Monday, January 20, 2014

Dinner Bell

"I wouldn't like a bag of beef or a beer or a cup of chowder / Corn, cake, or creamed cauliflower / 'Cause I'm waiting for the dinner bell to do the bell thing / Dinner bell dinner bell ring"

Dusty and I have lived together in five cities across two countries. Every time we had to move to a different place, there was only one non-negotiable: decent pho within five miles of our house. 

I cannot, must not, will not live without pho. It is my go-to comfort food. We usually have it about once a month, but with everyone in the family sick, we had takeout pho twice in the last three weeks. Good thing our favorite pho place and two decent backups are all about three miles from our house.

Now that everyone is pretty much at 100%, though, it is back to our regularly scheduled menu. I just finished my quarterly menu review and update, got a thumbs-up or down from the family on every meal, and swapped in the thumbs-up meals. You can take the woman out of corporate project management, but you can't make her unpucker.

Here's what a typical weekly menu looks like:
Veggie “meat” tacos
Fish cakes, pesto pasta, green beans
Turkey sliders, roast taters, kale chips
Baked fish, quinoa, gai lan
Leftovers/Empanadas from leftovers/Quick dinner
Salmon chirashi
Daddy’s Dinner: 40-clove chicken, rice, asparagus

Planning is easier with themes:
Meatless Monday
Fish Tuesday
Chicken/Turkey Wednesday
Fish Thursday 
Leftovers/Empanadas/Quick Dinner Friday (It's hula night.)
Seafood Saturday (Can you tell we're trying to eat more seafood?)
Daddy's Dinner Sunday (Mama needs a break, y'all.)

Every week, the menu has different meals that I know the girls will eat, corresponding to the theme of the day. As I mentioned before, I map out four weeks of meals, then make my weekly shopping lists according to what I need to make them. Some meals we have only once a month, like salmon chirashi. Some meals are family favorites, so we have them twice a month, say on Week 2 and Week 4, like turkey sliders

"Holy volcano goddess! This is A LOT of planning, Cookie." Wait 'til I get going! Where was I? Yes, dinners. Specifically, backup dinners:
SPAM, rice, seaweed
Brats/hotdogs, noodles, crudites
Big breakfast meal
Whole Foods chicken, baguette, crudites

Green chile soup (with tortillas)
Lamb & lentil stew
Bolognese sauce (with pasta)
Roast meat, taters, veg
Pork Wellington, salad/crudites
Lasagna, salad/crudites
Tinola, rice
Adobo chicken, rice, monggo
Pancit, lumpia
Bi bim bap/Chap chae
Coq au vin

All of these are meals that I know the girls will eat and the whole family enjoys. They are our pinch hitters when we are a little bored with what's planned or one of us has a craving for something on the list or Life Happens and we are near Whole Foods anyway because it's on the way to swim class.

Okay, we have lunch and dinner covered. Here's what's for breakfast:
Bagels/cream cheese/lox
Puto/biko/pan de ube
Cinnamon rolls
Dipping eggs/toast
Arros caldo

Big breakfasts are generally reserved for weekends, since they take about 30 minutes to an hour to prepare. Still, that's definitely quicker than a big dinner, so we sometimes have breakfast for dinner, maybe served with seasonal fresh fruit or at least fruit juice. In case you're wondering, SPAMwich is just scrambled egg and fried SPAM in pandesal. Mmm... SPAMMM...

The way I see it, dinner planning comes down to three basics:

1) Make a list. Write down all the meals the whole family will eat and (possibly) enjoy. It might take a little time and trial and error, and sometimes a family favorite will fall out of favor. But if you actually sit down and make a list of the meals you already eat now, you might be surprised to see how long and varied it is.

2) Plan around Life. Plug the meals from your list into days of the week, with an eye for what is going on that day (swim, hula, teaching). Don't try to make a big roast dinner from scratch on your busiest day. You'll end up drinking all the wine and leave none for the gravy.

3) Be flexible. Even the best-laid plans can go awry when Life Happens, so make sure you have decent pho within five miles of your house.

All right, who's hungry?

Dinner Bell by They Might Be Giants
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