Before I let the days run away from me, it’s time to write again. These are the days in which I simply practice the craft even if it’s not pretty—even when I’m low on inspiration to share, information to present, stories to tell.
I quickly peruse my goals from the other day, looking for a writing prompt. I already wrote a novella about how I’m going to chill with regards to exercising, and I’m not brave enough yet to talk publicly (aka, for the 10 people who read this) about the bigger, more important stuff on the list.
This is where food—as it so often does—comes in to save the day. And as Fisher, Bourdain, Reichl and other writers have proven, it’s as good a subject as any.
As a quick refresh, my food-related goals include the following: find a meal planning strategy that works for our family, shop for and cook easy lunches for all of us on Sunday nights, and create repeatable daily routines like a Friday morning writing session or a Sunday evening food prep fiesta.
But why why why?
In past foodie lives I’ve dabbled in sourdough, experimented with fermentation (kombucha, kefir, and kimchi) and embraced single-ladydom subsisting on avo toast, canned sardines, popcorn, and smoothies. More recently, when I’m not trying to find things to cook that my toddler won’t reject, I’ve accepted the genius of those boxed ingredient companies that ask little more from you than 30 minutes and a glug of olive oil.
Food “stuff” (ie: prep, making, and planning) comes second only to exercising in my list of top time sucks that still score points for being productive and useful. (TV and mindless social media scrolling are two more examples of top time sucks but unfortunately don’t fulfil that second category.) Given this, I jumped enthusiastically into my goal of meal planning.
Whenever I visit my friend Jordan in San Francisco, I envy her neat stack of cookbooks, pad of paper, and simple, sophisticated list of meals. She makes it look easy—surely, as a relatively organized person, I could accomplish such a basic task. I fell asleep with visions of spreadsheets and soup stocks in my head, imagining myself dishing out risottos, succulent soufflés, and Thomas Keller’s roast chicken on the daily. After all, I’m a pretty organized person, this shouldn’t be that hard.
Devil’s in the details
After 10 whole days into my experiment, I’ve discovered that no, it’s not hard. It’s also just plain fun, which shouldn’t surprise me given that I love, in order of slightly descending enjoyment: eating good food, reading about good food, and cooking good food.
Last Saturday, fresh off a trail run and with my son napping, I sat down with the essentials: coffee, my planner, and the New York Times Cooking section. If a recipe interested me, I saved it in a folder in my Paprika app (thanks, Mom!) titled “Meal Planning.” This way I’ll be able to quickly view the meals I want to try and/or that look weeknight-friendly. Then I picked three meals (starting small!) and wrote them into the first week of the monthly section of my planner. I didn’t have a chance to shop on Sunday, so that night I whipped up Thomas Keller’s roast chicken sans recipe: salt, pepper, 450 degrees for an hour. (I still need to learn how to truss properly!) I also made a batch of homemade yogurt, a two-for-one session that I replicated this past Sunday as well. (You can’t go wrong with an evening that involves creating leftovers for the week and fermenting something yourself. And I still had time for an episode of our current show—bonus.)
I shopped on Monday instead and made One Pan Shrimp Scampi with Orzo that evening. Tuesday we hosted the neighbourhood potluck, so I made my favourite Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad with Tahini Dressing. Wednesday I made Greens and Meatball Soup, inspired by a jar of tiny pasta I’ve had sitting around for about two years. And that’s it! Three dishes. There were plenty of leftovers for the rest of the week, and still room enough for an impromptu pulled pork taco night on Friday with new friends and a dinner out on Saturday at the Pennyfarthing, our local Oak Bay pub.
It’s only Wednesday of week two and already last-minute events have thrown best-laid plans off kilter. A sick nanny on Monday meant I didn’t have a chance to grab fresh basil for the dish I’d planned and hadn’t been able to find on Sunday. Last night we decided to attend our neighbourhood potluck again and so I just threw together a batch of corn muffins. Tonight, James is making ribs for a friend he has coming over so I’ll try my hand at homemade Caesar salad. It looks like this week I’m bumping my three dishes to Thurs/Fri/Sat. Like any good plan, there must be room for improvisation—I’d rather be a meal planner who strays than never meal plan at all. (“’ Tis better to have loved and lost,” amiright?) Being flexible doesn’t mean failing. It’s still a success, whether I plan on Sat and shop/prep on Sundays or plan on Sunday and shop/prep on Monday.
Phew! The fun part was that we were always trying something new, I was looking forward to cooking and eating, and I wasn’t wandering aimlessly in the grocery store wishing I was more organized. I was using things twice because of smart planning (“oh look, both these recipes have fresh parsley!”) which means less waste. We are also saving money as there’s always something to eat in the fridge. I am one of those people. I have joined the club! I have arrived!
Perhaps. Ask me in 6 months when I’m back to smoothies and sardines. And as for popcorn, there will never be a world in which this snack is not part of my life.
What I’ve made since I last wrote:
- Thomas Keller’s Roast Chicken. Really, the “recipe” is above, but here’s the official link if you’d like it. Also, here’s a review from the Kitchn that delves into a few more details on how to make it even better. (Ie: don’t bother rinsing, and put it breast side up.) Turns out I don’t need to learn how to truss after all!
- One-Pan Shrimp Scampi with Orzo from the New York Times. Unfortunately, you need a membership, but you can do a one-month trial and copy the recipe. I found it a bit watery but will make it again reducing the broth.
- Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad with Tahini Dressing via Smitten Kitchen but which I now consider “mine.” ;)
- Greens and Meatball Soup from Smitten Kitchen, substituting mystery pasta for the orzo. The meatballs are delicious and toddler-friendly—Felix LOVED this soup.
- The Best Bran Muffins from Wanna Come With. I found these via a Google search and was pleasantly surprised. They have no refined sugar and the most amazing texture. I’ll definitely be keeping these in rotation!
- Perfect Corn Muffins from Smitten Kitchen. These really are perfect. I used 4 Tbsp of sugar, squarely between her 3-5.
- Yogurt in my Instant Pot via this method (though there are tons of guides online)
- Red Lentil Soup with Lemon from NYT (though you can find it online elsewhere)
- My standard Instant Pot Split Pea soup, which I can now make without a recipe. I use a combo of Cooks Illustrated’s adapted for the Instant Pot. It cooks in under 10 minutes. I’ll post the recipe soon!
- Instant Pot Egg Bites with spinach and red pepper, method linked.
On deck for later this week:
- Caesar Salad from NYT (as per James’ suggestion to accompany his ribs tonight)
- One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes from SK
- Sheet Pan Chicken Tikka from SK
- Crispy Baked Fish Tacos with Lime-Cilantro Slaw from Gimme Some Oven
Photos courtesy of linked recipes/bloggers.