I’m a little bit of a planner, but as everyone knows, lots of things in life cannot be planned. Like, for instance, what a little girl will want to wear to school. Or how long it will take to get to the office after a day of snow. Or when you’ll finally be able to get rid of the terrible wallpaper in your new bedroom.
Pretty much the only normality I have been able to hang onto is my weekly meal planning. Each weekend I sit down with a stack of recipes/magazines/my binders/my laptop, as well as a dry-erase board, a pad of paper and a pen. I relish going through each recipe, and use the time to cull the herd, recycling anything that has been passed over for weeks and months. I love filling in the spaces for each meal. I make a game of trying to use up pantry ingredients or things going bad in the fridge. Over the years, many guests have studied my weekly meal plan on the fridge and been in awe that I would be so detailed. But honestly, it’s therapeutic for me. If I weren’t able to do it now, I’d probably go a little nutty(ier).
I have no idea where my recipe binders are, and until last week, I had forgotten to change the address on my food magazine subscriptions, so I’m missing the December ones. The small table in my living room is heaped high with Thanksgiving magazines I’m not interested in digging through – although I will return to them, if only for the dozens of pie recipes that I’m dying to tackle once things settle down – so I’ve been using Google to decide what to eat each week.
While this opens me to up to pretty much every recipe ever, there is something to be said for familiarity. The blogs and sites that are popping don’t feel like old friends. I find myself being less contemplative, and more in a rush to just get it done. When has that ever worked out?
Last week I chose two recipes that I thought Claire would eat: Shepherd’s Pie and Baked Chicken Tenders. Both are gluten-free recipes, but the former doesn’t really need gluten in the first place and I had another version of the latter when I visited Erin a couple of weeks ago.
Of course, it always helps if you have the right ingredients for a recipe. The chicken tenders called for almond meal, which Target doesn’t carry, and I didn’t have time to go to Whole Foods last weekend. Instead, I bought coconut flour. I figured that restaurants do coconut-battered things all the time. When it came down to it, I felt the coconut flour was too fine, so I added a bit of cornmeal. Because crusting things in cornmeal is totally a thing.
The rest of the recipe I followed to the letter. The olive oil was a little tricky. How do you drizzle without gushing? It got applied unevenly, then I shoved the chicken in the oven and hopped on a work call. That call dragged and dragged, and Joel had to handle the rest of dinner on his own. In fact, he and Claire had to eat on their own, as I was on the phone until almost 9PM. By the time I took a bite, the chicken was pretty much cold. The flavor was spot on, but the breading was not great. The coconut flour was sort of dry and powdery, and the cornmeal was too crunchy. Joel said Claire “had a problem with” the outside of the tenders, and I felt horrible. How hard is it to make a piece of breaded chicken? Apparently, when you’re not paying much attention and don’t have the right stuff, it’s pretty hard.We had better luck with the shepherd’s pie, but I totally bastardized the recipe. I used leftover mashed potatoes from the night before – plain russets, not red – and added a bit of butter and milk to make them creamy again. I didn’t use an onion. I used a bag of frozen peas and carrots. These shortcuts allowed me to get the meal on the table in a flash, and Claire said it was “pretty good.” She ate an entire serving, too, which is about all I’m asking for these days.