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.

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