Posted by: runawaynotes | January 28, 2013

New Years Resolution

It’s almost the end of January, which means that approximately a third of the people who had made New Year’s resolutions this year have already broken them. Typically, I would be part of this sad statistic, but so far this year I’ve been doing pretty well. I guess it’s because, unlike some of the prior years, I did not resolve to do anything monumental that would require an incredible amount of will power and moral fortitude (e.g. lose 15 lbs, work out every day, be nice to people, those kinds of things). My resolution this year was very simple. I promised myself that I would cook two meals per week. From scratch.

Now, this might not be a big deal to 99% of the population, but let me tell you something about me. I don’t cook. No, I am not one of those people who manage to “burn water”. I have decent culinary skills. I just never had any interest in spending time in the kitchen. Unless I have a specific recipe in front of me and all the ingredients readily available, I will just stare at the fridge full of food with this feeling of sick dread in my stomach because I have no idea how to put all of those things together to make them taste good. I have zero creativity and imagination when it comes to cooking. To me, it’s a chore, and I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by people who loved cooking and were more than happy to take over this chore for me. Well, it wasn’t just luck. There was obviously a certain degree of scheming on my part. When my then-future husband first went over to Ukraine to visit my family, my mother, who is a fabulous cook, prepared this elaborate feast for him. I don’t remember anymore what all the things that she had served were, but I do recall that one of the dishes was cooked and served in small clay pots, and its preparation took a good half of the day. In the middle of devouring this particular dish, Matthew looked at me and asked “So, how come your mom never taught you how to cook?” I sorta shrugged noncommittally and continued eating. My mom (who doesn’t speak English) observed this exchange and asked me what the deal was. So, I translated for her. She said somewhat indignantly “But I did teach you how to cook!”  “I know”, I responded, “I just decided not to share that particular piece of information with him.” My mom cracked a grin “Smart girl!” Matthew (who doesn’t speak Russian) narrowed his eyes suspiciously, but we both just smiled innocently. So, he let it go and went on believing that I was helpless in the kitchen and required his help to avoid dying from starvation. I refused to feel bad about this because technically it wasn’t that far from the truth. I would rather go to bed hungry than force myself to throw  a piece of chicken on the skillet and try to figure out what to season it with.

A couple of years ago, I started evolving a little bit from my usual “I don’t cook” MO. My friend Megan and I started running with the DRC training program, and ended up hanging out at our apartment on Tuesday nights after the evening runs. Since we were both starving, and Matthew was not always available to feed us, we’ve come up with an idea to pick a quick recipe each week and cook together. It turned out to be a fabulous idea. At first we struggled a little with balancing taste/nutritional benefits of our recipes. Our initial source of inspiration was Rachael Ray’s “30 minute meals”: great on taste, not so great on nutrition. I mean, almost every single recipe started with “Take half a stick of butter…” The only thing that would have been worse was Paula Deen, but we had to draw the line somewhere. In addition, we preferred cooking with wine. So, we’d finish the first bottle while cooking (some of it even made it into the food), and then we would open a second one to have with our meal. Needless to say, that pretty much cancelled all the benefits of our running. We saw the error of our ways soon enough and decided that we needed to switch to something healthier. Weightwatchers was the obvious choice. They had plenty of recipes with only a handful of ingredients that didn’t take a whole lot of time to make and were definitely a lot healthier than Rachael Ray’s stuff. Unfortunately, quite a few of them could really benefit from some more butter. And a slightly bigger portion size. Like, twice the suggested amount. So, that was not the ideal solution either. Finally, we had somehow stumbled across this fabulous website called SkinnyTaste.com that seemed to offer a great balance of taste and nutritional value. It offered a nice “healthy” twist on all kinds of great dishes like baked potato soup, cheese stuffed pasta shells with meat sauce, and shepherd’s pie, but didn’t suck the soul out of them by making them taste like a mixture of grass and cardboard and keeping the portion size to 1/4 cup. Our taste buds were satisfied, and our calorie trackers confirmed that these delicious meals did not come with a heaping serving of guilt on the side. The final selling point for me was the fact that the web site was integrated with ZipList iPhone app, so keeping track of your recipes and dividing up grocery lists was a snap.

Interestingly enough, it was the grocery list part that finally inspired me to make my New Year’s resolution to venture out into the culinary world on my own. I would notice that a particular recipe would call for a couple of teaspoons of tomato paste or half a cup of chicken broth, and then, since Megan and I tried to not to repeat our Tuesday meal choices, the remaining paste and broth would sit in my fridge untouched until they were way past their “best before” date (i.e. you could smell them as soon as you stepped into the kitchen and soft green mold growing in the cans would make any French cheese weep with envy). Yes, if my husband was cooking on other nights of the week, he would try to use them up, but he’s been pretty busy this past couple of months with work and school, so his preferred dinner solution would almost always be to go out. So, I felt that it was time for me to make the change – I would put my big girl apron on and solve two problems at once: feed my family and stop wasting groceries.

As you can see, it’s been almost a month and I’ve stuck to my plan. Every Saturday I plan my meals for the upcoming week (trying to come up with the recipes that would use up the ingredients that I already have). I prefer “freezer friendly” recipes, i.e. something that can be prepared on Saturday and Sunday almost all the way, and then can be frozen or refrigerated, so that all I have to do after coming home from work is stick it in the oven for half an hour. I realized that cooking a couple of dishes is really all I need to last me the entire week because most of them make 6-8 servings (and Megan and I still have our regular Tuesday post-run dinner cooking dates). I have started a new job today, and my new office doesn’t have a cafeteria, so the leftovers will be a great lunch option.

Finally, I am proud to say that, just like a novice swimmer is learning to let go of the sides of the swimming pool, I’m gradually starting to learn to let go of the comfort of cookbooks and online recipe collections. I’m proud to say that yesterday I made my mom’s meatballs with rice in tomato sauce without looking up or measuring a single ingredient. I just imagined all the flavors that would burst on your tongue after you would bite into one of them and then pulled the stuff out of the pantry that seemed like it would have those flavors. I’ve got to say – they were not bad at all! So, I am hoping that I will ultimately escape the destiny of 4 out of 5 people who have made New Year’s resolutions this year and will fail. After all, cooking is not that hard, it’s much easier than being nice to people.

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Responses

  1. I would rather do just about anything than cook. I’m a good cook, but I find it boring. I also don’t enjoy grocery shopping, but my husband usually doesn’t mind cooking, so it works. I can so relate to your post! I’m trying to cook more, and eat healthier, but it’s a struggle!

    • It’s nice to know that I’m not the only girl out there not in touch with her inner Martha Stewart. I still enjoy my husband’s cooking way better than my own, but I will admit that this change has made me much more aware of what We eat and how much money we spend on food. Both were quite eye-opening discoveries.


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