Food Friday book review: more meal planning

Hiya folks,
I’ve continued on my quest to find more efficient approaches to food shopping and meal planning, particularly since I’m participating in NaNoWriMo, and my spouse and I both have several intense projects to finish up by the end of the year. So I’m making a concerted effort to be less fancy and more prosaic in my cooking, and more efficient in my shopping.

One of the books that turned up on my searches was 7-Day Menu Planner for Dummies, by Susan Nicholson. I borrowed it from the library and was reasonably pleased with it. I am not usually a fan of the forced jokiness of Dummies books, but for this topic, which could have been deadly dull, it worked. The bulk of the book is a set of 52 weekly dinner meal plans, one for each week of the year, and the associated recipes. Each week has a combination of more and less complicated recipes, but none of them are particularly hard, and none of them use exotic ingredients. In fact, I found the meals I tried edging on dull, which is why this is not the perfect book for me. But if you are not much of a cook, or if you have small kids or other picky eaters, this could be a great resource. (My only other quibble is that she didn’t include weekly grocery lists – annoying that you’d have to go through and make your own each week rather than at least starting with a premade list and editing it as necessary.) It’s not so different than an emeals plan, but a lot cheaper – the book came out in 2010 and it looks like used copies are easily found for around 10 bucks, which gives you a year’s worth of plans and recipes.

Another book on this general topic that I would wholeheartedly recommend is Jessica Fisher’s Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead-and Freeze Cookbook. A lot of freezer cookbooks are hopelessly stuck in the 1980s, with tons of casseroles featuring cream of whatever soup and really dull recipes. This one had modern, fresh recipes and a lot of great ideas about making meals and starts of meals ahead. I also got this from the library and the only reason I haven’t bought it yet is because I have a tiny top-of-fridge freezer. (Oh, for a chest freezer someday!)

The other thing I’m going to be trying out is Blue Apron, which is a service that ships you the raw materials and recipes for 3 dinners a week for a $10 per person per meal cost. I’d read about it earlier this year but they were only in the East Coast and Midwest at that point; they’re in most of the country now. My first shipment is scheduled for the day that this post will go up, so I will keep you posted on what I think.

Food on Friday: The Fresh 20 book review

I’ve been looking for ways to routinize grocery shopping and meal prep, now that the spouse and I are back on a less restrictive diet. It’s got me looking again at resources on once-a-month cooking, freezer cooking, and all that jazz. One of the recent books that was highly recommended in this area was The Fresh 20, by Melissa Lanz, so I got it from the library.

It’s a cookbook and meal planner organized into four seasons, with four different weeks of meal plans and recipes for each season (5 dinners each week). I tried out a couple of the fall weeks and was underwhelmed. The recipes were basic and a little dull, with some lacking needed information (“1 eggplant, chopped” – if you’re not going to specify which kind of eggplant, at least tell me how big it should be). And the shopping lists were pretty spendy – one week called for you to buy a whole beef brisket, halibut fillets, and a pound of ham, which came out to over 50 bucks just for meat alone.

It’s not all bad, though – as the title suggests, these plans focus on fresh foods, and accessible ones – no hard to find ingredients or casseroles made from convenience foods (common in make-ahead cookbooks). I suspect that this book would be a good resource for families with young children, since they aren’t usually adventurous eaters. As for me, I’ll stick with my e-meals subscription and my own imagination.

Spinning some textile history

Did you know that the Venus de Milo, famously arm-less these days, was probably positioned the way she is because she was spinning thread? Scholars believe that she was spinning with her right hand and holding a distaff (with fibers ready to be added to the yarn) upheld in her left. Apparently the Greek manner of hand spinning didn’t usually include a spindle and just used the fingers to twist the thread. Now that would give you great finger strength if you did it all day long; I bet you’d never have to ask your husband to open the pickle jar for you!

Found this fun fact in a book called Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. I’d recommend it if you’re into the history of textiles, particularly in ancient times. It’s very readable and engaging.

Speaking of books on the history of textiles and clothing, I recently reviewed Textiles: The Whole Story, by Beverly Gordon, for It’s a beautiful book, with amazing pictures of textiles from across the world and many historic periods, and an absorbing text. I would recommend both books for anyone who is interested in where our cloth and our clothes came from.

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