Home cooking in America is in danger of becoming a lost art, gone the way of the traditional family mealtime that no one has time for anymore. As both children and parents run from school and jobs to sports practices, the gym, shopping, the nursing home and a host of other commitments, nutrition and food preparation have taken a back seat. As a result, grocery shopping in the frozen food section has become a uniquely American pursuit despite the cardboard quality of so many of these "convenience foods."
There is little doubt that technology has militated against foodies who would like to improve their culinary skills. Microwave ovens, blenders, and food processors tempt us with promises of meals in minutes without warning us about the inherent trade-off-- speed in exchange for quality. We've all had our fair share of over-processed salsa, soggy micro-waved dishes, and scorched chocolate. Far more alarming though, is the lost body of culinary knowledge, once carefully guarded as treasured family recipes and handed down from generation to generation. Our increasing dependence upon our "modern conveniences" has led to a generation of Americans whose cooking skills are so atrophied they no longer know how to pop corn outside of the microwave.
When I watch the starving contestants of the latest "Survivor Island" show, I want to shout at the screen, didn't anyone teach you about flavor-enhancing herbs? Why don't you collect salt water and let it dehydrate in the sun leaving the salt residue behind or flavor your bland dishes with salty seaweed? Can't you press some of those coconuts for oil and saute your next catch of fish? What we are losing, in addition to delectable home cooked meals, it the ability to think creatively in the kitchen. After years of following package directions, it's little wonder that we no longer know how to make ingredient substitutions, double recipes or alter preparation methods.
A return to the recipe may seem daunting at first, so ease your transition into the world of home cooked meals by starting with one of those "6 ingredients or less" recipes. Once you've gained some confidence, you will find that many of the shortcuts we take now are really not much shorter than making it from scratch. When you consider that you can prepare homemade pancakes with only 4 or 5 ingredients, you begin to wonder why you've grown so dependent upon the packaged mixes.
There can be no argument about labor-saving devices being a boon for time-stressed people everywhere, but too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. I find myself wondering if our palates will atrophy over time, destroying our ability even to taste the difference between synthetic and real food. Have we simply grown too lazy to reach for the family recipe box and get cooking? After all, how hard is it to make stove top cooked pudding? Barring unusual clumsiness, even an older child can do it, but many of us have condemned ourselves to the grainy, fake tasting instant pudding just to save fifteen minutes of our precious time. As for me, smooth, satiny, flavorful cooked pudding is something I'm only too happy to squander my time on and you can forget those pretend potatoes of the instant variety! Time is precious of course, but so is a scrumptious meal, skillfully prepared for the ones we love.