Hands-on “What’s on Hand…”

TIME Magazine this week published an article by Mark Bittman titled “How to Eat Now.” The message is that we aren’t cooking at home, and we’d be a lot better off if we were.”Of course.” Please tell me something I don’t know; I was looking for something that would surprise me because the cover said, “The Truth About Home Cooking.” Yet, I wasn’t surprised by his admonishment to cook at home. Obesity, processing, the fresh-factor, etc. It was interesting, but I feel like he wasn’t telling me anything new. Yet, as a high school English & Social Studies teacher, I knew there had to be more–an underlying message that I had to have the patience to discover. And here it is:   The Cult of Cooking that we have developed in our society has chased everyone who’s mildly interested…away. “Making food a performance, as entertaining as that can be from our seats in the grandstand, has had a damaging effect on our relationship to cooking. In a land of million-dollar kitchens, Himalayan pink salt, dragonfruit, truffle butter and Wagyu skirt steak, most of us feel like outsiders–and as a result, we cook less than we ever have.”

Something about this resonated with me. This pseudo-empty-nesting has led me to feel a bit intimidated, also….a bit like an outsider. And I would say I’m a (well-) above intermediate cook. When there are only two of us, or when I want more out of my evening than a lengthy Bon Appetit-driven meal, where do I turn? I’ve been gravitating a lot more toward Cooking Light (which is evident from earlier posts), but there’s more. My husband and I also are paying tuition etc for TWO kiddos this year. While our bill isn’t nearly as great as that of some parents, it’s still quite a focus of our budget and a big influence on our spending choices for the next several years (a third is entering in two & a half years). So…there’s more influencing my cooking rethinking than just simplicity.

No longer can I spend my Sunday morning revisiting my cooking magazines for inspiration. The budget no longer accommodates shopping trips based solely on what I feel like trying-out that week. Neither does my course schedule this year allow me to arrive home and engage in cooking therapy for two hours. Thus, a lot of changes have to be made. Which has led me to focus on what’s “on-hand.” It’s my usual hands-on cooking, but it has to be about more than just inspiration. Now there’s time and budget to consider–exactly what Bittman described but applied to “everyone else.” I thought. Couple this message with Andrew Knowlton’s self-inflicted pain a couple of years ago…he challenged himself to cook only what was in his pantry for two weeks until he was down to his last can of tuna. Clearly, I need to pay more attention to what’s in the fridge, pantry & freezers and use that as my planning base.

So here is the plan, today. After investigating and attempting to connect dots, I discovered:

  • two sweet Italian sausage links left over from the five-pack I bought for the quiche my husband made Thursday night.
  • two white mushrooms left over from the homemade pizza Friday night (which also was necessary in order to use the frozen pizza dough I’ve had on-hand for months).
  • half a white onion, also from pizza night.
  • half a 28 oz can of roma tomatoes left over from…well…I can’t remember.
  • half a 28 oz can pureed tomatoes.
  • 3 manicotti shells from a mostly-used box (to be stuffed with sausage, mushroom & tomato filling).
  • 6 dried lasagna noodles (to be rolled with the same filling).

Also on-hand:  blocks of Parmesan & mozzarella, eggs, italian seasoning.

I bought:  ricotta.

Tomorrow night we’re having this mish-mash of filled pasta with salad.

But tonight….we’re knocking-out a fryer chicken that’s been in the freezer for two months, a bag of waxy yellow potatoes and Caesar salad. I bought:  asparagus.

So there’s the “Hands-on ‘What’s on Hand.'” Feels  a little like who’s on first.

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