Step one: Survey. I make a detailed list of all of the available produce. Right now, we have eggs, cabbage, onions, potatoes, parsnips, leeks, squashes, and collards on site, mustard, chard, and arugula on order, canned tomatoes and green beans in the basement, and frozen peas, spinach, and corn in the freezer. Once the list is made, I consult the week’s meeting calendar, so that I know which dinners need to be quick and which ones can involve a long time in the oven.
Step Two: Recipe box. Years ago, I copied all of my found recipes onto notecards and stored them in a plastic box. It was very handy; I could pack four or five recipes for a road trip or distant Thanksgiving meal, without hauling books along. When we shifted to our local foods challenge, I sorted them all into eight sections, one for each of the six-week festivals that we celebrate. I moved them around for a few years so that, now, the recipes match the vegetables that are in season. Menu planning always begins here.
Step Three: Lay out the plan. Once I have found the recipes that match what we have on hand, I lay out the plan. Breakfast toggles between oatmeal and granola, with more complex recipes saved for the weekends. Lunch is left-overs or a large pot of soup made on Sunday and eaten all week. Quicker dinners slot into the evenings where we have other plans. Foods that need to be prepped ahead are noted for the evening before. One weeknight is often devoted to a kitchen whirl of bread dough, yogurt, soup, and dinner.
Step Four: Shop. Once the plan is made, I write the grocery list for the week. We do a large, bulk goods shop once a month, so the weekly shop can often happen on the way home from an evening walk. We’ll need milk, cheese, and maybe some lettuce or snacking nuts for the week. Because we have such a tight plan, the shopping is limited and very little food is wasted. By Friday, the refrigerator is empty.
Step Five: Stick to the plan. This is the most difficult aspect of the system. Some weeks, things take longer than anticipated, a meeting runs over, someone has a cold or a headache, and cooking dinner feels like one more hurdle to be jumped before the day is over. Sometimes, I’ll look over the list and shift the meals around, so that a quicker, easier meal replaces a more complex one. Sometimes we’ll just throw potatoes in the oven and go for a walk while they bake. Sometimes we break down and go out to eat—but often, just considering where to go will force me into actually cooking dinner. Because, after all, whatever we eat, at home, will be just as tasty, better for us, and cheaper, than anything we will find outside. And, to be honest, by the time we walk to the restaurant, order, and wait, faster.
Hazelnut Shortbread: The Best Valentine’s Day cookie
Cream ½ pound of butter with ½ cup of sugar. Add ½ cup of finely ground hazelnuts and 2 cups of flour. Roll out and cut in heart shapes. Bake in 350 oven until light brown, then cool and dip in melted chocolate.