Cooking changes when you’re “around the ranch” most of the time. I’m still in the process of rethinking my shopping and cooking habits.
For example, there is the problem of lunch. When we’re on one of our traveling vacations, a long, luxurious lunch is often our principal meal of the day. When I have a busy work day outside the home, I’m often very hungry at lunch time. On the home front, however, lunch always seems like an outlier. Following my mother’s example, some good cheese with water crackers and a piece of fruit are often sufficient for me; but if there are two of you, you need to consider your partner’s lunch preferences as well as your own. Having the right sort of leftover on hand—a pot of stew or soup or chili, perhaps—helps. Reserve some to freeze, enjoy one dinner from the batch, and have the rest for lunch. Nothing revolutionary about that, however…
This brings me to the subject of meal planning. I have friends who meticulously gather their cookbooks together and plan the next week’s meals before they shop. I can’t tell you how much I admire their discipline as well as their culinary ability. Every time I set out on this path, I get distracted reading my cookbooks*. The net-net is commitment anxiety, and I end up shopping the way my father always did—the menus derive from what looks fresh and appealing and is well-priced. There’s nothing wrong with that approach—it’s actually closer to the European model— but for me, it results in a tendency to fall back on my “old reliables.”
The point is that absent the energy and focus that your work life once required, you can easily become bored with both cooking and eating, which is about how I feel right now, after weeks of roasted root vegetables. If you are the sort of person who has always taken pleasure in cooking and eating, you won’t want this to happen. Stale menus are as unappealing as stale food. You will have to change the paradigm, which will be so much easier now that you have time on your hands. A few suggestions:
- Randomly pick a cookbook from your collection or the library. I like a “real” cookbook, rather than electronic, for this purpose because you can take time to enjoy the photos and “digest” the narrative. Hand it to your partner, and ask for three recommendations to try in the next week. Then, choose one or two recipes yourself. Make your list, stock up, and proceed. If you can do so harmoniously, share the shopping, prep, and cooking responsibilities.
- Cook with a friend. Make a date to meet at your house or your pal’s. Confer and decide what to make and what each of you should provide. Next month, switch kitchens. You can turn this into a casual dinner party with partners or other friends, or just take home what you’ve made. You’ll have fun and maybe even learn from each other.
- Restore the time-honored ritual of “Sunday dinner.” If you don’t have family around to share it with, invite friends or neighbors.
- Take a round-the-world culinary tour. One week a month, go beyond spaghetti and tacos: try a few completely different recipes from another country or tradition. This would be a fun activity for the “grands”; you can get them involved in the research and decision-making.
- Take a cooking class every now and then, perhaps as a couple or with a friend. You’d be surprised how many of these there are, even outside the big metropolitan areas. Check out supermarkets, specialty food stores, Williams-Sonoma or Sur la Table, or any school, even a high school, that has a culinary arts program.
- Follow some food bloggers. The internet is full of trash as well as treasure, so this will take some exploration. Perhaps start with Saveur magazine’s 2016 blogs-of-the- year award winners. I could poke around these sites for hours without getting bored.
- Finally, Ina Garten never disappoints. Need I say more?
*Why wouldn’t you expect this of any self-respecting Pisces, whose zodiac sign is two fish swimming in opposite directions???