December was a nice month. It was busy and bustling, filled with good food. I took December at face value: an indulgent month of egg nog, birthday cake, almond bark, banana bread, peanut butter bars, a chocolate truffle, and lots of coffee. I didn’t subsist on desserts alone, but boy, did I make sure dessert was not forgotten. Like I said, it was a good month.
It was also an expensive month, starting with a $450 plane ticket to get from Houston to Detroit and back again. And that was with layovers and plane changes and every trick I could pull to keep the price down! I’m still not entirely comfortable with the $300-500 price tag that now accompanies my trips home to Michigan; it just seems wrong, somehow, to pay so much for a trip that is not the least bit exotic. Michigan is home in a way that no other place will be, even the places that have become home in their own way. Going to Michigan is comfort and familiarity, but exotic it is not. So perhaps you’ll excuse me for my sticker shock.
Nevertheless, it’s worth it because I’ve got to keep an eye on the little ones before they become big people. I have to hug my family and assure them that I am alive and well. Going to Michigan is like getting recalibrated, emotionally. It’s good to visit the tribe and drink egg nog while I’m there.
January is my month to recalibrate in the wake of December’s madness. It’s the opportunity to resume my running, to dial back my sweet tooth a notch, and to zip my wallet closed while I rebalance my budget. I’m pretty responsible with my dollars, but after all that spending in December, I decided to take it easy in January, to buy only the necessities for a month to regain control of my credit cards. Of course, as soon as I made this decision, I discovered I was out of almost every toiletry and soap item I use: face lotion, face wash, dishwasher soap, laundry soap. It was nuts. I have replaced almost all these things, but my budget gave me the evil eye while I did it. I answered by sticking out my tongue.
This week, after my weekend grocery shopping, I challenged myself not to buy any groceries until Friday. Perhaps this doesn’t sound like much of a challenge, but I’m used to doing a mid-week pit stop. I’m also used to cooking somewhat whimsically, meaning I don’t make a weekly meal plan and cook from that. Instead, I make a few things over the weekend, and then the week’s plan becomes catch as catch can. In other words, I more or less make and eat whatever sounds good. This strategy works fairly well, but I still (embarrassingly) end up throwing out leftovers that were perfectly good until I ignored them for three weeks. I hate that, but it’s true. I’m not the Leftover Queen that my friend Anne is.
I’m stretching the crumbs this week, cooking and eating out of the fridge, freezer, and pantry. I am NOT thinking about grocery shopping or feelings of deprivation. In fact, I feel downright inspired, excited to flex my cooking chops and give my wallet a breather for a few days. Last night, I improvised a taco salad of sorts that was pretty tasty. First, I got to work with a skillet, caramelizing two onions. Then I defrosted some corn bread, cut it into bite-sized chunks, tossed them with a little melted butter, and toasted it in the oven until it was hot and crunchy. I plated it on some baby spinach, then topped it with the caramelized onions, a refried bean/salsa mixture, and some shredded cheese. I ate it alongside a slaw of cabbage and orange slices. Healthy and delicious, it was extra satisfying because it was so inexpensive.
Tonight I made spaghetti and topped it with a creamy, cheesy sauce into which I mixed some steamed, mashed cauliflower. I topped it with lots of salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice, and some caramelized onions left over from Monday night. To be honest, this dish was kind of bland, even with copious amounts of black pepper. I should have added some minced garlic to the hot pasta—that would have added a nice kick. Still, it feels good to make do with what I have on hand.
Along the way, there’s also been homemade apple sauce, which I practically inhale because I love it so much, and a peanut butter pie. My copy of Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite finally arrived last week, and hot damn does that book make me want to drop everything and cook. Ms. Clark’s writing is probably the best food writing I’ve read in a long, long time—I’d put her up there with my very favorite food bloggers, all of whom are talented wordsmiths and incredible cooks (at least if one can judge these things based on recipes). The peanut butter pie recipe came from this new book, and holy moly is it ever good. If you are a peanut butter lover, you are not going to want to miss this one, and if you are a food writing lover like me, you do not want to miss this book. Get thee to a bookstore—you’ll probably find yourself as smitten with In the Kitchen as I am.
Sweet readers, I am ridiculously far behind on recipe posts right now. I’m trying to dig myself out. Forgive me if I save my variation on Melissa Clark’s peanut butter pie for another time? And forgive me if I say that you really, seriously want to own her book, not just for the pie recipe, but for her delicious prose, thoughtful and practical cooking advice, and inspiring kitchen stories? One more thing: forgive me if all my photos look a little beige tonight? That’s what I get for taking photos inside at night.
PS As an aside, do any of you actually cook from the recipes I post? Should I keep posting them for you, or am I recording these things for my own future reference? Either way, I’ll keep writing, but I’m just not sure that anyone else pays any attention to the recipes, which can be quite time-consuming to write. No complaints here, but I am curious…