MEAL PLANNING // elspeth

My sister recently got a job. A big job, as a family nurse practitioner at a practice in rural Maine. My mother has taken to calling her A.P., F.N.P., and Sally asks me on a daily basis to recite to her all the schools she needs to get through before she can be "a doctor like Auntie Anna." Needless to say, as a preschooler, she has a ways to go, but it's good to have dreams. 

One less-than-ideal component of Anna's new job is that it's about an hour commute from where she lives in Portland, which means that four days a week she leaves home bright and early and doesn't return until well into the dinner hour. But the upside of these long days is a boyfriend who's learning to cook, for whom she can leave detailed instructions—very detailed, as in Turn the stove on to high. Get out the big pot. Fill three quarters of the way with water. Cover. Wait until the water boils. Add the box of pasta on the counter, and so on—and arrive home to a hot dinner. She's long been an expert meal planner, and this turn of events has taken her planning to a new level.

It's inspired me to get better about it, too. Alex noted on a recent visit to Anna and Andy's apartment that they have a big chalkboard in their kitchen announcing the week's dinners day by day, and he says that if I put one up, it might make him more likely to arrive home by the alarmingly early hour of 5:30 when we often now find ourselves eating. If someone had told me before I had children that I would ever consider eating before six on a regular basis, I probably would have cried. But I find it oddly comforting now to be done with the dishes and upstairs before seven, which probably means I'm turning into an old lady, which I am also oddly fine with.

At any rate, I tried meal planning last week, and I thought it might be nice to share here what we made. It seems to be a good way to save money on groceries, and also replaces the feeling of panic I sometimes get in the late afternoon when I realize I have nothing planned for dinner (remember Susannah—"Have you figured out dinner yet?") with a feeling of calm soldiering on that requires me only to find the appropriate evening on my list. 

I tend to do my grocery shopping on Wednesdays, since that's the day the Wellfleet Farmers' Market was, but now that it's out of season and the Orleans Winter Farmers' Market (!) is soon to start up, I'm trying to switch over to Saturdays. At any rate, here's this past week's, with some notes about what worked.

WEDNESDAY: Hake, Roasted Cauliflower, & Skillet Cornbread

THURSDAY: Lamb Shanks with Orzo & White Beans from The Joy of Cooking. A good meal for a day when you have a lot of other things to do around the house or at your desk, because all you really have to do is spend a few minutes throwing everything in a pot and then wait while the lamb slowly turns to melty gold in the oven. (Note: I skipped the lemon juice, mint, and harissa.) 


SATURDAY: E & N at girls' night. Unclear what S & A ate, but probably scallops or granola. 

SUNDAY: My mom's crab quiche with broccoli & this herb salad from Bon Appetit. Quiche gets an A+, as usual. Easy to put together because I had a ball of pie dough in the freezer from my mom's last visit. Salad was good, but a little fussy. I didn't make the dressing—just used lemon juice and olive oil, and that worked well. And for dessert, Nina Planck's Pumpkin Custards with Whipped Cream. (Can't find it online—it's from her new Real Food Cookbook—but this is almost identical. And it was gooood.)

MONDAY: Spiced Lamb Patties with Nutty Garlic Sauce from Bon Appetit. Home run! So, so good. And came together in less than half an hour while I was wearing Nora and receiving "help" from Sally. 

TUESDAY: Leftovers. Good to plan for, but doesn't look so good on the chalkboard. We'll see if Alex comes home tonight.

EXTRAS: Easy Little Bread and a batch of Banana Cereal Muffins for after school snacks. 


I bought crab recently because it's supposed to be a good source of Vitamin D, which you need when you're breastfeeding. (And also in general. Check out this graph from the CDC!) My mom's been making this quiche for as long as I can remember, and it's one of my favorite ways to eat crab meat.

1 bottom piecrust
Dijon mustard
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 beaten eggs
1/2 cup milk
6-8 ounces crabmeat (fresh, frozen, or even canned will work)
2 cups shredded Swiss cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the crust until lightly browned (about 10 minutes). I like to use pie weights so that it stays in place, but if you don't have any dry beans also work. Remove pie weights and brush lightly with Dijon mustard. Combine all the remaining ingredients in a bowl, mix well, and pour the mixture into the shell. Bake for another 30 minutes, or until firm. 



It baffles me how two blonde people can produce a child with brown hair, but there you have it. We did. It's also beyond me why the dahlias we planted in May are only now producing big, beautiful blooms, while Gail's (if you live here, you know Gail—she's the one with the stunning stand near the library) are gone by. Also, why don't I buy cauliflower more often?

My mother is a steadfast purchaser of cauliflower. She particularly likes the orange variety, the one you sometimes find at farmers' markets, and she especially likes it roasted with onions and carrots. Roasted vegetables are always good, she'll tell you, but this is the absolute best combination. 

The other day I saw a head and decided to bring it home. I used a bit to try this strange but excellent raw cauliflower salad, and I thought about making a cheesy cauliflower soup, but in the end I am my mother's daughter. And so tonight it's in the oven, roasting with a red onion, a handful of sage leaves from the plant beside the stoop, a drizzle of olive oil, and a pinch of sea salt. 

Though I can't imagine Nora grown—or Sally, for that matter—I can see myself at sixty, waxing poetic to them over the phone about the merits of roasted cauliflower. It's a happy picture, and one I think would very much please my mother.


Do you really need a recipe for this? Probably not. But sometimes it helps to get an idea of the proportions other people are using, so here goes.

1 large head cauliflower, cored and cut into florets
1 red onion, peeled and diced
a large handful of sage leaves
olive oil (about 1/4 cup)
sea salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Toss the cauliflower, onion, and sage together in a 9" by 13" baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake 30-40 minutes, until the veggies are tender and golden at the edges. Serve hot. 


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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.