Sunday, January 10, 2010

The System

It is time to extol the virtues of "The System."  If you read my guest post in the Adeline's Ruminations blog series, "How I Live," then you have had a preview of the the system and what it entails.  Here I will provide the details for those of you out there who are as busy as I am and just as committed to eating great home-cooked food every night. 

If you know me well, you know that I love to cook.  If you know me really well you know that I can't actually take credit for this system.  It is exactly what my mother has been doing for as long as I can remember, which is why I was shocked when two dear friends came to visit me, noticed what I do, named it "The System," and adopted it.  Until then, I had not thought twice about this system.  It was just how things are done.  Who has time to grocery shop every day or decide what to cook on a weeknight without a plan and the right ingredients at the ready?

I have recruited more than a few converts to The System.  Maybe you will be next.  Maybe you have a better system.  Maybe you hate systems (unthinkable).  Before I over-set expectations, let me get to it. 

The - Feed the Family Homemade Food all Week Even When There's Homework, a Scant 30 Minutes to Cook, Soccer Practice and so on - System. 

I begin on Friday night.  Already, some of you may be thinking "never mind," but give this a chance.  Just move date night to Saturday ( if you're lucky enough to still have date nights).
 One: Pour a glass/shot/mug of [insert your favorite poison].  Mine is usually wine.
Two: Get out your recipe collection and/or a cookbook or two.  I am very lucky to have two generous friends who know me well.  They made me a beautiful binder, filled with carefully crafted divider pages quoting famous chefs, and clear sleeves for storing recipes.  I have had this binder for two years and it is already bursting with recipes I have tried and deemed "keepers."  In addition to providing inspiration, leafing through this collection of recipes feels a lot like looking at a photo album for me.  Each recipe has at least one story attached to it.  The memory of making it the first time.  Every time I whip up a batch of my Italian Tortellini Soup, I think of the night I made it for Deano when we were in college, falling in love.  It was the first meal I made for him.
Three: Dream about the tasty things you might eat during the week ahead, finding inspiration in whatever source material you have.  If you don't yet have a file full of recipes that you know you can pull off on a weeknight, start now!  Having a set of staple recipes makes the system work faster. 

Four: Set a detailed menu for the week and write it down.  For easy reference I keep my menus in a little book and it sits on the counter in one of those clear plastic cookbook holders.  I tuck the week's recipes behind the book for quick access.

Five: Write a grocery list and then shop on Saturday for the whole week.  It's a painful trip to the store (especially when you bring your whole "team," as I mentioned I often do) but then it's done.

 I have to make an admission here that will further reveal the depths of my nerdy need to be organized and efficient.  My grocery list is sequenced to follow the layout of my grocery store.  Produce is always at the top of my list, dairy at the bottom.  The middle of my list follows the aisles of the store exactly.  Cereals before baking needs and baking needs before booze....  I whiz along and measure the success of the shopping trip by the amount of back-tracking I have to do.  If there must be some back-tracking, I send out my scouts.  Deano (if he isn't on call and at the hospital) will take a kid or two and break away from the team to find whatever we've missed.  Organizing the list this way has one more benefit.  It allows for the divide and conquer approach to shopping.  Sometimes, when we've over-scheduled our weekend and are really pressed for time, I rip my list in half.  Deano and the boys take vitamins to dairy and Sofia and I take produce to beauty.    
    So there it is.  That's The System.  After work on a weeknight all I have to do is consult my menu, grab my ingredients (all right there in the pantry and fridge awaiting there moment in the sun), and get to work.

     Here's what's cooking this week (next to the grocery list):

    I have one final thing to report on this topic.  I do this to endorse the system, but also to show that I am not the only food-obsessed, hyper-organized career mom out there.  A dear friend (one of the two who gifted me my recipe binder) wrote her top ten culinary resolutions for the new year.  I loved them all, but one in particular is relevant to this post:
    "Culinary Resolution #5:  Stick with the System. Between work travel and holidays, the System has not been employed in about two months. That ends this weekend, and a grocery list is going. The System WORKS and adds such a sense of calm and control to the weeknights. It also pushes me to try new things and be a bit creative. The System rules!"
    I could not have said it better myself!


    1. Love this...makes me want to resurrect my old "system" involving an excel spreadsheet with ingredients linked to specific meals...also, must try roasted broccoli!

    2. Sara M of Cali? This MUST be you! I love it.

    3. Thanks for this, Laura. We are trying a version of "the system" without knowing it! We use a dry erase board for the "menu" and grocery list, but otherwise similar... the only challenge right now is the 2.5 yr old is hard to get to eat what we do and the 7 mo old is eating pureed stuff!