slow food for fast food
I recently wrote about how we eat when we’re on the go. This go around, I thought I might back that up a bit to show how it is that our slow approach to food combined with a few strategies allows us to quickly grab truly nutrient dense food when time is short and demands are high. I have dubbed this approach “slow food for fast food”. What it means, quite simply, is we have no excuses to eat crappy food that makes us feel equally crappy.
Let’s consider something as convenient and nutrient dense as a jar of pâté. Whatever the source, we raised the animal, cared for it every day, and then harvested it here on our farm. We butchered it and preserved it. A simple, delicious food, years in the making and minutes in the eating. All of us have to do the work of growing, or procuring, and preparing our food in order to give our future selves the best we can. That’s a pretty good feeling, to know that we care enough about our future selves to give them the best we got today. That builds self trust and authentic confidence instead of feeling like we’re always letting ourselves down. It’s the whole premise of exercise and every other self-care practice. We do it today as a gift to tomorrow. Hopeful action.
To begin, we have to do a little check-in with our mindset. For me, it starts with my intention and ends with my actions. My intention is that I eat well consistently. My action, therefore, is that I set myself up for success by making sure I don’t compromise when the compromising is easily excused away. It helps that I have a very dialed-in feedback loop with my body. Within a few minutes of eating something that’s not going to serve me, I start hearing about it from an unhappy body. It’s just not worth it. So, start there - intention.
Now, let’s look at execution. Every time I’m in the kitchen, I’m using my down time to cook something else. I shall endeavour to explain. Let’s say I’m making roast lamb, (which happens to be what I’m making for supper tonight), there’s only a minimal amount of time that I need to be actively making the marinade or peeling and chopping onions or whatever. Once the lamb is in the oven and the accompanying bits for the meal are readied, I am just waiting. Here’s where I might grab some lemons to preserve or maybe I will take out some butter to make some ghee. I’m there anyway, I might as well use my time to do something useful. That “useful” is often reinforcing my kitchen staples. And it’s those kitchen staples that build the foundation of many a meal.
I think most of you have seen my freezers and know I have an entire freezer dedicated to bone broths. I do this because most of our bone broth is made during the winter when our wood stoves are burning and having those broths cooking as long as I do takes less energy. Bone broth is definitely a staple I always have on hand. I use it to make the base of our soups, stews, marinades, pâté, to deglaze pans with a splash of vinegar etc. We also use thermoses to bring it with us as part of our meals. In addition to bone broth, my staples include homemade vinegars, fermented vegetables (a few spoonfuls with fatty meat and a meal is done), cultured dairy products, ghee, animal fats of all sorts including duck, goose, tallow, suet, lard, leaf lard, turkey and chicken schmaltz, bison tallow, and raw butter. I also always have herbes salées, which is just salted fresh herbs, picked in the summer and packed into jars. Dried herbs and fermented wild harvested plants in the summer and canned summer fruit are always at hand as well. All of those things and the high quality meat, eggs, and poultry we eat, and I’m good. Oh! Salt, good salt, lots of it.
If I’m going to cook a rabbit for dinner, I may as well take out three and confit two of them in duck fat while the third cooks for supper. When the confit is ready, hours later, I can leave it on the stove until I get to it in the morning. While I’m there in the morning making breakfast, waiting for the coddled eggs to cook, I may as well start shredding the rabbit meat and mix it up with some herbs and seasonings that I press into single use jars. There! I have a dozen jars of rillettes, a perfect food to grab out of the freezer when we are off on an adventure somewhere.
There’s a rhythm that comes with time and experience in the kitchen. If I’m making one chicken, why not make two at the same time and freeze the cooked chicken with some roasted veggies or whatever you had with it, in glass containers? Same with broth and stews and curries - make more than you need and never be without backup.
If I’m taking a roast out of the freezer, I might as well grab that brisket at the same time. While I’m searing the roast, getting it ready for a three hour braise in the oven, I’m going to be getting a good salt brine boiling on the stove. By the time we’re done eating and we’re cleaning up the kitchen the salt brine will be cool enough to pour over the brisket and I’ll bring the pot downstairs into our storm cellar to sit for a week. Hardly any extra work at all and when it’s time to bring, what will become, that lovely salted, corned beef back upstairs, I will get to making something else while I’m poaching it.
In the summer, I employ my solar dehydrator to make ready all manner of dehydrated goodies. Beef jerky, including beef heart jerky (a favourite here) dipped in some marrow butter is a near perfect food and incredibly delicious. I dry foods while the sun is shining and store them for a rainy, or rushed day. You don’t need a solar dehydrator, any dehydrator will do. If you’re buying your meat from a farmer or in bulk, you might as well marinate or spice up quantities of meat and do it all at once. Why not?
Another strategy I also often employ is starting bases of things and then deviating. So, if I’m cooking up some onions, garlic, and mushrooms, I’m already half way to making pâté. I might as well use my biggest pan and make a triple batch. Once the onions are nicely caramelized I can split off what I’m cooking into one pan and keep going with another. In this imaginary case, albeit a regularly real one, I will take out the mushroom side I was cooking and continue on with adding the livers and spices to the other pan for my pate making. It’s going to add some time onto my cooking, but I’m there, I’m committed, I’m doing it.
Lastly, and this might freak some people out, but I make this joke that every one of my meals has the DNA from a meal that started in 1993. Yes, yes, it’s a joke, but should you have a genetic laboratory nearby, I wouldn’t bet against me. When I make a roast or any other braised meat, there will be a wondrous, umami rich gelée left in the pan. That gelée is a result of the meat that’s just cooked and dropped its lusciousness all over the pan, yes, but it’s also combined with the broth and gelée I added before putting the whole thing in the oven. And that gelée came from the roast before it and so on and so on. After everyone has taken their share of a meal, including drizzling drippings all over their plate, I pour off the remainder liquid into a jar and set it in the fridge. The next day, it will have separated into fat and gelatinous meat jelly gloriousness. The fat either goes out to the birds or is used to cook with. The deeply saturated gelée gets added to the broth the next time I’m making something that’s roasted or I add it to roasted vegetables, terrines, stews, whatever. It’s layer upon layer of flavour. It brings depth and incredible richness to meals. When I package up meals in containers to freeze, they always get a blob of this on top. A christening of flavour, if you will.
It seems odd to call how I work in the kitchen “strategies” because they don’t feel that way at all. It’s just how I cook and prepare food. I love my time in the kitchen, it’s joyful to be cooking with such beautiful food. And, yes, I do have to remind myself to be grateful at times just like any other mortal human being.
Slowdown Farmstead is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.