The new fast food

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

The slow food movement emphasizing slow-cooker-style hearty soups, stews and casseroles is ideal for busy meal planners.

By Karen Brucoli Anesi
Special to the Herald

Three busy professionals – Peggy Zemach, Susan Lander and Heather Bryson – lead different lives, but if they were to share a kitchen, more would unite than divide them. All are meal planners focused on feeding their families and guests nutritious food – efficiently and economically.

Early riser Zemach does a week’s worth of shopping at once, loading up on meats and produce and prepping dinner long before she sets off to work as executive director of the Durango Arts Center. Often her work requires more than 9-to-5 tasks, so Zemach makes hay while the sun shines. Make that before the sun rises.

“My friends think I am crazy for being such an early riser. Sometimes I am up at 4:30, but I have to wait until 6 a.m. for City Market to open,” Zemach said.

The family prefers to practice the Paleo diet. Meats can be grilled and veggies washed and readied for a typical stir-fry dinner or nutrition-packed salad that can be thrown together quickly, Zemach said.

The family of five was whittled back when the couple’s two older children went off to college, but Zemach’s daughter Jocelyn, a student at Durango High School, and her husband, Art, a pediatrician, still prefer nutritious, home-cooked food over convenient take-out.

How does she do it?

“It’s OK if we don’t have family meals together every night,” Zemach said. “I don’t feel guilty if I don’t have a full meal prepared.”

That was a family decision, Zemach said. It’s also a good idea to encourage family members to shop and cook, use a slow cooker and cook and freeze meals on the weekends for later use.

Zemach said that the family occasionally eats out or gets carry out, “but that gets expensive.”

That was the sentiment of Heather Bryson, Durango property manager and owner of the Gable House Bed and Breakfast.

Long before Bryson opened the B&B, when she was a Fort Lewis College student in the 1970s, she recalls cooking liver and onions in her kitchenette apartment where the Leland House now sits.

“It was a budget thing,” Bryson said, noting that today’s young people, including her own adult sons, are often quicker to select nutritious meals from restaurants, rather than use the kitchen.

Bryson’s peak season at the B&B runs from June to October, when she’s the “chief cook and bottle washer,” she said.

“I am the CEO and the guy who mops the floor,” she said. “You can’t outsource these jobs and expect to make a profit.”

Bryson said the key to eating well and serving her guests good food has to do with knowing her food inventory and wasting little.

“I call it refrigerator management. You need to know what’s in the fridge and let that drive what you prepare. Don’t overbuy, and be conscious of waste,” Bryson said.

Bryson advises busy families to cook once and eat two or three times, citing an example of how she makes a “big pot of spaghetti sauce” and uses it to launch a second meal of eggplant Parmesan three days later.

“What would it take to make enough for two meals instead of just one? You can freeze second portions and even creatively repurpose leftovers,” she said.

Bryson’s said she watches for sales, eats seasonally and uses meat as “an accent.”

“It’s better for your health and for your pocketbook,” she said.

Susan Lander, interim executive director of the Durango Area Tourism Office and former executive director of several non-profits, including the Women’s Resource Center and Music in the Mountains, regularly works more than 40 hours a week.

“Stay prepared, shop the sales and have an array of food available – chicken, roasts … salad fixings,” Lander said.

Lander lived in Ecuador and Mexico for 10 years where she learned to eat as the locals ate.

“Mexican food is easy to prepare, healthy, inexpensive and with the basics, you can prepare many different meals.”

Lander described how she might use fresh veggies, beans, rice and fajita meat for the first night’s supper, then take those basics to make a meal of enchiladas on day two.

Often Lander attends late-night meetings or must travel for work.

“When my sons were home, I’d leave sopa seca – Mexican rice, beans, chicken or burger with the toppings, such as cheese and sour cream,” Lander said.

Leaving her children with nutritious, partially prepared ingredients helped them learn cooking and kitchen basics, skills they still use today, she said.

“I always have frozen broths in the freezer to make a quick soup or sauce,” Lander said, enabling her to jump start a last minute dinner for drop-in guests. Because she cans pickles and condiments, there’s usually something unique such as salsas, barbecues and chutney to dress up the ordinary.

She’s not adverse to occasionally picking up a roasted, organic chicken and using it as inspiration for another meal or as a topping for a quick salad, deboning the poultry while she catches up with her children around the kitchen table.

“When I had a family at home, I often cooked two meals on Sunday afternoon. This way, you start the week with a couple of evenings already prepared,” she said.

Like Bryson, Lander recommends making hearty spaghetti sauces and red or green chiles that are the basis for multiple meals and that freeze well for later use.

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