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It's worth it, right?


dividend
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The other night, the BF and I were talking about how busy we've been lately. Working has me away from home 11 hours a day with my long commute, I just started back to school fulltime (online, which helps a little), and he's starting to have 70-80 hour workweeks because of cutbacks and layoffs at his office. He commented, "It seems like you've been spending a lot of time in the kitchen." When he suggested that I could cut food related time, I almost cried. I don't cook for both of us because I feel obligated to cook for him. I'm trying to feed us the way I fed myself when I lived alone, because I love the process, and because I love real food.

I'm trying. Trying to balance having next to no time, with wanting to eat home-cooked food 95% of the time. Trying to balance a not-exhorbant food budget with my beliefs about ethical omnivorism (to use an unapologetically pretentious term), and what's really healthy. So that means working at eating lots of fresh, seasonal, local, (and organic when it matters) fruits and vegetables, high quality dairy products, grass fed/pastured/free range meat when possible, and almost no processed food at all. I feel better when I eat this way. I know that I will deal with being stressed and overscheduled much better when I take the time to eat right. We spend $100 a week on groceries. That includes really really good coffee beans. That feeds us each 7 breakfasts, 6 lunches, and 6 dinners. I know that I could spend less if I was willing to sacrifice quality.

It's hard. It's hard to come home after 11 hours, knowing I have 3-4 hours of studying to do, and contemplate cooking dinner, and then packing breakfast, lunches, and snacks for the next day, and then cleaning up after it all. I'm not a particularly fast cook - alot of recipes seem to take a lot longer than they should once you factor in prep like chopping and marinating. Even on nights when I plan a very simple fallback dish like pasta with pesto (homemade, frozen) and chicken, it's at least an hour spent in the kitchen, not including sitting and eating. I do a little batch cooking every Sunday, so I've got really good homemade food in the freezer, but I'm not content with just reheating food every night of the week. Plus we do that for our lunches, because mostly I prep stuff on Sunday to put in our lunch boxes.

I love eG. You're all normal people who love quality food, and the process of creating it. Some of you make it seem so simple, balancing a busy life and lots of cooking for pleasure too. How do you do it? I feel like a failure because I haven't baked bread in a month, and because I take shortcuts and still get stressed. How do you have time and energy to take care of everything? And how do you handle the people in your life who tell you that you're manufacturing stress by wanting to eat healthy, delicious, home cooked food? We've got support threads for weight watchers, and for eating cheap. I thought we could use this one to remind each other that it's worth it when we're tempted to take the easier alternatives to feeding ourselves and our families. Because I don't have that support among my family and friends. So tell me that I'm not alone in feeling this way, that I'm right, that it is worth it, even that I'm just a little overwhelmed at the moment and should stop whining.

"Nothing you could cook will ever be as good as the $2.99 all-you-can-eat pizza buffet." - my EX (wonder why he's an ex?)

My eGfoodblog: My corner of the Midwest

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You are not alone, dividend. I often feel in precisely the same boat: two jobs, this volunteer gig for a big food organization (:wink:), two kids, and a lot of community work leave me feeling guilty about that time over the stove. But I'm convinced (and, gladly, I have a partner who's also convinced) that that time is what keeps me sane.

I prepare about 90% of our family's meals and make nearly all of those from scratch. (In a rare departure two nights ago due to a family request, we had hot dogs; my kids were baffled by the Tater Tots I served.) If I wanted to play Quickfire Challenge every night, I could probably get food on the table within an hour, but part of the pleasure of it is taking the time to enjoy the process and not just an efficiently made product.

It's funny that you mention batch cooking, which I definitely do all year round. Our basement's massive freezer is filled with proof of that. But most nights I don't think to pull out some sausage or frozen gumbo. There's something about walking into that empty kitchen and saying, "I want to make something: what?" that is part of the process for me.

So I guess my answer to this question --

[H]ow do you handle the people in your life who tell you that you're manufacturing stress by wanting to eat healthy, delicious, home cooked food? 

-- is "I'm working off stress by making that food, not manufacturing it."

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Awwww. I'm sorry you're under so much pressure.

On the practical side, if this is causing ou stress, it might not hurt to ease up on your standards. For instance, using pre-peeled garlic and the like to cut your prep time. Also, I know you hate eating pre-made food, but there are foods--such as soups and stews--that freeze or refrigerate well and just take some reheating on the stove to be as good or better than when you made them.

As for your other problem...what does your BF do to relax? Does he jog or play video games or read or play tennis? Tell him that cooking is your form of stress-release, just as doing XXX is his. Equating it to something he does, enjoys, and needs to stay sane might help you draw the analogy.

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The last thing you probably need is another cookbook, however I just sent my daughter (a teacher, mother of three teens and involved in many extra projects, including developing a program for better foods for the schools in her district) a fairly new cookbook, The Splendid Table's How To Eat Supper.

I got this book for myself a few weeks ago and am very impressed by the number of short cuts to using local, sustainable, organic and fresh ingredients in ways that it might take one years to work out on one's own.

My philosophy is very similar to that expressed by these two talented people and I wish I had had this book before I retired and was coping with a 140 mile commute each day in heavy traffic. I am sure it would have made my life much easier and I am doubly sure it will be very helpful to my daughter, who has to manage her time with great precision.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Life is compromise....pick a few nights a week to cook, and a few nights a week to reheat or recombine leftovers. Plan your menus in advance; this old-school home eccy tip makes everything run more smoothly.

A happy household is also about fair and equal division of labor: at my house, we split the roles like this--the cook doesn't have to clean. In practice, this works well, as I love to cook, and my better half is a neatnik who'd rather Swiffer the kitchen floor. Often, whoever gets home earliest is responsible for prep, too. My hubby & I were both raised by parents who worked FT, so we had good examples on pitching in.

Talk to the BF about WHY you're in the kitchen....sounds like you have thoughtful reasons for kitchen time. At the risk of going Dr. Phil on you, if his query makes you want to cry, then it's not really about the cooking. And if he is eating your good food, then he should be loading & unloading the dishwasher, at least.

I just re-read your post: are you really packing HIS lunches, too? Tell him sweetly that you'll be spending less time in the kitchen 'cause you'll be packing five less lunches this week......

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family  So tell me that I'm not alone in feeling this way, that I'm right, that it is worth it, even that I'm just a little overwhelmed at the moment and should stop whining.

Dividend, you're right, it is worth it.

I loved reading your post and the following one by Chris. You may as well have been describing my routine. My wife and I work long hours and get home late--9-9:30 most week days. I, too, find that the process of deciding what to cook, the preparing the meal is my way of spinning down from work. And then you have something good to eat. What's not to like? My family also thought for a long time that I was nuts, and that someday I would come to my senses, but now they seem to accept this aspect of my strange and complex relationship with food, and just enjoy dinner.

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I'm not sure of how free your weekends are, but here's what I do. I make two or three entrees such as a pan of lasagna, chicken and noodles and a pork roast. Then, over the course of the week, I reheat and combine. Like one night we'll have lasagna again with a tossed salad. One night I'll shred the pork and either make enchiladas or bbq sandwiches, another night I'll reheat the soup etc.

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So tell me that I'm not alone in feeling this way, that I'm right, that it is worth it, even that I'm just a little overwhelmed at the moment and should stop whining.

You're right. It's worth it. And it certainly sounds like you're overwhelmed. I can relate, between writing my dissertation and starting a new (paying!) job, I definitely try to find time to cook. I admit that we eat a lot of relatively quick meals (like blueberry pancakes tonight), and I'm not going around making Cassoulet on a regular basis, but even a half hour cooking and cleaning the kitchen is cathartic. For me it is definitely NOT a contributor to stress, it's a relief from it.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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You are definately not alone-as witnessed by all of us who have responded. We all share a commonality in terms of the stresses of our daily lives. -but more importantly, we share your passion for food and cooking.

Most people who hear about my work schedule say I'm crazy. I'd have to agree with them. I get up at 4am every day, drive to the airport, take a one hour flight to my office, in another airport, work, fly home, drive home. I usually get back at my house about 630p. Five days a week. My commute just happens to be on an airplane-that's enough stress without adding my 204 employees to the mix.

But we also share something that many other people don't-a love of food and cooking. I agree with Chris-cooking and working with food is a stress reliever. I can't tell you how comforting it is to pull into the driveway after a 14 hour day and look forward to the simplest of home-cooked meals, maybe some grilled steak or chicken and a simple green salad. And while that type of dinner may only take a few minutes to cook and plate, yes, it is worth it because it brings me back home and back to something I enjoy after what is often a trying day at work.

As others have said, planning is critical. I try to plan my workday menus on Saturday. I may do a braised meat dish on Saturday that I can stretch into a couple of meals-say starting with a braised beef over polenta, then maybe the next day mixing some of the beef with barbecue sauce for a sandwich.

I'm at the point where the only cooking I do during my work week where I don't want to do any type of dish that takes more work than putting a pot in the oven or grilling a steak in a pan. I may splurge on my efforts and open a can of olives for the salad. (I try to stay away from any sweets on worknights).

I do my "Fancy" cooking on my days off-tommorrow I plan on preparing, writing about and photographing my attempts at the perfect enchiladas. Saturday I'm really getting fussy and doing some sweetbreads and frogs legs, (not in the same dish).

So I don't think you're whining. Just seek out the balance that works for you, don't push yourself in the kitchen during the workweek, and always look forward to coming home and sitting down to dinner. Then go all out on your days off.

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I don't have much to add in terms of tips for how to fit cooking into your life, since I do the same things everybody else here has mentioned. I'm also struggling with balancing cooking and writing a dissertation and cooking is my time to blow off steam. My partner and I sit in the kitchen talking and listening to music while I cook. We spend about 1 1/2 to 3 hours sometimes doing this, but it doesn't feel like wasting time. It's become something to look forward to in the day because it helps to focus on an ephemeral task.

I'd say you should take whatever shortcuts feel ok to you. Cooking can be stressful, so make things that are easy and that you're comfortable with on weekdays and get more elaborate on weekends when you have more time.

nunc est bibendum...

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This is a very therapeutic topic and I'm glad you started it, as it seems many others are, judging from the honesty of the replies.

What could be more important than finding a balance of family/work/health/nutrition/sleep/sanity, etc.? We're all busy (although some of you sound busier than me) and that's just the way it is. I'm a full-time parent and I have an architectural practice, both are a lot of work but I make and cherish the time I spend cooking for my family.

I see home cooking as the perfect hobby -- you really do get back what you put into it. We all need groceries, we all need to eat. Continue to put your head and your heart into it and reap the rewards.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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I see home cooking as the perfect hobby -- you really do get back what you put into it.

It's a good point. We're talking about a practice that benefits the others you feed, that allows you to create better things from base rudiments, and that saves you money more often than not.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I see home cooking as the perfect hobby -- you really do get back what you put into it. We all need groceries, we all need to eat. Continue to put your head and your heart into it and reap the rewards.

Totally true. A home cooked meal is more than the sum of its parts.

nunc est bibendum...

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I see home cooking as the perfect hobby -- you really do get back what you put into it. We all need groceries, we all need to eat. Continue to put your head and your heart into it and reap the rewards.

That's really lovely, Peter, and your words are part of my personal manifesto. But I'm going to push the what-we-do-at dinnertime ethos further. It's not simply about good grub, therapy and hunger. It's about civilization. We may not want or need to read Milton, but when we ignore the beauty of cooking and eating real food, Paradise is Lost.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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One thing I discovered while raising my family of five is that the thing that takes the longest is the main dish. In my big family, that was usually meat. So on Sunday afternoons, I'd cook a couple of meats - maybe a ham, a nice roast, perhaps one casserole, lasagna, meatloaf, roast chicken or a turkey half, stuffed cabbage, stew, ribs & kraut, things like that. Things that are filling and keep well. If you've got the main taken care of, it's not really that much of a hassle to saute a fresh veggie dish or toss an interesting salad or make a starch - rice or pasta or potatoes or bread - if we wanted one.

And for me anyway, it really reduced the stress to know that the main was taken care of. I was actually pretty cheerful thinking about which vegetables looked good in the market, and what sort of salad would best compliment the meal. It put the joy back into cooking.

And it was also much easier to prepare one main during the week that doesn't do so well as a left-over, such as fish or steaks.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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I like the idea of getting your partner in there to help you. You mention that things like prep take a lot longer for you than for others - me too! My little sister helps me out, otherwise dinner would be a marathon procedure. If he can help you with the chopping, peeling, or sorting, that would be great. If he can just be in the room and talk to you, maybe he can see how cooking is relaxing and important. If all else fails, maybe he can help you study, so that you have other time free.

"Life is a combination of magic and pasta." - Frederico Fellini

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dividend, I wish you the best of luck in finding a balance that works for you.

When my cooking obsession threatened to interfere with other parts of life, Mrs. C and I worked out a compromise. Monday through Thursday she cooks the protein and starch; I contribute a vegetable or salad. Friday through Sunday I am free to cook to my heart’s content.

This arrangement provides me with more time to plan weekend meals. On weeknights, I get my cooking fix without the three-ring circus of producing a full meal before basketball or boy scouts while discussing the day at work, helping children with homework, adjudicating disagreements, planning family activities . . .

. . . My family also thought for a long time that I was nuts, and that someday I would come to my senses, but now they seem to accept this aspect of my strange and complex relationship with food, and just enjoy dinner.

Um, my family hasn’t quite given up hope that someday I might come to my senses. :rolleyes:

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You guys are great. I feel like I've gotten a group hug from people who understand something about me that seems baffling hard for people to relate to sometimes. It seems like I've heard a few too many times from people who care about me - don't worry about cooking, just pick something up for dinner, you've got too many other things to stress about. The response is - it's not stressful, my life would be worse if I didn't make the time for this. But their words stick in my head sometimes approaching dinner, chip away a little at my enjoyment of the process, reinforce my guilt at cooking when I should be doing something more productive.

Today I had errand to run after work, and so was late getting home, hungry, cranky. I was buoyed a little by this thread, and instead of giving in and picking something up, I came home, defrosted a few slices of homemade pizza, crisped them on my pizza stone, and had pizza and a salad with poached eggs for dinner. Felt like a good compromise, and the process of something even that simple drove away some of the stress of the day.

I love some of the specific ideas, like cooking main proteins on the weekend (that's appealing as oppose to straight up reheating), or soliciting a little more help with prep and cleanup.

"Nothing you could cook will ever be as good as the $2.99 all-you-can-eat pizza buffet." - my EX (wonder why he's an ex?)

My eGfoodblog: My corner of the Midwest

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...or soliciting a little more help with prep and cleanup.

Yes, and that's the obvious answer, isn't it? Get help. And maybe that will work out. However, from what you've said, and speaking from my own experience, if it were that easy to "get help," I wouldn't have been in that predicament. I had a husband that, kind of like what you said in your initial post, didn't think it was worth all that trouble, certainly not to him anyway, and never lifted a finger to help, other than occasionally volunteering to pick up pizza or Chinese or Chili's Babyback Ribs on the way home. Asking him for help usually just resulted in an argument with me explaining why it mattered to me to have home-cooked meals for him, our three kids, and myself. And that just made me feel less like it was "worth it." He couldn't help with prep because he was "tired and wanted to relax." And cleanup? "Why should I help when, if we got pizza like I wanted, we could just toss everything."

I hope your situation is different. I hope that explaining that it matters to you will cause your partner to cheerfully pitch in. That didn't work for me.

But I'll tell you now that my children, two boys and a girl, all grew up to be wonderful cooks, interested, involved, one even in the restaurant business. And they're continuing the tradition with their children. Oh yes, it sure was "worth it."

And now I'm a happy grandmother, having jettisoned along the way the jerk that didn't understand, called me foolish, wouldn't help. It's interesting to me that in the end, we each got what we wanted. I and my kids are still enjoying delicious, nutritious, imaginative homemade meals that we often have the fun of cooking together.

And the jerk is still eating takeout pizza.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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Of course it's worth it. That being said, if you do feel burned out there is nothing wrong with defrosting soup, made with love on another day.

If your BF really doesn't want to help, you can still do it.

Menu planning is going to be key, as is a well stocked pantry and freezer. Have a few staple meals that can be whipped up quickly with no real need for special ingredients. The simple pasta thread would be a great place to start. Shalmanese changed my life with his peas and pasta "recipe". Sometimes it's all I have the energy to make. Or Carbonara? Or Marcella's onion tomato sauce thingie. Or whatever else you have.

Something you might want to do is roast trays of veggies on the weekend. These can be added to couscous for a salad, or served alongside a quick protein, or added to am omelette or quiche or frittata.

Sometimes an egg on toast can be dinner! Or radishes with a baguette.

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Does he care about food? Some people just don't.

I spend so much time in the kitchen, make such a mess of it, plus all the reading and the typing, that if my wife didn't enjoy the food we wouldn't be able to be together.

Edited by genarog (log)
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Years ago, when I returned to a conventional job after freelancing for a while, a friend remarked with shock (and a more than a little disappointment) that she was amazed that I was still cooking dinner most nights. Cooking is many things to me; not least of all therapy and fulfillment. It adds an element of creativity to my life and also one of balance. I miss it badly if there's a week in which there's no cooking.

I put on music and enjoy the whole process. I, like others up-thread, make a couple of major dishes over the week with the intention of portioning for the coming week and a couple for the freezer.

I'm now trying to rebuild my pantry supplies and stock the freezer after eating my way through both during a leg injury and then being snowed in over the holidays. Inevitably, there are evenings when my feet hurt and I don't want to spend too much time in the kitchen. I agree with all the quick dinner suggestions and one of my recent fall-backs is to stock a few cans of good quality clams to whip up a pasta with clam sauce or a clam chowder - a really great, fast dinner that is practically from scratch. I used to be in the fresh-clams-only-camp, but I would have fallen with gratitude upon a can of clams when the pantry got low over the holidays.

Rover

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The question "Is it worth it....?" Well, it's worth it if it isn't creating stress. If you are too tired, feel you need more help or just want to relax with a glass of wine and have someone else make you dinner once in a while, then forcing yourself to do all the work isn't worth it.

You mention spending $100 a week on food. I would venture to say that's a tight budget for two people. We never go out, eat roughly half our meals vegetarian, purchase expensive meats or seafood infrequently and we spend more than that. Anyway, I am assuming that you don't eat out because it's not in your budget, as it isn't in ours these days, so giving yourselves a break by having dinner out isn't an option.

My husband is the clean-up hitter, and he does the big shopping on the weekend. I cook every night, although sometimes I run out of steam, ingredients or any sort of motivation. On those nights we have completely unbalanced wacky meals. And you may be like me: I would rather have scrambled eggs with a side of buttered carrots when that's the only thing left in the crisper than pay for junk food just because it's cheap. I cook a big pot of beans or a casserole or "vat of the week" soup on the weekend and that helps. Some weeks we have great dinners, some weeks not so great. Once in a while our dinners are just pathetic! Like home-made popcorn and a plate of raw kohlrabi! But then we drink some cheap scotch and have some dark chocolate and feel better. So don't feel bad about taking some shortcuts and don't beat up on yourself if you don't have time to bake bread or put together a perfect meal.

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The simple pasta thread would be a great place to start.

Can you link to it? I'm google retarded right now.

Something you might want to do is roast trays of veggies on the weekend. These can be added to couscous for a salad, or served alongside a quick protein, or added to am omelette or quiche or frittata.

This is a great idea. I'm definitely going to do this.

...a few cans of good quality clams to whip up a pasta with clam sauce or a clam chowder

Thumbnail recipes? I love both of these things but very rarely make them because I tend to only grocery shop once a week and thus don't ever have fresh clams.

"Nothing you could cook will ever be as good as the $2.99 all-you-can-eat pizza buffet." - my EX (wonder why he's an ex?)

My eGfoodblog: My corner of the Midwest

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I'm more a "tough love" than a "group hug" kind of guy, so please take this post as my version of support. If you are working 55+ hours a week, taking a full course load (I teach online courses, so I know that the only time it saves -- or should save -- is the commute), and being the chief cook and, apparently, bottle-washer, something has to seriously give.

You don't sound like the kind of person who would slack off on her schoolwork, and obviously you don't have any real choice about work work, so what does that leave? You simply need to, as you wrote, "stop whining" and accept that >for a while< you're not going to be baking bread, at least not like you used to. >For a while< you're not going to be shopping and eating like you used to.

It sounds to me that a sticking point is your self-defeating self-talk about being a failure if you use shortcuts or reheat homemade (!) frozen meals or aren't baking bread or doing whatever. In my opinion, it's quite the opposite of failure: all of those are healthy adaptive behaviors for a person in your situation.

Some specific advice:

1) Give the BF some KP. So he's working 70-80 hours a week. Boo hoo. So are you; probably more, if you count schoolwork. If he fights you on this, stop feeding him

2) Look into Albert Ellis's work on the self-help version of Rational-Emotive Therapy. You can read the first eight chapters of one of his books here.

3) You need not sacrifice quality to save time. As Elizabeth David showed us, an omelette and a glass of wine can make for a fine meal. As can an Amy's Organic Pizza, a shaved fennel/cucumber/onion salad, and a glass of wine. Or a grilled Gruyère and Serrano ham sandwich, a simple green salad, and a glass of wine. Or some penne with goat cheese, spinach or arugula, garlic oil, and sun-dried tomatoes (and a glass of wine). Or a pan-fried boneless chicken breast accompanied by organic brown rice and wilted escarole with raisins, pine nuts, and garlic -- and two glasses of wine (I'm making that tomorrow night). Each of those meals takes less than 30 minutes, including prep (except for the rice, unless you start it ahead of time).

4) Per #3, buy a rice cooker with a timer. I have this one and like it a lot.

5) Allow yourself one dinner a week with no time constraints.

I hope at least some of this is helpful.

Edited by Alex (log)

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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