This is the next installment in our alternative menu plans for the Let's Cook series. The first was a family-friendly plan from California's Michelle Stern. This second one comes from closer to home.
Dana Joy Altman is the writer and creatrix behind Real Food Rehab, a blog committed to authentic living and eating. She believes that cultivating a deep understanding of who you are and what you value are key ingredients in the recipe for a rich and beautiful life.
Dana Joy founded the culinary public relations firm, a better place media relations, inc. and served as Assistant Manager of Chicago’s Green City Market under the late, great Abby Mandel. In addition to Real Food Rehab, she writes a weekly food and drink column on The Possessionista and is the author of The Pantry Essentials Guide - a real food guide to the grocery store. She also created and leads the popular exercise class, Dance It Off!
I really love this meal plan for single folks and families alike. It shows that cooking isn't always about long, involved recipes but can instead be about one killer sauce or an awesome salad dressing especially when you use top-notch, fresh from the farm ingredients.
I'm a single gal and I work from home so, on average and with the exception of dining out, I have the luxury of preparing my own meals two or three times a day. Some of you may think I must be joking - luxury? But I'm dead serious. I do consider it a luxury to prepare my own meals. Why? Because I never have to question the quality of my food since I source it. I never have to compromise on what I feel like eating because it's me I'm satisfying. I also welcome the chance to break up a day spent inside my head in front of a computer, to get back into my body and work with my hands in an intuitive, tactile and sensual way.
Right now, as I'm writing this, I'm actually making a breakfast of Eggs en Cocotte. Sound elaborate and fancy? It's three ingredients, took me 2 minutes to prepare and will be ready-to-eat, out of the oven in 15 minutes. That, accompanied by a piece of great toast, is the most beautiful breakfast a girl could ask for.
I think a lot of women still carry the unfortunate stigma around being single and cooking for themselves. For some it brings to mind the image of a lonely spinster shuffling around her kitchen weeping into her biscuits. There's this cultural impression that we should keep up with the new, hot place or thing, be ambitious in the workplace, go to yoga class, fluff and preen and find that man! Wow, does that ever make me tired. I guess I'm at a place where keeping up is no longer appealing or authentic to me. And while I do enjoy a good night out, cultivating domesticity is one of my greatest pleasures. I think cooking for oneself is downright sexy; it connotes a beautiful act of self-care.
I want to clarify that I am not chopping a million ingredients and toiling endlessly in the kitchen every day. Do I have days when the thought of preparing anything is anathema to me? You betcha. I am not above having chips and wine for dinner. It's a guilt-free good time as long as it's an occasional thing and I'm eating good chips and drinking good wine.
I believe in sourcing the very best quality food I can afford. That means I shop farmers' markets in season, and supplement with trips to Whole Foods and smaller, independent food shops. Yes, it is more expensive but I like to feel (and look) good. That's my first priority! I don't like to put foods in my body that have been unnecessarily modified or treated with chemicals. Also, my time is valuable to me and I'd much rather spend it shopping outdoors and from people who are consciously sourcing, growing and handcrafting my food from scratch. I realize this may sound precious and elitist to some but hey, you spend a good amount of money to buy nice clothes and drive a nice car, don't you? In my heart I believe our health is dependent on what we eat and what we think and that's about it. There's nothing precious or elitist about that.
I also make a habit to always keep foods I love and ones that truly satisfy me in my fridge and pantry. This way, even when I don't feel like cooking, at the very least I can throw together a great snack or meal in a snap. After years of denying myself the foods I really love and suffering the tortured consequences, I am committed to enjoying and feeling nurtured by the foods I eat. I don't want to eat anything that's mediocre and I don't have a problem compromising on quantity, but I will not sacrifice quality.
I've found the foods that satisfy me the most have fat in them. I love full fat yogurt, cheese and butter. I adore an occasional croissant. I am mad about skin on chicken thighs and well-marbled steak. And I'm happy to say, they love me back. I am a walking testament to the fact that they alone, do not make you fat.
I also believe it's important to rethink old notions about what you should and shouldn't eat. If you are eating lots of processed, low fat, low calorie foods out of fear because you think you should, I urge you to stop. Because I believe you know, somewhere deep down, that they're not really satisfying you. Let yourself have what it is you really want. Just make sure you either make it yourself from great ingredients or source the very best version of it you can find.
So let me give you an example of what's on rotation right now Chez Dana: I am all about eating as much summer fruit as possible. Breakfast can be a blended smoothie, a bowl of granola, fruit and yogurt, or eggs and toast. It's also easy to improvise when you keep great ingredients around. I recently threw this together for breakfast and it was killer: sliced peaches, bacon, and a slice of Capriole's Mt. St Francis goat cheese on a warm croissant.
I love to eat big salads for lunch. I buy whatever vegetables look good at the market, slice them up and toss them together with some homemade dressing. My salad is usually accompanied by a little protein: it could be leftover chicken or steak from the night before, boiled egg, pickled herring (love the stuff) or a few slices of andouille sausage from Paulina Market. Today it was really warm and all I felt like eating were Jupiter grapes from fruit farmer Mick Klug, Marcona almonds and a slice of Manchego.
For dinner a couple nights a week, I will light wood burning coals in my barbecue and grill a steak, lamb shoulder or a bunch of marinated chicken thighs, eat some and save the rest for the next days meals. Last night I made a salad of lettuces, soft boiled egg, bacon and red wine vinaigrette alongside a bowl of smashed fingerling potatoes with butter, garlic, herbs and salt. I also love pasta with sautéed greens, garlic and olive oil. These are all simple, quick and manageable meals that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less.
Examples of snacks that also double as last minute meals in my home are prosciutto and melon,cheese, crackers, and fruit, pickled veggies with bread and butter, and sometimes kettle chips dipped into my homemade tzatziki. A good piece of chocolate or some fruit drizzled with fresh cream and honey is always a great dessert.
Eating well is about first listening to what your body really wants, keeping your fridge and pantry stocked with foods you love and learning a few skills in the kitchen to help make the food at home that really satisfies you. There are scads of information online, in books, YouTube videos and classes near you that can help you get there.
I also wrote a Pantry Essentials Guide that helps you easily find the best products in the grocery store. I am also available to answer any questions you have, so please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.