Monday, February 4, 2013

Tech Troubles and an Epiphany

We've had our fair share of tech troubles this spring--no small stress given that ALL of my library science grad school work (including my actual classes) are online. We lost internet service for a FULL week--a WEEK, mind you; this meant a LOT of catch-up. My husband was out of town the weeks on either side of that week, we've had snow, we've had rain of near Noahic proportions, and...

Well, suffice it to say that full tummies has been lower on the horizon than it usually is. I'm sure my few faithful followers have missed me. (ha ha ha)

During my great silence, I did have an epiphany regarding my cooking style. I'm wondering if this registers with anyone out there besides me. My apologies to the amazon reviewer who phrased it this way since I don't remember his/her name (it's from one of the reviews of Bittman's How to Cook Vegetarian which of course I was looking at because I *need* a new cookbook every few months or so, right?!).

Here's the epiphany: I am a backward cook, not a forward cook, and THIS is why weekly menu plans are too prescripted for me. What's the difference, you ask?

A forward cook looks through cookbooks, plans recipes to cook, and then shops accordingly.

A backward cook acquires ingredients and THEN looks through cookbooks for an appropriate recipe. I'd wager that nearly ALL gardeners are backward cooks, as are many sale shoppers. Sales plus whatever produce is "in" (be it a garden, a CSA share, a freezer stash, or simply what's on sale) plus whatever leftovers we have on hand becomes the raw material for my cooking endeavors. Because I "read" my cookbooks periodically, I know where to hunt down recipes for my various ingredients. If I'm more time-rushed, then a quick allrecipes search or a full tummies search usually gives me quick direction.

My mother trained me well regarding sales and being a savvy shopper. Thus when a prescribed menu item is on sale, I'm golden. BUT, when a prescribed menu item is NOT on sale (say, boneless skinless chicken breasts), but I KNOW it will be next week (it's on an every-other-week cycle at my local Kroger), then I cannot justify buying it the first week and must think up something new for that particular menu.

I've been subscribing to emeals for a while (thanks to a groupon from last summer), but they haven't worked well for me for just this reason. They DO provide meals targeted to specific stores (and those store's flyers) but I haven't found a good fit for our family regarding a combination of health AND particular store. This makes sense because I don't shop just at one store for all our groceries anyways. [I think they provide a valuable service, and their meals often look very enticing...but for this forward/backward reason, I've had trouble conforming.]

I didn't mean to be this long-winded, but I think this concept is so helpful! It explains why certain cookbooks appeal more to me than others (I like ones with variations since I'm usually cobbling together a meal based on what I HAVE, not what I still need to acquire; my available time is also a factor--some days end up being much more rushed or busy than I'd originally planned for). Finished pictures aren't as important to me; nutritional information might be too hard to nail down all the time since my ingredients will no doubt vary. But for those forward chefs out there, cookbooks with those two features might be a must.

I bought into the idea that I "needed" a weekly menu ahead of time, but honestly, that never worked well for me. What works better--and what I've often done in this full tummies space--is to come up with a list of options that will make use of my ingredient starting points, but which includes flexibility (and I usually prioritize based upon what must be eaten up sooner rather than later). Another approach that has helped me is to have a weekly routine  (i.e. one night is "rice-based," another night is pasta night, one night is tortilla night, and so forth). So, henceforth on full tummies, I won't be feeling guilty for not throwing up a nicely organized weekly menu. Perhaps I'll go back to my "menu in retrospect" feature.

Incidentally, I think this forward cooking is a relatively recent phenomenon--at least for everyday cooking. Our foremothers certainly were backwards chefs when they were on the prairie or pulling something from the root cellar or harvesting a bumper crop of butter beans.

Are you a backward chef or a forward chef? 

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