I’m usually pretty good with food for my family. Most of the time I cook a fair deal, and enjoy feeding people. I get a farmshare about a third of the year, which helps get the creative juices (by which I mean sheer panic) going. But I’ve been in a serious cooking rut the last few months. There’s the constant battle with the kids about what they will and won’t eat. (They philosophically know that veggies are good for them, but Grey’s current favorite food is the whitest of white bread with JIF peanut butter – which is basically peanut butter candy.) There’s the ever present time constraints. And honestly, I just got sick of all my recipes. I recently attempted listing them in a spreadsheet to see if there were any I wasn’t sick of, and there are 37 of them on my list. I’m sure there are more I’ve forgotten.
But I was definitely sick of all of them.
I trolled through my cookbooks looking for new or forgotten recipes, and considered how much things have changed. My earliest recipe book, the Whitehouse Cookbook, called for difficult to acquire ingredients. Like bear. Or possum. And it made rather large presuppositions about my cooking facilities – I have rather a dearth of earthen pits. But I have plenty of recipe books that lean rather heavily on cream of mushroom soup, as a genre. The cookbooks I got when I was first married, like Betty Crocker, still hold up in some arenas, but are on the whole more processed, less vegetably and not so healthy as I want to eat. (They’re tough to beat in the pie-zone though.)
So I ordered a bunch of new cookbooks, and complained on Facebook.
What I really want is a cookbook that does all of that:
– Pairs ingredients that are available together seasonally (like brussel sprouts and sweet potatoes)
– Uses the stuff I get a lot of (hellloooo kale!)
– Can feed between 4 – 12 people (the range of eaters at my table)
– Can be made in an hour or less
– Is healthy
– Doesn’t use extra weird ingredients (looking at you asafetida)
– That my kids will like
– That my husband will like
In this season of whining, my friends really came through for me. Prior to my Facebook posting, one friend sent me a free week of Hello Fresh, which did end up making two very tasty meals that fit all my criteria. I’d tried Blue Apron before, but found it really hard to work in a meal service PLUS a CSA. I think that I may sign up for another meal service in the fall when my farmshare is done.
Another friend actually found the right cookbook for me. Two of them actually. And she sent them to me, which was incredibly kind of her. My own explorations were not nearly so successful. They’re both from America’s Test Kitchen (as is about 70% of my in-rotation cookbook collection). And they look AMAZING. Nutritious Delicious seems very much a response to “oh crap, my farmshare sent me kale again”. I particularly appreciate the nutrition information, but sadly it doesn’t tell me recipe prep time. I’ve definitely missed a “simmer for two hours” instruction before in recipes, so I really like the prep time estimates, even though I always assume they’ll take a little longer.
But the one I’m *really* excited about is “Dinner Illustrated“. This is the cookbook I’ve been waiting for all my life. OK, for at least a few years. It’s done in a meal-plan style, where the sides are included in the recipe. All the recipes take an hour or less, soup to nuts. There’s step by step picture instructions. There’s a huge section of vegetarian recipes, making reducing your meat intake an appealing prospect. I was a little disappointed to see that it didn’t have nutritional information on the recipes. I don’t normally care, but my father is visiting me and he’s working on handling his diabetes with better nutrition. (Given my life at work is helping people manage their diabetes better, I’m fully in support!) So knowing how many carbs are in a recipe is important. But then I flipped to the back and discovered that there’s a full accounting of the nutritional information in a handy table, helping me find lower carb, higher protein options. FTW.
I just came up with my meal list for the week, and I’m very excited. Rut, busted.
All this made me feel happy and grateful for my good friends. It also made me remember to stop and think of how lucky I am. My oppression by the boredom of my favorite recipes, while a real problem for me, is the very best problem one can have with food. I can afford healthy food. I have easy access to a wide range of fresh ingredients. I have time to cook healthy food. I have a fully equipped kitchen, ready to zest, peel, slice, blanche and otherwise prepare healthy food – and I have all those skills to do it. (Although my knife skills are no better than meh.) I don’t need to consider any eating disorders. My family does not need a specialized diet – no food allergies or intolerances or religious restrictions. Then to top it off, I have friends who are able to help me out. Not for any dire need, but even for small things recipe malaise.
How fortunate I am. How easy it is to forget. So today, as I write out my grocery list, I am grateful. And remembering that the list maybe should include some of the things my local food pantry needs, too.