Monday, July 25, 2011

Making progress

...though not quickly enough, I fear. (Mid-August is coming up fast. Eep. And have I mentioned: eep!)

The biggest surprise so far is what a workout rotary cutting is. I keep having to take off my sweater!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Not to get all Stepford-Wifey on you

--but meal planning is kind of changing my life.

This might sound silly, but especially on weeknights I often don't feel like cooking because I don't have the energy to think up what to cook. Yet somehow if the menu is planned ahead of time the cooking part seems a lot less daunting.

I've been resistant to meal planning in the past, in part because we cook vegetarian and I've never been able to figure out how to make a lot of the standard meal planning advice (have roast chicken one day, and then then use the leftovers for a chicken salad a few days later, etc.) work for us. And I really like to cook, and to try new recipes, so the approach of having one or a few weeks' worth of menus to cycle through over and over didn't hold much appeal.

So here is what I've come up with, a system of seasonal, vegetarian meal planning that actually works for the way I like to cook and eat:

1. Look at the calendar. My husband and I both keep events in Google calendar, and the first step is to look at this to see if either of us has any evenings out of the house planned. I know myself well enough to know that if he is out I am not going to cook, but I might try to make sure there are leftovers available for that evening.  This also really helps me avoid overbuying produce.

2. Take stock of what we have. In the following order: What's in the crisper drawer? (the spinach we didn't use up last week) What's in the garden and needs to be harvested? (so. much. chard.) What's in the freezer? (still one or two bags of last year's beets) What's in the pantry? (um, that green "bamboo rice" that I thought looked so interesting and still haven't used)

3. Brainstorm. I get a lot of my recipes from the Internet these days, and when I come across an interesting sounding recipe I pin it to one of several food related boards on Pinterest. So I scan through those boards and see if there are any appealing options to use up some of what we have on hand, or are likely to find at the farmer's market. I pull from my own memory too, to add recipes we make a lot (baked potatoes are easy; poached eggs on toast with some form of garlicky greens features most weeks), and just to generally balance things out (so we'd maybe have eggs one night, pasta another, then some form of lentils and rice--my version of "chicken, beef, pork chops").

4. Assign recipes to days. Once I have my menu for the week, I use a dry-erase marker to write it up on a cheapo IKEA plexiglass frame (I can't take credit for the idea), which lives in our kitchen. It helps to be able to just glance at it and be reminded what the plan is. If something needs to be taken care of ahead of time (take roasted tomatoes out of freezer for tomorrow's dinner) I write that down too. I generally plan for a homemade meal every night of the week, though we still end up ordering takeout about once a week. I'm okay with that.

5. Make shopping list. I print out the recipes, and go down the list of ingredients to see what I need to buy (a nice trick to get me to check whether we are running out of staples like olive oil). Then I go through the fridge/pantry/freezer and add whatever else we need (milk, oj, bananas, etc.)  My husband and I also have Our Groceries on our phones, and we use this app to jot down things we run out of or think of mid-week. I always end up transferring these things to a paper list, which seems insane, but hey, I'm making technology work for me.

6. Go shopping. I generally do the meal planning first thing on Sunday, and my daughter and I go grocery shopping later in the morning.

The system isn't perfect. I need a better way to access recipes that are in cookbooks rather than online; organize and remind myself of tried-and-true staples (the system works best when I'm taking on onlly 2-3 new recipes a week and the rest are familiar ones); and file successful new recipes so that I can make them again (currently they just become part of the general churn of paper clutter).

But even so, it's been really successful. We're eating healthier. We're wasting less food (I've started to take a weird sort of pleasure in seeing the refrigerator empty out towards the end of the week). We're spending less on food (not dramatically, but slightly). I'm cooking more, enjoying it more, and feeling less stressed out about it.

I'm also amazed at how sustainable a truly effective system can be. The above process might sound complicated, but it is actually quite intuitive for me, and it only took a few weeks before it became really ingrained and automatic. It doesn't feel difficult at all to keep up with.

Now, how to come up with sustainable, intuitive systems for the approximately four million other things that need to get taken care of around here?

Pictured above:
Summer squash gratin with salsa verde & gruyere
Snap pea & summer squash salad with orzo
Noodles & tofu with black sesame seeds; daikon green goma-ae (cheater's method)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Evidence of Summer

(And yes, sadly, one has to look inside rather than outside for evidence of summer  in Seattle these days.) I'm probably breaking all sorts of design rules here, but this little arrangement of things is making me happy right now. I started out with some summery seashells. Added the birdhouse the kid painted at school. Then the one she painted at home. Some spent poppy and primrose (?) stems that I'm drying so that I can plant the seeds. Little vases that hold a rotating series of blooms that the kid picks for me, insists that I pick, etc. (I love how there's no difference between a flower and a weed at her age.) An extra sprig of oregano. A pinecone picked up on a walk.

Feels like a little record of life up there. What's next?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The new project

A sneak peek. Expect to hear more about this. Lots more--it's a big project.

With a mid-August deadline. Eep!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Facing my fears

Okay. You caught me. I was procrastinating. On that project we talked about.

I've been afraid of my sewing machine.

A couple months ago I was working on a different project and was having horrible problems with tangling bobbin thread and eventually I broke a needle and just gave up and hadn't touched my machine since.

But I finally got back on the horse, and voila:

(The problem may or may not have been as simple as an improperly threaded needle. I'll never tell.)

I can't tell you how relieved I was when I got my machine working again. I have a big (BIG) project coming up, one with real deadlines, that requires a sewing machine. So, phew.

But first, here's how to accomplish this one. To start, we're going to draw some triangles. Isosceles triangles. I made mine 8 inches tall and 6 inches at the base:

You can just draw a line across your paper 8 inches from the edge. Then mark the line at 6-inch intervals and the edge at 3-inch intervals. Draw diagonals to make triangles--I was able to get 5 triangles from each painting this way. See?

You might have some "help." That's okay.

Then cut out your triangles. Figure 2 or 3 episodes of The Daily Show for this step.

Your helper may abscond with a few. Again, that's okay. You'll have plenty.

Now. Set your sewing machine on a fairly large zigzag stitch and sew your triangles together into a garland. I don't have pictures of this step. Sorry. I was holding my breath the whole time.

Hang 'em up!

Inspired by.