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I’ve been experiencing particularly high levels of anxiety regarding menu planning lately, and it seems to be because the parameters I set myself for the process are multiplying like Tribbles. The meals must:

  • use up the food already in the fridge and garden (and less urgently, freezer and pantry)
  • depend mainly on the grocery sales of the week (and don’t even get me started on the horrors of couponing)
  • be gluten- and egg- free or easily made in two separate versions (this part pretty much eliminates take-out, at least in our neighborhood)
  • be fasting-appropriate on Wednesday and Friday and other periods according to the church calendar (this means no meat, fish, eggs, dairy, olive oil, or wine)
  • be mostly seasonal 

Then, when I achieve all that, in a great feat of coordination, I start agonizing and second-guessing myself over whether there are enough fresh vegetables every day, too many carbs on regular days, not enough carbs on days before long training runs, too much cheese (now that I’m eating dairy again it’s tempting to overdo it), enough variety, too much labor-intensiveness, enough leftovers for lunches, but not too many, ease of packing for school days, enough use of absurd garden surplus of Thai hot chillis, not enough environmental consciousness (organic/local/cruelty-free) but STILL over-budget…. You get the idea. Last week the process almost paralyzed me and Brooks had to intervene: “Make chicken curry.” 

This week I have lapsed into a temporarily more relaxed approach, prompted by a Costco run. I stocked up on meat, cheese, coffee, and useful vegetables like mushrooms, avocados, and spinach, and am figuring out what to make as we go. This is less stressful in the short term but runs the risk of waste or strange makeshift experiments. 

Anyway, here is my half-baked idea for a blog project. I’ll post about dinner every night for a month, good or bad, and the interaction of these factors, and you can give me feedback about the process. At this point, your feedback is probably something like: “It’s just dinner, silly perfectionist.” But how do the rest of you cope with the fact that, you know, we have to eat, pretty much every day, and there’s a lot of pressure out there about how we interact with food, and none of us have unlimited time and money? 

…quesadillas, you MUST mix shredded Parmesan and unsalted butter and spread it on the outside of the tortilla before you cook it in the frying pan. Preferably with tomatoes, basil, and fresh mozzarella on the inside. Thank you, 5-year-old issue of Fine Cooking unearthed in the recent decluttering project.

(The ones with mushrooms, thyme, garlic, and Jack cheese were pretty amazing, too. And the three-cheese with garlic butter look almost too decadent to be real.)

It is optional to make your own gluten-free tortillas.

Have a green salad to offset the cheesy goodness and create the illusion of a healthful dinner.

First of all, I am determined not to berate myself for being a bad blogger. Sometimes I don’t feel like writing and that’s just how it is.

But in the time since we last spoke, I have raced the ten-miler, tried a week of raw foods, celebrated Pascha, got my dissertation proposal approved by my main committee and the executive committee (it is currently languishing in the dean’s office), landscaped the back yard complete with 64-square-foot vegetable garden, gone on a minimalist kick and cleaned out all the closets, and started teaching intensive elementary Greek 3 hours a day, 5 days a week.

So if I feel like it, in between making awesome grammatical handouts for my Greek students, I will try writing up some of the mental backlog of posts that I meant to write over the last few months.

Or not. We might just move on to cold roasted chicken and salads, full-fledged marathon training, and angst about how to start a dissertation For Real.

Food," said Goethe, "is the topmost taper on the golden candelabra of existence.

— Donald Barthelme, “Conversations with Goethe”

Pascha egg-dying

weeds, panty-hose, onion skins, and cabbage = beauty

(despite unpredictable not-at-all-red-or-blue results)

Pascha egg-dying

weeds, panty-hose, onion skins, and cabbage = beauty

(despite unpredictable not-at-all-red-or-blue results)

Without any real planning on my part, I got quite a frugal thrill out of cooking dinner tonight. I was making the lovely asparagus bisque from Love Soup, with leeks, fennel, asparagus, lemon, dill, and a hint of coconut milk. The leek and fennel tops went into the veggie stock bag. The basic stock recipe in Love Soup uses those extra bits, as well as chard and kale stems, along with standard whole vegetables like carrots and onions, so I save the appropriate trimmings in a big ziploc bag in the freezer until needed.

If that weren’t resourceful enough, I started a compost bin today, so everything else went in the compost. (I imagine one isn’t really supposed to start the compost at the same time as the early-season planting, but maybe I’ll have some in time for the later stuff or for fertilizing the in-ground plants. I’m still a gardening novice.)

Finally, I was recruited at church this morning to make some of the red eggs for our Pascha service. I learned from a Romanian girl last year how to make them with onion skin dye and leaf or flower patterns, so I am also trying to remember to save the onion skins for the dye pot.

Not throwing things away makes me happy.

So now that I’ve promised you all the recipes for my Lenten menu cycle, I’ve starting cooking off-menu. This is mainly the result of getting my first produce box from Arganica (yay!) which contained vegetables not accounted for in the menu, and a trip to Costco in which I succumbed to the inexpensive asparagus and spinach. My cooking approach this week is thus “What can I concoct with all this?”

Last night I cooked quinoa in vegetable broth and sauteed onions, garlic, brussels sprouts, and asparagus in a cast-iron skillet. I threw in a few cannellini beans lurking in the fridge. I served the veggies over the quinoa, topped with diced tomato and the fabulous walnut-miso dressing from this recipe. So good! We gobbled it up and didn’t even take a picture!

I’m two weeks away from the 10 mile race, which gives me just enough time to finish coming back from a sloppy training month. I didn’t run at all during spring break, and went three weeks without a long run, so the 8.5 miles I attempted last weekend were the most wretched in a long time. In part I blame the recidivist weather — even though I ran all winter in much colder temperatures, it’s somehow hard to go out in such a cold and gloomy late March. I also have convinced myself that the really intense marathon training will be here soon enough so I ought to enjoy my last few months of relative ease.

This past weekend, I managed 9 miles at a slow 10-minute-mile pace. It made me melancholy to reflect that this is only a little more than a third of the marathon, but then I remembered that a year ago I could only run 2 miles and 6 seemed completely impossible.

In general, I’ve been feeling very sluggish until today, when I ran four and had extra liveliness in the legs for the first time all month. Perhaps the slump is over for the time being? So one more week of good running and another 9-ish on Saturday, and then an easy week, and then the race! I gather that it is a hilly route, although the overall grade is downhill, so it’s a good thing I train in a hilly neighborhood.

My favorite post-long-run snack at present is a peanut butter smoothie:

  • 1 cup soy milk
  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1 big spoonful peanut butter
  • 1 small spoonful ground flax seed

Drink while stretching!

I used to spend a lot of time planning meals during Lent — even more than during other times of the year. Mainly this was because my conversion to Orthodoxy coincided with my severely-gluten-intolerant diagnosis, and I was trying to figure out how to cook vegan and gluten-free at the same time. This was hard, even with my flexitarian/Pacific-Northwest-health-nut background. Now I’ve developed enough of a repertoire, however, that I can revisit the goal of Lenten simplicity by making one week’s menu to rotate throughout the season. Here is the Master List for this Lent:

Cumin Black Bean Pot with cabbage and green salsa

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms with yellow rice and sauteed greens or salad

Green Soup and bread

Vegetable stir-fry with tofu and coconut rice

Curried Lentil Soup and salad

Shrimp Fra Diavolo (In a strange exception to the absence of animal products, we can eat shellfish.)

This leaves one “free” day to eat leftovers or try something new, like these pancakes, suitably converted of course. Which reminds me: Why do Catholics eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday? It’s not like they can’t eat them during Lent, right? Inquiring minds want to know but don’t want to look it up just now.

These are all relatively quick meals, as my almost-everything-from-scratch-kitchen goes. I’ll post recipes and pictures during the next few weeks.

I thought I would blog while I was away for spring break, but I was mostly off-line for the week. Reading in the hot tub was so much more appealing than writing anything after a day on the slopes of Park City.

Now I’m home with jet-lag and my first ski injury other than bruises: a strained tricep, thanks to intermediate-level longer skis and ungroomed runs that made me fall down almost as much as when I was a beginner. I even crashed into someone for the first time, and knocked us both down. A total stranger at that. But these mishaps were more embarrassing than painful for the most part, and I had a good time otherwise. The generous parents-in-law bought me my own ski boots as an early birthday present, and they are so much more comfortable than rentals. They also look better and say “Hot Rod” on the side. I do like to go fast… My ski motto is, if you don’t fall, you aren’t really trying. Of course, that’s easier to say four years in, now that I don’t fall down on every run and sometimes even manage to keep up with my cool snowboarding husband and brothers in law.

Stay tuned for some more gluten-free recipes, book reviews, and a dissertation update coming this week.