A Year in Meals

After Christmas 2016, without a lot of consideration beforehand, I bought myself a magnetic meal planning calendar. I’d done meal planning for a few years at least now, but this was a more visual means of organization — and besides, it was pretty.

I’ve kept most of the pages from this year, and in reviewing them, drawn some helpful conclusions: 2017 was a year of more meat. Lots of meals brought by sweet friends. Heavy reliance on the slow cooker. So often, nearly every week, so many changed plans, but still, in the end, I think the exercise was a good practice.

Here were some greatest hits that featured again and again:

  • Ciabatta
  • Pesto chicken pasta in the slow cooker, which I could just about manage in my season of constant blah, and eat on for days. Cheese, salt and garlic are always welcome in my book.
  • Chili because it’s easy and delicious and you can have it over noodles or baked potatoes or French fries. My mother in law’s recipe makes 11 servings and if I freeze it in chunks, we can eat it once a week for nearly a month. (I don’t have the recipe right at hand, but trust: it’s about as basic beans-tomato-ground beef as it comes, and it is delightful.)

  • Brownies are my go-to potluck item when I don’t have much energy. I almost always have the ingredients on hand and it’s so easy Scout can do a fair bit of the work. In a year in which I often didn’t feel well, they appeared often in my meal plans.
  • Salmon. It’s good for you while pregnant. Maybe. I hadn’t tried it until recently, because I’m a recovering picky eater, but it turns out that there are several simple and inexpensive ways I like it, and it gives us more options for meatless Fridays.

In 2016, I collected and formalized most of my favorite recipes in a cookbook; in 2017, I  began to look forward to the ceremony of sitting down with cookbook, meal plan schedule, planner, shopping list and computer to envision the next week.

It was a good exercise to review our meals of 2017, and in so doing, review our 2017. Despite so much morning sickness, which leaves me with a bad taste for the year, the meal plans reminded me of how many folks we did manage to have over, how many evenings we spent out, even if I was sleepy or queasy or didn’t fit my pants

And meanwhile, against the changing landscape of adult meals, the monotony of peanut butter—chicken tenders—yogurt marched on in the background. It was a year of picky eating for some of our company, but I look forward to reflecting on coming years, as my band of choose eaters branch out.

Did you have any cooking resolutions for 2017? What do you expect 2018 to look like in your kitchen?

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Learning to Love Housekeeping, Part 3

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It’s an ongoing thing for me. It helps that I was raised in a family that values housework, in which both parents adopted and enjoyed certain tasks. (Except ironing, which nobody claimed.) It helps that I’m an introvert who also enjoys structuring her own time. But beyond this foundation, I’ve had a lot to learn — I was a pretty useless kid, and until I was about 25, I moved often enough that I never had to clean baseboards or ovens. (Though I really probably should have.)

Still, here are some of my professional (homemaker) interests at the moment:

  • I’ve been working on refining my to-do list and meal planning (above). I’ve had grocery and to do lists since about 30 seconds after I made fun of my mom’s in college, usually on scraps of paper or in my planner. I’ve tried a few templates for meal-planning, but for right now, this kind of embarrassing grid my mother-in-law got for a school fundraiser is working well. I can have everything together at a glance, and even if the categories aren’t perfect, the magnet so it sticks to the fridge definitely is. I carry it around the house part of the morning as I begin to get organized, and once it’s up on the fridge, just above the water dispenser, I can reference it throughout the day.
  • I cleaned out the car on one of our first warm afternoons — the first time I’ve done it since Advent. Awhile back I read an analogy about cars being, basically, just a means of getting from place to place when we couldn’t make the distance with our bodies, and it’s helped me to feel better about our philosophy of car ownership: one fairly reliable, very unkempt vehicle to haul our family around when nothing else will do. And cleaning it out — at Advent I even vacuumed! — helps me to feel a little less embarrassed by the car’s homeliness when we give someone a ride, and a little less panicky when we’re drowning in kid stuff and filth on a long car ride.

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    Will keep you company for the price of chewing on her brother’s claw cup. To the left: the giant bag of jackets, blankets and books salvaged from the car.
  • Speaking of panicking, how do you keep from panicking when packing for the whole family? J does his own bag, and loads the car, but I’m in charge of laundry, lists, preparatory shopping, and actually gathering up all the materials for three humans. Part of me loves picking out the tiny travel wardrobes and the mini libraries, but the weight of responsibility usually makes me really crabby and anxious and unpleasant, especially on the day we leave. Some of our most successful travel days have been when we’ve decided last minute to leave the night before. No time to panic then! Just listen to an audiobook and sleep and try not to dwell on how you forgot the travel toothpaste. What are your packing tips?unnamed-1