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.┬áLate 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

2019 Menu.20190426_0509.jpg

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

Book Camp 2018, Day 5

Every good thing comes to an end. So must book camp. Because I can really only keep up with these five for a week. We also have tomorrow as a day of play and freedom. Hooray!

Baking

In our family, at least three generations of us have enjoyed a scrumptious Christmas morning meal of bubble bread. More recently, it’s sold in stores or named in recipes as monkey bread. I will forever call it bubble bread because it at least looks like bubbles. There are no monkeys in the making of the dish, I promise.

After I married I began changing the recipe a little at a time. Less of this. More of that. Assembled this way, not that way. So now I have the bubble bread recipe perfect for me.

Today, we began by shrinking the recipe so that each of us could make a tiny three-roll bubble bread of our own. We began with a basic recipe and a ratio of dry and wet ingredients. Then we discussed what purpose each ingredient serves and each child decided what to retain and what to substitute. Finally, each child selected items to add on.

With our perfect-for-us recipes in hand, we practiced letting go. We placed each little recipe in a bowl, shook them around, then picked them out. With someone else’s recipe in hand, we changed one thing–an addition, a substitution, or a subtraction. Then we handed the recipes back to their owners and proceeded to bake.

We made our toppings, poured them over our rising rolls. And waited.

Hamilton

If Ron Chernow could not have let go of his research and writing, he would not have made the book that is Alexander Hamilton. And Lin-Manuel Miranda would not have read the thing.

If Ron Chernow had not let go of the creation that is Alexander Hamilton, we might not have a musical, at least not one that benefitted from his experience and input.

If Lin-Manuel Miranda had not let go of his lyrics, he would not have collaborated with other professionals to make Hamilton: An American Musical. He may never have put them into the world.

If Lin-Manuel Miranda had not let go of his singular vision for the musical, how many other voices and ideas would have been silenced? How different would the result have been? Would it have been successful if it had no other fingerprints on it at all?

Now that Hamilton is out in the world, there’s a moment-by-moment letting go. Fanfiction. Licensed and unlicensed artwork both for sale and not.

The work is Miranda’s but the thing now belongs to all of us. Not in any legal sense. Not that we have the right to tickets or downloads or artwork. But we all have our own interpretations now. Our own thoughts and theories and embellishments. That’s the part that belongs to us. Miranda has no rights to it and no control over it. He had to let go enough to let us grab hold.

Writing

We have a poem set to music. A pop song turned to a musical number. A folk song turned narrative turned comic. A Hamilton song turned comic. A fairy tale turned comic.

Do you sense a theme?

They are not final drafts. They are imperfect. And they are excellent! Beautiful. Ingenious. And none of that is the point.

The point is that they did the thing.

You should too. And finish. And let go. So we all can grab hold.

TBD

All week, Friday night has read TBD. The kids are all five alphas, though how that happened I’ve no clue. They do not like uncertainty. But when it came down to it, we didn’t determine much. Movies, butterbeer, leftovers. Win!

Recipes

Bubble Bread – Book Camp 2018 Recipe
  • 21 frozen dinner rolls (we use Rhodes because SO good)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/8 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/8 cup butter, melted
  • 1/8 cup heavy cream
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a bundt pan and set it on a cookie sheet.
  2. Arrange frozen rolls evenly within the circle of the pan. Allow to partially thaw until the rolls appear wet and sticky. They will not have risen much if at all.
  3. Combine brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom.
  4. Stir melted butter and heavy cream into sugar mixture.
  5. Poor butter-cream-sugar mixture over rolls.
  6. Allow rolls to rise, probably for 4 or so hours. As the rolls rise, return the mixture to the top of the rolls as it tries to roll off.
  7. Bake in pan on cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes. Remove and allow to cool 5 minutes. Turn out on cookie sheet. Enjoy.

Variations: You want to keep the dry and liquid ingredients roughly in the same proportions.

  • To use chocolate sauce, replace some or all of the butter and/or cream. Same for melted butterscotch, jams, or coffee.
  • To use cocoa powder, replace some of the sugars.
  • To add flavoring, such as almond extract, short your butter or cream and add one teaspoonful of the flavoring.
  • To use honey, replace sugars.

Whenever possible, use really good butter. I like Kerry Gold, unsalted, for baking. Quality of butter makes a difference.

Butterbeer
  • 1 litre cream soda
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 Tablespoon almond extract
  • 1 Tablespoon imitation butter flavoring*

Mix all ingredients in a 9×13 glass dish while the dish is in the freezer. Allow to freeze. Stir occasionally. Serve alone or with topping (below).

*I know. This seems gross. And usually I’d agree it is gross. But butterbeer is the exception. Butterbeer requires this ingredient.

Butterbeer Topping
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup butterscotch ice cream topping or 1/8 cup maple syrup

Whip together until desired consistency. A hand mixer is helpful. Use to top butterbeer.

Now. Go make something!