After the birth of my daughter, I adopted a one-word mantra for whenever I was feeling frazzled:
Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.
One significant way I have simplified my daily life is with the banishment of that age old question, “Honey, what’s for dinner?”
Planning, shopping for and preparing meals for my family became exponentially harder after Matilda was born. For the first year of her life, I was a full-time Stay-At-Home-Mom but I still found it difficult to put food on the table every evening that was healthy and of interest to my husband. (In all fairness to Jim, I overstepped a little with meals like “curried chicken and wheatberry salad” and “calabacitas with poached eggs” especially for a man who is perfectly content living on meat & potatoes.) When I sat down and looked at the stress I was feeling surrounding cooking for my family (a task I had always loved) I realized that the source of my anxiety was figuring out what to make every week. The solution to this problem presented itself in a conversation with my mother.
My mom, Rose, grew up in Queens with nine siblings, a menagerie of animals, and two working parents. Growing up, meals were based on what day of the week it was, and they never changed: Roast Beef on Sunday, Spaghetti and Meatballs on Monday, Fish Sticks on Friday, etc.
I knew that having the exact same food every week would not work for me, but the idea of narrowing things down and making planning a bit easier with broader meal categories was very appealing. So, we developed the following menu:
“Sunday Dinner”–a meal that takes a bit longer to prepare (chili or a nice ragout) and usually centers around meat.
“Pasta Monday” –putting this fast, easy meal at the beginning of the week helps to make Mondays a bit more manageable.
“Leftover Tuesday”–pretty self-explanatory. 🙂
“Wild Card Wednesday” –the one day every week that my husband and I are both consistently off from work; this usually translates to a date night and at the very least take-out.
“Homemade Soup Thursday” –I only work until 2pm on Thursdays, which gives me plenty of time to make our weekly soup and the leftovers provide us with a nice, hot lunch for the following days.
“Fish for Friday”–closing the work week with another fast, easy meal helps to keep the beginning of the weekend nice and relaxing.
“Saturday: Jim’s Night” –this is the night where my husband chooses and prepares dinner. Some Saturday night favorites are homemade pizza and tacos.
After my failed attempts at healthy cooking innovation this past summer (can you say, wheatberry salad?), I have adopted a much more basic approach to cooking dinner–I look for recipes that are hearty, comforting and use whole food ingredients. The following are the cookbooks I consult most frequently for delicious family dinners:
Nigella Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home The tagline of this wonderful, sizable cookbook is “Fabulous feel-good food to make life less complicated and more pleasurable” and that is exactly what you’ll find within its pages. Each flavorful recipe is accompanied by a short essay written in Nigella’s signature style. My favorite meal in this book is Soup Made with Garlic and Love (and Pumpkin Scones)–the soup is warm and simple and the savory pumpkin scones are a perfect complement.
The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook This first cookbook of Ina Garten’s is one of the most well-worn in my kitchen. The recipes are wonderful and use all whole ingredients. The recipe for Perfect Roast Chicken is just that–perfect. An incredibly easy, no-fuss meal that tastes like it took days to make. Serve it with greens, mashed potatoes and biscuits for a lovely Sunday dinner.
The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier Hearty. That is the word that immediately comes to mind whenever I think of Ree Drummond’s food. Drummond has four kids, is married to a cattle rancher in Oklahoma and writes for the beloved blog The Pioneer Woman. Her Fried Chicken Tacos are one of Jim’s favorite picks for Saturday night and are also a great meal to make for company.
The Minimalist Cooks Dinner Mark Bittman is best known as the author of How to Cook Everything. In this slim, photo-free cookbook he shares over 100 recipes for weeknight meals with LOTS of flavor. I often turn to this cookbook for Pasta Monday and Fish Friday, the Fish Braised with Leeks takes about two minutes to prepare and is delicious!
America’s Test Kitchen: Cooking for Two In my experience, you can’t go wrong with a cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen, this annual title is no exception. I love these cookbooks because of how they scale down recipes, so that hubby and I aren’t drowning in leftovers by Tuesday night. The Shrimp and Grits in the 2009 edition are amazing.
~ Patricia is thrilled to be back at OWL as a part-time librarian and couldn’t be happier about settling down with her family in Litchfield.