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Friday, May 3, 2013

How to plan the hell out of the week's menus.

So look, okay, I do some things amazingly well and some things I just don't even do. I sit there with a martini in my hand like the mom from Arrested Development (she's the mom, right?) and laugh and go okay, no, that is what calculators and Google are for okay?

Oh wow, I totally forgot tonight is martini night. Drool.

But one thing I really enjoy doing, and it's something that I think I do very well, is my weekly menu planning and the subsequent grocery shopping. And feminists everywhere just hung their heads in collective shame that the triathlon-completing, BA-wielding, poetry-published/would-be novelist just said that she really enjoys grocery shopping and planning menus.

IT'S MY CHOICE! I CHOOSE MY CHOICE!! (name that TV show!)

I keep a notebook in my purse for to-do lists, the occasional stroke of literary genius, work out plans, calorie counting, movies we need to Netflix, songs I need to download on iTunes and lastly, but most importantly, my menus for the following week. Let's just say that if I don't have this notebook with me at all times I literally start to feel anxious.

So, every Friday I sit down and open my notebook. I think about what we've had recently that was good and needs to be repeated and then I either hit up Pinterest or, if I'm home, my tried and true box of recipes for inspiration.

Everyone does that, Jil, you say. Stop patting yourself on the back like you're the Einstein of groceries.

But wait, that's not all!

Because before that I will, and cue laughter from my 3.75 readers, actually go online and check the weather report for next week.


No, I am serious! Why would I want to slave for over an hour making coq au vin, though I haven't had it in AGES and it's so delicious, when it's going to be 95 degrees that day, and by "that day" I mean, the high occurs about two hours before I start cooking? My kitchen is on the western half of the house, people, in the desert. WHO DESIGNED THIS HELL HOLE KITCHEN.

Anyways. I check the weather. If there's going to be a dip in temperature, hello crockpot! Hello dutch oven! Bitches be making soups and stews up in this hell hole kitchen! If it's going to be hotter than, um, hell I guess, I start thinking back to more summery, colorful dishes that are crisp-flavored and not stick-to-your-ribs rich. Who wants to feel greasy when it's close to 100 outside?

So, yeah. I pull up the weather app, check it out, and then get to work. Once my menus are done, this is the end result:

Can you tell that I actually used to really love taking notes in my college courses? Can you also tell that I am left handed? Hey there, smudgy!

Here's some other factors that come into my planning:

1. My oven sucks so I have to do either one dish meals in the oven or a skillet, or one goes on top, the other below. I don't have convection. :(
2. Longer lasting veggies (hi broccoli) are held off til at least Wednesday. Ones that go bad quicker (hey green bean) must be eaten by Wednesday.
3. At least one dinner with seafood, usually salmon, and at least one dinner with beef. Sometimes I sub out beef with pork.
4. I often buy a pound each of two different veggie types, to simplify the grocery list, and resort to using Trader Joe's frozen vegetables for one meal. It makes it easier.
5. Make Thursday night's meal a bit heartier because Todd teaches a two hour kung fu/tech class that wipes him out.

It sounds weird, and OCD, but I find it to be fun, like putting together a puzzle. Speaking of puzzles, the next part I enjoy is writing out the grocery lists.

I go to two stores, Trader Joe's and Fry's, on a weekly basis. I gather my recipes or pull items from memory for what I'll need to buy and what I already have at home. Then, my favorite part is writing down my list according to the section of the store in which I will find it. So, I start in cheese and produce at Trader Joe's, move on to dairy, etc etc. At Fry's I start at dairy, then frozen, then meat, etc until I end up at produce. And that's how my lists flow.

More fun south paw facts: I write on the backs of the pages in my notebooks to avoid the spiral. Even though I go to Trader Joe's before Fry's, I write the TJ list first, on the right side, to avoid smudging the Fry's list, even though I already smudge it as I write it (you can see the smudges get progressively worse until I wipe my hand on my jeans in disgust). MY LEFTY LIFE IS SO HARD.

I've found that if I don't write my lists according to where they are in the store, I will always, ALWAYS forget something, so if I have written my whole list, but realize I forgot coffee, I'll more than likely re-write the whole damn thing because, and believe me I've tried, no amount of arrows, asterisks or underscoring will make me look at the bottom of the page when I'm in aisle 10 and still in the middle of my list.

So, it all sounds extremely psychotic, maybe, but I've found that doing it this tight-shipped helps me in a couple of areas:

We rarely throw out food, unless I bought some random exotic ingredient for a single dish and it languishes in the back of the fridge for weeks. On Friday, or even worse, Saturday mornings, our fridge is a barren landscape of condiments, Brita water pitcher, half a bunch of parsley and some leftover caffeine free sodas. It gets devoured.

If I'm feeling wishy-washy or tired or lazy, too bad so sad. The biggest cheat I can do, without wasting a meal's worth of ingredients, is to switch it out with an easier night's cooking load. The food's there, and it has to be used up, so get crackin', smudgy!

Um, so yeah. This is how involved I get when it comes to my food. Hey, I love cooking, and I love cooking for folks I love, so this is an important ritual in my week. Plus it's nice to know what I have to look forward to, food-wise. What?! I do NOT use food as a reward. Wait, what? We're having steak and chicken kabobs tomorrow? On the grill? WATCH ME WAG MY TAIL.

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