Never Having the Right Ingredients

Food / Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

This sounds like I’m about to construct a super-weak metaphor, but I mean that headline in a literal sense.

Ever since I left university, I’ve struggled with food. Not in the unhealthy eating way–I do have some bad habits for sure–but in terms of what is readily available to me.

At uni, I was on a meal plan and the options at the different dining establishments around campus offered loads of healthy options with occasional indulgences. I was at my healthiest in college due to my constant access to healthier food and a pool 100 yards from my dorm.

My mother keeps a full pantry. She always has just what she needs, and on the rare occasion she was caught off guard or needed something a uncommon for a special event we were fortunate to live a five-minute drive from a supermarket. For me, the observer, she seems to somehow track it all in her head. She has shopping lists for sure–one for each store in fact–but she always seems to know what to do, what she needs, what to get at the store. I guess it is just years of experience.

When I lived by myself a couple years ago, it was convenient in a lot of ways, and challenging. It was convenient because all of the space in my, albeit tiny, kitchen was mine: no roommates, no sharing, no temptation unless you yourself bring it into the house. I was in complete control of what I cooked and when, even if the stove in that apartment was very temperamental and uneven… It was exciting to cook in that apartment though, despite setting off the smoke alarm soooo many times. I experimented a lot, and was a lot more resourceful. I was also on a shoestring budget, so I would rely on soups and salad ingredients bought from my work’s cafeteria that I would repurpose for omelettes. I didn’t really have a plan. When money was especially tight I’d just eat rice and black beans (which, to be honest, is one of my favorite meals anyway) or just your standard, evergreen PB&J.

But I found that cooking for one is surprisingly…a bit tricky? That’s where the title of this post starts to come into play. I couldn’t justify buying up lots of different ingredients I may need, and when I did I often ended up forcing myself to eat it before it went bad…or it just went bad. Milk was a great example of this. I would buy a quarter-gallon of milk, and more often than not it would go bad before I could finish it all. So I stopped buying milk, and cut out any recipes that may call for it–mostly baked goods, GOOD oatmeal (if you use water…just no) and even just cereal. And that’s where little life-hacks like the aforementioned omelette cafeteria raiding came into play: I’m not going to buy a big batch of mushrooms if I’m only going to need a few. And then when you try to find other recipes to use the remaining mushrooms, that recipe will need something you don’t want to buy a whole lot of, etc. etc. I think that’s also where my mom’s experience comes into play too–she just knows combinations she can try that will work.

Through YouTube, I learned about and started trying to meal plan more and more, mainly because the idea of bulk cooking meals was really appealing to me. With a little planning on the weekend you can save loads of time and money on lunches (and some times dinner too)–why wouldn’t you want to try this? The only problem is I only have a handful of go-to meals, and many new ones I tried did not pan out.

That area has been improved by living and cooking with someone else. We don’t have much room in the kitchen however due to additional housemates. I actually have a shelf in my closet that serves as a pantry, but because of that, the ingredients back there are out of sight out of mind more often than not. Even then, the space I have is quite limited, enough so that I also don’t want to run out and buy every little thing that I may need for one attempted recipe.

The current dilemma that spawned this post? Bananas.

Due to a current heat wave, a bunch of bananas my dad brought me when my parents visited have turned soft very, very fast. What can I do with them other than throw them in some ice cream? My firs thought was banana bread. My mom always makes banana bread when she’s in this situation. I have the bananas, sugar, salt, and baking soda. No eggs, milk, flour, vanilla, or added flavors like walnuts, dark chocolate, a glaze drizzle or raisins, or even a loaf pan. Now, I’m not saying that I can’t just pop over to the store and get these, but that spontaneous moment of creation is gone. And yeah, this is a really privileged issue to have.

I guess it’s just frustrating because when you’ve had an often-times volatile relationship with food, you don’t want such a simple thing to prevent you from actually doing something good for yourself.

I think that’s why Blue Apron has been so fun for me, and has me often shooing my bf away because I want to cook it myself (which never works as he wants to be… helpful and and supportive, the nerve). But that’s exactly the appeal of BA–it takes out the bulk (and when I say bulk, I don’t even mean Costco-level bulk so much as normally packaged goods from your normal store) shopping. A lot of our easiest go-to meals are rice plus marinated meat plus oven-roasted vegetable. Most of the time, it’s Brussel sprouts, which I don’t necessarily mind as they taste awesome. But we always default to Brussel sprouts because we buy a bag of them. It doesn’t make sense to try to diversify with other veg when you now have a shitload of Brussel sprouts you gotta eat ASAP.

View this post on Instagram

Being responsible AF #mealPrepping

A post shared by Jen 🦊🔥 (@jenhurler) on

I decided to do Blue Apron after attempting and failing at doing a crop share:

I just couldn’t figure out what to do with half the stuff, and the other half was always fucking kale which I don’t like. I find small success here and there with food stores that sell pre-packaged portions of mixed veggies or pre-marinated meats or even full meals:

View this post on Instagram

Vegetable soup IP

A post shared by Jen 🦊🔥 (@jenhurler) on

I know that I just need to treat food differently. I need to get back on the meal-planning train and actually strategize once again. Some times it just falls apart during the week when plans shift or come up unexpectedly, and I need to recoup from that faster. I get into these really good habits for a while, but never long enough for them to sink in as actual routines. I have a good run then fall of the wagon in terms on consistency and building a solid foundation. This applies to more than just food, so there ya go, I guess we did find a metaphor in the end.

So that was a fun little chat. But what does it mean moving forward?

1 Learning to be more flexible. What causes me to default to take-out more often than not is a lack of options–when I don’t have meat defrosted or any viable side dishes. I sort of solved that with always having some simple ingredients for spaghetti and meatballs ready, but I still struggle with this when it comes to veggies. The easy solution is keep something easily thaw-able in the freezer–like Brussel sprouts–but I also share a tiny freezer with three other people…

2 Base ingredients. There are certain staples I should have all the time, like flour and soy sauce. They aren’t things that are staples in every meal, but they are there for when I need them, with their longevity allowing them to serve as pinch hitters. And I should actually keep at least a meal’s worth of Brussel sprouts frozen, or some canned goods.

3 Stick to my cookbooks. I think lots of people are guilty of owning cookbooks they never use while instead using the Googles. Just me? Awesome. While the cookbook in question is one I’ve had for like 15 years (it’s geared more towards younger girls), I am guilty of neglect. I recently acquired two “grown-up”  cookbooks that I am very excited to delve into. One is a very fAnCy cookbook while the other is one of those 30-minute meals type deals. The meals in that one range from simple to complex too, which is nice (as they do in the fancy cookbook–but that one’s ingredients are what make it so).

4 Begin remixing past Blue Apron meals (or even just remaking them). I’ve been using Blue Apron long enough (I get a box a month as it’s a bit pricey) to have amassed a decent number of recipe sheets from them. I have not had a bad meal in all my time using Blue Apron (with the exception of an undercooked pizza, but that was because I did not at the time have a cooking sheet big enough so the dough was–whatever–it wasn’t there fault!), so the fact that I haven’t even tried to remake any of them is a clear sign of distrust in my own ability. Fair enough.

5 My meal planning needs to extend to grocery shopping. I know that sounds stupid. Like, how can you meal plan but then not plan out your groceries? Somehow I succeed. What I’m trying to say here is that I really need to use the aforementioned Blue Apron meals/side dishes as well as cookbooks and decide on options in advance rather than decide I’ll make a batch of X, Y, or Z WHILE I am at the store.

6 Don’t fear knowing what’s to come and what’s left behind. Part 1 of that unnecessarily cryptic sentence means that I need to get over myself. I’m someone who doesn’t like to pre-meditate my food and my clothing. That’s just no fun and I end up wanting what I cannot have, which is all in my head and rather dumb. More often than not, I’m not excited for my lunch because it’s boring (because I’ve made it a million times and had it the day before). I need new recipes to refresh my mealtimes. Mainly lunch, to be honest. Dinner’s usually pretty awesome (but I could still use more options so I don’t default to takeout/fast food). Part 2 is that I tend to hate leftovers and almost always refuse to eat them. The big exception there being batch food made for lunch (which I eat begrudgingly, but eat nevertheless). This is literally just me needing to GET OVER MYSELF. I was so, so lucky to have a mama that cooked such wonderful meals…not daily, but the majority of times. Even she had her limits, and that’s when we’d order in a pizza or she’d remix the Costco chicken and make something easy out of it, or we’d use a meal helper like frozen stir-fry thanks mom, I know you read this blog. <3

7 Ya just gotta dedicate the time. Ya just gotta. : P

One Reply to “Never Having the Right Ingredients”

  1. Totally relate to this post, and funny enough I was just thinking about my own cooking (read: more like non-cooking) habits recently. I struggle with point #6 on your list to move forward, especially with the hatred of leftovers and easy boredom with meal repetition.

    With any new habit that I try to integrate into my life, it’s important to break everything down into smaller and achievable goals, then working your way up towards your Ultimate Goal of Habit Forming. Right now, it’s meal prep lunch for two meals a week. We’ll see how it goes…

    The hardest part, I suppose, is holding yourself accountable. Maybe now that you (and I) have announced this goal to the world, the added pressure will motivate us more to stick to our plans.

    Good luck and keep us posted!

Leave a Reply!