Thinking about Food, Frugality, and Routines

I’ve been on a major cooking spree this past week, mainly inspired by An Everlasting Meal and also by our recent farmer’s market bounty. I’m always a bit bemused that our farmer’s market gets peak traffic in the summer, but fall is really the best time of year for so many of my favorite vegetables. I go crazy with all the good eats and have to limit myself or I’ll buy more than I can cook in a week.

One side effect of the prednisone my doctor put me on last Monday was an abundance of energy. I spent Tuesday cleaning, catching up on laundry, and losing my temper at every time little thing. Oh I hate how prednisone makes me so very at the mercy of my moods. Then on Wednesday and Thursday I cooked and cooked and cooked. I made a huge pot of chicken stock and loaves of honey whole wheat bread and chocolate chip pumpkin bread. I roasted vegetables. I perfected a recipe for tomatoes in an oniony vinaigrette that may be the perfect way to keep tomatoes that are going bad and at the same time to provide a combination of dressing and topping for a nice green salad.* I roasted heads of cauliflower and some eggplants and squashes and made vegetables every day, which meant that there were plenty of good things with which to fill Dom’s bento box for lunches. I wish I could cook this way every week. The extra money we spend at the farmer’s market is definitely balanced out if Dom is taking lunch from home.

Then yesterday morning we went to the farmer’s market again and yesterday afternoon I cut up a bunch of turnips and sweet potatoes and radishes and roasted them with some garlic and olive oil. I roasted a head of cauliflower with garlic and olive oil and roasted some beets too. I sauteed the beet greens and some chard with onion and red pepper flakes and bacon. We had all those vegetables along with some baked cod that we also got at the farmer’s market. Dom cooked the cod with olives, capers and limes and a sprinkling of rosemary. The kids ate baked beans from a can and homemade bread and butter while Dom and I feasted.

Tonight I took the leftover cod and some of the leftover vegetables and turned them into a Thai fish curry. It was amazing. Dom had a couple of servings and Anthony had five bowls. (The other kids ate rice, broccoli, and cheddar cheese.) I modified the recipe according to what we actually had on hand and it worked amazingly well. We didn’t have the kaffir lime leaves or tamarind paste or basil leaves or fresh lemongrass or pineapple. Instead I used some tamarind chutney and cilantro. I used dried lemongrass and dried galangal instead of fresh or frozen. It could have used more lime flavor and it was a mite salty because the cod had been cooked with olives and capers; but not bad at all. For veggies I added some of the roasted eggplant I had in the fridge, a sliced zucchini, sliced mushrooms, a red bell pepper, a diced roma tomato that was too mushy for salad, and some diced cauliflower stems I had leftover from yesterdays roasted cauliflower.

I feel like I’ve got the process of making bread down to a routine I hardly have to think about, whereas it used to feel like something I had to devote a block of time to, now I can start it up quickly and then move on to something else. I make a honey whole wheat loaf (modified from a Cook’s Illustrated white honey loaf recipe) in my stand mixer that the kids all love for toast and sandwiches and alternate it with loaves of whole wheat bread from the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day cookbook. The kids don’t like that one as well, but it works nicely with saucy dishes and soups and I can easily makeit into individual rolls for quick tuna sandwiches that still feel special because they’re on fresh bread on a night when I’m feeling very non-creative about dinner.

I also feel like I’m getting pretty good at making my own stock. I save all my chicken bones from roast chickens and even from buffalo chicken wings that Dom sometimes gets when we order pizza for the kids. Just put them in a bag in the freezer until I’m ready to make stock. In another freezer bag I also save the ends and peels of onions, potatoes, celery; stems from kale and leaves and cores from cauliflower, odds and ends of greens and stems. to make stock I just put the bones in my stockpot and cover with water and bring to a simmer. I skim the scum and after about half an hour I toss in the bag of vegetable bits as well as a few cloves of garlic, maybe a carrot and stalk of celery, some bay leaves and a handful of peppercorns. Let it simmer for a couple of hours or until I’m good and ready to deal with it, just topping off with more water if it starts to boil away too much. This is so much better than the boxed broth from the supermarket. When I was sick last week I heated up a bowl and just added a bit of salt and drank it straight. It was so flavorful it seemed like liquid gold.

I think the more I do things like making stock, baking bread, and roasting larger batches of vegetables the less daunting they seem. I find ways to fitting them in so that they no longer take up huge swathes of my time but I can get them started and then let the process unfold while I’m doing other things—laundry, tending kids, making dinner, etc. For me the key is making a process routine enough that it becomes almost second nature. Then I don’t have to get interested or excited about a recipe, I can just plug in my autopilot and go even when I’m feeling rather lethargic and indifferent. Of course even the best routines fall apart a bit when I’m in the first trimester and after a baby is born so right now I’m kind of in a sweet spot. I think if I can get used to regularly roasting vegetables and cooking greens as soon as I get them home and then using those pre-cooked vegetables in other applications and to round out other meals through the week, if I can get in the habit of looking at what’s left at the end of a meal and imagining what I can do with it for the next night, if I can begin to make it a true habit instead of just a nifty new idea, then maybe I’ll really be getting a better hang on this preparing healthy meals as a regular thing instead of just when inspiration strikes.

*For the tomatoes in vinaigrette I sort of modified something Tamar Adler mentioned in Everlasting Meal. Slice red onions or shallots, cover in red or white wine vinegar and add a pinch of salt. Later add some mustard and ground black pepper. Later add chopped herbs—I’ve been using mint from the garden and arugula. Basil would be nice too. Add sliced radishes if I have them. Add diced fresh tomatoes. Drizzle in some olive oil. Because I’m not worried about measuring any of the ingredients I can throw this together very easily in between prepping other things for a main dish. This alone with some greens makes a great salad. I can also add cheese, other vegetables, toasted nuts, etc; but I don’t feel like I have to add a whole lot to make it into an interesting salad. And I think that is the biggest barrier to eating salad more regularly for me is that I don’t like most dressings unless they are really jazzed up with a lot of different veggies. I feel like making a salad is one more thing to do when I’m pressed for time and since I usually leave it to the end, it often doesn’t get done; but somehow because I can just start with the very easy process of slicing an onion and adding vinegar this gets me into the salad making routine much earlier in the whole dinner-making process. Then I just add things to the mix as I go and end with washing the greens and without too much thought or effort suddenly there’s a fabulous salad ready to go. Since I serve the greens and dressed tomatoes separately at the table, we can eat as much or little as we like and pack away the rest to be eaten later. The dressed tomatoes by themselves make a nice addition to Dom’s lunch box or a healthy snack and the vinegar keeps them from getting too icky as sliced tomatoes usually do so they seem to go a bit further, last a bit longer. Now I’m wondering if I can substitute my roasted beets for the tomatoes since I forgot to buy more tomatoes at the market. That’s my next experiment.

 

2 Responses to Thinking about Food, Frugality, and Routines

  1. scotch meg October 23, 2012 at 6:14 am #

    You mentioned “Seven Silly Eaters” in an earlier post.  That is one of my two all-time favorite picture books.  The other is called “Seven Loaves of Bread” by Ferida Wolff.  See if you can find it!  It’s about Rose, who didn’t want to work any harder than she had to – and how she found out that shirking was harder than working.

  2. Melanie Bettinelli October 23, 2012 at 7:49 am #

    Thanks, scotch meg. I’m adding it to my library hold list.

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