  Learn to shop differently and do a whole lot of things that I had never done before (like baking bread, making stock, etc.).  And the cool thing is that, in addition to giving me that challenge, it introduced me to a new community in Michigan.  And I suppose that I'm healthier, too :).

It has definitely been a learning experience.  I've been experimenting with a lot of whole grains - everything from barley to millet to amaranth - to figure out what I like best.  I also try to get new veggies whenever I see them (especially at the local markets) and then figure out how to cook them.  I'm a scientist at heart, so this has definitely been a fun process (and it's nice to be able to eat the results of an experiment, for once!).  

I suppose I should also say something about my thoughts on sugar.  In December of 2005 (the 27th, I believe), I decided to cut down on my sugar intake.  I thought that the most effective way to do this would be to completely cut out sugar for a week to reduce cravings, and then slowly add back a little bit.  Well, I made it through the week (relying on a whole lot of fresh fruit), and my desire for sugar was almost gone.  I had also managed to survive a trip to my grandmother's house (with approximately 57 freshly-baked cakes and pies staring me in the face at every meal).  So, I decided to try to go one more week without sugar.  At the end of that week, I didn't want it at all.  I must also mention that I am extremely stubborn.  In fact, I'm the most stubborn person I know, with one possible exception (let's just say that I inherited the tendency).  So, I kept it up.  And, it's now been over three years, and I really don't see this changing any time soon.

I'm not saying that I never eat sugar.  When I'm at home, I try to use more natural sources (particularly fresh and dried fruit, but also small amounts of honey and agave nectar, or even raw sugar).  And sometimes I'll have a bite of some dessert (although this is usually all I want).  There was even a time when I ate a huge piece of wedding cake, but that was a great decision because it was perhaps the best cake I've ever tasted.  But, I now enjoy the more subtle sweet tastes that come from using fruit or whole grains.  And I love that they don't leave me feeling gross afterwards.  So, you'll notice that I make a lot of desserts that are sweetened only with fruit.  I realize that these aren't for everyone, but perhaps you should try one... you just might like it.

And that brings me to the blog.  When I started cooking like a fiend, Dad suggested that I keep a record of everything that I made and any changes that I might want to make for next time.  I took that idea and ran with it.  That was the blog's original function, and I only shared it with a few family members.  After some improvements, though, I decided that maybe others would enjoy it.

Here we are seven months later and I'm still loving the experiments and the adventure.  I hope that you're enjoying the recipes, and I'm still finding ways that I want to improve the blog (but unfortunately I don't always have the time it needs).  I would love comments and suggestions about ways to improve the blog, new ingredients, different cooking methods, or anything else that's remotely related (or not!).


Jean said...

Hey Katie! I just stumbled upon your blog via Tastespotting (your Pad Thai recipe) and was happily surprised to discover that we're neighbors (I live in Okemos). It'll make your posts so much more immediately meaningful for me, knowing that you have to shop the same sources for ingredients that I do. I suffer from chronic envy of all the lucky bloggers who live in the SF Bay Area and have access to an abundance of amazing organic produce all year. Anyway, just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed reading your Ann Arbor and "Who Am I?" posts. It most certainly was a miserable winter for me as well and you perfectly described my dramatic mood shift once the sun started shining. Your growing interest in paying attention to what you eat seems to parallel mine in many ways, too. Keep up the great work, and I look forward to reading more posts! Jean

Katie said...

Hi Jean! I'm happy that you found my blog - I love meeting other people with similar food interests in the Lansing-area! I understand your chronic envy of the Bay area people. I'm currently visiting my parents in Florida, and there are tons of veggies already in season. It's great to have amazing tomatoes and squash in May, but it will be hard to go home and not have them again for a couple of months. But at least we have nice weather now :). Thanks for checking out my blog, and maybe we'll run into each other at the farmers' market!

Bronwyn said...

I just ran across your Roasted Chickpea recipe on Tastespotting (which I can't wait to try, btw), and Whole grains 101 caught my eye (I had a little stint with whole grains that was delicious and I really should get back to... this was my favorite, and then I got curious and read a little more about you. It seems we've come across food in a similar way! I love the food network, I've read Omnivore's dilemma, and I'm just starting Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. I've been trying to transition my pantry into local foods as much as I can. I very much understand how school sure can cut into time in the kitchen (I'm a medical student myself), but I'm hoping all the fresh local vegetables that are starting to appear will draw me back to the kitchen. I also wanted to say I really enjoy your writing style and look forward to reading about some more tasty recipes! Have a good day! -Bronwyn

Katie said...

Bronwyn - Thanks for your message! It's ones like yours that keep me interested in blogging and sharing my cooking adventures. I also love hearing from people who are going through the same transition to whole grains and local foods. I think you'll really enjoy Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and I'm thinking of reading it again because I think I'll enjoy it even more now that I know what it's like to eat more locally (although definitely not to the degree that they manage). Thanks for stopping by and commenting, and good luck finding time to manage cooking and med school!

Katie said...

Oh, and I've also been meaning to make Grandma's Grain for months now, so thanks for reminding me to do it!!

The Woman said...

Wow - I really admire your cutting down on sugar. I'm such a sugar addict, I don't know if I'll even make a through a day (never mind a week or more) without it. Maybe I should just bite down & take the plunge?

Katie said...

TW - It wasn't easy to cut out sugar, but it helped that I've always preferred salty snacks over sweet ones. The best part is that now I appreciate fruit even more. I don't know that I would have the willpower to start it right now, but after doing it for so long it's not a big deal. It's a good thing I did it when I did!

Megan said...

Katie! This is Awesome! You are so talented! So how do you do all this? Brian and I just cant seem to get organized enough, not just with the time to cook but planning what to cook and shopping - do you have any tips? Do you freeze everything and eat it later? We are terrible about leftovers - any freezing tips?

Katie said...

Megan - I'm glad you're enjoying it! This is my favorite way to procrastinate :). You ask really good questions, and I think I'll dedicate a post to time/planning/freezing this weekend (it's a question I get A LOT).

SMSRD said...

Hi Katie,
I ran across your blog as I googled 'amaranth and millet recipes'. I was searching for a slow-cooker cereal type recipe. I have found out that i have many food sensitivities ( AKA delayed food allergies). My nutrition life as I knew it is now over. But I am excited about my new variety and finding new combinations of foods and new favorites! I have used these grains before, but never at the level that I am about to! I see many recipes on your blog that I will be checking out! thanks for taking the time to do this!
Atlanta, GA

Katie said...

Thanks for the message! I understand what you're going through, and I hope that you are able to easily adapt your diet around your food sensitivities. My sensitivities have largely gone away (I discovered that lots of work stress plus lots of physical stress - training for a half marathon - made mine a lot worse), and I hope that you will have the same luck I've had. Let me know if you try any of my recipes!