Sunday, December 21, 2014

Tis The Season (for Food Wars)

Living the life we do means that most of the time we eat very natural foods, almost always made from scratch.  My egg nog recipe has real raw eggs, cream, and lots of liquor in it.  I have similar scratch recipes for other foods which became popular in their commercially-processed states -- stuff like Sloppy Joes, Egg-McMuffin type sandwiches and sodas.  

When you commit to living the simple life, the former convenience foods you loved are suddenly no longer convenient since you're making them from their most basic ingredients, and leaving out all the stabilizers, artificial colors, and preservatives. And sometimes they are worth it. And, yet, to be honest, they often do not taste quite the same. 

Real eggnog
Both Big Ag and myself grew up eating at least some  of what the 1960's and 1970's offered in terms of convenience foods, so adjusting to some of those taste changes when we've "gone natural" has taken time.  But after awhile you get used to it, and then when you pick it up again in its processed form, you actually notice certain flavors are missing -- the ones you first reacted to when you made it naturally.

I remember the first time I bit into a chocolate-chip cookie made with whole wheat flour instead of white and the wheat had a much stronger, nutty flavor than I was used to. I felt vaguely cheated, like my previously delightful sin had somehow been made more respectable and therefore less tasty and fun.  But now, I love the stronger flavor whole wheat has, and much prefer it to white flour in almost everything.

The taste change also happens if you switch from chocolate to, say, carob and if you change from white sugar to honey or agave nectar. I've heard nightmare stories from people who switched from coffee to chikory, although most got used to it after time.

Real mac and cheese
And some foods you cannot reasonably replicate.  The carob-for-chocolate swap is one shining example. It just never tastes the same, and is never as good. Another one happened here this afternoon, when I made my homemade egg nog.  I think it's awesome, but I know that tomorrow or the next day, Big Ag will stop by the supermarket and come home with a carton of that awful, artificially-flavored egg nog from the market because it's what he grew up with and therefore what he prefers.  And my oldest son, who I call TrainMan, will be staying with us after he has some dental work done after the holidays and has already asked that I stock up on Kraft Macaroni and Cheese -- that's right, the bright orange boxed stuff.  Sigh.
Un-real mac and cheese

The fact that I make a killer gourmet mac and cheese with three different kinds of cheeses does not matter, because no matter how hard I try I will never achieve the orangey, tangy, velveeta-textured goo that TrainMan feels is a mandatory part of the Mac and Cheese Experience.  And since its him who will have the sore mouth, who am I to turn a blind eye to his wishes?  (For the record, I never made Kraft Mac and Cheese at our house, but evidently it was on the menu at friends' houses enough that he developed a taste for it.  I guess I should just be thankful they weren't serving meth.) 

So tomorrow I will go to the store and buy some stupid, boxed Kraft Mac and Cheese, grimacing as I pull it off the shelf and throw it into my cart.  And I will also grit my teeth when the artificially flavored-and-colored "egg nog" shows up in the fridge next to my fabulously-natural Colonial Egg Nog (made from a recipe penned by George Washington himself!) as I just know its going to. It's a holiday tradition, just like bad sweaters and Christmas songs by The Chipmunks.  These are all things that must be endured as we plow through the season.  

Un-real eggnog

One thing that makes me feel better is remembering a story natural food guru Michael Pollan told once, about walking through the grocery store with a box of Fruity Pebbles cereal in his cart (for his daughter, who insisted on it) and someone noticing and saying something to him about it.  His response was that, although natural is better, if we have spouses or children we also have to acknowledge that sometimes we're going to have to compromise, and to pick our battles.

Which I guess means that although Kraft, Knudson, and Kellogs may win a round or two here and there, we natural cooks are still committed, long-term, to winning the food war. And so next week I will temporarily surrender on the Mac and Cheese front, open that packet of orange powder and make something that makes my son happy.  

But I have not given up the war. I'm just surrendering, temporarily, on one front.  A gooey, artificially orangey one.

Battleground Lost.


  1. How anyone could choose that orange boxed Mac & Cheese over homemade is beyond me! But I do like the store bought egg nog. Probably because I've never had the real thing.Can you post your recipe (for both)?

    1. Yes I can, great idea, DFW! Look for them in tomorrow's post.

  2. Haha! Oooooh yes. The processed food gene skipped me and that is for sure. I don't mean to incriminate my mother, she is wonderful, but I grew up with all the processed crap. Which is a big contributing factor to my learning to cook. I never liked food, so I started making it myself. Don't get me wrong, like all Americans there are times I drive by mcdonalds and think it sounds good. But then you remember the last time you had it and how disappointing it was. At least I do.
    My brother, on the other hand, absolutely loves "the processed taste" as he calls it. Kraft m&c is a favorite of his, too. For his birthday he wants grocery store cakes with coma-inducingly sweet frosting and supernaturally blue roses. I suppose it must be a comfort that they're always the same. I always remind him that food coloring messes with fertility, so he better be careful! Now that I've professed my evolution to whole foods--I'm off to Tim Horton's for my coffee! Lol. Very interesting subject. There is that processed element home cooks can't compete with.

    1. I grew up with the same processed food as you, and like you, that is exactly why I learned to cook, too! I guess you crave what you DON'T have as a child lol, whether its natural foods or processed.