Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Spoon Full of Sugar

Mary Poppins knew how to make chores fun. We all daydream of the time when a lovely nanny with perfect pitch can come take care of the less-than-desirable items on our list, all with efficiency and good humor.

One of those less-than-desirable items for me is planning the week's menu. This may sound surprising to some, but as much as I occasionally enjoy cooking, it's the planning part that just bugs me somehow. There are many other things I'd rather be doing!

We all know that it makes good economical and healthful sense to plan one's week of meals ahead of time, and to subsequently go to to the store with a prepared list of needed items in hand.

We also know we should go shopping on a full stomach.

I usually aim to do both of these. I really do. However, I failed on the latter this morning, and left Whole Foods with a bag of (vegan) sour gummy worms. As soon as I got back into the car, I mauled the bag open grizzly-style and ate the entire contents while listening to Ira Glass's rushed chatter on NPR's This American Life. What can I say? Things got a little crazy.

But back to the menu planning. This often takes me a while. I sit in a sunny spot on the floor of our front living room, surrounded by stacks of cookbooks, hemming and hawing about what I'm going to make that week. I skim the books, trying to recall what the past successes were and which books they are in. And being a cookbook whore, I have many recipes to muddle through. Plus the cats always show up pining for attention in the midst of all this, so some time is lost there as well.

Sergio, always pining for attention. :) Isn't he adorable?

I wondered if I could streamline this process a bit so that I could have more quality time for important things, like satisfying my online solitaire addiction.

The first step was pushing my meal-planning day from Sunday to Saturday. Sunday can be such a "meh" day and adding food shopping to that day's activities suddenly struck me as a very bad idea. It's a much more tolerable chore on a Saturday morning, as you get it out of the way and you still have the whole weekend of possibilities laying out before you.

So here is the system, if one can actually call it that. I opened a new document in my Google account and entitled it Winner Recipes We Love. I shared it with my beloved, so that we could both add recipes to it. (You could just use a word document or  -- gasp -- write in an actual honest-to-goodness notebook.)

Then I began listing my cookbooks and the winner recipes we've tried from each one. (This isn't to say that these are the only good recipes in each book. They're just the ones we happened to have tried and loved so far.) Here is an example of what I've started. (I've still got a many books to go through, but you get the idea...)

Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan
47 Chipotle Lime Two-Bean Hummus
84  Peanut Passion Sauce
94  Cocoa Coconut Chili
95  Lemon Chickpea Lentil Soup
102 Thai Coconut Corn Stew
122 Broccoli Cashew Teriyaaki Tofu Stir-fry
131 Lemony Cashew-Basil Pesto on Pasta (better fresh, not as good for leftovers)
148 Thai Chick-Un Pizza

Chloe’s Kitchen
41 Warm Spinach-Artichoke Dip
73 Coconut Mashed Yams with Currants
95 Avocado Toast
101 Chloe’s Award-Winning Mango Masala Panini
191 Tempeh Piccata
201 Ginger Nutmeg Spice Cupcakes

Color Me Vegan
32 Quick Curried Swiss Chard
34 Beet burgers
37 Cajun Red Beans and Rice
38 Watermelon Granita
41 Raspberry Lemon Muffins
46 Citrus Salad
50 Peach Salsa
59 Carrot Fries
62 Sweet Potato Tacos (K likes)
76 Lemon Basil Vinaigrette
99 Frozen Banana Dessert
117 Kale Chips
129 Green Smoothies
152 Linguine with Purple Cabbage
176 Coconut Rice
179 Lemony Pan-Fried Chickpeas with Chard
180 Salt and Pepper Tofu
195 Black Olive Bruschetta
212 Nori Wraps with Orange Cashew Cream (K likes)
219 Chocolate Cherry Cookies
228 Carrot and Avocado Salad
229 Thai Coconut Soup
238 Indian-Style Black Bean and Veggie Burritos

The Vegan Slow Cooker
62 Soy Chorizo Black Bean Stew
74 Thai Red Curry Tofu and Veggies
110 Risotto
121 Tempeh and Veggies in Spicy Peanut Sauce

A few of these I've marked "K likes" because Ry is not a huge fan. So I plan these recipes for those nights when he is out on a gig. The numbers next to each recipe, you've probably guessed, are the page numbers in the book.

This has cut down significantly on menu planning time, since I can quickly peruse the list and see the winners. I'm not listlessly flipping through cookbooks anymore. And while I continue to try new recipes, the frequency depends on the week ahead. Some weeks are just about the quick-and-easy standards when I know I'll have very little energy or patience for experimenting.

So that's my little trick. Not Julie Andrews-worthy by any means, but it helps get the job done quicker.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have some solitaire to play. And kitties to pat.

See? As soon as those cookbooks land on the floor, Kaci appears ready to be admired. It never fails.


  1. Sergio looks like such a little lover! I'd happily let him woo me away from menu planning! That's a good idea to have all of your favorites in one document that can be added to as new favorites arise. Plus, page numbers! Smart! You've made A LOT from Color Me Vegan! Color me impressed! :) The other bonus to having all of your favorites in one place is that it will remind you of some recipes that have fallen out of rotation a bit.

    I actually don't do menu planning for the week. I just add to our grocery list as we run out of things or when I have a sudden hankering for something from a cookbook... Do you want to guess how many times a week I go to the grocery store? Um, that would be every day... Maybe there's something to this weekly menu idea! :)

    1. That's a good way to describe him, Cadry. He is a little lover. He'll often curl up on top of me in the morning when I'm about to get out of bed. A purring cat that's flopped on top of you on a chilly dark morning? Impossible to escape.

      It's so true that this system reminds one of recipes that have fallen out of rotation. So often we suddenly realize that we haven't made one of our favorite dishes in months.

      Hope you're staying warm in Iowa!

  2. You are so organized. Love your kitties. You might want to hop on over to my blog....there's a surprise waiting for you!

  3. Thanks for the recipe recommendations. I have a few of those cookbooks and it is nice to try approved recipes. :-)