The Joy of Cooking: Preparations

So where to begin with the cooking part of “Where ya been these last few months?”

Maybe I should start with prep. In some endeavors, prepping is as important as doing the “actual” work — house painting comes to mind. Well, in  GAPS cooking as well as chemo-cooking, prep work is essential.  Our routines for prepping called for enormous quantities of note pads, scheduling, timing, and coordination of efforts.

However, once I had the routine down, it was simple [Wry Smile alert]. All I had to do was observe GAPS and allergy restrictions on allowable foods, cook nutritious food that ranged as widely as possible through nutrients that could best keep Jan’s physical systems going, and be aware of the 3-week chemo cycle that she was currently in. All this for one (myself!) who tries to avoid thinking about food until someone else cooks it for her, whose notion of prep is to tell Jer when the pretzels are running out, and who, as noted, gave up maundering about nutrition many years ago.

So, the June-cooking, GAPS delimited, Jan-centered routine was this: After I recovered from the 3–6 hour current day’s cooking chore (i.e. after I napped while Jer did the dishes and delivered the bowls of stuff), I thumbed through recipes in the Internal Bliss cookbook, surfed the web (discovering some recipes from food groups not termed GAPS but legal anyway), and made the groc lists for Jer to buy the next day, the day not set aside for cooking and recipe hunting.

I determined that each batch of delivered food should contain three different kinds of dishes: something like an entrée (meat, fowl, or fish prominent within them); a vegetable/fruit dish, preferably with nuts; and coconut custard.

Ah, coconut custard — the dish I can now cook in my sleep. Of all the food that Jan disliked during this time, it was the custard she disliked least. It didn’t hurt her mouth, it went down easy, it didn’t taste too much like sand or baking soda.

So we bought a lot of ramekins and batches of unsweetened flaked coconut (does Bob’s Red Mills sell stock?).

Flaked coconut from Bob’s is a lot easier than climbing the tree and bringing down the whole coconut, breaking it open with a sledge-hammer, and digging out the meal. But for GAPS it still requires preparation to use. It must first be soaked at least four hours in filtered water (four cups water to one cup coconut flakes, if you are counting), and then blended for 10 minutes or so and strained, mostly to extract coconut milk, but also to capture the coconut residue, which can be turned into coconut flour if you like,  and sometimes coconut cream, a heavenly substance which is almost impossible to prepare intentionally, but amazing when it happens accidentally.

So, coconut flakes need soaking the day between the cooking day). The nuts too call for early prep. They are full of protein but (I am only barely paraphrasing from Internal Bliss) also filled with phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors which can make digestion difficult unless they are soaked in filtered water. So GAPS protocol calls for soaking:  6 hours for walnuts, up to 24 for almonds. Sam (Grand/Son) in his research found that nuts high in protein were important for those going through chemo, so organic nuts were hunted and gathered from Zupans, Whole Foods, and New Seasons.  And blanched (almonds, according to instructions in the Joy of Cooking) and soaked, in filtered water. Finding all things organic and needful for the next day’s cooking was Jer’s chore; remembering to blanch, soak, crisp, roast and simmer, mine.

Coconut flakes in filtered water, soaking.

The meat, another hunter-gatherer quest, put us into new territory. Or rather, it put Jer-the-shopper into new territory. Jer is a natural vegetarian, although he concedes, for my sake, to fowl and fish occasionally. But he has not gone near a red-meat counter in a grocery store for years and doesn’t know a rack of lamb from a T-bone steak. However, in this instance, it was he who was forced to consult with butchers about what would work best for meat that would be getting the bejesus boiled out of it. Apparently, it’s not an easy explanation to make to butchers, who naturally would prefer their cuts be flavorful.

Once the meat arrived home, it got roasted immediately, because after being roasted and some slabs of it being cut off for cubing and pureeing with the next day’s entrée, the rest, including bone, would need to be simmered, for at least 12 hours but preferably 24 or even 36. (The GAPS entry on Bone Broth or Stock says let it cook for 36 — 72 hours, but she uses a “slow cooker,” what we in the states might call a “crock-pot.” We were offered the use of a crock pot by friends, but my brain at that point couldn’t figure out quite how to fit 36 –72 hours into my cook-and-prep-and cook schedule. So we went with mostly mid-afternoon through overnight simmering, with lots of veggies added and the hours stretched to the last possible minute of need.)

An aside: it is obviously efficient to boil up large pots of stock at once, freezing both stock and the roasted meat for later entrees, but my first attempt at this was a total failure. The stock was weak, tasteless, anemic and didn’t really look like it would make anyone any healthier than drinking colored water. And I put it in glass mason jars to freeze and of course, as  all who live in the colder latitudes might have guessed, the jars broke and everything in them had to be thrown away. After that I cooked the stock much longer, with more meat and veggies — and I used plastic containers to freeze it in. One gain for plastic, alas, and one lesson in cooking for June. Certain natural laws had not been suspended during my 25 years of cooking absence.

This is what our freezer ultimately began to look like; note the coconut flour in the mason jar. According to those still extant physical laws, it is possible to freeze dry stuff in glass jars, provided the jars aren’t necessary for delivering foodstuffs.

So the Serious Preparation stage of the joy of cooking called for making notes, notes for Jer, notes for self, and finally notes for Jan. I brought out a stack of small note pads, onto which I could jot ideas from the web, suggestions by advanced cooks, lists of possible meals, lists of possible groceries, and then finally, things like  “Sat:  Shepherd’s Pie (cauliflower), apple-almond-ginger mash, coconut custard. Pork stock for SP (start tomorrow) (put on groc list), almonds — blanch and soak, 24 hours — blanch tonight. Need more eggs. Mashed white beans, soak tonight, simmer tomorrow — thickener in Sheps pie.”

[Another aside: from Internal Bliss;  “Soak the 2 cups of dried beans in about 6 cups of warm filtered water with 2 Tbsp whey or lemon juice for 12 –24 hours…. Add the beans to your slow cooker with an additional 6 cups of filtered water. Cook on low for 8 hours….”]

Then, after checking the frig and pantry,  I would make out Jer’s list: “pork roast, organic eggs, organic vanilla extract, organic carrots, organic white beans, frozen organic peas, fresh organic parsley.”

I’ll must admit that  in addition to Internal Bliss and internet sites, I made frequent use of  the 1952 edition of Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker’s Joy of Cooking.  1952 was a good year for high fat food, and where the Rombauers might have used butter, I could use coconut oil. Its conversion tables and bits of info like which spices go with what meats (although the authors weren’t all that high on fresh herbs) are excellent. It has many versions of custards, meant mostly for pie but easy to translate into ramekins without crust.

And, it turns out, I had some cooking history that was helpful. My mother grew up on a farm where the field hands were fed large farm meals (meat, potatoes, boiled vegetables), the meat was very local and the milk so rich in butterfat that later in life she was disdainful of the “watery whey” they called whipping cream in grocery stores. My father’s work required him to be on his feet all day, walking miles on a factory floor, and he ate bacon and eggs every morning of his life. So I had some sense of what cooking with meat could be like. It turns out that some aspects of existence, like riding a bicycle and cooking like a farmwife, can be laid down and picked up many years later, with a certain amount of success.

Above is a favorite photo of my mother, Ann Oechler, with baby, surrounded by family members who were undoubtedly getting ready to eat a beef roast, mashed potatoes with lots of butter and canned peas, also with a slug of butter added.

And Jan, the summer between her freshman and sophomore years, came home and announced herself a vegetarian. That was delightful, because we agreed to the new food routine so long as she cooked dinners. Along the way, she managed to teach me about sauteing. But that’s another story for another day. –June

Jan, a bit later than her college years, but still in the same lifestyle.

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5 Responses to The Joy of Cooking: Preparations

  1. GIACOMINI says:

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  2. Can’t resist passing along the fact that you CAN use mason jars for freezing – it’s the way I used to preserve pears from a prolific tree. You just have to leave appropriate head room for the expanding ice. Hoping you have no further need to see if I am right.


    • june says:

      Actually, Sheila, I sort of knew this. But I was so overwhelmed by everything that when the jars broke I just decided the H. with it. Our freezer isn’t very big and I tried to freeze about the right amount for each day of cooking, no more and no less, and it all just got to be too much. It was a corner I cut. However, we don’t have a dishwasher, so Cynthia’s advice about not storing in plastic that’s been in a dishwasher felt good:-)


  3. june says:

    Thanks, Reva. We are never sure who knows what and who doesn’t — and the process has been a long protracted one, so we got less and less certain as we went along.

    But the cooking has been an, um, adventure!

    I’m hoping we won’t need any more mason jars for years and years and years. But you already know that, having seen the latest message. I’m smiling just thinking of it.


  4. Reva Basch says:

    Ho-lee, June. I had no idea any of this was happening. All my best to Jan and her family, including most notably you and Jer. Let me know if you need more mason jars; I have a stash.


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