February 01, 2011

Meal Planning

Much of regular household trash is made up of convenience (fast food) packaging, making Zero Waste an unthinkable goal for many.

But slow food is not that complicated.
As with everything else, a little simplifying, organizing and planning goes a long way.

Not so long ago (a couple of years ago maybe), my cookbook was filled with recipes collected over the years, many of them calling for processed or canned goods. Not-so-healthy and/or wasteful recipes mingled amongst healthy waste-free ones, not only crowded my recipe binder and made the healthy recipes hard to find, but also made zero waste shopping difficult, complicated and frustrating. Running around trying to find powdered sugar in bulk to accommodate my Bourbon Ball recipe did not make sense.
Then, it dawned on me:
A ZW home calls for a ZW kitchen
A ZW kitchen calls for ZW cooking
ZW cooking calls for a ZW recipe binder!
So I took my recipes through a much needed de-cluttering and lifestyle fitting exercise.
-I kept recipes containing ingredients locally available in bulk and recycled the rest.
-I parted with those that required too many ingredients, took too long or were too complicated. Simple concoctions can taste just as good as elaborate ones. Isn't taste what really matters?
-I also recycled those that I had saved but not tested. The weight of their un-accomplishment laid on my shoulders and made me feel pressured. Letting them go, freed my head and my to do list.
-I let go of the dinner party recipes that could not be prepared ahead of time. That's because I have come to realize that when cooking with company, I lose focus, forget ingredients or my sense of time, and end up apologizing for mishaps. I have found that I cook much faster and better alone. I manage dinner time more accurately with reheating, and I am a better host to my guests if my attention is not lost worrying about recipe ingredients. Taste usually is also better. Much like leftovers, flavors have had time to blend beautifully.
-I copied the few recipes I had bookmarked in a half-dozen books (you know, the book that you keep for the one recipe you liked in it), and donated the books. Others can enjoy them now and my kids have a shelf to store their homework.

-I created binder tabs to include:
Breakfast (pancakes, crepe batter...)
Finger Foods (deviled eggs, pate, stuffed mushrooms...)
First courses (individual goat cheese souffle, leek flan, savory carrot cake...)
Soups (cauliflower soup, garlic soup, gazpacho...)
Pies (quiches, pizza dough...)
Grains (lentil salad, pasta and rice dishes...)
Veggies (recipes not containing starch or meat)
Fish (sardine carpaccio, crusted salmon, trout meuniere)
Chicken (the "eco" and affordable meat gets its own tab!)
Meat (lamb keftas, beef bourguignon, cherry duck...)
Desserts (chocolate mousse, lemon souffle...)
Cookies (biscotti, butter cookies..., but also includes candied pecans)
Wild (= foraging: manzanita cider, thistle pesto...)
Pantry (jam, mustard, hummus, vanilla extract)
Menus (a set of 3-4 well coordinated recipes around a theme: Moroccan dinner or summer brunch) Home (hairspray, balm, toothpowder...)

-I attached my chosen recipes on used sheets, using paper tape for easy removal should I get tired of one here or there, and reused sheet protectors to store and splatter-proof them.
-I sometimes fantasize about transferring my recipes to a "kitchen" iPad. The downside would be the added electrical usage, but the upside would be having the recipes mobile (the binder is too heavy for travel to France for example). But what about my dirty hands...? I usually make a few recipes at a time and flipping from one to the other with wet, greasy, or sticky hands on an iPad might not be ideal ;)


Stored in two liter (two quarts) size jars, I always have on hand:

-One jar of a "rotating" bean: for example, when we finish chickpeas, we'll get peas.
-One jar of a "rotating" grain: for example, when we finish rice, we'll get couscous.
This rotating system helps maintain variety in our diet, reduces space needed for variety, and avoids grains going bad. Too often, pantry shelves are stocked with many types of grains, but just like a wardrobe, favorites get picked first while non-favorites take up space and end up going bad (usually rancid).
Note: The "Bulk Basics" guide available at Whole Foods has been most convenient to the uses and cooking instructions of unusual grains.
-Two "pasta" jars, each containing a different type (whatever I find in bulk, we're not picky).
-Two "flour" jars: I never want to run out in the middle of a recipe.
-Two "evaporated cane sugar" jars: I could run out in the middle of a recipe, but the kids could not, and they love to make desserts;)
Now that the cookbook and pantry were redesigned to fit our lifestyle. I overhauled our meal planning....
-I assigned a dish to each day of the week as a general guide.
As an example, here is our schedule (based on our vegetarian-weeknight diet):
Monday: Grain (couscous, dry beans, rice, quinoa, lentils, etc.)
Tuesday: Pasta (whatever shape I find in bulk, we're not picky)
Wednesday: Pie (quiche or pizza)
Thursday: Bread (to go with our veggie "fridge-clean-up" soup or salad)
Friday (shopping day): Fish with a veggie side and starch (usually potatoes)
Saturday: Dinner with friends or dinner out
Sunday: Meat with a veggie side and starch (usually potatoes)

-On weekdays: Beans, eggs, milk and/or cheese are used as a source of protein with the assigned meal of the night.
-I buy enough veggies for the week (at the farmers' market to keep my selection local and seasonal) and adapt them to the dish of the day. I plan and shop for a "specific meal" for company only.
-As mentioned before, I sometimes use a pressure cooker to speed up things (I also use it to can tomatoes in September).

My cooking has been easy since simplifying, organizing and planning our meals. My daily glass of wine might also have something to do with the stress-free aspect of it ;), but the quiche pictured above only took 12 minutes to prepare, and 30 to bake. Ordering take out and picking up would have taken longer.

Part of doing zero waste in a household is to let go of a previous set of ideas - and recipes. Simple cooking has been the best way for me to enjoy homemaking, stick to ZW, and eat healthier.
Did I mention the importance of my glass of wine in the success of meal prep? ;)