Simple suppers are my favorite any time of year...but simple, summer suppers might just be the best. A box of pasta. A couple of quickly sautéed, spiralized zucchinis. A few tomatoes from the garden thrown into the hot pan to blister + carmalize just a bit. A sprinkling of salt, pepper flakes + parmesan cheese. Simply delicious.
Ok, it might be a little premature to call this a ritual quite yet...but it has great potential. This lovely, loose, blueberry tea was a gift, and I just know that it will make delicious sun tea.
Heatwaves + drought lead my thoughts to any way we can use less electricity these days, and sun tea is such a humble way to harness the power of the sun. A jar, a tea ball, some tea + a few hours in the sun is all it takes.
We've been spending most evenings at a nearby park overlooking the lake these days. We chat about our day + read to each other from a book that we've agreed on together. The sky turns pink with cotton candy clouds as the sun sinks behind the trees. I think ice clanking in a couple of jars full of blueberry tea will be a good addition to that ritual.
The sun has been shining + the rain has been falling + the seeds are starting to turn into food in our little spring garden. I can't tell you how excited I was to add this extremely local, zero-waste color + flavor to the quick meal we ate last night.
The radishes + chives were the perfect addition to this what's-left-in-the-cupboard meal. Our go-to parmesan pasta got a little upgrade from a packet of miso + it was delicious. Sitting in the sun on the back step was the perfect compliment.
Miso Pasta ::
box of your favorite pasta
packet of miso
whatever extras are on hand, we used radishes + chives from the garden this time
Boil pasta + drain all but a little of the pasta water (maybe 1/4 cup). Mix miso packet into the pasta until well coated. Top with other ingredients + enjoy.
Indecision is not my usual mode. I (usually) know what I like + I (usually) trust my instincts. This year, however, I've noticed that indecision has become a sort of recurring theme. I can't decide which trainers or bed frame or job or city to commit to...these don't fit quite right, I don't like the legs on that one, I don't know if we can afford it. As I put off decision after decision...they pile up + it all starts to feel overwhelming. So I'm starting with a plan to decrease my decision making when it comes to meal planning. :)
As usual, I don't know if my personal thoughts will be helpful to anyone else, but...here are a few of my recent thoughts on forming (or reforming) a system for meal planning:
So...I decided to keep the plan I've been using...but to give myself two actual meal choices in each supper category...for each season. Right now the categories I'm using include:
Right now, we eat mostly vegetarian + gluten-free + considering some other food sensitivities, so coming up with meals can feel like a long checklist of can-we/can-we-not. I decided that two meals in each category would allow for many weekly combinations. I also left a few options in the meals. For example, one of our favorite meals lately is lemon rice. The base of it is jasmine rice, a little butter, lemon, parmesan cheese + scallions (because they are in season now!) + salt + pepper flakes. We would all enjoy eating it just like this, but adding peas, asparagus, broccoli +/or radishes along with some protein offers an opportunity for both variety + for using fresh spring produce.
Making seasonal iterations of this plan will offer even more chance for variety + for using the season's offerings. For spring, I chose lemon rice + broccoli/cashew rice as our rice meals. In the summer, I may choose a deconstructed sushi bowl + rice with peanut sauce as our rice meal choices. I've put some suggestions on the other season's lists, but I'll leave those decisions for those seasons.
This process reminded me of what Courtney Carver is doing with her 333 wardrobe challenge. The three month blocks in 333 have always seemed a little arbitrary for me weather-wise, but I recognize that it's more about dealing with the system (+ the vast majority of the decision making) all at once + then living + resting within its boundaries for the following three months.
I hope it's obvious that we can eat whatever we want to...whenever. This system is not meant to be restrictive in any way. It just exists as a helper for coming up with meals week after week.
A few questions I asked myself along the way:
I have to say that I feel pretty good about crossing this task off my list. My list looks nourishing + delicious + budget-possible. I don't have to make my shopping list until Friday + it's only Wednesday. I feel like I've done my future self a favor.
A great way to avoid food (+ money) waste is to make the produce we bring home last longer. It doesn't take long for carrots to look like this, though a flabby carrot is still edible...to a point. When I take a little time to prepare my produce for storage after my weekly shop, I can be sure it will last the week. Meal prep goes faster too.
A few ways to make produce last longer:
My goal is to eat fruit fresh, but I'd rather freeze it than let it go bad.
The spice drawer offers some eerie similarities to the overstuffed closets in many homes. There are the spices that were used once for that one recipe. There are duplicates bought when we couldn't remember what we already had. There are spices that have completely lost their flavor. We can't bear to throw some away, because they were expensive. Maybe it's time to take stock of the spices hanging out in the kitchen. :)
When I started cooking for myself I didn't really know how to use spices unless I was using a recipe. I wasn't even really sure what flavors some of them brought to the table. Without the knowledge of how to create flavor, I had little ability to create dishes out of what was left in the fridge or pantry at the end of the week. All of this can lead to waste + frustration.
I find immense pleasure in experiencing traditional food from various regions around the world. Some of the most delicious flavors I've tasted were generously shared by neighbors originally from Iraq + India. Food is one of our favorite parts of traveling. We savor eating in restaurants with experienced Mexican, Thai, Chinese + Japanese (etc., etc.) cooks. My at-home cooking really cannot compare to these offerings, but spices can offer a hint of the flavors I wish to recreate.
A few spicy things to consider:
The spices I stock include:
I try to keep things relatively simple in the kitchen for both my budget + waste concerns. But taste is still the number one priority. Here is my personal, simple spice strategy (including one example of something I make in each category):
Someone just starting out without a whole lot of cooking instruction behind them could try this strategy...but could also just be observant when eating food they like. Take note of menu descriptions/combinations. Try to deconstruct surprising flavors. And then try it at home.
Or just start with salt + pepper flakes. Some of our favorite meals need only those:
Obviously, you stock what you like + use. This is just my approach....and my belief that simple can taste so good!
Every once in a while I find a cookbook that looks interesting, but I'm not really a cookbook person. I often find cookbooks overwhelming. The recipes frequently involve too many ingredients + too many steps. And I get distracted with hunger looking at all those mouthwatering dishes. :)
I do, however, like to discover new flavors. When I look at cookbooks, I'm looking for inspiration + for recipes that fit into my simple way of collecting ingredients + cooking. I like to buy (not too many) fresh ingredients that we use every bit of, and I prefer to spend less than an hour making dinner.
I'd rather have a smaller collection of recipes that I am likely to use than piles of cookbooks that I'm unlikely to spend time sifting through while making my grocery list. I'm not a really big, digital person. I keep my planner, journal + various lists on paper. But...I'm very visual + like to keep things simple...so this is a way of taking notes on recipes I find in cookbooks that I like (rather than copying them out onto recipe cards + losing that tempting visual inspiration).
I take a picture of an inspiring meal or two from a cookbook that I've borrowed from the library, add a few personally helpful notes to it + add it to my "food" album in photos on my phone. I cook less by exact measurement + more based on what I have + personal taste. Therefore, I often don't need to record measurements.
I also like to take pictures of meals I've made that we really like + don't want to forget. Often the picture is enough to spark the concept, so no notes are necessary. Even a recipe that I make weekly for a season can slip my mind by the time the next similar season comes around. A little visual reminder is just the spark I need to get it back on the table.
This technique would also work on that shelf full of cookbooks that one might like to downsize. :) Pass the books on to friends over the holidays along with a bookmarked favorite + a jar of jam...or take them to a book reseller + receive a little cash along with the lovely space created.
Top two photos in this post feature pages from Jamie Oliver's 5 Ingredients: Quick Easy Food.
There are a few adaptable, staple meals that we eat on repeat. One of them involves roasted potatoes + whatever other vegetable is in-season. This week's summery variation took advantage of tomatoes + peppers from our garden as well as corn, avocado, scallions + hot sauce. Colorful + delicious! It's always nice when someone at the table says, "I could eat this every day!"
Just a few lovely things I've come across lately: Go Gently Nation's summer collection is gorgeous. I love the guaze-y, strappy dress + the story shared along with it of the founder's trips to Palm Springs packing only this dress. The colors + easy fit of these natural-fiber, made-in-Los-Angeles pieces are completely dreamy to me. And these photos have me longing for California sand between my toes.
I'm loving the simplicity of these meals offered as inspiration for what to do with our farmer's market or CSA hauls. It always feels affirming to see recipes listing a limited number of common ingredients that result in super tasty meals. (Also- yay!- summer produce!)
I enjoyed spending some time this week with this article by Laura Rubin about writing for self-worth. I tend to spend a lot more time thinking about ways that I need to improve rather than respecting who I am. I appreciate Laura pointing out that self-worth "creates a beautiful foundation for self-improvement" (if that is what we want to pursue) as well.
And I'm looking forward to diving into the Self-Compassion Workbook alongside Julia. I'm hoping that the illustrations by one of our favorite artists help sweeten the willingness to engage. :)
I hope you are finding some mind, body + soul-nourishing ways to spend some time each day.
All lovely images via links.
Lots of love,
on a journey toward zero-waste, simplicity, + compassion :: daring to choose fair one choice at a time