For me, New Year’s Day has nothing on Labor Day when it comes to making resolutions. I imagine I’m not unusual in this regard, at least among parents of school-aged children. Never mind new resolve with which to correct habits in early January; for us, September is the fresh start in which I try every year to do everything right.
This fall, one of my resolutions was around menu planning. I like to cook, but I’m not always the most efficient meal planner. Despite the abundance of interesting recipes easily located in cookbooks I own and more cookbooks at the library; recipes sent by friends or by my sisters; recipes via the Internet; and recipes in magazines that arrive monthly in the mail, I’m all too quick to fall back on those dishes that require no recipes at all, because they’re so simple or because I’ve made them so many times. They please the palates of my family, but they also tend to get a little dull.
And there’s just so much good food out there waiting to be prepared. Interesting ingredients. Original techniques. Newly evolving cuisines. For someone who really does enjoy the culinary arts, like me, it just doesn’t make sense to fall back on baked drumsticks and pasta with red sauce and meat loaf quite so often.
My sister Sarah is the opposite. She is not only a good cook but what I would call a proactive cook, one who is always trying new recipes and new methods. In fact, she once told me that when she asked her husband if he liked a particular dish she had made, he said pleasantly enough, “What difference does it make? I’m never going to see it again.”
I aspire to be more like that. Over the summer I became lazier about cooking than ever. Tim and Rick were playing baseball during the dinner hour four nights a week, and it was just so much easier to grill or sauté some standard piece of protein and throw a salad together than get out a recipe and measuring spoons and ingredients.
But now with school back in session, I’m resolved to try harder. When the fall issue of Eating Well arrived in the mail in late August, I gave the kids a packet of stickie-note flags and asked them to go through the magazine and mark every recipe they’d like to try. In the weeks that followed, I tried to make each recipe they had flagged, and each one was a success. A friend gave me a recipe she thought we’d like, and I made it the very next day. When I came across an interesting recipe in the newspaper, instead of just telling myself I’d try it someday, I printed it out right away and put it in my cookbook holder.
The kids have actually noticed and remarked upon this new approach. They’re impressed that as I make out the grocery list, I can tell them what I plan to make for dinner each day in the upcoming week. (So far this week it’s been spinach strata on Monday, sausage risotto on Tuesday, chicken pot pie Wednesday, and corn fritters with roasted squash on Thursday. Friday, of course, is the Sabbath. Not in the Jewish Orthodox sense but in the sense that I plan to wait around for someone else to make dinner. No matter how long I have to wait.)
Resolutions have a way of falling by the wayside. For New Year’s resolutions, late January is typical; for New School Year resolutions, probably soon after Columbus Day weekend. But with luck, that will be just when a new issue of Eating Well arrives in the mail, and it will be enough to keep us flagging recipes – and using them – for at least another month.