Learning Seasons: Introduction

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. We all know then by the changing weather. Did you know that green beans or paprika (bell pepper) should only be avalivble in summer. I had no clue! In America we always had everything always.. well for the most part. However, when I moved to Norway I did notice that the produce became more seasonal. The way I see it now is if mother earth is providing certain produce at that time, there must be a good reason for it. Potatoes and squashes are great when it is cold out – great comfort food!

It’s become quite normal to expect supermarkets to be stocked with out-of-season, as well as exotic, produce all year round, and in being able to buy things like green beans in December, we have lost our sense of the seasons. An analysis of 20 common foods was found to have traveled over 100,000 miles 3 to get to our shelves. Not only does this produce vast quantities of greenhouse gases, the longer an item is in storage or travelling, the lower its nutritional content as nutrients diminish naturally with time. Eating locally grown food is therefore better for us. [via]

I have found a great website that is updated daily for what is ‘in season’ – check it out here. The site is for the UK, but Norway being so close and having similar weather in the South West of Norway to the UK – I think that it will suffice! I was reading an interview with Gordon Ramsey on buying locally and seasonally. When asked ‘Where should we buy our fruit and veggies from’ he answered:

In an ideal world, everyone should be sourcing their food direct from local, environmentally sustainable farms, but of course, that’s not practical for everyone.

It is well worth establishing a relationship with good, local greengrocers, fishmongers and butchers who can supply you with the best seasonal offerings. If you are stuck with the local supermarket, then try to pick vegetables that are in their most natural state. For instance, go for whole heads of lettuce rather than bagged salad leaves that are pumped with gasses to keep them fresh but are ultimately devoid of vitamins and flavour.

What stops you from cooking

Many people have never been taught, basic, fundamental cooking skills. This is sad. Food is how we stay alive. I am grateful that I was taught the basics, I knew how to make pasta or cook a piece of chicken. Not that I was or am a great chef, but I can follow a recipe.

In Norway eating out is not common – so you have to cook. I believe this is for two reasons: 1) Eating out is costly. If you go to McD’s or a nice cafe, a sandwhich and drink will cost you around 150 NOK ($25 US). 2) Eating with the family is a big deal. This is something that we lost years ago in the States, here it is the normal thing to sit down every day for family dinner. It is still very common to have Sunday dinner with the whole family, which I think is lovely! In my first months in Norway (summer thankfully), I would be out walking around and loved the sight: whole families sitting on the patio eating together and other houses I could see families cooking together. Now this is not to say that they are all eating healthy foods, but I would venture to guess the majority of them were – they are so healthy here compared to my American upbringing.

Huffington Post did a facebook survey “What stops you from cooking”, here are the summarized reasons:

1. Basic skills and familiarity with ingredients. Even though more farmers markets are popping up, once we buy an ingredient, we’re stuck not knowing how to prepare it.

2. Tools — Not having a kitchen stocked with the basics can make cooking an onerous, displeasing experience.

3. We’re whipped for convenience and our values are misaligned; we’re spending more time on Twitter than at the cutting board.

4. It’s not fun to shop. We’re too confused by too many choices and going to the grocery store is not a pleasurable, relaxing experience.

5. Prep time, clean-up and counter space: too long, too long and not enough.

I suggest reading the whole article, it is very interesting – read it here.

I have felt all of these to and wanted to order a pizza for dinner at times. But we are trying to be healthy, so while ordering a pizza is not the end of the world – we should do it on occasion. So I am going to tackle some of these myself!

1. Knowing food and how to prepare it

We need to familiarize ourselves with ingredients. I dont not mean learn them all, but you basics. Walk through your local grocery and read the signs above the fruit and veggies. If you dont know what they are make a list and go home to google it. With google having such a vast amount of knowledge, there is not excuses for saying you dont know how anymore. Your local grocery is not going to have crazy exotic fruit and veggies, so this would be a easy basic playing field. Same goes for cuts of meat. Maybe you see something on sale, and want to buy it but don’t know what it is. Ask the butchers working behind the meat counter, I am sure they would be more then happy to tell you what it is and give you an idea on how to cook it.

Another great way to become familiar with ingredients is to search out a recipe that sounds yummy – then make it. There are many great websites like Jamie Oliver, the Food Network and All Recipe’s. Jump on a recipe site, type in what sounds good for dinner – like chicken – and see what comes up. Make a shopping list, go to the store – ask for help if you need it to find certain ingredients, there is no harm in asking – and then test out the recipe. You will probably have mistakes like all of us do – you burnt something or added to much salt – but it is a learning process, keep trying!

2. Tools! What do we really need in the kitchen?

I do not have everything that he mentions in the video, but I am working up to it! I still need a food processor, siv and some more trays. He is doing some specific cooking for this how to video that you might not do – ie. pastry. But, I think that this is a great overview of what to have.

3. Making the time for food and health

Life is busy. I know that. But it boils down to do you want to live a longer, more productive and energetic life – or do you want to shave years of your life because you did not want to wait 30 minutes for your dinner. Eating wholesome foods that have not been packed with preservatives, artificial taste and colors will make a difference in your life. LIke they said above.. our priorities are out of wack – we think it is ok to spend 30 minutes stalking our friends on facebook or twitter, but 30 minutes is to much to invest in cooking a meal for our own health.

4. Find a smaller grocery

Shopping can be fun if you make it fun. It does not have to be going to six-flags fun – but think of it as something that has to be done, so make the best of it. If you are shopping by yourself take your mp3 player, if your shopping with kids – make a game out of it. Just like everything else you are learning, it will get easier with time – all the ingredients will become known to you. One tip for shopping that I have learned since living in Norway is that the bigger the store does not always mean the better. We do not have many super stores here in Norway – In my town we have one large walmart sized store. There are a slew of medium to small sized stores – think the toy section of a walmart supercenter – that have just what you need. Most of the store here will have only 2 options. If you need orange juice – there are just a few options, not a whole isle. This makes it very easy to shop – you go in with your list and it is a this or that sorta thing. I suggest that if going to the store is to much of a hassle for you because it is to big and there are too many options – then find a smaller local store or a local farmers market. I know back home in OKC we had many smaller then walmart stores, that had just food – they were much easier to run into because there were not parking issues and it was an easy selection.

5. Clean as you cook

There is noting worse then making a great yummy looking dinner to turn around to a kitchen that looks like it has been hit by a tornado. The best tip that I was ever give is to clean as you cook. I am guilty of not always doing this, but when I do it makes all the difference. If you are done chopping up the veggies, instead of pushing the cutting board aside and letting it take up your precious counter space – take the extra 5 second to turn and drop it in the sink or washer. While you have ‘down time’ when something is coming to a boil or baking in the oven – clean up the counters, load the dishwasher, or set the table – just don’t forget to check in on said food. The majority of cooking is going to have at least a few minutes of ‘down time’ – take advantage of it instead of checking your facebook or the tv.

If the mess of cooking is to daunting, look for one pot meals. One pot meals are generally easy and clean. The best example I have and love to make is pork chops. It takes just a large cooking tray or dish, oil it and add the meat. I use a small knife and cutting board to chop up some veggies and add them to the top of the meat. Then into the oven it goes. The only dishes used are the baking dish, a knife, cutting board and plates to eat – there is no mess on the counter or stove top – simple, clean and easy! Same can be done with chicken, fish or beef.

Parting Advice:
If you are like me and wanting to relearn or learn cooking skills to help your life, get on Jamie Oliver’s ‘Home Cooking Skills‘ website. The site is to help the schools in the UK, but there is no reason that all the resources and videos there can not be beneficial to us. I have been learning loads from it!

Cutting boards & Knives

Below are some things I have come across to make mine and your food preparations easier. I will be sharing lots of videos on this blog since I am a visual person.

Knife Skills

In my first weeks in Norway, Ole handed me a knife during dinner prep to find I had no proper clue how to use one. Of course I had cut some veggies before.. but only on occasion. We had a small, extremely sharp pairing knife at my parents house that I was terrified of since it always niched me. So Ole had some teaching and convincing to do. We had two chefs knives and a bread knife. Ole taught me to cut paprikas, onion, cucumber and set me free. Since then I have bought a few more knives for our collection, and am still in need of a sharpener.

Knives are an investment, they are something that if you do your homework and buy right should last for years. My grandmother used the same knives for years. This is a true case of ‘you get what you pay for’, but if you are only paying for it once or twice in your life – spend big! I just read a great article that said jokingly but in all seriousness, ‘the knife is the most used kitchen utensil besides the wine glass’. Read reviews, test them for feel in stores. I bought what I thought was a great knife on sale, it is an off brand and I did not do any research into it. It was in a box and I though I could not resist the offer. The way to hold it is with your pointer finger resting on the upper of the blade pulling away from the handle. Why this should not be a problem, the edges there are sharp enough to give me tiny cuts in my finger and make it painful. Lesson learned: save up to buy a quality knife.

This video below is a great overview of how to use knives properly and protect your fingers.

Cutting Boards

This is one area I would like to improve on, but we have what we need to survive – the designer in me comes out and I want matching sets and more then we need. We have a large wooden block cutting board that is used only for our bread. In Norway fresh baked bread is the normal, so every few days we buy a new loaf and slice off a piece when we want some. When it comes to meats and produce, we have 2 plastic boards – small & large – as well as a small Epicurean board. The Epicurean board is my favorite. I find that it slides around less and I feel I do not damage it.

I have been so upset recently when trying out my semi newly attained knife skills, because I feel that I am chasing the board all over the counter. I never had this trouble while learning, but I was also moving at a snails pace then, now I can finally chop semi-fast! I have been thinking that I needed to get a thinker heavier board, but that is not the case. Check out this video with Jamie Oliver below for a good tip!

Food Storage

When I moved to Norway, I was in total shock at how small the fridges were here! I could not understand how they managed to live. I now realize that fridges do come in American size here, but now I see it at pointless. We currently have a small dorm size fridge (pictured), it is hip tall and besides wanting more freezer space we are fine with it. I would prefer a deep freeze to pre make meals and freeze meats when I find them on offer. We shop everyday except Sunday’s, because the stores are closed (gasp!). We buy what we need for that days dinner and the next days breakfast, lunch and snacks. We are not very strict to this, if there is something on offer that we normally eat – we buy it!

I have learned since moving here not to have 50 different types of condiments and cook what we need to avoid days of leftovers. Unlike before when I lived in the States, I remember as a teen having the chore of cleaning out the fridge once a month – whew! we wasted so much food! Another thing that I am currently learning is that fruits and vegetables are to be kept in fresh air.. not in the frigid cold fruit / veggie drawers in the fridge. They did not have fridges 1,000’s of years ago and survived just fine. Now I do not plan to go back in time, I want to keep my milk, ice cream, beer and such of course. I have learned that if you store your potatoes in a dark place with apples on top of them that the apples ethylene gas will keep the potatoes fresh longer. Keep onions away from potatoes though, they make them go bad. I have learned that storing root vegetables, such as carrots, in sand so they can stand vertically (like they grow) will make them last longer – and you just add a small amount (2tbs) of water to the sand daily. Other fruits and vegetables stored over a water dish keeps them fresher longer. All these I have learned from Jihyun Ryou, she has dedicated much time to learn about this process of keeping produce alive and healthy. I have not yet built a sand box or a potato apple container… but I plan to in time! I have however stopped putting my veggies and fruits in the fridge.

Another thing that I have been noticing and hearing alot is to keep eggs on the counter, not the fridge. This I have been having trouble with for a few months now… but the next box of eggs I buy i’ll leave on the counter. I have seen this much from my Norwegian and British friends – but in America it is a no-no. I think more plays in here as well, In the States the food are bleached, cleaned and shipped across the huge country. Here my eggs occasionally come with feathers on them – which tells me they have not been cleaned like a hospital – and the shells are much thicker then in the States. I know the reason we are encouraged in the States to keep the in the fridge is to keep salmonella from developing – which sadly seems to be everywhere in the States. I would not personally keep my eggs on the counter in the States unless they were organic or free range or local farmer bought – but in Norway I will. I am on the hunt of a nice way to store them on my counter, I am not to ken on having a bright pink box out. Also, another thing I learned from Ryou is that eggs are very porous and should be allowed to breath.

These are my recent ‘ah-ha’ moments, ill share more as they come!

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