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Anxiety and Depression Kitchen Intuition Planting & Watering Uncategorized

Planting & Watering in the Kitchen

Last week, I wrote about a scheduling adaptation that I devised to help me stay functional on high anxiety and depression days. Today, I want to tell you about another adaptation: my menu.

In the past, I sat down with my spreadsheet and my cookbooks every two weeks and planned a new menu, often defaulting to familiar favorites. Late last fall, I decided to ambitiously create a menu for all of 2019–every evening meal, weekend and summer lunches, and three school lunches a week. My theory: if I didn’t have to face creating a new menu every two weeks, my anxiety would diminish.

Why do I shop in two-week cycles? 1) It matches my husband’s paydays. 2) We live in Oklahoma, and space really isn’t an issue. 3) I don’t like leaving my house.

Now that we are a few months into the new year, I can say that the menu works. So, how did I set up a year’s worth of food?

The Spreadsheet

Since I started preparing menus years ago, I’ve always used a spreadsheet. Column A is for notes: birthdays, holidays, commitments–basically anything that might interfere with a menu. Column B: Date. Column C: Week Day. Columns D-G: Lunch, Dinner, Snacks/Desserts, Breakfast.

Column A is the most important. It must align with our family calendar because our busy-ness informs our food choices. I simply won’t make a leg of lamb on a band concert night. I won’t schedule breakfast-for-dinner, which my husband prepares, on a night he won’t be home. I include everything in Column A. Know we’ll watch the Super Bowl (or its ads)? Want to remember Bastille Day or Juneteenth or both? Gotta pick up one kid late every Monday in September? Kid’s best friend follows Ramadan? One member of the family traveling? I put it all on the menu! As the year progresses, Column A changes due to new and emerging obligations.

Lunch and Dinner columns are always filled, but Snacks/Desserts and Breakfast are only filled if there is a special item for the day. A birthday cake. A required school snack. Holiday breakfast. Otherwise, everyone fends for themselves for snacks and breakfast. And good luck finding dessert!

The Cycle

I needed some way to organize my approach to a year’s worth of dinners, so I decided to use a cycle.

  • Sunday Lunch: Omega-3
  • Sunday Dinner: Vegetarian
  • Monday Dinner: 21-Day Sugar Detox recipe
  • Tuesday Dinner: Broth-based
  • Wednesday Dinner: Home Favorite
  • Thursday Dinner: Omega-3
  • Friday Dinner: Pizza & Veg
  • Saturday Lunch: Egg-based
  • Saturday Dinner: Home Favorite

This cycle supports the dietary lifestyle we want and need to keep sugar low, eat fish intentionally, and incorporate vegetarian meals. It also keeps us grounded in familiar foods with two home favorite recipes a week and pizza on Fridays. However, my menu doesn’t repeat many meals throughout the year. That, too, was intentional. I could potentially use the same menu the following year and not be burned out.

If you are thinking about doing this, consider your food goals. Do you want to focus on flavor profiles, food destinations, lower fat, more eco-friendly? Whatever it is, be intentional about it. Design your menu around your aspirations.

The Rectangles

Each meal rectangle–Lunch and Dinner–contains every recipe and fresh food I intend to prepare for that meal. This has two functions: 1) prompt me to add the right ingredients to my grocery list, and 2) prompt me to prepare everything intended. The key, in my experience, is to name the part of the cycle, special instructions, the recipe name, and where to find the recipe, for example:

Omega 3: DOUBLE: Honey Ginger Salmon with Spicy Baby Bok Choy, printout, Rice

Omega 3 tells me that I’m staying on-cycle. DOUBLE informs how much of the recipe I’ll need. The name of the recipe helps me find it; I learned the hard way to use the full and accurate title. Printout means that I found this recipe online and it is waiting in my 3-ring binder in the order of use.

Vegetarian: Winter Squash Stuffed with Red Quinoa, Beekman, 216; Greens

Here, “Beekman, 216” tells me I will find the recipe on page 216 of The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook.

The point: be as specific as necessary so that I or anyone in my household could find the day’s meal if we half-way tried.

Special Days & Adjustments

The menu has to be flexible, because life flexes. I build in flexibility in three ways.

  1. Each person in our home gets to choose what they eat on their birthday, both meals and dessert. I leave those rectangles blank until the birthday person has informed me of their decision.
  2. Within a two-week shopping period, I might rearrange when we eat which meals. I print out the two weeks from shopping forward and hang it on my fridge. Then I make notes about any changes or swapping. Swapping sometimes becomes necessary because calendars change, and sometimes because my mood to cook changes.
  3. Column H. Column H is headed Alternate/Intended. This column is administrative so that any meals not eaten in the last two-week period, say, because we ate out instead, can be transferred to the next period rather than wasted. The intended meal gets pasted to Column H, and the uneaten meal is copied to the new spot. This is also a great column when I have a newly planned dinner party at someone else’s home. I can move my planned meal to Column H and plan to take whatever I’ve been asked to the party.

Likewise, dates with my husband make the menu. When someone in the family is traveling or at camp or whatnot, I note in the rectangle that I’m preparing FOR FOUR or FOR TWO or whatever (because meals are understood to be for five people in this house) so that when I make my grocery list, I don’t get too much food. The opposite is also true. If I’m preparing food for twelve, my menu had better say so, or I will not have enough food.

Seasonality

One intentional extra I built into this menu was seasonality. Because I planned so far in advance, and because I live in a city with access to basic foods, I generally planned foods according to their season. This is a practice I’ve long wanted to do better. Eating seasonally means better nutrition, better taste, and better environment. Is it hard to break the habit of buying tomatoes in winter? For me, yes it was. But if it’s not on the menu, it doesn’t go in the cart.

My favorite cookbooks with seasonal charts or divisions:

A Few Notes About the Picture

  • The redactions are all names or locations and redacted for my family’s privacy.
  • Where you see a redaction followed by a date, that indicates a birthday or anniversary of some kind. I include all the people important in our lives, not only nuclear family members.
  • Why, yes! There is a shocking number of field trips in May!
  • One additional cookbook is on this picture: Bountiful
Categories
Kitchen Intuition Uncategorized

To Feed a Cold, Do-Over

Over at Indelible Words, I posted a similar post with a lamb soup recipe. Tonight, I’m suggesting chicken soup with a bit of a twist. Enjoy!

Our first fall semester in a physical school since 2012 has been rocky. Day One, Middling fell on bars – that are something totally NOT monkey bars, according to him – and knocked out one baby tooth, knocked loose one baby tooth, and ‘added mobility’ to a permanent tooth. Day 3, Third had a cold and Middling slept so poorly overnight because his dad was on a trip that he was a sick little raccoon in the morning. Middling had a half day. Third is still out with the cold – on Day 4.

I want to text my kids’ teachers and be like: We aren’t that family; I promise!

But I guess we are that family. Not the one who makes up stuff and pays no attention or respect to the school. But we are the family that has learned some pretty difficult lessons in balance. We’re the family who knows that school isn’t everything but is a thing. We’re the family that may skip homework a night to rebalance, or might take a half day rather than send a raccoon to school – no matter how clean the little creature may be, or might have frank conversations about the school handbook.

We are the family who virtual schooled for nearly four years even though the primary educator in the home also taught three 20-hour semesters a year and published two books. We are the family who has been through an abusive caregiver, the deaths of people we love, a grandpa’s heart bypass, a grandmother’s liver transplant, and a mother’s depression and anxiety. We won’t be cowed by handbook threats anymore than by colds. We’re here to partner with professionals to raise these kids within the context of their village. We’re the family raising boys to be okay without us while praying we never face that test.

We are that family.

And I suspect all the other families are, too. Each family has its past and its pressing present, its beliefs, its fears and dreams. Each family has a set of circumstances, and all are less than ideal. And teachers are part of families, too! Know what family you are and embrace it – there’s only one of you in the glorious mess that is all of us. And have a bit of patience with those families whenever you forget you are that family.

Meal Math: Chicken Soup with Stars

Part 1: Pre-Seasoning

  • 4 Tablespoons solid fat – butter, ghee, coconut oil, lard – whatever you like that is high-heat-able
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic – or one garlic clove per eater [you’ll need more for part 5]

Heat the fat, salt, and pepper in a deep pot over high heat. Add the onion and garlic. Cook over high heat until onion is nearly transparent, about 3-5 minutes.

Part 2: The Soup Base

  • 2 pounds raw chicken, diced with fat removed
  • 6 cups chicken bone broth
  • 2 teaspoons fresh parsley, off the stem [you’ll need more for part 5]
  • 1 fresh bay leaf, off the stem, chopped [you’ll need more for part 5]
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, off the stem [you’ll need more for part 5]
  • 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, off the stem [you’ll need more for part 5]
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns

Add the chicken to Part 1 and cook until the chicken appears white on the outside. Add the remaining ingredients and cook over high heat until chicken is done through and breaks apart easily. If you like a bit more clear soup, place the herbs and peppercorns into a tea straining ball or tied up in a bit of cheesecloth.

Stelline Pasta – tiny!

Part 3: The Grain

  • 8 ounces pasta, the smaller the better
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • water

Boil according to package instructions. Drain, retaining a scant 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Do NOT rinse. Cover pasta with the retained water and two cups of chicken broth.

Part 4: Add Veggies

  • 10 ounces sweet potatoes, peeled and diced, frozen
  • 12 ounces peas, frozen

Add the frozen veggies to the soup base and heat to a bouncing simmer for at least 15 minutes. If using fresh vegetables, cook until done to the taste.

Part 5: Boost Nutrition

  • 1 teaspoon fresh parsley, off the stem, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, off the stem, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, off the stem, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons coconut oil
  • salt

Three to five minutes prior to serving, add the herbs and oil. Unlike the longer-cooked seasonings, these barely-cooked herbs will retain more nutritional benefits. These herbs should be placed directly into the soup to be eaten if at all possible, meaning I get it if you have a toddler who will not eat leaves in soup.

Add salt to taste.

Part 6: Serve

Divide the pasta into bowls for the diners. Ladle 1 cup soup over pasta. Serve.

Tips

  • Buy fresh herbs on sale, strip them from the packaging and any dirt/roots, wash, dry, and freeze. Keep these in a crate or box in the freezer for quick access.
  • Frozen vegetables can be more cost-efficient than fresh vegetables, especially when buying organic and pesticide-free. Even at a store like WholeFoods, you can buy packs of multi-colored carrots, sweet potatoes, and corn relatively inexpensively. These save time, too, because they cook faster and require little preparation.
  • Cook your meat in advance and freeze for faster meals.
  • Look for sales on meats that are already trimmed and diced.
  • Make your own broth. It’s good for you, good for the environment, and SO delicious!
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