Why are New Year's resolutions so frequently about deprivation, about discipline? "I will lose 20 pounds, I will eat 2 grams of fat a day, I will masticate each mouthful 100 times." We restrict our field as a protective measure: against weight gain, against weak will, against death.
Don't get me wrong. Discipline is a good concept. Without some degree of physical rigor, the human race would still be lying about in the primordial muck, bemoaning our new legs and wishing desperately for TV. But in a guilt-driven society such as ours, resolutions involving voluntary deprivation are easy -- for a while, at least. If you meet your goals, you get the moral equivalent of a little gold star. If you slip, as often happens, you're still playing an essential part in the paradigm, providing moral illustration for yourself and others to steer clear of other "falls from grace."
This year, try subverting the system, instead of buying into it. Make your resolutions as expansive as you can (not expensive, unless you can really afford it). Reach out for the goodies. Be casual and curious and compassionate with yourself and all of your food desires, habits and idiosyncrasies. Such resolutions are bold in the face of a paradigm of deprival and scarcity. Here are some possible New Year's resolutions along these lines. Take what you like and toss the rest, as freely and easily as you might toss that 2-year-old bag of prunes. Face it: You're not going to use them.
Don't hold it against yourself that you eat nuked Spaghetti-Os every night for a week during deadlines. Same goes for the Planter's peanuts. During times of stress, fuel is just fuel.
Learn about and order the wines that you truly love, tradition be damned. Hell, spend a year investigating the relative merits of only those wines with raffia wrapped around the necks of the bottle. The research might be a challenge. But you're up for it! Hic.
Go to the farmers market more, especially if they move it closer to downtown. Especially if they get more organics. Especially if someone can find an environmentally sound, ethical, bio-intensive way to raise strawberries in the dead of winter.
Experiment with one new food substance a month, and use it at least three times to expand your food vocabulary. Here are a few things to help you start your list: okra, crispy onions out of a can, spelt, pheasant.
Raise something in your kitchen windowsill other than black mold, something useful, like parsley or oregano. God, grow a Chia head if you don't have enough sun, or sprouts.
Learn how to sharpen your knives with a blade and steel the way the cooks do on TV. You are the kitchen warrior. Know your weapons!
Buy a new flat-bottom wok and frying pan to replace the ones you got at Cost Plus years ago. That nonstick coating has long since flaked off and accumulated in the bends of your digestive tract. And no, it definitely doesn't count as dietary fiber.
Eat one dinner a week at the table. Digestion is supposed to be better when you're not distracted by stress or loud noise -- which means no newspaper and no TV. Oh, no kids, either.
Poor students and other lusty but low-income types, get out of your garret and eat out at one sit-down restaurant a month, budgeting appropriately, so that an evening exploring the finer side of the gastronomic world does not come back to haunt you on your credit cards in the months to come.
Keep your cast-iron pot oiled per instructions.
Use your cast-iron pot.
Volunteer at least once in a soup kitchen. In addition to the warmth in your heart that you'll get from helping your fellow man, you'll get really good at chopping onions. And washing dishes.
Put a chair in your kitchen, one that you don't care about destroying with spills or cooking fumes. Every cook needs a place to sit down, to flip through cookbooks, to rest the feet between steps in the recipe. If you can arrange it with a view, so much the better. I know someone with a purple velvet half-chaise in one corner of her kitchen, facing out of the window, looking out into the trees across her rural street. Sprawled in that chaise, next to shelves of dried beans and canned tomatoes, one feels like royalty.
Use different utensils to prepare a meal, use different utensils to eat with -- chopsticks, a ladle at each plate, two butter knives, fingers.
Go for a week doing your meal planning differently than you're used to. If you ordinarily just eat whatever you can find in the fridge or on the take-out menu, try planning menus, listing ingredients, and shopping with that list. If you normally always plan ahead (and usually eat the same thing), try going to the store, buying only what looks, smells or feels interesting, and see what you can make of it.
Try the free samples at the stores, even if it is for something weird-sounding like microwave salmon souffl. It's not a commitment to buy the whole box. The sample offerer will understand. She gets rejected all the time.
Go to a store where you'd never think of going: an Asian market, a Mexican carneceria, an up-market wine shop, an Italian deli. Buy something you've never seen before. If you can't read the label but you like the way it looks, ask the shopkeeper what it is. Ask how to use it, or look it up in a book.
Then go home and use it.
Marina Wolf is a food and feature writer whose articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines around the country. Her work can be found at www.wide-eyed-gourmet.com.