Simplify Dinner

November 12, 2008

We need to eat but I hate cooking.  A connundrum is it not?  

I work from home and I have arranged my life around principles of simplicity by not taking on a lot of extra curricular activities so technically I have “more” time than many Americans.   But when you work from home, you have to be extra diligent not to let “life” interfere with actual working.  I have clients I have to answer too and they expect, if they are going to pay me, that I work for them not do my laundry or prepare some elaborate meal for my family.    Besides, since I hate cooking and simplifying life is about ditching those things you don’t like to do for those that you want to do finding ways to cook less is right up my ally. 

But, despite my best efforts, we still have to eat…. so what is a girl to do besides go on the raw food diet?

There are several options – I have utilized pieces of them all to create my own hybrid that works well for my family.

1.  Once a month cooking – You  utilize one day a month to prepare giant portions of meals that you separate and then freeze for later.  I am not really a fan though because I prefer fairly fresh foods, don’t much care for casseroles and I don’t want to give up an entire day for cooking, even if I get to not technically cook the rest of the month.  

2.  Detailed plans – You plan your daily food preparation (and by extension, grocery list) every week.  This eliminates the need for standing blankly in front of the fridge trying to figure out what you are going to cook.  Hopefully it also saves you from having to make last minute runs to the grocery store or the drive through.

3.  Eat simply – Ditch the complicated dinners that takes an hour or more to prepare.  Forget about complex casseroles that contain many chopped ingredients and prepare something simple like poached or grilled fish, steamed vegetable, rice (which takes the longest to cook of all of the items) and salad.

Or you could use my hybrid approach.

I plan meals weekly rather than monthly.   In doing that I plan two simple, yet smaller dishes that take little time and preparation and one larger one-pot dish like a soup or beans (with rice) or a stew.    Soups and stews are an excellent way to get more vegetables into your family’s diet.    Beans are a great source of fiber and protein and I can cook them all day in the crock pot without worry.  

We eat fresh meals three days out of the week and then the other four are leftovers, either from the simple dish or the stew/soup or beans.   If we are planning on grilling anything in a particular week, we take advantage and plan several meals with meats that need to be grilled and put them all on at once.  It seems a shame to waste a good grill fire for just a few burgers, add chicken and beef to have fajitas later in the week. 

We also keep a store of fresh vegetables that are chopped and prepared such as cucumbers, bell peppers, onions and celery.  We can eat it as a quick snack or we can pull out the pieces we need such as bell peppers, onion and celery for recipes. 

There are several kitchen items I cannot live without as they simplify my life immensely.  The first is my crock pot.  I don’t even soak beans anymore. At about seven in the morning, I simply throw dried beans in the crock pot and fill with water.  I put the crock pot on high and forget about it – until dinner.  I then season to taste.   The second is my bread machine.   It takes just a minute or more to toss the ingredients for fresh homemade bread into the machine and turn it on.  It does all the work without any of the worry.  And the final is my food processor.  

And my philosophy toward those that balk at leftovers – if you don’t like what I cook, you are welcome to the kitchen yourself. So far no one has taken me up on that offer and the moaning about leftovers has been reduced to a minimum.

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Reduce Waste

February 14, 2008

Americans consume a lot.  We also waste a lot with enormous landfills and barges sent out to sea with our trash to end up somewhere else, just not here. 

I have one challenge for each of you.  Reduce waste.  Think about what you buy, the packaging it comes in and how you can either do with out it or figure out how to reuse it.

Some ideas:

Find a recycle center in your area.  Our municipal recycling is limited and time consuming.  We use it but we also use a separate recycle center called Ecology Action that accepts far more recyclables with a lot less work.  Our muni recycling will only take 1 & 2 plastic in bottle shapes, Ecology Action will take all 1 & 2 packaging such as the fruit packing berries come in as well as unbound cardboard, newspaper, phone books, cell phones, and pressed cardboard like cereal boxes.   We keep bins in our garage and just throw the stuff in it.  When it is time to make a run, we combine it with another errand in the same area or we use it as an opportunity to go out to lunch and enjoy an afternoon in the city.   My son loves this, he has such a great time sorting the recyclables and making sure everything gets where it needs to go.

Re-use glass jars.  Sure you can recycle glass – it is the most widely accepted recyclable material but it still takes resources through energy to recycle anything.   You can recycle by finding alternative uses for those pickle jars or spaghetti jars.   I like to store beans and rice in them.  They also work well to sort nails, screws and bolts in our garage.  My son uses them to hold treasures like seashells and sand from various beach vacation.   If you have found a jar for every use you can think of, list them on your local Freecycle or Craigslist and send them on to someone who could use them.

Find alternatives to paper.  A tree had died to give you every bit of new paper you use.  If you need “new” paper, buy 100% post-consumer recycled paper.  Wrap gifts in nice bits of fabric or reuse those gift bags that you get.  My family has been passing around the same Christmas gift bags for five years now! 

Spend a little more money to buy quality or look for real wood used furnishings that can be restored.  Quality furniture, hopefully made from wood grown in a sustainably managed forest, will last far longer than cheap particle board wood type furniture and will ultimately reduce what finds its way into a landfill.   I tend to look at garage sales for quality wood furniture that, while not immediately attractive, can be remade into something beautiful.  I have restored a Mission Style Spindle Bed, a few free chairs that were in good shape except the upholstery was ruined, and a few tables.   My sister and I make decorating our homes on the cheap with quality a game and we help each other restoring our finds.  It gives us time spent together and helps us build and maintain our relationship while also creating beautiful homes. 

Reducing waste is definitely a simple life virtue.  First, doing without but also ensuring you use what you buy and leave as little behind as possible.