This post is lovingly dedicated to Andrea Bemis, author of Dishing Up the Dirt. Her book changed my life, and I do not exaggerate when I say that.
I used to dread going to the grocery store. It was a stressful experience that caused me anxiety. The crowds, the difficulty finding things, the cost, the lugging everything onto the bus. I hated it, so I would put it off, so I was only going about once a month, and whenever I ran out of food, I would just forage junk food to put off going.
I also used to hate cooking. Well, it was fine, I guess, but I hated investing time into it. I would choose recipes that were quick and easy and required few ingredients. This meant usually buying processed, packaged food or making pasta. I had pasta for dinner 75% of the time, and rice the other 25% of the time.
Whenever I was experiencing my stomach problems a few months ago, I realized I needed to change the way I was eating. However, this became so much more exhausting because I would have to scroll through numerous websites and hunt and gather to find recipes that were natural, unprocessed, but realistic to cook. I wanted a reliable cookbook that I could just flip through to find stuff to make, and I wanted there to be pictures so that I could get some enjoyment out of the process. I have a cookbook with no pictures, and flipping through it feels like a chore.
Dishing Up the Dirt fit everything I was looking for. It is filled with simple recipes using fresh, seasonal produce. There are gorgeous, professional-looking photographs of every dish (and many gorgeous photographs of Andrea’s farm). Furthermore, the narrative is heartwarming and creates a connection between the recipes and the human experience. From the moment I opened the book and started reading the introduction, I was hooked, and I’ve been in love with the book ever since.
Let me just say that if Andrea had a cult, I would immediately drop everything, shave my head, and move to Oregon to join it. I bought the book in February, and since then, every single thing I cooked was from that book. I usually cook once a week and make enough to have leftovers all week, but sometimes I get busy, so on average it might be a little bit less than once a week. Still, over the course of 3 months, that’s a lot of recipes. I even used one of her cupcake recipes for a big presentation I gave last month to achieve dissertator status.
The book helped me to appreciate the entire food experience, from acquiring the ingredients at the store to preparing the meal, to finally sitting down and enjoying it. Grocery shopping has become a fun adventure, like a scavenger hunt to find the unfamiliar vegetables, and ingredients I’ve never heard of like tahini (which took me a solid 20 minutes and extensive googling to find). It’s fun, but without the stress because if I really can’t find something, I can just find a reasonable substitute, and usually there aren’t any completely bazaar ingredients.
Cooking has become a relaxing, almost meditative, experience as well. I used to buy prepackaged vegetables, and usually preferred when they were pre-peeled, pre-sliced, and preferable non-perishable (canned or frozen). Now, I take the time to remove seeds, chop, and peel everything myself. It takes longer, but it feels good. It’s hard to explain, but something about being present for the whole process makes me feel more appreciative. I don’t really take any shortcuts anymore. I make the croutons from scratch. (The first recipe I made for involved homemade croutons, and I was so, so close to just buying a package of croutons, but I didn’t!) I make the salad dressing from scratch instead of finding a bottle of the closest approximate. I make pizza dough from scratch even though it takes me 3 to 4 hours to make and I’m covered in flour by the end. (This isn’t to say that any of the recipes are hard. They’re amazingly simple and easy, especially for someone as novice and lazy as myself.)
After all of this, whenever I finally sit down to enjoy what I made, I appreciate it so much. It feels so nourishing and well-deserved. Sure, part of the reason is that every single recipe I’ve made has been purely amazing, but also I tend to notice everything more since it wasn’t just whipped together in an exhausted and frustrated blur.
The book also changed the way I look at food. My roommates are health-conscious and focus on calorie-counting and low carbs and all of that. I like that with Andrea’s recipes, I’m not opting for low-fat, sugar-free substitutes for things. Everything is pure and simple, so I don’t care what the calorie count is. It’s good for my body, I know what every ingredient is that’s going into it, and so it takes the stress and shame out of healthy-eating. Also, Andrea’s positivity about nourishment is so uplifting. For example, I had a conversation with my roommate, recently:
Roommate: “Ugh, I hate how tight my pants are. I definitely put on weight this winter.”
Me: “It’s okay if you put on a little bit of weight. Andrea says that in the winter our bodies naturally crave more calories and a less active lifestyle.” [I tend to start a lot of sentences with “Andrea says…” but that’s okay. I’m gladly drinking the Kool-Aid.]
So really, this book has changed so many aspects of my life, and not in an extreme, sacrificial way. I love the entire process, and I get enjoyment out of following the recipes. Last night, I made a quiche with mustard greens, and the night before I made a few spring harvest pizzas that I put in the freezer for nights when I don’t feel like cooking. Also pictured is a spring celebration bowl that I made two weeks ago. All of these, like every single other recipe from the book, were absolutely phenomenal.
So thanks, Andrea, for everything you’ve done for me.
And if you ever read this, I hope you aren’t too creeped out by my obsession with you.