Saturday, August 31, 2013

A reason, a season, a lifetime

On Monday, I was hunting through the garage for Genevieve's mouse costume. When we made it last year (and by "we" I mean "mostly Mom"), we purposefully made it larger so that it could be a play costume and maybemaybemaaaaybeee fit her for another Halloween.

Halloween 2012

In a bin of miscellaneous stuff (from Mom's house), I came across this photo:

Halloween 2001 (Pardon the photo of a photo)
(The blonde is ChrissyG, my best friend through high school and college. Shortly after Andrew and I got married in 2005, ChrissyG and I stopped speaking. Why? That's not the point of this story. The point is that for eight years, there was a ChrissyG-shaped hole in my heart and life.)

I was getting my shownotes together for the podcast after getting Genevieve to sleep for the night, and with my laptop right there, I thought, "I wonder how ChrissyG is doing. I'll just google her."

In three clicks, I found her Twitter stream and her Instagram profile. For two hours, I fell down a rabbit hole of catching up with her life, 140 characters and a thumbnail photo at a time.

Over eight years, I had thought about her a lot. About her kids, about how she was doing. I missed her like crazy. I had even talked about mourning the loss of our friendship with Dr. Boyband, YEARS after the fact. The loss of a friendship like ours is one that is mourned for a long time; and like with any loss, you never really get over it.

I didn't want to intrude in her life if she didn't want me in it, because hellooooo, boundaries. But I couldn't stand at *least* letting her know I was there, just in case.

When I woke up the next morning, I saw a tweet from ChrissyG to me, saying she had looked for me under my old handles from high school, but, YAY that I had found her. (I paraphrase.)

I shot her a message with my phone number, and we texted throughout the morning, until Genevieve went down for her nap. Then we talked on the phone for an hour and a half, catching up on what eight years of separation had robbed us of.

We made plans to see each other, and she came over the next day. The superficial stuff had changed, her hair, her clothes, but there she was. My best friend.

ChrissyG was always the cool one, knowledgeable, doing her own thing and not caring what other people thought. She was smart, funny, and stylish. I am pleased to report that in these respects, the important ones, she hasn't changed a bit.

When she came in, Genevieve was immediately comfortable with her. (This is a big deal.) We spent the morning together, chatting about where our friends and acquaintances have been up to, talking about our kids, and the usual stuff.

It was great. We have both grown up, mellowed, and become more of ourselves than we were before, and the best thing is this: where some folks become different people over time apart, we're like a stream that got separated in the middle by a rock and met up again on the other side.

Treasured trinkets
My mom has always said that there are different types of friends; friends for a reason, friends for a season, friends for a lifetime.

Let's never be apart again, ok, ChrissyG? I'd hate to make a liar out of the dog tag.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Bon apétit

I have had a lot of questions about how I do my meal planning. I put thought into it, yes, but trying to figure out exactly how to write it out has been driving me crazy. (Once you finish reading this, you will confirm that I actually am crazy, but my methods are solid.)

Step 1: Check the weather.

I don't like cooking hot food when it's hot outside, or cold food when it's cold. I don't run my oven when I run the air conditioning, partly because of how I was raised, but mostly because it's wasteful. So, first, I check the weather.

Some of my favorite "hot weather" foods include Kale Salad (I promise I'll post my variation soon), bruschetta,  pesto and pasta, and grilled chicken. (The grill and I have a tenuous relationship, but we're working through it.)

Step 2: Regular rotation check

I have a couple of dozen meals that are "repeaters"; stuff we like to eat on a regular basis. When I make something new, we always ask, "Is this a repeater?" This takes practice, and it can be a challenge to establish what is a repeater because you *first* need to cook on a (somewhat) regular basis. I promise, it gets easier.

Our regular rotation includes meatloaf, beef stroganoff, risotto, and kale salad, among other things.

Risotto with peas and lemon

Step 3: Go to the source

I have quite a few cookbooks- some are specialty cookbooks, some I bought on impulse, but I have a select few that I use all of the time. I use these post-its, write the name of the dish, abbreviate the title of the cookbook it comes from, and include the page number that the recipe is on. Then, the post-its go on the large calendar on our fridge on the day I'm planning to cook the food.

The way I try to pick recipes is "three tried-and-true, one new." 
You can see some of my repeaters.
This works on a number of levels; I plan the meals around the weather, around activities, and because life is nothing if not unpredictable, it helps me go with the flow without causing any disruption come dinnertime.

Step 4: Know your pantry, stock your pantry, love your pantry.

While I'm making my post-it's, I'm also making my shopping list. We are all busy people, and good planning saves time. When I was growing up, my mother would go to the grocery store once a week, that's it.

We keep a running list on the side of the fridge so that we can restock regular pantry items as we run out (or just before). Things I tend to buy every week include: carrots, cabbage, onion, potatoes, cheese, bread, meat, bananas, milk, yogurt, and sour cream.

My pantry also includes spices from Penzeys (which is a fantastic value, even if you mail order), my herb garden of love, and tomatoes. (Oh. My. Tomatoes. Love is homegrown tomatoes.)

I try to check my fridge before we go to the store; mostly because I don't want to end up with three cabbages. (Again.) Three is too many for cabbages.

Step 5: Shop the seasons, shop the sales

Once you get in the swing of regular cooking and meal planning, you'll be able to do a little improvising at the store- alternatively, if you have your cookbooks on your kindle or smartphone, you have your recipes at your fingertips. Chicken thighs are on sale? STOCK UP. (I love chicken thighs.) Beef chuck roast is $3.99/lb? Sounds like pot roast (or Texas chili!) just hit the meal rotation.

The same goes for produce. I don't buy berries or melon in the winter. EVER. Why? Because it's expensive. (As I write this, I recognize that a lot of my rules are my mother's as well. Coincidence? Perhaps.)

Joining a CSA is a great way of getting accustomed to what grows locally and seasonally for you; alternatively, the farmer's market does exactly the same thing without the problem of getting three beets, a dozen bunches of chard, four leeks, and a small squash. (What I'm saying here is, we got a lot of weird stuff in strange quantities.)

Step 6: Prep your kitchen and do the cooking.

If you don't have a lot of time to cook, you need to have your ducks in a row. A 30-minute meal will take twice as long if you have to wash the pots, knives, measuring cups, and mixing spoons before you can even start your mise en place.

(Trick from Mom: if you clean up during the "let simmer for 10 mins" bits of the directions, you will end up with a hot meal and a clean kitchen.)

I also regularly double my recipes- this way we're guaranteed leftovers another night during the week. (I try to cook four meals during the week and use leftovers for lunches and dinner on the weekend.) Sometimes I freeze stuff, too. Depends on my mood.

Step 7: Enjoy

Plate your food, take off your apron, and enjoy a meal with your family.

Bon apétit!