Meal Planning Part 1: A Home Cooking History

A few monthpepperss ago, I started thinking seriously about ways to cook more at home. I’d watched the mini-series “Cooked” on Netflix, and my biggest take-away from that show was that home cooking is endangered for a variety of reasons, and that it’s an ancient practice worth reclaiming. One of the interviewees on the show suggested taking the money that you’d spend going out to a restaurant, using this money to buy high-quality ingredients, and cooking these ingredients yourself. The assumption here is that you have the time or make the time to cook, and that cooking is a meaningful practice in and of itself.

My own history with cooking really started when I was living with six other Jesuit Volunteers in Montana. I was twenty-two years old, and had made a lot of bland chicken stir fries in my dorm suite in college. My cooking experience didn’t go far beyond that, but I had to start teaching myself, because six hungry people were living on a very limited budget and we had decided to cook in rotation. We had a copy of The Joy of Cooking in the house and that became my meal preparation Bible. Not long after I left Montana, I asked for my own Joy of Cooking  and I still go back to it on a nearly weekly basis. Everything’s on the Internet, but it’s still gratifying to look up how to devein shrimp or cook beet greens in a real book.

Over the years when I was a single adult, I continued teaching myself how to cook. I’m a very recipe-bound person; I like the follow the rules. Several cookbooks rotated into and out of my kitchen. I’d cook just for myself or sometimes for roommates and friends. I remember thinking with satisfaction that cooking was my creative outlet. Though I was following recipes carefully, I was also creating shapes, colors, and aromas. If I came across a recipe that struck my fancy, I’d just try it.  My roommates and I shared an organic vegetable box for awhile, so I learned to cook with turnips, celeriac, more cabbage than I could ever imagine…this was when “eat local” was becoming normalized and farmer’s markets were popping up and expanding all over Boston, so I could continue to experiment. I joined a meat CSA for a while in order to cook and eat higher quality meat, but couldn’t keep up with the minimum five pounds per month.   

Fast forward to now: I live in the suburbs, I’m married, I’m busier than I want to be, and if any serious cooking occurs in our home it’s going to come from me. My husband has gone through phases with cooking, but I think he gave up after trying his favorite dishes from his native Peruvian cuisine. The food was delicious, but was the result of many hours of labor and complex yellow sauces splattered everywhere, including the wall. In the end it’s just easier to go to the Peruvian restaurant, yet we don’t go to restaurants frequently. We have enough to be happy and healthy, but as a newly-married couple, we need to keep an eye on our finances. What we eat has become a very conscious decision.

In the next post, I’ll write more about my weekly meal planning process, including its foundational principles, advantages, and challenges.


Ideas for Someday

What’s the purpose of a blog, anyway? Does it involve posting regularly, or people actually reading it? Maybe I couldn’t answer that the first time around, which is why this was abandoned after two posts. I’ll be continuing to consider these questions moving forward, and I’ve decided to move forward into this unknown territory.

That said, there isn’t an awful lot of time right now to post. I’m getting married in just over a month and there is much to do. So in the meantime, I’ll post some ideas, seeds that maybe will sprout into longer posts when they are ready.

  • I’d love to post at some point about how simplicity became so important to me, even before it became a more popular concept. My relationship with simplicity was forged in 9/11-era New York City and then in an intentional community in Montana. It might be an interesting story to tell.
  • I’d also like to post about the shadow side of simplicity, including the baggage that it can perpetuate or create. This is an important part of the story, too.
  • Getting to Know a Place Very Well is a practice that I don’t always follow, but find so valuable when I remember it. I learned a lot about this from the writings of Gary Snyder, Wendell Berry, and others.
  • There are some ideas about simplicity that have evolved for me over the years, listed briefly here: that it’s both an internal and external process, that it sometimes involves spending more money on nicer things, that it’s always a work in progress and never a clear end goal, that it’s a privilege, and that it’s highly personal in its manifestation.

More to come someday–my sincere hope.



Manifest Simplicity

Six years ago, I started a blog about simplifying my life. I wrote exactly two posts and never returned, until now.

The first post was about scanning old tax forms while having a dance party, and also about donating old sheets to the local animal hospital. The second post was about burning old tax forms while camping in Acadia National Park and using the fire to boil tea. Both posts are now deleted, mostly because I now find them kind of embarrassing.

Let me recap what’s happened since then:

At this time in my life, Summer 2010, I was a single gal living in Jamaica Plain (Boston), MA in a duplex with two lovely roommates. I’d lived in that apartment since 2006, and stuff had started to build up. I’d been interested in simple living since 2002-2003, my year in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (more about that later, hopefully, in future posts). Yet my amount of “stuff,” physical and emotional, had fluctuated wildly since then. In 2010, I was starting to feel the need to offload.

Little did I know that this need for space and less baggage was the beginning of a major life journey. By 2013, I was ready to leave Boston with only a couple of carloads full of possessions. The plan was to attend graduate school in Vermont and then teach abroad somewhere. With much support from family and friends, I manifested the Vermont grad school dream into a reality. I was even able to spend two transformative months in Costa Rica on a teaching internship.

Something happened, though, that changed my plans a bit. I met someone. My relationship with him brought me back to Boston–to visit, and then to live. Now we live in a North Shore suburb, in a small apartment, and will be married in less than two months. I may not have pursued my career abroad, but I’ve ended up pursuing something even better, for me at least.

So why return to Manifest Simplicity now? Well for one thing, simple living seems to be all the rage these days. It’s going more mainstream, and I think I might have some ideas to add to the conversation. “Publishing” my thoughts, regardless of whether anyone actually reads them, helps me keep myself accountable and recognize my own progress. Finally, as I enter a new phase of life, it seems like an especially good time to take stock–and for me, taking stock always involves sorting through the clutter and figuring out what to prioritize and what to let go of.

I really hope that this time I make it past two posts, but we’ll see.