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This is how the best dinner parties start.

“Which five bookish people (or animals, I’m not picky) would be around your perfect literary dinner table?”

  1. Britt-Marie, from Britt-Marie was Here. She would be right on time, and she would approve of my cutlery drawer. We could be nerdy about that together.
  2. Ernest Hemingway. I would seat him next to Britt-Marie. They would either go to great lengths to hold each other in detached but respectful regard or they would despise each other, resulting in her prim, passive-aggressive jabs and his outright roguish responses. Either way, entertaining for all. Dinner and a show.
  3. Peeta from The Hunger Games. He would be a charming, polite dinner guest. Someone to balance out the chaos happening across the table. Also, he would probably bring fresh baked bread.
  4. Mark Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. But only if he looked like the Colin Firth version. Because Colin Firth.
  5. The Dormouse from Alice in Wonderland. Perhaps the reason he had so much trouble staying awake at the tea party was that he simply wasn’t getting enough caffeine. Let me introduce you to my coffee, sir.

Who would be at your literary dinner party?

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Friday Five3

I really love my schedule this month. Tomorrow I am hosting a write-in for my writing group (DFW area writer friends – email or DM me for details if you want to come!), and next weekend I am reading all weekend, and the weekend after that I am hosting my Hemingway party. I don’t usually like to plan all my weekends, but I don’t mind so much when it looks like writing and reading and drinking.

Five things that go with July’s apparent theme:

  1. The reading weekend is in conjunction with 24in48 – basically, as it sounds, you pick 24 hours out of July 22 and 23 and read like crazy. I’M SO EXCITED. If you’re in the area and want to come wrap yourself up in a blanket and read (and not talk other than to ask “May I have more tea?” Or, you know what – just help yourself. The tea is there for the taking.), that’s cool. We can be (silently) excited and literate together.
  2. Shawn Smucker’s The Day the Angels Fell comes out on September 5, but it’s available for pre-order now. I was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy, so this is one of the books that I’ll be finishing during 24in48. From what I’ve read so far, I can attest that you will want this book. Go! Pre-order!
  3. My favorite thing I’ve read this year about modesty culture – refusal to accommodate uncontrolled men. I also appreciate her comment moderation instruction to “Be feisty but gracious!” Words to live by. Thinking of making that my mantra.
  4. An artist reimagined the 50 states as food puns. I think Alahama is my fave. Or Kenturkey.
  5. And just in case you’re curious – this is what I’m having for dinner tonight.

What have you been doing/reading/eating lately?

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My Instagram is cute. My house is not always cute. Sometimes, parts of my house look like this. It’s okay…ish. It could be better. I like it when it’s better.

My schedule has changed recently, so things are falling through the cracks. Things that I’m usually pretty good at, like keeping up with my meal planning calendar and laundry. It’s been a long time since the table beside the couch looked like the picture above. I can’t say that I’ve missed that.

I recently lamented to friends that I was disappointed with how my year of wild is going. As someone who is mostly organized but is also a little fond of and prone to chaos, I was looking forward to wild really shaking my year up. A still life of cups and glasses was not the chaos I had in mind. On the surface, wild hasn’t stirred around much. My life is just as un-wild as it ever has been.

Or so it would seem.

One facet of wild that I am particularly interested in cultivating is freedom. Freedom from shoulds. Freedom from lifeless traditions. Freedom from good advice that doesn’t particularly work for me in practice.

In this way, this year has been super wild, and my progress on my resolutions shows it. I am farther along toward my goals this year than I was at this time last year. Who knew that, instead of just saying, “I do what I want!” while still bending over backwards to fulfill obligations that aren’t really mine to fulfill, intentionally embracing saying no in order to cling to what fulfills me would result in getting what I want done?

Everyone, you say? Literally everyone knew that? Okay. That’s fair.

Anyway, I apologize to wild for being disappointed. Although…don’t go anywhere, wild. We’re not done here.

Perhaps it doesn’t look wild to me because I use structure, but I think this is a misunderstanding of the term. Sometimes I expect wild to be loose and flowy, but then I watch an animal stalk its prey (and by animal, I do mean my mom’s barn cats). Wild definitely requires a certain measure of focus for survival.

So this week, I begin testing a new time management structure. I was inspired by Sarah Bessey’s best practices post. The ones that really stick out to me are actually writing when I have made time to write, setting boundaries but writing them in pencil, and fill your well (because if I’m not reading or eating right or staying active, everything else goes awry). I have added a second job writing SEO content, so it makes sense that my schedule could not continue as it was without something important taking the hit. I imagine it will take a few weeks of tweaking, but I’m confident that it will work.

For those who want to put a little structure in their schedule, it’s pretty simple. I started by making a list of priorities. For me, I thought about what I would need in order to consider myself as having my life together. Keep in mind that I am single and childless and that, for the most part, I operate on a pretty low supply of give-a-damns when it comes to other people telling me what my life should be. If this does not describe you, you’re going to have to concentrate a little more to get past the voices that want to shout over you. When you are listing your priorities, your opinion is the one that matters the most.

[Aside – this is not advice to shut out other people altogether. If you are in a committed relationship and you want to remain in it, you might want to list it as a priority. Please don’t ever use “I’m focusing on me right now” as an excuse to be an inattentive asshole. If you want to break up, just break up. Don’t be passive and shady about it. /psa]

After I had my list of priorities, I divided them into daily, weekly, and monthly lists. I listed each one as specific tasks to complete. For example, for my body weight, I need to drink 100 ounces of water a day to stay hydrated, so that’s what I listed as one of my daily health goals. Decide what you can reasonably do, and quantify each goal on your list. Once you have these lists, document them. I keep a goals calendar, but you can keep up with them in whatever way works for you. It helps you chart your progress.

What process do you use to meet goals?

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There is at least one day every June when this is what dinner looks like.

When I started meal planning, I over-planned. I was trying to follow the advice of the existing meal planning wisdom that was available at the time, and it was not written for single people. I was convinced I needed to cook something every night. I was also convinced that I needed to go to the store every week, because that’s what every book I read on the subject advised regarding keeping the pantry stocked. At the time, I was working three part-time teaching jobs in three different counties, so the intention of going to the store every week died quickly. That’s also how my drive-in habit started, because the thought of still having to come home and cook after teaching five classes and being on the road for a collective three or four hours was not appealing.

After complaining to my mother about the difficulties of trying to make this square peg plan fit into the round hole of my life, I was slightly offended when she started laughing. She asked why I was making my life harder than it needed to be. She reminded me that I was the sole decision-maker of my household, and I could therefore decide what to eat and how often I wanted to cook. She also reminded me that I love cereal and sandwiches and that sometimes they make perfectly respectable suppers.

These simple reminders revolutionized my whole thought process about food. They taught me to be flexible.

Flexibility is the ultimate key to a solid meal plan. Many of us associate food with some kind of memory or longing. Most of us make dining choices emotionally at least part of the time. Otherwise, we would only eat what is perfectly good and healthy for us, and we would only eat it at sensible times and in sensible amounts. We also wouldn’t enjoy our meals as much, and I like to enjoy as many aspects of life as possible.

So rather than propose that you rid your plan of flexibility, I say embrace it. Have an idea of what you want to do, but don’t get too upset if your calendar doesn’t exactly reflect your reality. Mine seldom does, and the months with the most change are usually the months that I remember the most fondly.

 

 

I hope you have enjoyed reading my strategies for Epic Meal Planning this month. I am hoping to make the book – which will include my personal recipes and ways to expand or contract the tips to adjust them to your lifestyle – a reality by February. If you would like to keep up with its progress (as well as the progress of future projects), you can sign up for my newsletter here. My first newsletter will go out on Monday, so you can be a part of my inaugural group!

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Merely a cute cup display, or future tiny herb garden?

Yesterday, we talked about self-awareness and the limits that might impose as part of the wrap-up of our Epic Meal Planning journey. Today, we’re reviewing the theme of being aware of the space you have available and finding ways to maximize its usefulness.

I have always wanted to have a garden. I like digging in the dirt, and I like the feeling of accomplishment when I plant something that produces something pretty and/or useful. I have yet to have a backyard of my own where a proper garden would be feasible.

I am not easily daunted, though.

One of my former roommates gave me a green onion plant (i.e., green onion cuttings in a cup of water – dirt optional) one summer. I nurtured it on my sunny windowsill, and I didn’t buy green onions for six months. It only stopped producing because I went away for a week at Christmas and left the temperature of the apartment low enough that it got too chilled to survive.

This little experiment taught me that my space doesn’t have to be my ultimate ideal in order to be useful. And neither does yours.

I can grow enough onions and herbs for me with nothing but a windowsill. And now that I have a small patio, I can start expand into a small container garden next spring. Maybe I’ll grow tomatoes. Maybe I’ll even grow a lemon tree. That will cut down on the grocery list a little.

What are some things you can do to stretch your own space into working better for you?

 

I’m sharing my Epic Meal Planning Strategies for Write 31 Days – click to see the master list.

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Making my own extracts? Yes. Making my own chili paste? Don’t be ridiculous.

I have a picture in my head of the life I want to have someday, and it looks a little different from the life that I do have. I love my life now, but I also have plans for the future.

In this future life, I have a real pantry and a large freezer. I use storage space so well that I perpetually have enough food in the house that I could eat for two months without going to the store for anything other than the occasional egg or coffee run. And really, if I’m describing the life I want, it’s more likely that I’ll be trading produce from my garden for eggs from the neighbor’s chickens. In this life, I’m making a decent living as a writer so that I have a more flexible schedule, allowing me to plan some other time than my precious, heavily guarded weekends to break out the canning equipment to squirrel away enough tomato sauce, jam, and beans to last the whole year long.

Back in my current reality, however, this is not (yet) feasible.

I can store a few things. I use the space I have efficiently by buying mostly real food instead of processed foods. I can freeze pesto in cubes for a quick sauce because a little goes a long way, and a little is what I have room to store. But tomato sauce is something I have to make every time I want it, because it doesn’t store so compactly.

I have time to make some things from scratch. Vanilla and other extracts are better when you make them yourself, and they’re super easy. You basically pop a vanilla bean in a bottle of vodka and wait a few weeks. Limoncello – almost as easy. But as often as I eat roasted peppers, I don’t have the time to keep up with it roasting them on my own. I always end up buying the jars (or the paste in tubes).

I love baking my own bread. It’s way less expensive and so much tastier than anything I can buy at the grocery store. But I also live in Texas, which means at least half the year, an hour of bread-baking is followed by either three hours of sweating while I wait for the apartment to cool back down or keeping the apartment so tundra-esque that I have to take out a personal loan to pay my electric bill. So I compromise and splurge a little on bakery bread (and bonus – support a local business in the process) during those months.

Part of planning well is self-awareness. It’s recognizing that while you may want to milk your own goat and make your own cheese, you live in an apartment. Recognize your limits. Look for ways to stretch them, but accept those you can’t.

 

I’m sharing my Epic Meal Planning strategies for Write 31 Days – click here to see the master list.

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I love farmers markets that hand out “what the heck to do with this thing you just bought” instructions.

Hello. My name is Suzanne, and I’m a recipe hoarder.

In addition to my trusty meal staples box, I have a little over a hundred cookbooks. I have many food-centric Pinterest boards, and I have a file of recipes that I’ve torn out of magazines, scribbled down at potlucks, or printed from an email. In fact, some of my meal staple cards just have a list of ingredients (for shopping purposes) and where to find the instructions – a website, the specific Pinterest board, or a book name and page number. It used to be the author’s name and page number, but “Nigella” doesn’t help you when you own every cookbook she’s written.

My favorite recipes – many of which you will ultimately find in the Epic Meal Planning book – are my own. They fall into two categories that I call old flames and new loves.

The old flames are mostly family recipes that I have tweaked (and in some cases, altered so completely that the only thing they have in common with the original is the name) to fit my tastes. They generally involve more vegetables, less meat, less (or different) dairy, and more spice.

The new loves are recipes that were born out of an excess of an ingredient. For example, one Thanksgiving, I bought tons of coconut for candy-making and then arrived at the farm to discover that Mom had also bought tons of coconut. So I had a lot left over. Unlike the pickle incident, however, this was a happy accident, because I love coconut. That December was full of coconut waffles and curry. I’m not generally a fan of rice pudding, but when it’s made with homemade coconut milk, you will need to get your own, because that whole pan is mine. Coconut (two kinds – sweetened and unsweetened) is now on my staples list.

But as much as I hoard recipes and as much as I like to sit down and read a cookbook like it’s a novel, I don’t actually use recipes in my day-to-day cooking. I might make something I need a recipe for once or twice a month, and I seldom follow the recipe exactly. Part of the reason for this is because I have made my favorites enough that I could make them in my sleep. But mainly it’s because I learned to cook before I learned to use cooking instructions, and I think this gave me a better understanding of how food chemistry actually works, which ultimately allows me to try new things and still feed myself whether I have specific guidelines or not.

If you are just learning to cook or are unsure of yourself in the kitchen, this is the process I recommend. Ignore the recipes and start out learning basic skills. If you can’t bring yourself to ignore recipes altogether, get some giant like Bittman’s How to Cook Everything or Lopez-Alt’s The Food Lab, the likes of which don’t just have recipes but also teach you what all those ingredients and instructions mean and why they work together in that particular way.

For those of you who are more seasoned cooks, your task for the day is to experiment. Take a recipe and swap an ingredient out for something comparable. You may discover a new favorite.

Whether you’re finding new loves or rekindling old flames, learning to be flexible in the kitchen can infuse new life into your meal plan. Even better – it will ensure that you are never at the mercy of an ingredient list.

 

I’m sharing my Epic Meal Planning Strategies for Write 31 Days – click to see the master list.

 

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