I have a confession to make. Sometimes I like fake food better.
You know what I mean. All that pre-made stuff, canned soup, frozen lasagna, boxed mac 'n' cheese. There are a couple reasons for it. First, I don't have to cook it, and any mother can tell you food tastes so much better when you're not the one who made it. Second, processed food always has a mix of seasonings I can't replicate. All the box will say is "spices" and what they probably mean is "MSG and a bunch of other stuff you don't have in your kitchen." And, well ... I like that taste.
Real food is good, sometimes delicious, but sometimes I get tired of the taste. We don't season all that much over here, and my spice cabinet does leave a bit to be desired. And even if I season food perfectly, it doesn't have that extra-savory kick that cheap processed food has. I find myself sighing over food -- "This is good, but it is not as good as Taco Bell."
My defense of real food was always, "You don't need a ton of extra flavorings if your ingredients are high-quality." Unfortunately, shopping at Aldi doesn't really put you in the way of high quality. The vegetables, especially, are pretty tasteless after their trip across the country. The meat just tastes like meat anywhere, mild and inoffensive. If you want great taste shopping at Aldi, you have to get those pasta sauce envelopes or frozen chicken wings... which won't make you feel good.
Now a few things have changed. In my garden, I have fresh (delicious) tomatoes, basil, cilantro, and thyme. We also recently bought an order of grassfed beef. Good ingredients are finally within our reach!
And it's been a revelation. I was feeling peckish the other afternoon, so I threw some things together. Leftover taco meat, homemade refried beans, cheese, tortilla, and homemade pico de gallo.* I took a bite.
And it was like OH MY GOSH, I didn't know I could make stuff that tastes this good! It was better than Taco Bell. It was better than Chipotle. It was better than my personal taco mecca, Taco Del Mar. (If you are on the West Coast, have a Mondo Burrito for me.) It was so fresh and flavorful and REAL.
The same happened when I made spaghetti the other night. Instead of canned sauce I used my own tomatoes, and I chopped up a little fresh basil. So much better than my usual spaghetti!
So, now that I know the secret, all I have to do is extend it to the rest of the food I eat. That should be easy enough next year, when the rest of my garden is in. And we're definitely staying with grassfed meat; there's pretty much no downside. It's more ethical, more local, more delicious, more healthy, more variety of cuts -- and the price is a little less than Aldi ground beef, if you buy in bulk. And there's something about meaty-tasting meat, rich tomato-y tomatoes, fresh cilantro, fresh basil ... that simply can't be replaced by a dash of MSG.
*Recipe for pico de gallo: chopped tomatoes, chopped fresh cilantro, and a little bit of chopped bell pepper, with salt. It's supposed to have jalapeno, onion, and lime juice, but I was keeping it simple. I later lacto-fermented it, which turned out to be a mistake. Even though I followed all the directions, it turned effervescent and alcoholic. How come that didn't happen to my lacto-fermented lemonade? That would have been good. But tomato-cilantro wine is not. My guess is that my tomatoes are just too sweet for that kind of treatment, but I'm not sure. It might be just a stray yeast spore that wandered in. What a waste of good tomatoes. So last night's salsa batch (tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, salt, run through the food processor) is not getting lacto-fermented. It's too delicious to risk ruining.