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My Menu Plan – How It Came About

2014 April 6


People often ask me, especially those closest to me, how I suddenly became so passionate about cooking. Being passionate about food was never an issue, obviously (see yesterday’s post about those last five pounds), but as I have mentioned in this space before, I could barely boil water a few years back without consulting Google and my mother had to talk me through scrambling an egg more often than either of us would have liked.

Well, as with most great things in life, it did not come from a place of necessity. I didn’t start cooking because I had to feed my family. We all know anyone can do that. In fact, until two years ago or so, we survived heartily on a steady diet of takeout, Trader Joe’s and the odd homemade burger. It didn’t come from a place focused on nutrition. Although that has been a natural result of eating more homemade food, I didn’t set out to clean up our diet or go green or lose weight by eating at home. And it didn’t come from exposure. I had sat at my dad’s kitchen counter for countless meals through the years, watching him pull together elaborate feasts, tasting a little here, seasoning a little there, doing an elaborate dance around the room from stove to counter to fridge and back, always with a glass of wine in-hand. And I was perfectly happy to observe from afar, filling up both of our wine glasses and providing nothing more than witty commentary.

It came from a place of true interest. Some might call it passion. Some might call it hobby. Some might call it natural talent…that just took its time developing.

What happened first was that I suddenly became enamored by cooking shows. I would watch Ina and Giada and it became therapeutic in a strange way. Oddly calming. It wasn’t even about the food or the recipes then, necessarily. It was about the rhythm and the methods and the true appreciation for flavors and scents and textures. I watched for months before I actually saw my kitchen in the same light. Suddenly, it wasn’t just there as a main artery of our home, laden with heavy appliances and countertops I didn’t like. Suddenly, it became a space filled with the perfect light in the morning. A space that offered a beautiful view at sunset. A space that held sounds and smells and tastes that could bring so much warmth and joy to any day of the week and any time of day, regardless of time constraints, outside stress or impositions.

I started to dabble. First with very easy recipes – homemade burgers, chicken parmesan, perfectly scrambled eggs (without a call to my mom). And then I started to read cookbooks. And they brought me the same solace that the shows did. The photography, the easy writing, the ideas. The books inspired me to take my time with my new hobby, rather than rush it. To gradually explore new things (I just started making fish at home last year, it was a big step) and to slowly progress into my passion. There was no competition. There was no sense of urgency. There was nothing to lose, really.

And then finally, the menu planning began. At first, this did start from a place of necessity. I was spending way too much money at the grocery store and coming home with nothing and when I did set out to cook a meal mid-week, I would find myself at the store at the last-minute looking for a laundry list of ingredients and feeling rushed for time and energy. Many meals went wrong. Menu planning helped me perfect my newfound passion. It allowed me to really read those cookbooks, forced me to mark them up and actually make the recipes I had admired for so long with proper preparation and focus. It allowed us to budget better. The food that we buy is now the food we eat, with few exceptions at the end of the week. We throw out much less and we take out much less. But most importantly, it let me put my interest in cooking front and center. It gave me the opportunity to think about food in a new way. To balance out our menu with just enough of everything. To enjoy a ritual of a quiet Sunday morning with cookbooks and iPad, a cup of coffee and a pen and paper. It has become a new form of therapy that has benefited me – and my little family – in ways I never imagined. Not only in terms of nutrition and flavors and a less wasteful life, but in terms of inspiration and solace and pure joy.

Nowadays, my dad usually sits at my kitchen counter watching me pull together a meal for us. And he often laughs a little while he is there. Still surprised to see me so at home in the kitchen. Amazed by my energy and my thirst for cooking. Impressed by light and crispy homemade pizza dough, a perfectly roasted chicken, a personal spin I may put on a recipe to call it my own. He marvels at my spice rack and my assortment of whisks and my counter top crowded with cookbooks.

I know there is a sense of pride there. Not only that I can cook now, not only that I am taking care of my family with hearty, nutritious, homemade meals, not only that I ended up following in his dancing footsteps. But that I found it on my own. Embraced it on my own time. And let it fulfill me, fully and completely. He watches and laughs and provides witty commentary.

Always with a glass of wine in-hand.

Here are my tips for menu planning and here is the best new recipe I tried last week.

Have a great Sunday!

*image above of a perfectly simple Romanian-style lunch, inspired by my dad.

6 Responses
  1. April 6, 2014

    Great post:) I found cooking when I was 18, and couldn’t be more grateful for the peace it brought to my life. It helped me sort through things, along with gave me a way to take care of myself. For the first time, I felt good at something, even if it wasn’t a hard recipe. A year later, I had completely changed my diet and given up fast food and junk food for good. Cooking truly does change you, and for that I’ll always be grateful:) So glad you’re in this place too!

    • WWGD permalink*
      April 8, 2014

      Yes, yes, and yes! Thanks for sharing, Heather.

  2. April 6, 2014

    Well, I certainly needed to read this after have a fickle argument with my husband about what we’re putting on our menu plan for the week! Sometimes it can be a chore, but when I get home from work after a cruddy Monday (because aren’t they always, just because they’re Mondays’) I’m always thankful we do this.
    I hope to someday have the passion for it that you do! There are days I’m definitely inspired, but at the moment it’s more out of necessity.

    • WWGD permalink*
      April 8, 2014

      Which I think is fine. If you’re doing it and it’s helping your lives flow more easily (most of the time) then it’s worth it. The passion may or may not come later…but it’s still better than doing takeout five nights per week 😉

  3. April 7, 2014

    We have just started more vigilantly menu planning these past few months, and it has really helped with the budget and with having enough prepared. We came into it, like you, with the realization that we were spending a lot at the grocery store and yet never felt like we had anything to eat. During the summer, spring, and fall seasons for the past few years we always have talked each week about what recipes we were going to cook (out of necessity because we would come home with a huge bag of veggies from our CSA and we had to figure out how to use them.) It is still a stressful process, I must say, even without the pressure of the CSA veggies. So I am hoping that one day with enough practice, our Sunday mornings will sound more like yours and less wrought with pressure and the urgency to go grocery shopping! I love reading your weekly roundups and I am getting more and more interested in cooking. I was a pasta and cereal gal until I met my husband eight years ago, and my Dad still can’t believe I cook as much as I do now! Here’s this week’s menu plan:

    I am still loving Gwyneth’s White Bean Soup with Kale and am slowly cooking my way through her cookbook per your recommendation!

    • WWGD permalink*
      April 8, 2014

      Thanks for sharing, Annie. Your graphic looks so cute! Wish I was that creative!

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