What's for dinner? is our kids way of saying hello to us as they walk into the door from school. Akin to the movie Groundhog Day, we seek an answer to this same old question every 24 hours. But one day, perhaps while sipping a first cup of coffee in our empty nest, we realize the question has ceased to be so very pressing.
After 20 years of grocery shopping an average of 2.2 times a week, preparing family meals 3.5 times a week, many of us are, frankly, happy to say goodbye to the stage in our lives where we logged 2,300 trips to the store to cook over 4,000 dinners!
But transitioning from pushing baskets overflowing with each child's favorite foods to shopping for just one or two adults, means thinking about cooking in a new way. Gone are the long lists, junky snacks and super-sized quantities. We have a chance to reboot our eating habits, ditching tired family favorites along the way.
I needed some advice about empty nest cooking, so I spoke with a friend and neighbor, Renee Cohen, who is also the owner/instructor of CuisineArts cooking school. For fifteen years, Renee has taught weekly classes of ten students each in her Victorian home just steps from the Long Island Sound. Part demonstration, part participation, each class runs three hours, culminating in a feast where students and teacher sit down together at her round dining table to sample the dozen dishes prepared.
What led you to create CuisineArts?
I've developed over 75 classes including Italian, French, Healthy Eating, Asian, and Southwestern, to name a few. I love so many different types of food, it's impossible for me to choose just one.
I will soon have an empty nest and, though I fantasize about dining on soup or cereal, I think that is unlikely. What do you suggest?
I love the ingredients that the Mediterranean diet includes; what could be so bad with extra-virgin olive oil, fresh lemon squeezed onto a beautiful whole fish, with a touch of sea salt and freshly ground pepper, perfectly grilled. Wait, and then top it off with a delicious wine!
Speaking of the Mediterranean Diet and the compelling benefits it offers, have you altered your classes or recipes over time, reflecting an interest in healthier eating?
Yes, absolutely. While I still love the traditional way of cooking French food, I have adapted healthier preparation. For instance, in one of my Modern French cooking classes, I teach how to cook "en papiollote" (in paper.) I use parchment paper and cook fresh fish (snapper is yummy), grape tomatoes, lemon juice, fresh thyme and a dash of wine for nine minutes in a 450 oven. There is nothing highly caloric in that recipe, but as you can see, it's still in keeping with a "French" theme. This is also a great recipe for just the empty nesters!
What if there are non-fish eaters in the house and we are bored with chicken, chicken and chicken, again?
Use some whole grains, and there's nothing wrong with cooking turkey cutlets or ground turkey. You can also use tofu and jazz it up by throwing in some vegetables, both familiar or new ones that are fun to sample.
After twenty+ years of marriage and cooking for my family most nights, I am burned out on grocery shopping. How can I regain my enthusiasm for cooking?
You can take a cooking class, go on a food walking tour, pick up some food magazines, look through old (pre-kid) recipes. Consider hosting your own recipe swap with friends.
You have one daughter in college and another one in 11th grade. How are you preparing for your own empty nest?
I don't think anyone could have prepared me for my first going off -- it's been a huge adjustment for us all, and for her too! I'm thinking of continuing to do what I love to do, more cooking classes, food walking tours, and hopefully, opening up a restaurant where I can marry my passion of cooking, teaching and entertaining!
Photo credit: CuisineArts