Come dusk this Fourth of July, while everyone else is oohing and aahing patriotically over fireworks, our thoughts will turn to a different sort of independence. Freedoms, if you will. Freedom from cooking things the way your mom always did. Freedom from being sheepish about the state of your thighs. Freedom to sip Champagne to your heart’s content. Freedom from fearing the collective cholesterol of an egg every morning. Freedom to indulge in a cornflake marshmallow cookie from Momofuku Milk Bar for breakfast if you please. Freedom to linger as late as you darn well please when seated at the table with friends. And all manner of other food-minded freedoms.
We had an inkling that we’re not the only ones distracted by such thoughts at the twilight’s last gleaming, so we took it upon ourselves to inquire what liberties, serious as well as silly, others were grateful to have in their lives. What we found is there’s a heck of a lot of freedom being felt through food, and we’re not just talking about flag-shaped cakes. Without further ado, we present an array of incredible, indelible, oft edible moments of independence. Cue fireworks. Or perhaps Pop Rocks.—Renee Schettler Rossi
Independence from recipes
A few years ago, I realized that I knew how to bake a potato.
I’d been in a rush all day, running late, charging into the house, dragging the dog out for her walk, and finally slamming into the kitchen. I grabbed a potato, slathered on a little olive oil, and popped it in the oven, and 40-some minutes later, there it was. Perfect.
I was practically giddy.
Not because of the potato.
Any idiot can bake a potato.
I was giddy because for the first time in my cooking history, I’d managed to make something without first having to paw through a pile of cookbooks. In one swoop, I’d escaped from the tyranny of cookbooks, recipes, precise timing, and meat thermometers. And I never looked back.
I still love cookbooks. Really, I do. But now I seem to read them more the way a gardener reads a seed catalog—for suggestion, as inspiration, just to visit old friends. I’m freer now, more willing to try to make something out of only what’s on hand or what might just taste good. I taste and touch and smell and trust myself a little more. And I’ve begun, in my own way, to become a decent cook.—Rick Casner, an architect and part-time ski instructor or a ski instructor and part-time architect, depending on what time of year you ask, who also writes a little
Freedom from brown bagging
Not packing school lunches in the summer—that feels like true liberation!—Aviva Goldfarb, founder of The Six O’Clock Scramble, food blogger for PBS Parents, and devoted mom
Independence from aging
When I reached 80, I knew I would eat what I wanted and fill in my wrinkles. At 81, I can attest, it’s working…. —Portia Asher, LC Facebook fan
Freedom from life’s burdens
I pull from the fridge a large, reluctant, raw, 16-pound whole brisket, and sit it on the kitchen counter to coax its interior to room temperature. That’s when the feeling begins. And as this primal hunk (referring to the brisket, not me) sits there for hours sweating drops of glistening moisture, my own interior temperature begins to rise. The thought of smoking this beef outdoors over pecan wood raises my spirit. And as I shake out kosher salt, butcher’s pepper, and garlic powder, I really feel it: freedom. I will shed all life’s burdens, my vision and labor devoted exclusively, dawn to dusk, to the single task of producing true Texas-style brisket. Yeehaw!—John Markus, Emmy award-winning writer and creator/executive producer of BBQ Pitmasters
Freedom from guilt
Eating reasonably 90 percent of the time means you can eat unreasonably 10 percent of the time—without guilt.—Kristi Miller Horn, LC Facebook fan
Freedom to eat pickles
The day I moved out and closed the door on 15 years of a disastrous marriage, I started exercising my alienable rights in earnest. Right to life? Check. Right to pursue happiness, which to me means, among other things, the right to purchase and consume pickles? Big-time check.
My soon-to-be ex claimed to be allergic to pickles. They weren’t allowed in our household under any disguise. I am Serbian, so my blood is at least 50 percent pickle juice. I fought for my beloveds with all my might. But if I defiantly put pickles in the grocery cart, they would mysteriously disappear. If I smuggled jars into the house, they would vanish overnight. Quiet grumbling, nasty glances, and spiteful comments I could take. But I had to admit defeat when faced with outright wrath.
Not long ago, during my first days of newfound freedom, I found myself in a supermarket. Feeling utterly unleashed, for one long, crazy moment, I considered filling my cart with anything and everything pickled. The moment was fleeting and reason prevailed, seeing as one extreme does not annihilate another, and in the end I bought just one jar. When I bit into that first pickle, I imagined my husband cringing and glaring at me. I crunched away mercilessly and viciously until it was gone. The next pickle I considered my voodoo doll. It lasted a looooong time. I savored each briny bite with hedonistic and sadistic delight. The third one was also satisfying, although the pleasure I derived was in no small way due to the triple-cream Brie and crisp, dry German Riesling that I indulged in along with it.
Each pickle I savored brought me closer not just to the realization that I am free of my husband and free to eat the food he wouldn’t allow in our lives, but that I am free of doing things out of spite. Free of revenge. Free of trying to get even. These days, I don’t even think of my ex in any way when I buy a jar of pickles. As small as that may seem to the world at large, it’s freedom to me. —Lana Watkins, blogger at Bibberche
Freedom from being boring
You have to live life to its full chorizo.—Mario Batali, food personality, chef and owner of several restaurants including New York City’s Babbo and Casa Mono, and keeper of countless pairs of orange Crocs, in an episode of PBS’s series Spain…On the Road Again
Freedom from manners
Don’t be polite.
Pick it up with your fingers and lick the juice that may run down your chin.
It is ready and ripe now, whenever you are.
You do not need a knife or fork or spoon.
For there is no core
or skin to throw away.―Eve Merriam, How to Eat a Poem
Independence from stress
Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.—David Mamet, Boston Marriage
Freedom from being serious and staid
Yes, it’s true, we inserted an air pump into a tomato and blew it up. It was a punky phase that we went through. People have this image of us being polite and serious. But normally, we are quite crazy.—Ferran Adria, former head chef of the world-renowned El Bulli restaurant in Spain
Independence from beating oneself up
Six months of constant pain can make a person a little crazy. It can also make a person a little hefty if the pain comes with reduced mobility, as it did when I had a recurrence of a back injury last year.
During my recovery, my goal had been to survive another day, to grimace as little as possible while attempting the most routine of tasks, like getting out of bed or sitting in a chair. But as soon as the agony subsided, I took a good, long look at myself in the mirror. Part of me rejoiced at no longer seeing that pinched expression from pain on my face. But another part recoiled at the sight of me—all of me.
It wasn’t until a month before I was heading to my hometown of Sydney during swimsuit season that I decided extreme measures were necessary. I hadn’t seen my parents in three years, and while my hair hadn’t started to go gray yet (thank you, genetics), the wrinkles were setting up shop at an alarming pace and I felt fat. So I signed up for three days of nothing but fruit juices, vegetable drinks, and clear broths. There was fatigue, fuzzy-headedness, and frustration, along with hunger headaches, carb cravings, and food fantasies—quite a lot of food fantasies, actually. I did lose five pounds for my efforts. Not too shabby.
But the shedding of weight turned out to be a side benefit of the experience. Mostly I came away with a welcome clarity. I found myself letting go of more than just those extra pounds. I cleared out my closet and ditched pants I knew I’d likely never wriggle into again. I tossed tons of paper files I no longer needed. I parted ways with a client I’d outgrown. And when my parents called me, post-cleanse but pre-visit, what I heard in their voices was how much they looked forward to seeing me. I’d been obsessing about what I feared they would see, namely a struggling freelancer pushing 50 who’d put on weight. But it was simply me, their daughter, that they wanted to see. All of me.—Sarah Henry, a Berkeley-based writer and the voice behind Lettuce Eat Kale who bought a rocking bikini while in Australia recently, complete with retro fashionable big-girl briefs
Freedom from faking an ability to cook
I live surrounded by people who farm and grow and harvest and crush. We locals call Sonoma County the “Salad Bowl,” because everything grows here—and grows beautifully. My idea of heaven includes three different hues of beets, goat cheese, avocado, and kale. I have spent years debating the best fruit garnish for buttermilk panna cotta. I think that all ceviche deserves fresh halibut. I am a foodie in every sense of the word, except for one. I can’t cook. I really can’t. I grew up with a mother who was devoted to The Snack Tray. Dinner didn’t happen often, and when it did, it was mostly meh. I don’t know what the word blanch means, and I have never bought waxed paper. I don’t own a food processor and am known for overspending on grass-fed, free-range food that I proceed to ruin—although in my defense, I always pick the right wine to accompany my inevitable catastrophe. Not only is cooking as comfortable for me as wet jeans, I make a horrifying mess in the kitchen. So now, finally, I am here to shout from the rooftops that I cannot cook. Not only can I not cook, I ruin kitchens trying.
Recently, I attended a smashing summer soiree with glorious gourmet guest types from the food and wine industries. A lovely woman asked me, “So, do you cook?” In an act of deliberate liberation, I confessed with conviction, “No. Not at all.” She promptly went into a dreamy spiel about how she finds her Zen at the stove. Then something remarkable happened. She looked at me and said, “I’ll make you dinner sometime. How about Thursday?”
Do you realize what just happened? I was honest about being a lousy cook right at the center of the Foodie Universe…and now it wants to cook for me. Not only am I free from trying to fit in with these culinary geniuses, I’ve just become the luckiest eater in all of California. I will, of course, bring the wine. Bon appétit to me!—Heather Gulino, a marketer, copywriter, and newly liberated foodie who lives on a vineyard near Healdsburg and can make a Bloody Mary that more than makes up for her inability to prepare food
Freedom to really feel your hunger
Like most humans, I am hungry…our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it.―M. F. K. Fisher, The Gastronomical Me
Freedom from spending lavish sums on food
I grew up eating quite lavishly and earnestly believed that the most expensive food was the best. When I started out on my own, I quickly realized I was going to starve to death. Learning how to braise tough cuts of meat, quarter a chicken, throw together a frittata from leftovers, or otherwise create a satisfying, delicious meal without breaking the bank was a revelation.—Kristen Dorn Kennedy, LC recipe tester and mom extraordinaire
Independence from greed
I always tell my kids to cut a sandwich in half right when you get it, and the first thought you should have is somebody else. You only ever need half a burger.―Louis CK, comedian and dad, who can be found teaching life lessons to his girls on his show Louie
Freedom to travel vicariously through food
I’m a poor single mom of three. We can’t afford to travel, so we travel in our kitchen.—Amy Fryday Ames, LC Facebook fan
Independence from the evils of being a poor college student
Freedom from Top Ramen! Woohoo!—Sjn Petchel, LC Facebook fan
Freedom from Mom’s rigid weekly menu
I remember the most thrilling thing of leaving home when I married husband #1 at the age of 18 was that I could cook anything I wanted without cooking from my mother’s weekly menu list and pantry. I was drunk with power and made all my favorites in crazy patchwork-quilt style, as the mood struck me. Even while typing this, the rush of pleasure I had then is once again present for me. Cheeses were the center of my worship—Welsh rabbit on toast for breakfast, mac ‘n cheese for lunch, Mammaw’s cheese straws with drinks, cheese soufflé for dinner, apple pie with cheddar for dinner!—Robin Carpenter, LC Facebook fan
Freedom to make others—and yourself—feel pretty darn swell
Freedom to feed my soul when I nourish others through food. Watching someone’s eyes roll back in their head & a smile creep across their face because they enjoy your food = best feeling in the world.—Cheryl Bennett, LC Facebook fan
Freedom from being a straight-laced parent
The Three-Martini Playdate
Freedom to drop peanuts in your Coke, if you so please
A revered southern ritual of drinking Coca-Cola with peanuts.
Independence from imitation Southern food
As a Southerner living in Los Angeles, I’ve spent years looking for the flavors from home that I missed. But I’ve at last learned to unhook myself from those expectations. Rather than seek out West Coast versions of my native cuisine and then grouse because they didn’t do it right, I wait until I go home to Tennessee to indulge in my personal holy trinity of barbecue, catfish, and fried chicken, along with a host of minor deities of Southern food. As strange as it sounds, I finally feel liberated from the food I love most.—Carol Penn-Romine, a food writer who teaches at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, in Los Angeles
Freedom from being at a loss for words
Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate.—Alan D. Wolfelt
Independence from routines and ruts
I’ve been traveling in Southeast Asia, where my usual foods aren’t available, for four months. No bagels for breakfast. No pizza delivery for dinner. No Cambozola or big, full-bodied Cabs. This complete overhaul of my eating rituals, this “deprivation,” if you will, has set me free.
There are no fat-free or reduced-fat versions of anything. If it didn’t fall off the tree fat-free, you’re not going to find it here. You get full-on, full-fat yogurt, milk, and ice cream. And you know what? They taste so much better than the insipid versions hawked back home. The result is a far more satisfying satiety that comes much sooner. I just may bid adieu to skinny lattes when I get back.
Also, the multitasking to which I’d become accustomed—one hand in the bag of gummi bears while I talk on the phone as I also browse Pinterest—is unheard of here. Eating here is mindful. If you eat, you stop to do so—whether sitting down at the table to dine with family or squatting down on the sidewalk. Snacking just doesn’t occur, unless someone busts open a coconut and passes it around. You’ll never see anyone walking down the street munching on chips. There’s also freedom from overwhelming choice. There’s one small grocery store on the tiny Indonesian island where I currently reside. The shop has no walls, and ergo no AC, as well as more flies than you can shake a stick at. Raw food is out of the question, as the produce is just too dirty to trust and the water for washing it is equally filthy. Many packaged items are well past their sell-by date. You quickly become grateful for a seriously decent bottle of wine schlepped from the duty-free shop by a fellow traveler, no matter the varietal or points awarded (and often met with squeals of delight by even the most jaded adult). This has definitely served to cut me loose from taking that triple-layer, death-by-chocolate cake for granted.—Katherine Girling, traveling yogi and determined foodie
Freedom from bad baked goods
As a leftover ’60s liberal, I believe that the long arm and beady eyes of the government have no place in our bedrooms, our kitchens, or the backseats of our parked cars. But I also feel that the immediate appointment of a Special Pastry Prosecutor would do much more good than harm. We know the free market has totally failed when 89 percent of all the tart pastry, chocolate chip cookies, and tuiles in America are far less delicious than they would be if bakers simply followed a few readily available recipes. What we need is a system of graduated fines and perhaps short jail sentences to discourage the production of totally depressing baked goods. Maybe a period of unpleasant and tedious community service could be substituted for jail time.―Jeffrey Steingarten, food critic at Vogue, excerpted from It Must’ve Been Something I Ate: The Return of the Man Who Ate Everything.
Freedom to write about eggs any which way one damn well pleases
When you wake at three AM you don’t think
of your age or sex and rarely your name
or the plot of your life which has never
broken itself down into logical pieces.
At three AM you have the gift of incomprehension
wherein the galaxies make more sense
than your job or the government. Jesus at the well
with Mary Magdalene is much more vivid
than your car. You can clearly see the bear
climb to heaven on a golden rope in the children’s
story no one ever wrote. Your childhood horse
named June still stomps the ground for an apple.
What is morning and what if it doesn’t arrive?
One morning Mother dropped an egg and asked
me if God was the same species as we are?
Smear of light at five AM. Sound of Webber’s
sheep flock and sand hill cranes across the road,
burble of irrigation ditch beneath my window.
She said, “Only lunatics save newspapers
and magazines,” fried me two eggs, then said,
“If you want to understand mortality look at birds.”
Blue moon, two full moons this month,
which I conclude are two full moons. In what
direction do the dead fly off the earth?
Rising sun. A thousand blackbirds
pronounce day.—Jim Harrison, poet, novelist, and essayist, whose above words comprise the poem Mother Night
Freedom from obsessing over food
Freedom from obsession is not about something you do; it’s about knowing who you are. It’s about recognizing what sustains you and what exhausts you, what you love and what you think you love because you believe you can’t have it.―Geneen Roth, author of Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything
Freedom to eat
I grew up in a family where my mom loved to feed people, much as one force-feeds a duck for foie gras. Food was very important, and my mom loved to read about, grow, cook, bake, preserve, and share food. I was also a ballet dancer, keenly attuned to the waiflike ballet dancer’s body I was expected to maintain. I was slapped on the thighs with a ruler, was forced to dance with Saran Wrapped thighs, had food taken out of my mouth, and was advised that I was “graceful for someone my size.”
By the time I reached my early teens, the two opposing forces were colliding in my psyche. I was tormented by food, never feeling full. Looking back, I see a tall, muscular, incredibly athletic frame. How I wish I’d had the luxury to enjoy it for what it was at the time. In the end, I left ballet. As much as I loved dance, it had never been possible for me to live off so little and pronounce myself full. I just couldn’t make my psyche as malleable as my body. My relationship with food has evolved from treating it as an emotionally charged entity that I feared to enjoying food for what it is and understanding it as something to be anticipated, created, shared, and savored.—Tamiko Lagerwaard, LC recipe tester, en“lightend” dancer, and therapist
Freedom from wondering what if
While I abhor prohibitions, I can’t say it felt especially liberating to be able to taste real lardo di Colonnata after years of the USDA “protecting” me from it, or foie gras in New York after the California ban. They were just good, without any special smack of liberty.—Jonathan Gold, Pulitzer prize-winning restaurant critic for the LA Times and a really swell guy
Freedom from being lazy in the kitchen
Every time I watch The Barefoot Contessa, I think, “Why, yes, Ina, that is easy. Yet I’ll never do it.”
I’ve always considered myself too lazy to plan my day around dinner. For years I lived in the Rocky Mountains, where it was a 45-minute drive to get milk, unless you count the hundred or so cows grazing outside my window. One didn’t just dash out for an ingredient. And when you’re halfway through a recipe that calls for anchovy paste, substituting canned tuna is a culinary fail. Besides, my rancher of a husband is content to live on rib eye, mashed potatoes, and Coors Light, so brandy reductions and truffle butter aren’t exactly embraced around here.
Still, it would be nice to know how to do something other than the same old protein, carb, and veggie. So last weekend I jotted down enough ideas from my “Recipes I Think About Trying” Pinterest board to get me through seven days straight. I even made a shopping list—yes, on actual paper. Want to know the really keen thing? I followed it. Today is day five, and I feel like a goddess. Sure, I spend a little more time compared to when dinner was slapped together at seven o’clock, but the swell thing is I can make an actual recipe, because I actually have the ingredients on hand. It’s a revelation—and not just to me. My always-hungry cowboy tried Ree Drummond’s pork roast and said, with an annoying amount of surprise, “Wow, honey, this is really good!” I just smirked.—Erin Kirk, a nonfiction writer from Texas who blogs about faith, food, and farming at Going to the Sea
Freedom from fried foods (yes, fried foods)
“You know,” said my then-boyfriend, as I leaned over the cast-iron skillet and inspected our chicken-fried steaks for doneness, “You don’t have to fry everything you come across.”
Outwardly I rolled my eyes, though I inwardly pondered this statement. I was in my early 20s, living in Atlanta and instinctively replicating the food I grew up with in Alabama. Namely, a steady diet of fried cornmeal-crusted catfish, fried flour-dusted green tomatoes, fried buttermilk-brined chicken, and lots of other fried staples. His mom had spent a lifetime struggling with her weight and, as a result, insisted on an obsessively healthful approach to cooking for her family that revolved around less-than-tasty tactics like sautéing, broiling, and roasting, techniques that weren’t yet part of my culinary repertoire.
The relationship didn’t last—how could it?—but that comment stuck with me, eventually leading me to liberate myself, in moderation, from my deep-fried culinary past.—Andrea Lynn, food writer, recipe developer, and author of The Artisan Soda Workshop and The I Love Trader Joe’s College Cookbook
Freedom to not eat broccoli
“I do not like broccoli. And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.—George H. W. Bush, former president of the United States, responding to queries about a rumored “broccoli ban” aboard Air Force One in 1990
Freedom from a cubicle
I plugged my ears with my fingers so as not to hear. I hummed to drown out the call. I repeated to myself out loud. I swore that I will not sweat over the stove day in and out and that I will not be a hostage to the bar and restaurant like the rest of my family. I wanted a real job with office hours; I wanted to be able to take vacations; I wanted to be free.
So when I was offered a part-time job on Wall Street my junior year of college, I jumped at the opportunity. It wasn’t a glamorous role like in the movies, but it meant that I’d have my pan in the fire at one of the largest financial firms in the world. After a year, I felt competent enough to apply for other jobs within the firm, but time after time I was told that I didn’t have the necessary experience. With graduation closing in, I planned to take my diploma and two years’ experience elsewhere, but I eventually settled for a full-time job in the department where I already worked. Every day was the same. By Christmas, I felt like a character in Groundhog Day. I was stuck there watching my coworkers mark their 10-, 15-, and 20-year anniversaries on the job. I didn’t feel free. I felt trapped.
In the meantime, I cooked dinner almost every night. I read cookbooks for pleasure. I sought out recipes from renowned chefs, even in those “stone age” pre-Google days. Sure, I liked to cook, but I didn’t want my life to revolve around it.
Then one night as I was lamenting my immobility, my now-wife mustered the chutzpah to say, “Why don’t you just cook? It makes you happy.” Before I knew it, I’d graduated from cooking school and was offered a job in a four-star restaurant. I trained for a week and on my seventh day, the station was mine. I’ll never forget that day. It was the freest I’d ever felt.—Chef Brian Adornetto, food writer, recipe developer, restaurant consultant, and culinary instructor
Freedom from feeling icky
Gluten? Goodbye. The rest of the world? Hello. Everything tastes better when you feel better.—Shauna James Ahern, blogger at Gluten-Free Girl and author of several books
Being diagnosed with gluten intolerance after the birth of my daughter was, oddly, one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. After 13 years, it still feels like a miracle to not be sick after every meal. I’ve been motivated to explore different foods and cuisines that I probably never would have tried otherwise. I’m a happy escapee from food that was holding me back.—Jeanne Sauvage, blogger at Art of Gluten-Free Baking and author of Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays
Freedom from just about everything else
There comes a time in every woman’s life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne.—Bette Davis as Kit Marlowe in the 1943 film Old Acquaintance
Freedom from emptiness
As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.—Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast