School Year’s Resolution 2: Master the Weekly Shop

September 20th, 2012 · 33 Comments · Favorites, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Rituals

Now that we are three weeks into the school year, I am assuming you have all mastered School Year’s Resolution 1 (More Freezer Meals) and we are free to move on to a very popular cry for help among the DALS readership: I don’t know how to shop efficiently for dinner. This is a little tricky because how and what you pick up at the grocery store is inextricably linked to how you eat, so no two shopping lists for the Piggly Wiggly or Wegman’s or your local Farmer’s Market or Trader Joe’s (where we go) are ever going to look the same. So what I’ve tried to do here is outline a few rules and strategies that we shop by that can hopefully be universally applied. This list also assumes we all want to at least try to have a sit-down dinner at least four times between Sunday and Friday.

Rule 1: Put it in Writing Those of you who have read my book, know that I began this whole dinner ritual by sitting down on Sunday with my dinner diary, writing down the meals I wanted to make in the upcoming week, then shopping for everything we needed to make that happen. This strategy helped kickstart the ritual in a few ways: It got the momentum going; it eliminated those odious late-afternoon back-and-forths (What do you want to eat tonight? I don’t know, what do you want? I don’t know what do you?); and later, when we had school-aged kids, it helped lessen, if only a little bit, the existential dread of lunch-packing. (It’s so much easier to do the first pack of the week with a full fridge than with a fridge that’s been run dry.) Ultimately, the goal here is to take the daily thinkwork out of dinner. If you come up with a plan for the week, you just freed up all that psychic energy to direct towards more exciting pursuits, like watching, dissecting, and ruminating over all four seasons of Breaking Bad.

Rule 2: Squeeze in a Sexy Shop Another reason we hit Trader Joe’s on Sunday is because our farmer’s market is open on Saturdays. Unlike the dutiful, checklisty supermarket shop, this is where we can let the food (as opposed to the list) inform the shop. So we pick up what looks good — almost always fish that was swimming off Hampton Bays just hours earlier and a bundle of Tuscan kale, sorrel, summer spinach, or any other beautiful greens that last us the week and allow us to skip their mediocre bagged counterparts at Trader Joe’s. And there we have Meal 1: Grilled Fish with some kind of greens.  I’m not saying your Meal One has to be this. It might be a bolognese made from some good grass-fed beef, or pasta with fresh butternut squash or a kale and feta quiche made with the eggs from your favorite farmstand. The point is: We almost always earmark our Sunday dinners to be market-inspired. (And please don’t tell anyone I just called kale-shopping sexy.)

Rule 3: Make a Realistic Line-up Now, for that dutiful, checklisty shop. It’s crucial to keep it simple — save the Nathan Myrhvold Foamy Broth Number for Saturday night. The loose formula that I sometimes use when dreaming up my line-up is the following: (more…)

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What’s Your Default Dinner?

August 1st, 2011 · 25 Comments · Pork and Beef, Quick

When I was an editor at Cookie, we ran a page called Default Dinners. It was devoted to meals we fell back on again and again that could be made in minutes and usually with the help of some storebought product that one of the editors would swear tasted fresher than homemade. The genius of these kinds of meals, I find, is that they call for doing something slightly more ambitious than pressing the “start” button on a microwave — whether it is assembling or quick sauteeing — so even though most of the heavy lifting is taken care of for you, you get to play out your yummy mummy fantasy and pretend you’re serving a mostly home-cooked dinner. (I have a theory that this is the real reason Sandra Lee’s Semi-Homemade empire is as successful as it is.) My pick for the page was chicken or vegetable curry made with Maya Kaimal’s Simmer Sauces, which I had just discovered. And it wasn’t a phase — almost three years later, I still think of Whole Foods as “The Place That Sells Maya’s Simmer Sauce.” I always pick up at least one or two when I’m there. (more…)

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Trader Joe’s to the Rescue

March 16th, 2011 · 63 Comments · Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Quick

To be filed under Weird But True: At least once a week I have to field the question “Why do you like Trader Joe’s so much?” To which I answer: “Have you seen the dark chocolate covered raisins? Have you seen the miniscule shopping carts for the kids? Have you seen the price tags?” I love Whole Foods — man do I love Whole Foods — but when we shop there, our entire weekly food budget disappears before I get to aisle two. (Hence its well-chronicled nickname “Whole Paycheck.”)  Last year, I did a little round-up of the staples we always pick up at T-Joes (or “T-Bros” as my husband now calls it) and I thought it might be time for an addendum to fully squelch any remaining skeptics. This time, I’ve included a bunch of combos — instead of just individual items — so you can see how the different ingredients work together in my house to help make breakfast more healthy and after-school snacks less annoying. I know we have a lot of TBros fans out there, so please, feel free to point me in a direction I may not know about.

Friend Bait When I was working full-time I kept two huge mason jars in my office  – one filled with Trader Joe’s dried sour Montmorency cherries, and one filled with TJoes 50% salted almonds — then placed a pretty little guest chair beside the table where they sat. I called the jars “Friend Bait” because coworkers would walk in and out of my office all day long to grab a handful of snacks, check up on me, tell me what was going on, and invariably give me the dirt on Shari in Accounting. Don’t mess around with coconut chips or sunflower seeds or weird carob things you find in gorp. This combination is all the excitement your mouth needs at snacktime.

Afterschool Snack Plate As I’ve mentioned, I’m a big fan of the pre-emptive afternoon snack plate — a sampling of healthy bites and tastes presented before whiny and conflicting requests for Mooommmm! I want something sweet/salty/crunchy/fruity.  Shown above are all the Trader Joe’s items I need to create my new favorite assembly: Seaweed chips (which I have been known to (more…)

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