Well, Hello There! Cooking in a Pandemic Era
When I founded The Refined Cook a few years ago, my mission was to teach healthy and gourmet cooking to promote a slow and sustainable lifestyle. Slow was an important operative word. I’ve understood the value of slowing down since I quit a hectic corporate job in Manila when I was in my 30’s to pursue music studies as an adult in Boston by way of Berklee College of Music. Twenty years later, I’m still a gigging musician and educator.
But along the way, I learned how to cook; and when my husband and I bought our home eight years ago, to grow a garden. Pursuing both passions obsessively gave me new lenses to understand just how much joy I’ve had in being able to pause, reflect, create; luxuries for those who believe they are too busy.
My interest in slowing down and a subject that’s often associated with it, happiness, continued to grow, along with a budding intention to encourage others to explore these ideas. The long and short of it, which I’ll expound on in my newsletters, is I realized that lifestyle cooking is a gateway to slowing down. It’s also an indirect and pleasant way to tackle some very large issues—health, environment, family and community, all of which are contributors to happiness.
And so I wanted to teach people how to cook healthy and gourmet meals; not just how to cook, but to experience other facets of cooking often taken for granted-- camaraderie from shared endeavor, pride in creation, the delight of the senses brought about by elegant place settings, artfully plated dishes and a curated music playlist. Not to mention the rewards of the palate. So in 2017, my husband Jeff, and I hosted our first Refined Cook cooking class party out of our residence. Since then, we’ve welcomed hundreds of participants into our home and hosted annual Refined Cook reunions. It was amazing.
Then covid struck and the world screeched to a halt.
Suddenly, my mission to promote a “slow and sustainable lifestyle” sounded hollow when I rattled it off to my now- online cooking class participants. Everyone seemed to be cooking and gardening. Social media was replete with photos of bread-making and vegetable garden forays. Even my bass player was making pasta noodles from scratch. Is it possible Americans are now on track to reverse 2017’s statistic that only 10% of Americans liked to cook with the rest split between hating it and being on the fence? Perhaps.
If there was a silver lining to the pandemic, it’s that many had a taste of what life could be at a slower pace: one where we can live deliberately and in the moment; spend quality time with those we loved.
It is my concern that in a post-covid world, many who have flirted with cooking and gardening may just see it as that—a brief affair that need not be revisited again. When a semblance of normalcy returns and life gets busier, will home cooking be relegated to the once-in-awhile activity? Will we suddenly find out that home-cooked meals are not sustainable in the long-run when we have to commute to work, pick up kids from school or balance all the other chores that make for daily living? (Is that pizza delivery sounding like a God-send just about now?)
From what I’ve observed, many who have started cooking during the pandemic do what I call “linear” cooking, i.e., cooking a dish all in one go, instead of breaking them down over several days or even months. That’s because it’s natural for new cooks to follow recipes, which are a great way to learn new techniques and expand flavor palates. But recipes don’t teach you how to manage time, consolidate cooking processes, or repurpose leftovers. They don’t teach you how to make multiple dishes at the same time, work with available ingredients nor explain why certain steps are necessary or optional. That is beyond the scope of a recipe. So it’s understandably difficult to sustain this kind of cooking.
I want to show you another way. I decided to start this newsletter to convince those of you whose curiosities may have been piqued, that it is possible and in your interest to make cooking (and perhaps gardening) a lifestyle choice. Even if you think you are too busy.
For one, perhaps the most immediate advantage of cooking besides being able to fend for yourself when restaurants are closed, is the ability to have an impact on your health. The pandemic put a spotlight on how sick we are as a nation. I learned the word comorbidity when covid hit because suddenly it was apparent that our illnesses were not only risk factors in and of themselves, but more so for severe complications to those who caught the virus. With 42.4% obese and nearly half with some type of cardiovascular disease (the leading cause of death before covid), it’s not a surprise that the US death toll is staggering.
We’ve heard this before. We’ve been shamed about our diet choices; our inability to stay away from junk food; of not finding time to cook. But what you might not know is that there are forces which conspire to make us choose poorly; people and corporations who peddle the snake oils of faster, bigger and more as American ideals. And what they count on is your ignorance of the facts; the back story, as I like to call it.
Cooking Subversive is about battling these forces by arming you with data-driven information; learning and implementing strategies to integrate cooking into a busy lifestyle; having fun; empowering you to make healthy lifestyle choices; being a lifestyle cook. Here’s how we’ll do it.
There are 4 Big Topics I’ll be tackling in series-style releases, with a brief description of each.
Why Cook? Everyone needs motivation. I’ll give you a few. This is the heart of the Cooking Subversive Manifesto---why I cook.
The Game Plan- We’ll talk about Cooking Strategies, Help in the Kitchen, Creating a Conducive Environment and Having More fun
Geeking Out- I’ll curate information related to the food and farming industry (like the back stories I mentioned earlier), safety in the kitchen, practical science every cook needs to know, health and nutrition, useful cooking techniques/processes.
Let’s Do It!- This is where we put knowledge into practice. We’ll apply stuff we learn through recipes, demos, cooking events and classes (paid subscribers have free access to some of these events)
And I’ll have stand alone posts as well. As I get a hang of things, I may introduce other categories, like growing food and gardening.
In the meantime, if you’ve read this far, thank you for your time. I hope you consider subscribing to join me in being a lifestyle cook (and gardener). Please help me spread the word.