Tom Ross: Our ability to cook our own food is part of what defines humanity
January 3, 2014
Steamboat Springs — Quit your loafing around and bake some bread! I did, and now I feel more connected to my food.
I was pretty pleased with myself Wednesday when I crossed the first item off my list of New Year's resolutions by baking a couple of loaves of pumpkin walnut focaccia bread with gruyere cheese.
Sounds pretty good, huh? And I accomplished my first resolution on the first day of the year. But I probably should mention that so far, it's the only resolution on my list.
After publishing a grandiose list of resolutions for 2013, and only accomplishing a handful, I'm taking a new, more realistic approach this year. As soon as I accomplish a resolution, I'm going to add it to my list. That way, I can't fail.
I didn't make it to the top of a 14,000-foot peak last year, even though I set out in the rain to try and accomplish that in the San Juan Mountains. We were turned back by lightning. And I didn't return to the summit of Mount Zirkel. Nor did I even attempt to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together.
But I did catch trout from a river I'd never set eyes on before, and I did successfully dig for fossils in Wyoming. On the same trip, I connected with a campsite where my ancestors parked their covered wagon on the California Trail.
Looking back, I accomplished plenty of things last year that were worthy of resolutions, but I just didn't anticipate in advance. So in 2014, I'm going to complete the list of resolutions I've accomplished at the end of the year and take stock of where I've been.
The journey began modestly this year with a recipe from Cooking Light magazine. It was the first time in many years I had baked bread that required leavening, allowing the bread to rise, kneading it and allowing it to rise again. It wasn't difficult, but the process did stretch out over the entire morning, so I baked during the commercial timeouts during a football bowl game. Is that cheating?
I was inspired to tackle baking bread with yeast by a Christmas gift from my sister and brother-in-law Sally and Scot Higgins. It is the newest book by Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma." In "Cooked," Pollan explores how humans' ability to harness the four elements of fire, water, air and earth to transform the natural food sources they foraged for changed the course of society and even human evolution.
Fire makes meat more appealing and digestible, air provides yeast that causes wheat dough to rise and allows fire to turn it into a loaf of bread instead of just flat bread. Water allows us to simmer vegetables in a pot, and the decomposition that takes place in soil allows us to ferment beverages, make pickles and cure prosciutto (don't ask me, I haven't read that chapter yet).
Pollan wryly observes that at a time when Americans are consuming more prepared meals that come out of factories than ever before, television shows based on cooking competitions never have been so popular. We should all watch a little less TV and spend more time preparing our own meals.
So, if you'll permit me, I have a New Year's resolution for you. Make plans this year to brew a batch of beer, learn how to slow-barbecue naturally raised pork over coals that have burned down from wood, find out how naturally leavened bread is healthier for you than industrial bread, and even though you might not be ready to make your own cheese, seek out a Colorado cheese factory where you can learn how helpful bacteria can transform milk.
Even if you don't think you know how to cook, surprise your family and prepare a meal from scratch.
And if I ever get around to last year's resolution to prepare a stir fry of vegetables that I've either grown or foraged for locally over a fire that I started with two sticks, I'll be certain to let you know.
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