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The Unnatural Cook

a chronicle of weekly meal plans from someone who can't just throw a meal together

Tag Archives: Change

Tonight was my second surprise meal – the one not pre-planned but inspired by ingredients at the store. This time I was wooed by a display of yellow plum tomatoes and some shiny poblano peppers.

I decided to cook a made-up version of chile rellenos, sans-frying, and use the tomatoes for a fresh salsa. Here’s how it went down: I made a pot of rice and pot of black beans. I sliced the peppers in half, seeded them, and broiled them six minutes to a side. Then I stuffed the halves with rice, jack cheese and corn and broiled them again to melt the cheese. I chopped the yellow tomatoes and added red cherry tomatoes, red onion, scallion, cilantro, olive oil, lime, salt, pepper, cumin and green tabasco. The sauce was already made, bless my husband, and frozen from long ago. I’ll have to get him to make another batch for the freezer because it’s definitely a meal we want again.

If altering the routine of the meal plan is going to continue to be this enjoyable I’m going to have to reconsider my instinctive and habitual fear of change.


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Last night I accidentally cooked Zatar Chicken Kebabs for a vegetarian, but luckily, I served it with greek salad so she did not go home hungry.

My salad eating friend was kind enough to trade food for babysitting and my husband and I went to the movies –  a documentary about Gerhardt Richter. I was curious to see the famous painter at work – something told me there would be a lesson for a writer in it. I was not disappointed.

Richter makes his paintings in stages. Working on two huge canvases at once he first uses a brush to cover them with large swaths of color. Then, the seventy-nine year old gentleman takes a squeegee as tall as he is and covers his creation from top to bottom, burying most of what lies underneath. He does this over and over, changing colors, changing directions, changing his pace, his angle, using his full body weight to obliterate and create, obliterate and create over and over again. It was like watching somebody dance a painting into existence.

Richter had the confidence to let each layer disappear, knowing it could never be recreated. Destruction is part of creation. Change an trust are essential components of art making. I will tack the postcard of his giant white canvas above my desk to remind myself not to be afraid to attack what I’ve already created until it can get no better.

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I was getting a little beefed out so I planned two vegetarian meals and three chicken dishes for week ten.

It was a strange sensation making the meal plan this week, my new tactic of leaving one day free was so, well, freeing, that I was tempted not to plan too much. I contemplated just going to the store and winging it. But I’m not a wing it kind of a gal. I was afraid I’d come home with only half the ingredients I needed. When I started the blog I couldn’t conceive of ever enjoying shopping or cooking. Now I seem to be enjoying both. I can’t help but wonder (read worry) how far is this thing going to go? Will there still be a meal plan at the end of the year???

Tonight we had sesame noodles and a new side dish: dry fried string beans. Chinese food cooks fast but takes a lot of prep. I got very distracted tonight and ended up serving dinner remarkably close to bed time. I think next time I’ll try to do all the chopping and measuring in the morning so that dinner can be made faster.

Making the string beans was the first time I’ve ever used a wok. Makes me think maybe I’ll venture a stir fry for one of my surprise meals.The string beans were devoured but there are enough noodles left to feed us all lunch tomorrow. Hooray! My least favorite meal of the day taken care of. God forbid I ever start another blog but if I did, I would call it: I Hate Lunch.

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A last minute change in the dinner plan. My husband decided to grill burgers in this unseasonably warm, March weather. We ate outside for the second time this week (ridiculous!) and benefited from the first day of extended daylight hours.

I wasn’t in the mood for what was on the meal plan (couchiflower pasta) which is a remarkably rare occurrence. Many people ask how I could know what I want to eat a week in advance, and of course, I don’t. Usually just the fact that a plan is in place and the food had been purchased is enough to ‘put me in the mood’ so to speak. Not tonight. Maybe its spring fever. In March.

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So it’s official, I’m going to try to change my ways. A tiny bit. I’ve been undermined by my own blog.

When I started the blog I was sure that the easiest way to get the cooking done was not to think about it. I thought I had mastered a brilliant strategy for how to serve dinner every night even though I didn’t like to cook. Meal planning and following recipes were my battle tactics. Then, in the act of writing about it I discovered that, in fact, my way was not the easiest way – even for me. I learned that on the nights I didn’t need to follow a recipe, I was more relaxed.

At first this was a source of great concern because I am not comfortable with change. (Is anyone?) But in the end it seemed ridiculous to avoid being more relaxed. There’s just no justification for that. So  I am going to see if I can nudge myself to learn more about cooking without recipes. Here’s the plan (because there always has to be a plan, I haven’t changed that much….)

I’m going to leave one night a week open on the meal plan. When I do the shopping, I’m going to allow myself to be inspired by some ingredient in the store and create a meal around it (Which I will then put on the plan. Again, I haven’t changed that much). It’s sort of like my daughter’s challenge for me to make dinner from what was in the house, only, I’ll have a much better “pantry” to choose from. The crazy thing is, this actually sounds fun to me.

I realized while I was shopping today that my plan keeps me from paying attention to anything other than finding what’s on the list. It’s really a silly sort of way to go through life. As an homage to my former self I am going to post in the sidebar my Meal Plan 101. I’ve had it written for ages but for some reason, I’ve never gotten around to adding it. It will be a record, of how the unnatural cook got her start. I’m not going to stop meal planning, but maybe, over time, I can adapt it so that I’ll grow as cook. One day, far in the future, I may even attain natural cook status.

Tonight we had leftover tomato soup with garlic broccoli and french bread. I finally doctored the soup to my satisfaction! I did it poorly a couple of weeks ago – too tangy, no flavor – so I tried to correct that with what I had around. I added sugar, fresh basil, marjoram, hot pepper and extra cream. Being willing to do it wrong and keep trying is the secret to all success in life, why I thought cooking was different I have no idea.

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Last night I went to an infuriating reading. It doesn’t have much to do with nachos, I know. But it did mean that I didn’t get to have dinner with my kids so that I could listen to an old white man tell a young white man that he couldn’t hope to become a public intellectual. What he meant by this was that there was no such thing anymore as an agreed upon canon of text by which the world could be understood and judged. The definition of what an intellectual needed to know had changed (the writers and philosophers the old man loved were falling out of favor) and therefore, the young man could never hope to be what the old man was. In the same breath, the old man professed to be a liberal and a fierce supporter of democracy. Clearly, what he meant by that was that people who didn’t look like him (think black or with breasts) should be educated enough so that they could think like him but not educated so much that they actually dared to change the the world of ideas he lived in. He, like all of us, was overwhelmed by the profusion of information now available and his conclusion was that nobody could hope to make sense of it.

The kids were in bed by the time I finally got to eat my nachos; my husband and I had a rare dinner alone. I made him promise that we would never get old that way. That we would never condemn those who come after us for not being us; for having been necessarily changed by our ever changing world. I was thinking of my children, of course. And I was thinking of how strong the conservative tug is that pulls at our sleeve as we age. Be careful, it can rip your shirt right off.

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Yoga. It’s another thing, like meal planning, that I like the benefits of but don’t enjoy while I’m doing it. I like yoga because it makes me strong, and I dropped ten pounds and I get sick less. I also like it because I’m a beginner, and in yoga its always okay to be a beginner. Yoga is a way to practice being okay with being uncomfortable. I need that kind of practice. I’m a 44 year old woman, back in school, trying to start a new career writing in mid-life. I’m scared out of my mind.

Every week that I make it to yoga once, that I write another meal plan, is proof to myself that I can change.  That I can find a way, within my own limitations, to do something I want to do but don’t consider myself good at. I need the constant reminder of the little things (yoga and meal planning) to build courage for the big thing (writing). Every time a new meal plan gets tacked on the blackboard I think to myself, you’ve been doing this for five years, you didn’t think you could do it, what else can you do that didn’t think was possible? Holding uncomfortable poses and making a list of what to eat once a week seem a ridiculous way to go about changing careers, but I know in my heart they’re related.

The blog seems to be adding a new level of detail to my perception that I can change. Tonight’s dinner, pesto, was made from basil that I bought for another meal but only used a few leaves of. I actually thought ahead to use the rest for pesto before it went bad. I said at the outset I never remember to check the refrigerator for produce to see if it can get used up before it rots. But just saying it, writing it, made it seem stupid – so I didn’t let the basil rot. And the side dish, Candy’s Vegetables, I said I never get inspired by ingredients at the grocery store. But then I was wandering around trying to figure out what vegetable to serve with the pesto, wondering how much green I could take in one meal, and I saw a lady holding an eggplant and got inspired. Yes, inspired by an eggplant to try an old recipe I hadn’t made in years. And it was so good! The pesto and the vegetables were a perfect combination. And so it seems that the blog itself a vehicle for change. I had no idea what the purpose of it was, but by doing it, I’m finding benefits I wasn’t expecting.

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