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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What a Long Strange Trip....

Well, apparently working for a living is hell on my ability to blog. I was hired as a substitute preschool teacher a few months ago and the blog took a big hit. I have been faithfully making dinners, desserts, lunches, breakfasts, snacks, and even homemade punch, but I was incapable of typing about it all.

The experiment has been a great success for me though, I have made about 330 dinners this year all told, short of my goal, but danged impressive I think. I also realized that by using some recipe basics, letting go of my perfectionism, and using my two favorite appliances (the crock pot and the pressure cooker) I have been able to serve my family dinner very nearly every night for a year.

Why is making dinner for yourself or others important though? This is what I have learned from my 365 day experiment.

First of all it is not JUST about providing nutrition, it is about honoring the hearth of your home, the heart of your home. Cooking for one or cooking for a dozen is about nurturing the soul and feeding the heart. Trying new flavors or foods opens you up to a new experience or culture, you can travel around the world at your dinner table. Cooking is an enjoyable skill to learn or to improve upon, it is creative and intellectually stimulating. It is a huge savings to cook dinner at home. Dinner out for the 4 of us is never less than $40 around here, and that is without drinks! I can make dinner for 4 plus use the leftovers for lunches for 2 adults for less than $10 if I have to, and believe me, sometimes I have to do that. Cooking for yourself gives you the opportunity to share with your community, if you are already making a lasagna for yourself, why not make one for the lady who just had a baby, or the family with a relative in the hospital? If you are cooking at home regularly, that means you are shopping more regularly, you can take advantage of sales to stock up on items not just for yourself, but for your local food pantry. Making dinner is a way of saying, "You matter to me." so little else in this life is made for ourselves or others with our own two hands. Dinner is a time to say, "I love you!"

Feeling slightly inspired to cook more dinners? Here are some hints for YOUR long strange trip into cooking.

* KISS or Keep It Simple Sweetie, yes your meringue en flambe is impressive, but do you really want to make it every night? Or even once a week? You'll really burn yourself out (ha!) if you try to make very complex dishes all the time. I saved my labor intensive stuff for the occasional weekend meal.

* Have a plan! The months or weeks that I did basic menu planning, stuff like, "Monday, veggie fajitas with corn tortillas and beans, Tuesday, Meatloaf, Wednesday, Spaghetti etc" were the weeks I flew through dinner prep. The weeks where I had to stand incredulously in front of the refrigerator and the freezer for 15 minutes first and do inventory? Yeah, we had a lot of cheese quesadillas those weeks.

* Be flexible, my recipe is for chicken breasts, but all I have on hand is center loin cut pork chops or boneless chicken thighs... yeah, I can make that work. Try to limit extra trips to the grocery store by thinking outside the recipe box.

* Adjust your expectations. A can of soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, yeah, THAT IS TOTALLY A HOME-COOKED MEAL y'all! The important part is the sitting around the table and talking to one another. Also, teaching your kids to clear the table and put their dishes in the sink or dishwasher is way easier if you are all sitting there together.

* Have some "old reliables" always ready. If called upon I can make some sort of pasta and red sauce just from items in my pantry, (anchovy paste, canned spaghetti sauce, canned tomatoes, some smashed garlic, makes a pretty decent puttanesca sauce you know.) Even the tag ends of several kinds of cheese can be grated into a white sauce to make a decadent mac and cheese dinner, throw a side of green beans on the plate and you are home free.

There ya go. I will still regularly post recipes here, but I am planning a new challenge for myself this year, something I hope I can come to love as much as I have loved making dinner. Thank you to all of my readers and friends, I hope you check in with me in about a week to see my new plans. Thank you to everyone who ever left a comment. Thank you to everyone who e-mailed me recipes, comments or commiseration. I appreciate you all!


  1. Suzanne, it was a wonderful ride to follow you along this year. Thanks for sharing all of it!

  2. What's the new challenge?????

  3. Good work, Suzanne. Can't wait to hear about the new challenge!

  4. Suzanne, this was such a joy to read! Your perspective on cooking being about love and sharing is so true and so heartwarming-ly expressed! Thank you for this! And yes, congratulations too on that preschool gig. I've always wondered about doing that part time once Noah starts kindergarten. :-))

  5. Joy, being a preschool teacher can be a real treat if that is the age group you like. I happen to really enjoy age 3-6 in kids and they seem to respond well to me. I love that every day we do art and sing and dance and that I am helping them learn. It takes a lot of energy though... hence my lack of blogging lately.

    I promise to write about the new challenge very soon. I am not being intentionally coy I am just on the fence about certain aspects of it.