Here’s what I learned.
During the month of January, my buddies over at Epicurious are participating in #Cook90, during which editor David Tamarkin and a gaggle of brave home cooks have vowed to cook three meals a day for 31 days (with three cheat meals, otherwise it would be an awkward and social media unfriendly #Cook93).
David asked if I would participate in some, any, or all of #Cook90. Upon first encounter, I enthusiastically thought, of course, YES, I’LL DO IT! How hard could it be? I mean, I am a professional cook, surely I could come up with three home-cooked meals a day for one month.
But then I looked at the calendar. We had plans to dine out twice the first week of January, a work event the following Monday, a work trip to Chicago mid-month, and my mom’s 70th birthday on the 31st. Add to that my new reliance on our very well-stocked cafeteria for morning oatmeal, and there was no possible way I could pull off cooking all of my meals this month.
What I semi-shamefully settled for was a very achievable #Cook9, just three days of three meals each.
I know, some of you are reading this and rolling your eyes, thinking, I cook and eat three meals a day almost every day of the year! I’ve got kids to feed, lunches to pack, wallets to watch, etc. Me too (except the kids part). But somewhere along the line I got lazy: I stopped packing my lunch, I waited to eat breakfast until I got to the office, and I kept my social dates and work obligations churning. Even when I didn’t want to.
And while I thought three days of home-cooked meals would be a cinch, it really wasn’t. Here are a few lessons I learned in just 72 hours about the way I cook and eat.
I don’t like to eat first thing in the morning. I used to eat pretty soon after waking, you know, when I was 12 and had to eat before I got to school. But as I’ve gotten older, I realize I like to wake up, have coffee, get moving, and eat about 90 minutes later. Which means I’d either have to wake up at 5:30 in the morning or, more realistically, eat at the office. I always try to make oatmeal the night before and pack it up to reheat at work. But on the days I don’t, can’t, or am too lazy, I can grab oatmeal, or toast, or yogurt at one of the very nice establishments between my subway stop and my office door. Lesson: be prepared. Have the oatmeal made and packed the night before and keep the fixins (maple syrup, some walnuts) in a drawer at my desk.
Make Things You Like
Leftovers are a brown-bag lunch’s best friend. Only thing is, I’m really bad about eating leftovers. Leftover meat (unless in some stew-like environment) is a turn-off and reheating properly can be tough at the office. Soups and stews, however, get better as they sit and for whatever reason (I really like eating with a spoon?), I never get tired of eating them. And they’re easy to reheat: just pop in the microwave, but be sure to cover the top with a piece of paper towel to avoid any office-unfriendly explosions. Add a couple slices of cheese and/or crusty bread and you’ve got a very civilized and complete meal—and you only had to cook once on Sunday. Lesson: cook what you know you like to eat. This isn’t punishment, it’s lunch.
The only thing worse than not knowing what to make for dinner is being bummed about what you have to make for dinner (i.e. the sad Brussels sprouts in the crisper, or the chicken you bought because it was on sale). There’s a two-part solution to this problem. Lesson one: You’ve got to make a meal plan (very challenging for me because I fancy myself spontaneous and flexible). Decide what you want to make over the weekend, and shop accordingly. But you have to pick things that you really want to make, that you’re not only excited to eat, but that you want (and have the time and ability) to cook. Lesson two: Choose recipes—or ideas if you’re a no-recipe required-type—that are within your skill set and your hanger timeline. Don’t pick intimidating dishes for weeknights or ones that take 90 minutes to make. Check your calendar, people, and plan accordingly. And if you’re dead set on making that long-cooked dish, a little cheese and cracker never hurt anybody.
I’ll probably never cook seven nights a week at home, at least for the foreseeable future (dining out and around is how I keep the professional cook in me interested). But it’s good to check in with the home cook in me every once and awhile and see how she’s doing. No matter how many times you cook for yourself in a week or a month, any cooking is better than no cooking.