Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Best-Laid Plans...

So, as I mentioned last week, I've tried a few different techniques to shake myself out of my kitchen slump. One thing I've tried is to write down a meal plan in advance. So early last week, I brainstormed a list of about four dozen meals I can cook without a recipe (more on that later) and set to work on filling out a weekly meal plan.

The thing about a meal plan is, the planning doesn't end once you've filled in a little chart. Take last Saturday for example: I had written "squash casserole" in the box for that night. There's a feta, pepper, and squash casserole from The New Moosewood Cookbook that Dan and I absolutely love - it's amazing with pilaf or warm pitas, and it hits a dinner grand slam: tasty, easy, healthy, cheap.

So great - squash casserole it is for Saturday night. Cut to Saturday afternoon, when I realize that I didn't get the feta - or the pepper - so it's going to be hard to make it for dinner in a couple of hours.

No problem - we were planning to go to the grocery store that night anyway; we would go sooner rather than later. We go and we get various things for dinner tonight and the next few days, sticking to our shopping list (for the most part). Once we hit the checkout and we start loading the conveyor belt with all our yummy groceries, it hits me: I didn't thaw the frozen squash. "Oh, shoot!" I tell Dan, and he shrugs while I momentarily debate whether I could make something else with what we're already buying or whether I should pick up something else right now.

"I guess I'll just cook the squash before I make the casserole," I say. It's an extra step - since the frozen squash is precooked, I usually just thaw it, but I can heat it in a pan with a little water. But no big deal - that adds, what, ten minutes to the overall cooking time? It's okay. It's Saturday. We have no place to be, and we're going to have our favorite casserole for dinner.

At home, we lug all our groceries up to our third-floor apartment and I start unpacking while Dan immediately zeroes in on the sink full of dirty dishes. I put everything away except for the red pepper and the feta for dinner. I start pulling the other ingredients - plain yogurt, sunflower seeds, frozen green peppers. And the squash - where's the damn squash?

Normally I keep my freezer pretty organized - veggies on one side, meats on the other, fruit and juices in the front, tiny Tupperware tubs of tomato sauce on the right next to my frozen homemade pizza dough - but lately I haven't really stuck to this scheme and the whole thing has fallen in to disarray. So I start shuffling through, and pulling things out and setting them on the kitchen table, until suddenly, the table is full and my freezer is empty. And still no squash.

And then I realize - I've had the same box of grocery-store frozen squash in the freezer for a few months now. It kept getting pushed away as I used the homemade frozen packets that I put aside when we couldn't keep up with the endless stream of CSA squash last fall. Why use the boxed stuff when we had the local, organic kind? And then we used the last of the CSA squash in January, and still the lone box sat in the freezer.

Until I cooked it a month ago to eat with - chicken, pork chops? I don't remember. But the key point: A MONTH AGO. I had been planning all week to cook a meal based on a box of squash that had ceased to exist weeks before.

We got Chinese food from the place down the block.


Anonymous said...

Hahaha, this is everyday of my life...I hope the Chinese food good.


Anonymous said...

*was good

A_and_N said...

this is so true! it happenes to us too :) we have a post it note on on fridge with a rough inventory of the stuff in the fridge and the freezer to avoid this problem...everytime we run out of something, we cross that item off :)

Amanda said...

I have thought about doing what A and N said, particularly for the freezer, because it can be such a black hole as you describe here (what I do just as often is forget about some little tidbit that gets pushed to the back until it is way too old and unrecognizable to use). On another note, I wanted to chime in and say that we definitely eat better-- more interestingly, more healthfully, with greater variety, and I have more fun cooking-- when I plan out a handful of meals in advance of shopping each week like you mention here. Then I know for sure that I have the ingredients and it's just a matter of seeing what makes sense on a given night as we go through the week. I've found 4 meals is a good number to plan for us because there's always something we end up being out of the house for, or some dinner makes a lot of leftovers, etc.