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Inertia and Making it a Habit

I mentioned the other day that I had a lot more to say on this topic, so here goes. Obviously this is my point-of-view, maybe you all are much better at self-discipline than I am, but then again, maybe not.

It seems to me that the obstacle to EVERYTHING is inertia. (Sometimes known as procrastination.) You think to yourself: I will eat better, I will exercise more, I will actually sweep and mop the floors once in a blue moon so that I’m not secretly embarrassed when we have people over. Good intentions, these.

BUT.

If you follow that up with “And I will start it first thing tomorrow!” – you never will. You have to do it now, or never. If you don’t start when you have the mental energy, you will never find the physical energy. I don’t have any advice on overcoming this, really, other than to say: just start. Start with something small, because once you get going that same law of physics applies – objects in motion tend to stay in motion, and objects at rest tend to stay at rest.

For us, we started trying to eat better and the thing that helped us was signing up for fresh organic produce delivery every other week. [Chicago folks, we used Fresh Picks, and they are pretty awesome.] That forced us to eat more veggies in the first place, and also to try things we’d really never eaten before. Kale, swiss chard, parsnips, sunchokes. All delicious. Eventually, that morphed into more regular trips to the farmers’ market, eating less meat and more fish, spending more to get our animal products from farms who raise them humanely without hormones and antibiotics, and planning our meals. And as you may know, that (and our wedding) kind of led to this blog’s existence.

The same idea has, of late, helped me to get better about chores around the house. Because before, aside from laundry, half of the dishes, (wo)manning the grill, and cake/pastry making,* Julia did the bulk of the chores and I was not a very good partner in that regard. I sucked, if we’re being honest. I found I needed a system, a set schedule with deadlines to get things done. I’m using an app (Remember the Milk) on my iPhone (it can also be used via web/email), and I know it sounds lame, but when I see that stupid little red circle with the number of chores that are due, I’m motivated to do them in order to make that alert go away! To each his/her own, I suppose. My point being that it is, apparently, possible to turn into a person who does chores regularly (and consequently, a person who gets to sleep on pretty clean sheets and walk barefoot on the floor without turning her feet black) – you just need a system that works for you.

The kicker? Once everything is clean, I get annoyed much faster when it’s not and am developing an impulse to restore it to order immediately. I’m pretty sure Julia loves me more now that she doesn’t have to do everything.**

So. How do you deal with all the stupid stuff you have to get done so that you and your home are presentable?


*Yeah. I know that is not really a chore. Also, when I say laundry, I mean I put it through the washer and dryer and then bitched and moaned about how much I hate folding and putting it away, and then Julia probably folded and put it away.

**But we still need to resolve where to put dirty dishes when there is no more room in the dishwasher or it is full of clean ones. And yeah, I know that second situation is easily solved by putting the clean ones away… but you know… I’m sitting on the couch, typing this post… inertia.

My Favorite Healthy Substitution

Today I am super excited to share one of my favorite tips with you! You will save money and fridge space and your food will be healthier. And it will taste just as good as you imagined it

You know all those things, like chicken salad and tacos and every chip dip under the sun and chili and casseroles that require either sour cream or mayonnaise, which you don’t really want to use because they are not so good for you and/or you use either one so infrequently that it goes bad in your fridge before you use it all up? Well, here is the secret:

GREEK YOGURT.

Whenever you are looking for that creamy tang of mayo or sour cream, just use yogurt instead. It’s really really good. And you can buy low- or no-fat if you’re watching calories, and still enjoy your favorite comfort foods.

We made this potato salad using Greek yogurt and it was delicious. I’m pretty picky about my potato salad, and I really enjoyed this one. The recipe paired it with mustard-broiled salmon. I have to admit I had my doubts about that, because I am generally not a big fan of mustard. However, I love love love salmon. Do you guys love salmon as much as I do? Baked, broiled, raw in sushi… this buttery pink fish is always a welcome guest in my digestive system. I will pretty much give any recipe that contains it a try.

You guys. This was a really tasty dish, all around. The mustard paired really well with the salmon. The potato salad was yummy. The end.

Here’s the recipe:
Mustard-Broiled Salmon with
New Potato Salad
(adapted from Real Simple)

You need:
1 1/2 pounds new potatoes (I used half red and half white)
3/4 cup Greek yogurt
juice of one lemon (about 2 tablespoons, but who’s measuring?)
1 small fennel bulb
4 6oz. salmon fillets
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup fresh dill
salt and pepper

1. Adjust your top oven rack to be about 6″ away from the broiler and turn it on. (High if you have the option.)

2. Put the potatoes in a pot and cover them with cold water; bring to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt, reduce heat, and simmer 15-20 minutes, until tender. Drain and rinse under cold water and then cut into quarters.

3. Combine yogurt, half of the lemon juice, a teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper in a bowl. Stir in the potatoes and fennel.

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil, and put the fillets on it. Combine the mustard and remaining lemon juice in a small bowl and spread over the salmon. Broil 6 to 8 minutes, until the fish is opaque and cooked all the way through. Garnish with the dill and serve.

Et, voila!

On the Menu This Week

Photo by Jonny Valiant/Real Simple

I thought it might be fun to put our weekly menus up on the blog. Maybe it will give you some ideas for your own meal planning, or maybe you’ll just pester me for pictures and then I’ll actually remember to take them. [For example, on Friday night, I made this Balsamic-glazed Lamb Meatloaf with Cannelini Bean Salad, but since we didn’t get around to dinner until 10pm, by which time we were starving, no photo was taken. And last night I made Chili-Glazed Pork with Sweet Potato Hash, but I was home alone and remembered my camera after I was halfway done eating, which is not so pretty… so I swiped these pictures from the internet, and I am happy to report that both our meals looked and tasted as good as them.]

Photo by Con Poulos/Real Simple

In any case, here’s what we’re planning to eat in the near future. As I mentioned (I think?), we try to eat vegetarian at least 3 nights a week. To fill out the week, we do 2 fish meals (usually salmon and basa fillets), 1 poultry night (chicken, unless there’s a holiday), and 1 meat (lamb, pork, or beef). Rather than breaking this down by day, I’ll divide by type of meal. Recipes are linked where possible. (You’ll notice a lot of them come from Real Simple. They have great, interesting, easy recipes which include side dishes, so we look there a lot.)

Vegetarian
Three-Bean Chili with Spring Pesto
Southwestern Sweet Potato & Quinoa Salad
Chickpeas with Chard and Pan-Roasted Tomatoes

Fish
Salmon with Lemon-Cilantro Vinaigrette (a favorite that takes less than 20 minutes!)
Crispy Fish with Tomato & Leek Saute; Mixed Greens

Poultry/Meat
Lasagna or Tacos, depending on what I’m in the mood for
Cayenne Chicken with Avocado Salsa; Mashed Plantains with Leeks & Fresh Herbs

A little meal-planning analysis: chickpeas, leeks, tomatoes, avocados, and cilantro are all used in more than one recipe. I always try to use cilantro in more than one thing because the bunches at our grocery stores are HUGE. See my post from the other day here.

What are you cooking up this week?

We Are Stage Managers, And Therefore We Plan What To Eat.

We haven’t always been meal planners. In fact, we only started doing it about a year ago. Friends, if you aren’t doing this, you are seriously missing out. I know it sounds like a lot of effort, and like you have to be really anal and/or an amazing cook to make it happen, but I promise it’s really not that bad. Without further ado, pros and cons and how we do it.

WHY MEAL PLANNING TOTALLY ROCKS:

  • Save Money. When you’ve planned a whole week (or more) of meals, you hit the store with a really functional list. If you stick to it (takes a little practice, and yeah, sometimes I still fail at it) you will avoid most impulse purchases, which means you spend less.
  • Shop less often (and Save Money.) Way fewer stops on the way home because we’re out of this or that or we need to pick up something for dinner tonight and oh god, what do we feel like making and do we have any couscous left in the pantry? Seriously, this point alone could just about convince me. Fewer stops = fewer impulse buys = spend less money.
  • Waste less food (and Save Money. See a theme here?) You only buy stuff that’s going in a recipe plus any pantry staples you’re running low on. If you pay attention when you plan, you can make several meals using similar ingredients, thus avoiding that half-bunch of cilantro rotting in the veggie drawer. Plus, you don’t buy a bunch of grapes and then forget about them. Everything you buy, you use. 

Ok, onto non-financially tangible benefits. 

  • No more frantically wondering what to make. Once you’ve planned, you don’t have to think about it until the next planning period. You just look at your plan and do what it says.
  • Easy lunches plus a portion-control bonus. We make all our dinner recipes to serve four. We serve two portions onto plates to eat, and immediately pack up the other two servings for the next day’s lunch. Let me tell you how long it takes me to pack my lunch for work: however long it takes me to get it out of the refrigerator and put it in my lunch bag. Done and done. If you are not a morning person, this helps. (And maybe it should go above, because packing lunch means not buying lunch which equals saving money.) As for the bonus – because we pack lunch when we serve, not when we clean up, there is no going back for seconds. It forces us to eat the amount we are supposed to. (Not a fail-safe though, some recipe portion sizes are out of control to begin with, so… you gotta watch for that.)
  • Healthy eating just got way easier. When you sit down and plan your meals while you’re neither hungry nor at the grocery store, it’s easy to decide on lean proteins, more fish, less fat and sugar, and plenty of vegetables instead of whatever you can defrost fastest because you got off work late and you’re famished and you just want to eat already.

THINGS THAT KINDA SUCK ABOUT MEAL PLANNING:

  • Less spontaneity. The menu is pointless if you don’t stick to it, so, yeah, sometimes you’re not going to be in the mood for whatever you decided on last Tuesday. And if your spouse did the planning this week and your food preferences differ, you risk a week of meals that you don’t necessarily love.
  • Time spent planning. Particularly if you are not already sitting on a stash of tried and true recipes, this can be somewhat time-consuming. (Though if you keep it up, you will build that stockpile pretty quickly.)
  • You have to cook it. Working on the assumption that your meal plan isn’t going to be comprised of frozen dinners that you only need to pop in the oven, you’ll likely be spending more time and effort cooking than you have in the past. And sometimes, you just won’t feel like doing it and neither will your spouse.

TIPS TO MAKE IT EASIER:

  • Know Thyself. Meal planning does not have to equal gourmet cooking. As you know, we enjoy making fancy meals, but we are busy busy busy like everyone else, so most of the time we are looking for recipes with basic ingredients that take 30 minutes or less. [Should I start a “quick dinners” series?] Because after a long day at work, when you’re hungry before you even get home, you do not want dinner prep to take any longer to make than the pizza or Chinese you’re thinking about ordering would. Know what your personal limits are, in both skills and in time available.
  • Write it down! The menu and the grocery list. And check the list against the recipes twice. And then check the pantry to make sure you’re not running low on anything you’ve put on your mental “I don’t need to buy that because we always have some on hand” list. For real. And it’s homey and fun to keep a menu on your fridge.
  • Shop the sales flyers. Before you plan, glance at the weekly sales from your regular grocery store(s). Plan your meals around what’s on sale (which, produce-wise, also tends to be what’s in season, so there’s some effortless ‘cooking seasonally’ for you) and you will save money.
  • Pick meals that go together. Mentioned above, but let’s say you’re having tacos this week. A bunch of cilantro can be shared with a salmon dish, which can share couscous with a chickpea dish, which can share Swiss chard with veggie lasagna… and on and on.
  • Be flexible. I usually plan 8-10 dinners and do a big shopping trip every other week, knowing that there will be a few nights we don’t feel like cooking or we have extra leftovers or whatever, and those extra meals will be filled in with simple staples like pasta or homemade pizza or even a meal out from time to time. I also plan the number of meals, but not really which day we’ll eat them on. That way I can decide a little more based on what we’re in the mood for. We do 3 vegetarian nights each week, so there’s usually an alternative to a meat or fish dish if we don’t feel like having it. Flexibility ends there though, since to swap out a veggie meal, we have to defrost a protein… Anyway, leave yourself some wiggle room and don’t feel guilty if you don’t stick exactly to your plan.

And that’s all there is to it. Questions? Fire away.