When I was in college in Mumbai, I lived with my maternal grandma's family, including my aunt who was a very good cook. Day after day, she would churn out lunches and dinners for six, not counting frequent visitors and guests. I remember her fretting and saying, "The hardest part is deciding what to make day after day. Once I know what to make, cooking it is no big deal".
Do you agree or disagree with this? Now that I am the primary cook in my household, I find my aunt's statement quite relatable. It is tiresome to decide what to make, day after day. It is certainly no use asking my spouse or kids what to make. The spouse says, "Anything will do" while the kids say "Pasta"!
My solution to many of life's problems is to make a spreadsheet. So I made one a couple of years ago, listing all the different dishes that I know how to make, in different categories. Here's the spreadsheet for anyone who wants to take a look. When I find myself in a cooking rut, I can glance at the spreadsheet and see what I haven't made in a while and put it back into the dinner rotation.
When friends come over for a meal- which they used to practically every weekend before March 2020, and have started to do much more occasionally and carefully now- planning a menu is quite fun and easy because I choose a dish or two from different categories in this spreadsheet.
I should mention that this spreadsheet is still a work in progress. On this blog alone, I have hundreds of recipes from 17 years of blogging- many of which are lost to my memory. I need to spend some time and dig through the archives to find long lost favorites.
The brunch tab is the first and the best. Brunch is my favorite meal both to plan and cook (and eat). I have a brunch menu formula which I find very effective- you'll see it on the spreadsheet.
The Thanksgiving tab is another favorite. It seems strange to devote a whole tab to a meal that I cook once a year but the fact is that I make Thanksgiving dishes from November to February- they're all the hearty, comforting, cold-weather ones.
My kids eat lunch at school so I don't pack lunch boxes regularly during the school year. But starting next week, they will be attending summer day camps and taking snacks and lunch from home daily, so I believe my picnic/lunchboxes tab will get some use and also need some updates.
Tell me your favorite recipes that are missing from my spreadsheet and I'll give them a try!
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I read a lot of books- I'll always maintain that reading is my favorite hobby, maybe even above cooking. Most of the books I read I give a rating (whether it is on Goodreads or just in my head) of 4 out of 5, or 3/5. There are certainly ones that I don't finish and put away and don't even bother to rate. This past month I hit the reading jackpot- I read three books that I rated unequivocally as a 5/5. All are non-fiction books.
1. Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawking. This posthumously published book contains a series of 10 short essays where the legendary cosmologist Stephen Hawking tackles the big questions of life, the universe and everything. I'm giving it five stars for the first essay alone- Is there a God? Some of the essays are directly related to Hawking's work in cosmology, others are more speculative. All are written with wit and compassion and Hawking's skill in conveying complex concepts to lay readers.
2. Miracle in the Andes by Nando Parrado, Vince Rause. This one is a memoir, one of the best I have ever read. I read this book for the Read Harder 2022 prompt "Read an adventure story by a BIPOC author." Written by an Uruguayan author, the adventure was something he (and his rugby teammates- all young men and their travel companions) had thrust upon them after a plane crash on a glacier in the remote Andes mountains. Truth is always stranger than fiction and this memoir is a great example of that. The other striking thing is that Parrado writes with complete honesty and transparency and in a very accessible way.
3. Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon. I read this for the POPsugar 2022 reading challenge prompt "An Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winner". I had not heard of this book award before and learned this: The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards recognize books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and human diversity. This book won the award for 2013 for Nonfiction. What an incredible work it is. A thick tome of 700 pages (nearly a 1000 if you count notes and bibliography) and so engrossing that I whipped through it in under a week. The central idea of the book is that some traits are transmitted- through DNA, but also through shared cultural norms- as vertical identities between parents and children (generally speaking, race, language, religion, nationality). But sometimes children have traits that are very different from their parents, and these are horizontal identities. Solomon deeply investigates several of these horizontal identities- dwarfism, deafness, genius, Down syndrome and others. His candid interviews with families are remarkable and engaging. There is much content here to open the eyes of even the most progressive thinker and so many things to ponder. I don't agree with everything Solomon says but I am so glad I read this book.
Tell me what you're cooking, eating and reading!