Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Back to the Kitchen

I've been away from my kitchen too long. Going on four months now - and I realized last week I couldn't take it anymore.
There has been good reason - suffice it to say that between a medium-serious illness in very early spring, and the complete reorganization (and resizing for now) of my family, it's been more than a bit chaotic around here. I found myself scrambling to get through the day - let alone throw a meal together. There were several weeks when I actually resorted to take out - more than once. Something I haven't done in years. One week about two months ago we actually had pizza three times. Let me just apologize to my children now. They didn't mind the first time, or mind much the second time, but by the third even the little ones were groaning.
This is not how I do things. For one, I don't like all the processed stuff - I want my family to have real food that is cooked in a kitchen, and isn't powdered, texturized or 'improved'! Secondly, my budget was shot all to pieces. While my family nearly doubled, my income did not - and I had been stretching a good bit before The Chaos. I found myself now facing days at the end of the month when both the food and the money were running out. Repeated calls to Daddy to rescue the grocery budget wasn't going to cut it. I also realized that all three meals, and snacks, had taken a serious quality nose dive while the cost of the food was sky rocketing. No no no no no. Let's step back...
A week ago I made time to sit down and start drafting some menu plans. I addressed the major issues that I'm facing with feeding my family (time and budget), and started looking for creative ways to address both. After making some phone calls to a couple of butchers, I had the outline of a plan. It combined serious menu planning, bulk shopping, freezer and batch cooking, and a modified form of OAMC - otherwise known as Once A Month Cooking. Now I tried OAMC years ago, and at the time it wasn't for me. But I've learned so much more about food and how to work with it since then that I thought I'd give a modified version another attempt. This would stock my freezer with meals that were ready to go - and as a bonus the teenagers would be able to put dinner together even if I couldn't get home as early as I wished.
I love to cook - and as convenient as it is having the freezer stocked with meals ready to go - it doesn't satisfy my urge to hit the stove. Ahhhh - but it's summer in East Tennessee! Which means canning and preserving - we've already hit the blueberry and blackberry patches, and I've set up my first batches of pickles, zucchini and summer squash with more coming at the end of the week. (Friends have a garden they practically through produce at me out of - free fresh food!).
So hopefully I'm ready for whatever the day brings. If I have time to make a full scratch meal, great. If not - it's done. And when I do get a chance to cook, working with the gorgeous produce that is all over is incredibly satisfying. So - I'm back in the kitchen. And I'm going to show you what I'm doing. I'm actually rather proud of myself - most of my dishes break down to not much more than $1 a serving (yay bulk and sale shopping!), and the flavor is everything I expect. I'll be back to start walking through the menu plan!