As we enter into the fall, one of the things I’m most excited about is cooking. I have seriously neglected the kitchen this summer–what with weddings, more weddings, family vacation, and weekends away, I just haven’t had enough of a routine to do my usual meal planning. I’ve cooked a few things here and there, but nothing like last fall and spring when I was making 3-4 new dishes per week.
When our schedule is more “normal” (which it will be starting Monday, with yoga, Bible study, and school for my husband all starting back up), about once a week I sit down with a stack of cookbooks and printed out PW and TK recipes, and float away on the wings on foodie daydreaming. I persue, salivate, and fantasize to my heart’s content as I sip my coffee. I think the last time I did that was maybe early June? I can’t wait to start again–it’s one of my favorite parts of the week.
At some point, of course, I have to make decisions and commit to only a few recipes out of the thousand mouth-watering options, so I make a list by days of the week and hit myself repeatedly in the side of the head with a cookbook (it’s the only way I can be forced to pick my favorites). The list goes something like this:
M- Angel hair pasta with bacon and zucchini
T- Thai spicy noodles
Th- n/a (Bible study)
F- Sausage and peppers with rice
Sat- Lentil stew and rice
After I’ve decided what I want to make, I grab a pen and paper, go through each recipe and make a grocery list of what I need. The meal plan gets posted on the fridge so that I can reference it. I would undoubtedly forget what I was doing otherwise and end up wandering around the kitchen with a dazed expression saying “What . . . ? . . . what . . . ? . . . um, what? . . . ?” I need a plan, Stan. I need a diagram, Stanislam. I need a list, Stromquist.
It’s so satisfying.
Plus, if I plan carefully that means I only have to grocery shop once per week. And though I don’t loathe the grocery shopping experience, it’s definitely not something I want to engage in every other day.
I usually have at least one or two days designated “leftovers/forage.” This is where our leftovers tracking device comes into play, which lets us know at a glance what’s in the fridge–I’ll be talking about that soon, in a separate post. If there are no leftovers to be had, this can end up being an Arroz a la Cubana night, or an eggs-in-a-basket night. Or I may, um, occasionally you understand, get involved in a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese. Every so often, I still experience relapse from my childhood addiction to it–I wonder if they offer programs for this sort of problem? Thursday, being community group night, we won’t have time to go home between work/school and the Bible study, so we will probably just grab a sandwich at Potbelly’s on Belmont Ave like we did last year . . . or some Panang Curry from Siam Noodle and Rice, the best Thai restaurant in Chicago (sayeth I).
One thing that I love about this season of our lives (with my husband in school and me at work all day) is that unfailingly, though I’m the head chef, my husband is in the kitchen with me during the whole cooking process. He washes dishes as I go, chops garlic, picks up the onion skins that floated off the counter, etc. We call this arrangement “the chicken and the axe.” See, I’m the axe: the master executor of the project. The one wielding the power. The one in charge. He is the chicken, whose head is cut off: brainlessly running around. Dashing here, dashing there, getting things done, but not thinking too much. It’s all about swift, automatic obedience in the kitchen when you’re the chicken. It’s a great arrangement–like having a sous-chef, I imagine, but one who you can occasionally swat on the butt as you cross each other going from sink to fridge to stove. Someone who will laugh as you do that goofy dance in your house slippers and sing opera at the top of your lungs instead of shunning you for being such a ridiculous human being.
Now the caveat to this whole thing weekly meal-planning thing is, of course, the dreaded grocery budget. Because sometimes, when I end up making scallops, steak, and salmon in one week, the weekly grocery financial guideline gets shot up all to heck. Sometimes I just neeeeed salmon and scallops. I don’t waaaannna pick between the two! Once, as my shocked eyes examined the receipt the lovely cashier had just handed me, I realized I had accidentally spent double the allotted amount. To this day I don’t quite understand how that happened, though I blame the temptations of rampant food photography, which in case you haven’t noticed is splayed all over the internet (not that I have anything to do with that den of decadence). Once we realize we have grossly overspent, if we are feeling like good citizens (which we usually are), we will agree to make it stretch for two weeks. That can be quite a fun challenge. Really, I’m not being sarcastic–it’s like a little game. We go into the stash of cans and frozen meat my grandfather likes to send our way about once a year, and figure out how to make it work. This can involve rice, a can of corn, and a frozen pork shoulder. Or pancakes from a box, a can of lima beans, and a duck. You never know what wild combinations can come forth from the storehouses that Big Jake has lovingly provided. And you can always slap an egg on something and call it a meal–that’s one of my favorite tricks. I’m gearing myself up for this since the evil meal plan I devised on Wednesday will undoubtedly cause many surprises at the cash register this weekend. Many, many surprises.
Dang cyberspace and its temptations.
Are there any other meal planners out there? Or are you more creative–can you look at a random assortment of ingredients in the fridge and whip up something amazing with no forethought?