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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.

Roasted and Marinated Roots with Smoky Yogurt, Crisp Lentils, and Dill Vinaigrette. DILL for president, this recipe could literally become your new CSA-staple. A solid method to use ANY VEGETABLE EVER.

Kimchi Cabbage Cakes. The best thing about cabbage is that is will last nearly forever in your crisper drawer. I like to buy CABBAGE, and then forget about it, and then discover it firmly awaiting my welcome, just around the time when I think I’m out of fresh produce. Can’t wait to make these cakes!

Wilted Spinach with Fennel Apple and Pistachio butter. This SPINACH could just as easily be CHARD, KALE, KOHLRABI GREENS, or CABBAGE. Semi-allergic to pistachios like me? Sub pecans.

One Pot Chicken Soup with Seasonal Veggies. Need I say more? This specific recipe has a rather edited list of ‘seasonal veggies’, but I’m here to tell you that just about any Vrdnt vegetable or herb would work in this, or any, chicken soup recipe.

Chinese meatball soup with Bok Choy. I made a version of this soup yesterday and was delighted at the ease at which it came together. Not only did I skip any saute-your-veggies steps, but I even resisted the urge to brown my meatballs first and instead just poached them in the simmering liquid. So good, clean, simple, and delicious.

Broccoli and Cheddar Snack Bread. I’m always on the hunt for more homemade, snackable foods. These cheesy-cornbread cubes will do.

Roasted Sausage, Chard, and Cannellini Beans. A plus to whoever came up with this very simple, 1-pan dish. Canned beans means this filling, week-night dinner comes together QUICK.

This Zatar Covered Flatbread. Need a way to make roasted veggies feel like an exciting dinner? Make a big pot of hummus, make sure to eat it warm, and flatbread, to boot. I can’t wait for this meal at my house.

Shades of green chopped salad. I LOVE A CHOPPED SALAD. Aren’t all salads chopped, you might be wondering? Not exactly. To me, a chopped salad is distinguished by a big and diverse bowl of ingredients, all chopped to about the same size. It just makes for a nice and easy eating experience, where the salad can be mixed and stirred almost like pico de gallo.

The Greatest Creamed Greens. A go-to greens recipe for when a garlic saute feels too boring.

Carrot Cookies with Orange Butter Icing. I’m still not done with holiday sweets, and will be baking with carrots at some point this month. These seem to offer what I’m after.

What I’m Reading

Ada Limon. Okay. I’m a little speechless on this one. Why did it take me so long to discover the writing of Ada Limon? I have faint memories of my foodie-friends mentioning her poetry to me here and there over the years, but it never stuck, mostly because I had never actually read any of her work. But then I recently heard her read a new poem of hers where she talks about the very regular, thoroughly rarely recognized, experience of having two holidays with two, long-been divorced, parents. After a few weeks in Louisiana ping-ponging from mom’s to dad’s and back again, it felt particularly fresh. Fast forward to around minute 45 if you’d like to hear the poem.

Plus Ada and I share our first name, which makes me feel as though we’re somehow connected by a tensil of stars.

Also, this food trends prediction, published in the New York Times.

What I’m Eating

What am I not eating? To follow along on my 30 at Home Challenge, you can checkout my Instagram. Today’s breakfast was leftover peas and collards folded into softly scrambled yard eggs.

Be well!

Ada B.



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