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2021 Ideas on What to Cook

Hello! Happy New Year!

January is always inundated with messages of healthful piety. Maybe it’s a diet. Maybe it’s the promise of yoga everyday with a 30-day trial promo. Or maybe it’s a month of sobriety, full glasses of soda water and bitters. Most of it, I kind of hate. (Though I do love soda water + bitters, a pairing Kate Payne revealed to me years ago.) It can be hard to sift through what I consider damaging messages from diet culture about how our bodies should look and what we should buy to accomplish this mirage… hard to find a practice that actually makes you feel good at the start of the year versus one that leaves you feeling bad or burdened. But, I found a January-thing that works for me. For the past 4 or 5 years, I’ve been doing a “30-at-home” challenge which fills, versus drains, my cup. I thought I’d share a bit about this today in case there is someone out there interested in joining me.

In this bit Alicia Kennedy just published , she likened January’s usual modus operandi to a secular lent - a season usually marked by restriction and the notion that one should “give up” something. It's an analogy I get. I grew up surrounded by these Lenten (as well as other Catholic) rituals, and while I live a more secular life now, I am quick to adopt any tradition or a ritual that serves as a moment for self-reflection, for intention-setting. Bonus points if I get to light a candle. This is what the 30-at-home challenge does for me. The food I’ll eat over the next month can be cooked by me, or someone else I know, but not by a restaurant, who will receive my enthusiastic patronage on February 1. This cooking practice grounds me at home, in the kitchen, and in nurturing rituals that prioritize my and my family's health and happiness. I do usually pull out the candlesticks and cloth napkins, because if not now, when?

This ‘challenge’ works for me, quite frankly, because I like to cook, and it only feels like a challenge about 20% of the time. Last year when I was fed up with Covid and less-interested in cooking overall, I ordered takeout at least 2-3 times throughout the month. While I don’t intend to really “cheat” this year, I will if I need to, or want to. And I definitely will when I have quick night in New Orleans later this month. But I love this cooking exercise! A little assignment I first learned from Martha Pincoffs, the woman who put a name to the month. Like a high school art student with a detailed rubric, there is definition, yet total freedom, to what I can cook. I’m limited by what ingredients I have at my house, and by my lack of interest in making frequent grocery store trips, but sky's the limit on what I can create. There are no rules, except the prevailing rule to simply make something. This season in my life feels abundant. I’m getting married in early March, and just this morning a nice man delivered a huge steaming mound of rich compost for my garden. My food this month, however simple or grand, will also be prepared with ribbons of celebration, and meditations on abundance.

One thing that I usually do as a part of my 30-at-home challenge is to spend some time with a pile of cookbooks and an open browser to make a list of all the things I might want to cook. I live so rurally, devoid of exciting restaurants, and both in January, as well as always, cooking is my opportunity to travel, to taste something new, to bend my brain, hopefully find my new go-to recipe, or learn a new cooking technique. The list of things I’d like to try cooking is long, but if I go to the grocery store without a direction in mind, I’m just going to get the same medley of salad mix, potatoes, Greek yogurt, and coffee. While I probably will only try out a small handful of new or exciting recipes this month, the process of thinking about what I can cook is helpful, and fun. A practice in dreaming. Cooking is often my chosen creative outlet, and it’s great to meditate on the masters. I also usually share the good, bad, and ugly of what I'm eating this month on Instagram, in case you want to follow along.

And now, your first Recipe Roundup of the year. Here are some veg-centric recipes that recently caught my eye:

This Winter Roasted Greek Salad which could be adapted to include Vrdnt CABBAGE and FENNEL.

How to Prepare Vegetables so Children will Love Them. In case this is your battle, maybe this is your recipe. Good for adults, too.