Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Spontaneity? Overrated

One of the first scenes in the movie Flirting with Disaster has a character played by Tea Leoni writing off her former marriage as one of those sad relationships where you have to make an appointment to have sex. She's totally oblivious to the fact that she's interrupted the couple she's talking to on the night they were supposed to be getting it on. Planned in advance, of course. Hilarity ensues.

Five, ten years ago, I thought this scene was awfully funny, partly because I couldn't imagine living such as pre-scripted life. Now, it's still funny, but in a hits awfully close to home kinda way.

(If you have a kid like ours, you've got to carve. out. time. for your fun. That's all I'm saying.)

Anyway, I felt the same way about food. Menu planning was for the boring who walk among us, not for creative free spirits like me. I liked to flit through the grocery store, picking out anything that might work for this, or that. I had three menu options for every main ingredient, and spices for everything. It was fun.

But I've got less time and less money now, more of a commitment to eat carefully, intentionally, without throwing a crisper full of uneaten veggies into the compost regularly. I starting planning menus and coordinating them with our shopping list. Planning ahead makes those nights when we have 15 minutes to get food into the kid easier. It keeps us on track with healthy meals and local foods. We don't come home after a long day fantasizing about wheat berries with fall vegetables, but if it's on the menu, we'll make it and eat it and be glad we did. And it's surprising how much money you save when you aren't tempted to buy mascarpone cheese just in case you decide to make tiramisu at some point.

Here's how I do it:

When I read food magazines, I tab recipes I want to make with mini stickies. Food blogs, I clip and add to Google Notebook (or did, RIP).

On Friday evening (ideally), I make a list of the perishables that we must eat and random freezer/pantry items that are languishing and brainstorm some menu ideas based on those, writing additional necessary ingredients on a separate list. If I am in the mood, I check the magazine/blog/cookbook ideas I've tabbed and add some of those recipes to the mix. If not, whatever. I plan six meals, leaving one night open for laziness or a night out or just so I don't start to feel trapped.

On Saturday, we go to the farmer's market. I buy whatever I can on my list there and allow myself to buy some spontaneous chicory or cabbage or Chinese broccoli or whatever. Then we go to Trader Joe's, where we buy staples like yogurt and butter and wine and cheese.

Bulk food like oats and beans we buy from the health food store during the week.

Back at home, I do a final menu--easy meals for late work nights, long-cooking meats on weekends, pizza on Friday. I add notes about prep ahead like when to defrost meat or soak beans. I put snack, breakfast, dessert ideas in the margin.

It looks like this:

Sat: (defrost goat)
roast chicken with root veggies
arugula salad

Sun: (defrost lamb kabobs)
braised goat shoulder steaks

Mon: lunch with friends (make lamb kabobs, chopped salad with radishes/carrots/parm)

Tues: (soak pinto beans)
pad Thai w/ tofu

Wed: (morning-beans in Crockpot) (cook wheat berries, chop fall veggies)
burritos with leftover chicken & fried potatoes, pintos
brown rice

wheat berry stew with fall veggies
feta cheese


Other to-make items were pureed persimmons to freeze, chicken broth from the roast bones, and kale chips (just for fun).

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