I'm not one for New Year resolutions, though from time to time I've been known to offer up some suggestions. So this year, instead of a resolution, I decided to propose a New Year challenge. It's a simple one: spend more time in the kitchen.
Kitchens can serve as a hub of family activity, a place to spend quality time together. They also offer a direct connection to our health and our heritage, in the traditions of food and in the choices we make about what foods we put in our bodies. And for those of us in the gluten-free community, the kitchen is a place of empowerment, a place where you're not confined by limited menu choices at a restaurant or a defined selection of gluten-free foods at the supermarket. In the kitchen, anything is possible.
Yet, my sense is that as a nation we're spending less and less time in our kitchens. This is driven, I think, by at least two major contributing factors: convenience and choices we make about how we spend our time.
One thing Kelli and I have noticed attending gluten-free conferences, expos, fundraiser walks, and other events—especially in the Northeast—is that people crave the convenience of prepared foods. Each of the last two Octobers we've attended a major event in Westchester County, where we've brought 100–200 mini cupcakes to give away as free samples (usually a seasonally appropriate pumpkin spice cupcake with cinnamon frosting, plus a crowd-pleasing chocolate with vanilla frosting). The cupcakes often garner rave reviews—people sneak back for seconds, or they come by having heard someone else at the event talk about the cupcakes.
But we've discovered that what happens next follows a now-familiar pattern. Someone will say something along the lines of: "This is delicious! Where can I buy them?"
To which we reply: "You can't buy them… but you can make them yourself anytime you want! The recipe is in our cupcake cookbook." Insert shameless plug here.
Then you see their face sink, and they walk away having lost all interest in what moments earlier was putting a huge smile on their face. Sigh. Convenience wins (this time).
In relating this story to my mom, she's sympathetic to the convenience food lovers. People are busy these days, she says. They don't have the time to spend in the kitchen making from-scratch cupcakes or whatever.
I don't totally buy that argument. We're all busy. Getting into the kitchen is about prioritizing that aspect of your life, about making choices about how you spend your time. If being in the kitchen is important to you, you'll make it work. (Though I readily admit there are exceptions, such as the single parent working two jobs just to put food on the table in the first place…)
But consider my own example: I'm a father to two young girls; I work a full-time job; I blog as often as I can; I train for ultramarathons. All of these things place demands on my time. And though from week to week the balance shifts one way or the other, I try to spend quality time in the kitchen regularly.
And here's the wonderful thing—cooking is truly egalitarian; it's an equal opportunity endeavor; anyone can do it. Really. There's no red velvet rope and a bouncer at the entrance to your kitchen, deciding if you're worthy to enter or not.
Like two of my other passions—writing and running—cooking does not require specialized training, advanced degrees, or large amounts of money to participate. The barriers to entry are extremely low. Sure, you can hone your craft and "elevate" your participation, if you so desire. But you don't have to.
Consider running. With a few exceptions, if you have two feet, you can walk or hike or jog or run. And running doesn't require the hundreds or even thousands of dollars of equipment to participate. Writing is much the same way. Unlike other fields, such as medicine or engineering, which require advanced education and training, writing—as either a hobby or a career—is universally accessible.
So it is with cooking.
And so, if you do one thing in 2013, I challenge you to spend more time in the kitchen. It costs little to do it, and the potential rewards are great—the food, the togetherness with family and friends, the value in making a choice to deliberately spend your time in a certain way toward positive ends, the gluten-free goodness that comes from a refrigerator and pantry matched to your dietary needs. And just imagine even greater possibilities. For example, what if the solution to America's obesity epidemic wasn't spending less time in the kitchen, but spending more, by creating healthy, from-scratch meals?
If the first days of 2013 offer anything, they offer opportunity. Seize it. Happy cooking!