By Joyell Nevins
We live in a frenetic world. We talk fast, work fast, play fast, and go right on to the next thing. Often eating a meal gets shoved somewhere in between there.
According to the nonprofit DoSomething.Org, 20 percent of all American meals are eaten in the car.
The Pew Research Institute noted that in 2016 there were 160,000 fast food restaurants that served 50 million Americans a day.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s studies found in 2015 that about 34 percent of all children aged 2 to 19 consume fast food on any given day – that’s almost one in every three kids!
Even if you’re eating out or purchasing food from a sit-down restaurant, something that the average American does 5.8 times a week, it’s still likely that food contains more preservatives, sugar, oil, and fat than food made with fresh ingredients at home where you know what you’re cooking.
As the United States Healthful Food Council put it, “You are what you eat – and where you eat.”
So the online food magazine Epicurious makes an annual challenge to its readers to change that cycle for one month.
Halt for a moment and make where and what you eat at home (one more statistic, also from the Food Council – half of American food dollars go to eating out).
That means three meals a day, every day, for an entire month. Epicurious calls it #cook90.
The magazine is dedicated to people who love food and enjoy cooking, but even for them it can still be a push to plan ahead, get to the kitchen, and stay in the kitchen, for 90 meals for a month.
One of the people who accepted that challenge with gusto is La Mesa resident Brittany Brookins.
Brookins has long found her solace and joy in the kitchen, but knew the challenge would still be that, as she and her husband normally ate out at least twice a week.
Plus, Epicurious also encourages its readers to get creative with those three meals and re-use ingredients in different ways.
“When I first heard about it, I thought ‘that sounds interesting, but I think I could do it’,” Brookins said.
And her meals haven’t been just scrambled eggs and lunch meat sandwiches. Brookins has been making jambalaya, pasta fagoli, herb-crusted salmon, New York strip, and prime rib with garlic, thyme and rosemary (which husband Robbie gushed as being “next level”).
“I do have a taste for the finer things in life,” Brittany said with a laugh.
This month, Brittany has also gained experience with what Epicurious calls “next-overs” – incorporating leftovers or ingredients from one meal into the next. For example, if she uses guacamole for dinner one night, she’ll make avocado toast the next morning.
Brittany admitted the first week of the challenge was rough, but she’s been getting into a groove.
“You get up, make breakfast, plan dinner – it gets into a habit,” she said. “It’s been a learning experience.”
Learning is part of the name of Epicurious’s game. Their writer David Tamarkin put it this way, “A person can’t cook every day for an entire month and not be better at it than when they started.”
Brittany grew up in the kitchen, joking that she’s been “burning chocolate in the microwave since I was seven.”
Although she lived with her family in Hawaii where her dad was stationed as a Marine, it was Brittany’s grandmother in Rhode Island that instilled in her a love of cooking.
When they would visit for vacation or family reunions, Brittany and her Italian grandmother would make cuisine like doughboys and cookies, homemade meatballs, and a special red sauce called ‘Sunday gravy’.
“Sunday gravy is still one of my favorite meals,” she said.
One of Brittany’s most prized possessions is a cookbook called “From Nana’s Kitchen.”
For a wedding present, Brittany’s aunt made her a binder compiled of copies of her grandmother’s favorite recipes. Some are torn out of magazines and newspapers, others are written down in her grandmother’s own hand.
Brittany also draws inspiration from the Food Network and the iconic Martha Stewart.
“I like Martha Stewart a lot,” Brittany gushed, “She’s amazing.”
Brittany consults Julia Childs’ cookbooks for her “timeless” techniques, and has recently dived into Chrissy Teigen’s “Cravings: Recipes for All the Foods You Want to Eat.”
But for Brittany, cooking isn’t just a way to try new recipes and feed loved ones. It’s also a stress reliever. Life can be chaotic and frustrating sometimes. But in the kitchen, life can have an order and a set process.
That process is something her husband has learned to appreciate (and probably has caused the loosening of a belt loop or two).
They met each other after Brittany’s family moved back to the states.
Robbie was stationed with the Navy in Virginia Beach, and ended up being the roommate of a casual date of Brittany’s.
There was nothing special with the date himself, Brittany noted, but sparks flew with Robbie.
There were many more times spent together after that, but it was a moment at the family meal table that cinched the relationship.
“He told me ‘your family has taught me that butter and garlic make everything better,’” Brittany said, smiling, “That’s when I knew we’d be together for good.”
The Brookins were married on Dec. 30, 2015, and in May 2016, moved to San Diego for his latest assignment. Robbie is a diver who helps maintain the ships in the harbor.
Brittany is currently going to college for environmental science. Her next challenge? Studying her complicated science textbooks!