Thursday, May 26, 2022

A Spreadsheet of Home Cooking, Menu Planning, and Three Books

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! 

* * *

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!


  1. Love to hear about your spreadsheet and about your reading.

    I have a spreadsheet of recipes I want to make but it is slow going right now. It is nice to be able to return to favourite recipes on my blog even though most meals are pretty simple right now. I am curious where you get the recipes from which are not links - are they recipes in your bookshelves or your head? I also was interested that you had a column "for a crowd' on brunch but in no other tabs - I guess thanksgiving and picnics are for a crowd.

    Your reading sounds interesting. I first read about the Andes mountain crash as a child and re-read my childhood book chapter (in a book called Stranger than Fiction so I did a double take when you used those words) about it recently and was still fascinated so a whole book sounds great. As with cooking, my reading is pretty slow lately - I am reading a liane moriaty book (apples never fall) which I am enjoying but I chose it as usually I read her books quickly and even that is a slow read. I suspect I have been reading too much twitter on politics lately with our federal elections last weekend being very interesting.

    1. Hi Johanna! Yes, the recipes that are not links are on the blog or in my head. Truly, I want to get organized and write them out on the blog properly as single posts so I can link them. Also, I have other recipes- for main meals- that I scale up (for a crowd) but I need to write down proportions for future reference. This spreadsheet is truly a work in progress.

      As for the recipes that I want to make, most of them are in on Pinterest and some are in a paper binder. I'll need to live to be 200 to make all of them ;)

      Ah twitter and news and politics. It is numbing, exhausting and terrifying all at the same time! I am seeking escape in books.

  2. The speadsheet is a fantastic idea! Thanks for sharing yours. I am always so stressed when I have to cook for a crowd as I tend to totally blank out about what to cook. Having my entire 'repertoire' in front of me would be so helpful.

    I've read some great reads this year. One of the best was The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric, and I also enjoyed the picture book Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran and highly recommend it. Some of my other good reads this year were The Age of Innocence, The Joys of Motherhood by Emecheta Buchi and Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey. I tend to read a lot more non-fiction than fiction and I'm trying to change that this year.

    Miracle in the Andes sounds intriguing. I tried to read Far from the Tree some years back and I found the section on schizophrenia the hardest to get through. I am amazed that you read it in just a week. Aside from being a whopper of a book, I found that it was difficult for me to get through some of the chapters and I needed to take several breaks.

    1. That's exactly it, Radhika, having one's entire repertoire available to choose from is convenient! I too read a lot more non-fiction than fiction. I did read Memorial Drive last year and it was haunting. Yes, the section on schizophrenia in Far from the Tree was hard to read. What people go through. Life is such a crapshoot.

      Thanks very much for your other recommendations- I'll have to look for some of these!!

  3. The spreadsheet is awesome! I am going to try to work my way through it this summer. I am in a cooking rut and this is an inspiration. I also have a list of items taped to the inside of my kitchen cabinet. I will glance it but am now bored of it. Happy reading this summer! I am currently in a fantasy craze and am enjoying Crescent City by Sarah J Maas.

    1. Sangeetha- let me know if any of my recipes work out for you! And tell me what's on the list on your kitchen cabinet that I don't have on my spreadsheet.

      Fantasy! Now that's a genre I very rarely read!

  4. Wow that spreadsheet is fantastic (and I rediscovered many old favorites from your blog that I had forgotten about). Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I think most people find the meal planning part the most stressful, and as a naturally disorganised and fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type of person, it is even more so. I will be putting your spreadsheet to full use!
    I have been reading a lot - but mostly for my work! I read a couple of Sujata Massey mysteries recently and enjoyed them very much. I have ordered Geetanjali Shree's Tomb of Sand which won the International Booker Prize this year and am eagerly looking forward to reading it.

    1. I too forget about things I have blogged LOL. I loved the first two Massey mysteries (The Mistry mysteries :)) but the third was slow and did not engage me. I need some good juicy summer reads!

  5. Loved exploring your spreadsheet. I like making spreadsheets for just about anything- no better way to organize our thoughts.
    Reading your posts makes me so happy.
    I feel the same dinner rut these days , and cooking for a crowd has become a turn off. We are in rotation mode and I find myself rotating flavors and cuisines. One day for pasta , another for pizza , a day for eggs, another for veggie burgers , one for Indian food. This way I can build the entire meal around the flavor theme. Then there is take out of chipotle or sushi rolls to change it up. I’m most conscious of getting protein into our meals more than trying new things for dinner. I could further organize it by making a proper spreadsheet for it. I tend to decide on the fly most days.
    While cooking for a crowd has lost its luster for me - for many reasons in these past couple of years , I found myself hosting some family friends from India. One thing I made for them was Punjabi style aloo baingan- found a good YouTube recipe - that was an easy recipe and a huge hit.
    Also while planning for crowds or guests , I like to think it pairs. I make 3 types of kadhis- but depending on which one I’m making - I also decide what goes with it. So if I make gujrathi kadhi it’s always accompanied by khichadi.
    Also rules of thumb for Indian meals I follow are 1 daal , 2 dry veggies , 1 curry and rice and rotis. Then a bunch of add ones. Salads. Raitas. Papad.
    I don’t read books much - I feel strapped for time. I am part of our local book club in my neighborhood but haven’t really been able to actively participate. One recent book in their list caught my eye -Honor by Thrity Umrigar.
    My son is a voracious reader and my daughter is following in his footsteps. My hope is to visit the library with them often. It’s hard to be indoors during the little warm weather we get in the northeast. So putting off hours at library for colder weather.


    1. Thanks Archana, it made my day to read your comment :) It is such fun to hear your "rules of thumb" of menu planning. It seems that every cook has their own strategies and ways of mixing things up. I hear you on being conscious of protein. I think I base my meals off of what veggies I have on hand but then protein is the next component I consider.

      I will have to look for the aloo baingan. Baingan is far and away my favorite vegetable. Love your schema for Indian meals!

      Enjoy your summer weather up there! Here in the South afternoons get too hot and I am happy to escape the heat with a good book, or in the cool confines of the library.

  6. Nice post! It is commendable that you still keep up with cooking and reading among other hobbies and in the midst of what I imagine must be a busy life with kids! Reading has gone to the wayside and it's been years since I read a book (mostly listen while walking). There never seems to be time between cooking, cleaning, kids dropoffs and activities.

  7. Thanks a lot for the spreadsheet. My mom used to get irritated with the "what to cook" question and our unhelpful replies. And now I experience the same ever so often. Never understood her frustration back then :)


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