Calif Mom gets her own post this time! Just TOO MUCH good info to tuck in there as the 27th comment on the Groceries post. Calif Mom writes:
For the broader discussion
I can vaguely imagine for myself, in some sort of idealized parallel universe, a life in which I would have the entire week’s meals planned out to the exact serving numbers. I would also, in this imagined life, enjoy clothes shopping and trips to the pool with the kids. :-) Now, that said, this meal planning thing is a very rational and reasonable approach, and great advice if you are the kind of person who can implement it. I have, in fact, tried it, but it takes HOURS because I felt the need to then also pore through all my cookbooks and then start making a recipe I had pulled out of NYT food section and really wanted to try.
I also tried 6 o’clock scramble, but it just didn’t work for us. I felt that there aren’t too many options for families with non-dairy and non-fish requirements, and it seems more for people who need help thinking about what to make and who shop in a regular store regularly. I don’t need that — we are confessed locavore foodies from way back. We visit the farm market and various food stores through the week, but it’s kind of entertainment for us. What I really need at 6:30 when The Huns are at my pantlegs and I’m “cooked” already is implementation help.
I have not required cooking skills from our APs. Like “swimming”, I have found that an AP’s interpretation of this skill can widely vary. Neither have I expected them to shop, though find myself really missing that our current AP won’t even stop by the store to get OJ or her white bread. So she can sometimes go for days without it before I get a chance to pick it up on the next trip. She hasn’t complained; works for me.
Our first AP was interested in learning to cook. I taught her some things, and she would sometimes have a simple dinner that her mom used to make ready for us when we came home after an especially long day. That was unbelievably wonderful.
Current AP has zero interest in learning about cooking. Also doesn’t eat with us, which I’ve talked about my coming to terms with before, because she does that big, hot lunch thing in the middle of her day. She does cook this simple lunch for herself and charges who are home during the day. Her consumption is unpredictable — main courses intended as encore presentations and lunch sometimes disappear, sometimes don’t. Leftover flank steak being a conspicuously consistent exception to that — it’s a goner.
I don’t have a menu plan, but I do have a binder with photocopied recipes of dishes that are quick and crowd-pleasers. They are in sleeves, and I scribble notes to myself liberally. This has been great, especially to reduce the load of cookbooks that I only really use for one or two faves. And I can look at this binder and know that I can make something that will turn out great and I don’t have to think about it very much. (cv’s note: I have the same kind of notebook! If you do one thing about better cooking, this would be it…)
I have discovered in my recovery from a severe concussion that my not needing to think is a strong predictor of Witching Hour success.
So here’s our current strategy:
Like I said, what I really need is implementation help, but I don’t often get it, so instead, I have figured out a couple workarounds.
First, engage spouse/partner in this family-wide problem, if you’re lucky enough to have spouse/partner. Explain that if spouse truly values other spouse’s income, decent meals nightly and to save money, spouse must commit to setting aside part of a day on the weekend to being home and preferably helping us Cook Big. Took awhile to get there, but once I did this a couple times and explained what I was doing, and pointing out the payoff later in the week, it really cemented this concept and we mostly are able to maintain it now.
If it’s worth cooking, it’s worth cooking big (for the record, we do not sacrifice quality or taste. That won’t fly in a home populated by two super-tasters). Half either is held for encore presentations or lunches (mom and kids’ lunch boxes), OR is put in the freezer. That goes for proteins as well as sides — big pot of steamed potatoes becomes mashed one night, potato salad another, and fried up with tons of garlic a third. I cook up a big batch or more of wheat berries or barley, and that sits in the fridge for several days and gets added to salads, or dressed with vinaigrette and diced veggies, or mixed in with proteins for my lunch. I even keep a big batch of “crumble” topping in the freezer so when dessert is warranted and fruit overabundant, i can throw a bunch of sliced fruit in a baking dish, sprinkle the topping and bake it while dinner is being prepped and eaten. (nod to Alice Waters for last two ideas)
Three favorite tools: a half-size chest freezer. (This also holds AP’s spare loaf of white bread so I don’t have to make a special run to the regular store when she runs out during the week.) I fought this purchase for many moons — “hub, you have to be kidding. We don’t have room. I’m not a farm wife. What are you going to put in there, half a cow? (wrong question, it got him thinking!)” etc. Finally broke down and allowed it to enter the home when our fridge was on the fritz and we needed to keep a bunch of meat cold or hold a tremendous party.
Second fave tool is a pressure cooker. This came after spending something like 8 hours simmering a big pot of NOLA-style butter beans to make butter beans. I thought, what a crazy amount of gas I just burned trying to serve less meat! I absolutely love my pressure cooker. Shortribs just like our now-former chinese takeout place in 45 mins, starting with frozen meat. I’m not kidding. falling off the bone fabulous. Cookers are very safe now, and the kids loving helping me by watching for the little button to pop up. it’s entertainment! Those steamed potatoes? entire pot done in 5 mins. after coming to pressure.
Third help is my hub’s ego. I mean the grill! Whenever grilling, we load that bad boy up, and we can eat from the fridge the next day or more. We grill extra onions in soy sauce/balsamic that get thrown into all sorts of dishes throughout the week.
And yes, PB and J with a side dish still deserves a place on that weekly meal plan I don’t have, in times of emergency or utter fatigue.