Saturday, February 25, 2012

See Jane avoid doing math: Notes on extreme meal planning

I like to joke with Alex that he finds a new way to make me want to punch him in the face every day. It’s going to be one of our wedding vows—if we can find a way to make it sound less like we’re advocating for a lifelong commitment to domestic violence. Last week, Alex provoked hair pulling by announcing that, as part of his new workout regimen, he was planning to start a macrobolic diet where in he would be eating five small meals a day, each totaling 402 calories and made up of 45 grams of carbohydrates, 35 grams of protein, and 15 grams of fat. It’s the 45-35-15 diet. And it is my nightmare.

Our first summer after college, he embarked on a similar meal plan that had alternating “phase one” and “phase two” days and itemized each meal ingredient in ounces, with a tablespoon of “low-fat Italian dressing” here or there. On that plan, Alex spent about $200 a week on food, and bought Styrofoam, plastic-wrapped slab upon Styrofoam, plastic-wrapped slab of grocery store chicken. It was everything our current food values fight against.
So, when my darling asked for my help (and thus gave me control of the project), I thought of all the money I didn’t want to spend, moral compromises I didn’t want to make, and math I didn’t want to do.

I decided to tackle The Math first. Alex emailed me his macrobolic diet guide (filled with pictures of overly muscled and under-clothed male specimens, who I can only assume are on 45-35-15 steroid diet) and I embarked on a google campaign to find an already constructed meal breakdown. I couldn’t find one. But I did find a list of common foods and their relevant nutritional values. Using that as a starting point, I made my own macrobolic meal plan generator in Excel. To protect our mindful shopping and eating habits, I narrowed down the list to mostly “whole” food items that I know we can source locally and seasonally, removing all the processed goods (whipped topping didn’t make the cut). Once the edited list was formatted into cells in a spreadsheet, I created sum functions to calculate the carbs, protein, fat, and calories for each meal combination we came up with. Then all we had to do to create meals was copy and paste items until the meal’s numbers hit our goals. (I’m miming the ease of using a computer by pretending to type using one finger from each hand and making what I consider to be machine noises: “Bee bop bo boop boop beep!”)
At this point, I bet I’m starting to sound a little crazy. Yes, I made an Excel spreadsheet to plan my boyfriend’s weekday meals. But I really didn’t want to have to do all that math. Laziness is the strangest motivation for extra work.

Crazy or not, the spreadsheet works. Alex agreed to be flexible for dinner, so we only needed to figure out his breakfast, pre-workout lunch, post-workout lunch, and an afternoon snack. This morning we turned the meals into a shopping list and took our project to the streets. The next crazy thing I’m going to say is that we made five stops this morning. We went to one bakery, one farmers’ market, one deli, one small grocer, and one regular grocery store to buy all the food he’ll need for the week.  Oh, and we stopped at Target for a food scale.
However! Six stops later, we’ve completed our shopping and the tally—for his food anyway (I got a little wild buying local raw honey in a jar that looks like the bear version of Cee-lo Green)—is $67! That’s less than $14 per day to feed Alex every meal except dinner.

Here’s what he’ll be eating this week: 
  • Breakfast: Egg/egg white scramble with grated-apple oatmeal.
  • Pre-workout lunch: Chicken and brown rice.
  • Post-workout lunch: Lox, provolone, and sprouts on a bagel.
  • Afternoon snack: Cottage cheese, and raisins (not pictured) and almonds.
It averages out to a 44-30-13, with an average calorie count per meal of 414. Not too shabby! While I tried to make the individual meals as tasty and appropriate as possible, the options were obviously limited because of his restrictions. It’s safe to say he’s not going to be swinging any cheeseburgers and fries on this plan.

Remind me to make a cheesecake.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

College hometown reunion

I spent last weekend in Boston, revisiting the town of my university years with the friends that made it special. While I did complete a “weeping for my youth” walking tour of campus (with a snack stop at Noodle Street for spicy cabbage NS rolls and a dip into the GSU to see BU’s foray into food court green-ovation) and made a stop at Anna’s Taqueria for a burrito-dilla (as is tradition), much of the weekend consisted of new sites and a broadening of my view of beantown. 
It was thus that I added two new things to my list of favorite Boston activities:

1. Tromping around the Arnold Arboretum with my new best friend Rusty (who has strong anti-paparazzi sentiments but allowed a hilltop shot of his majestic profile).
The Bussey Meadow might be a good place to drop a dead body, but I was impressed with the variety of landscaping (from casual park to hike-able wilderness) on which to picnic and stroll at the Arnold Arboretum. To be fair, raised as a flatlander, I’m almost always impressed by hills.
2. Drinking beer at the Harpoon Brewery.
During my one year of legal Boston residency, I drank my fair share of UFO over french fries, sitting in the Alice-in-Wonderland-esque booth at the Beacon Street Tavern, but I never made it down to the Harpoon mecca off the perplexing silver line bus. (Two words: bus tunnel.) BeerUnion’s friend Mike provided a fantastic behind-the-scenes look at the Harpoon tanks and lab, while introducing us to new brews (including the distinctly improved UFO white). Plus, I learned some valuable lessons about which brewing machines you can climb in and which you can’t.
I’ll tell you what: We had a billboard time.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Fat Tuesday (or, we had pancakes for dinner again, part two)

Some of my favorite things about growing up were the traditions my parents established and practiced. My sister and I had something to look forward to on all the important and unimportant holidays. Each Easter we awoke to a pair of almost-matching stuffed rabbits wearing differently colored jumpers or hats. On Christmas Eve we were always allowed to open one present early—though one year we were forced into choosing the new shoes that had to be worn to the pageant that night. Our milk and eggs were dyed green for Saint Patrick’s Day breakfast, and a (presumably very drunk) leprechaun left piles of pennies and confetti clovers on windowsills throughout the apartment. And on Fat Tuesday, we had pancakes for dinner. While the other holiday customs petered out as we grew older, I am pleased to say that the shrove tradition continues on.
What I loved about Fat Tuesday was the surprise of it. Unlike the big days, there was never any anticipation of impending holiday cheer. Fat Tuesday rolled round with little fanfare, turning a regular winter weeknight into a festive event.
The pancakes I make at home are never as light and fluffy as those at my beloved Pancake House. Tonight, they were particularly fat and indelicate—like cowboy griddlecakes, bred for durability on a long day’s ride.  Still, they tasted mighty good and made for a fine dinner alongside turkey sausage and honeyed halves of our home-canned peaches.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


My valentine took me to dinner at Nightwood to celebrate our unforgivable love this evening...and wow! Let me talk you through it:

  • First course: fried artichokes, sweet and sour egg yolk, and podda over fresh spinach salad.
  • Second course: Spit-roasted strip steak, whipped potatoes, onion rings, creamed spinach.
  • Third course: Steamed meyer lemon pudding for Alex and marshmallow semifreddo for me.

Every bite of the meal was perfectly composed. Six clean plates left our table. I feel like the owl who fell for the violet glow of the taxi meter in The Marzipan Pig. Love! Love! Love.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sunday to Super Bowl Sunday.

We started last week with a team meeting over bacon doughnuts at Nightwood. Some team members spent the meeting enjoying their bagel sandwiches, while others were preoccupied putting the finishing touches on the Super Bowl party menu and creating a detailed shopping list to enhance ease of entertaining later in the week. Feel free to determine which team members were more productive in your own minds. (I was.)

When we hatched the plan to host a Super Bowl viewing party a few weeks ago, I think the only thing Alex considered was that, with an audience in attendance, I’d have to let him watch the game without grabbing for the remote and flipping to Real Housewives “on the commercials.” While he was right in that crude (yet accurate) assessment, there are a few more things that go into hosting and feeding ten family members—about a week’s worth:
List making and planning commence. Organization is key. Finalized menu includes: Spanish tortilla (finger food points), squash and bean chili (pleases vegans and football fans alike), chips/salsa/guacamole (Super Bowl classics), and cornbread (to keep it real).
Dress rehearsal of mock up of living room furniture rotation leads to a new game plan and an argument: how slanted should the couch be? Just slanted enough. Will there be enough seats? More chairs are drafted from the dining room.
Tuesday through Thursday:
Dinner engagements and cage fighter training keep us busy. (Alex thinks I need to work on my “ground game”—I keep getting pinned by the laundry bag.)
Day one of shopping. At the risk of sounding incredibly OCD and way more organized than I actually I am, I will tell you that I starred the grocery items on our list that could and should be bought at the Downtown Farmstand, a local-oriented grocer a block from my office. I picked up Nichols Farm onions, potatoes, dried beans, as well as a winter squash, eggs, and PHB steak and ale pies for dinner in lieu of their fish fry. Then I stopped in at Pastoral for Prairie Breeze cheddar, a loaf of peasant bread, and some cornichons for Saturday lunch. If Sherlock Holmes is reading this, he might deduce that I coordinated this shopping trip to protect Alex from the horror (his word) of taking groceries on public transportation, and to enable the hearty weekend lunch of a grilled cheese to keep his spirits up during the cleaning process.
Day two of shopping/day one of cleaning. We had to split the remaining items on our list between two Hyde Park grocery stores, as, inevitably, neither could accommodate all of our needs. Then we cleaned.

I sorted the beans in the evening, finding some fun stuff hidden in their midst: two corn kernels, five twigs, three pieces of turkey bacon… this might have just become a line from Clueless.
I finished setting the beans up to soak overnight and let Alex convince me to watch a couple of NetflixInstant documentaries about race cars. That has nothing to do with our party, but is true.
Super Bowl Sunday:
The goal for our party was throwing an easy, stress-free event, with enough seasonal, homemade food and chairs for all of our guests. It’s the little things. The best way I’ve found to avoid “people are coming!” anxiety is to plan dishes that can be made ahead of time. I had all day to cook some beans, then make a chili base and add them in, knock out an omelet, grate some cheese, prepare the wet and dry ingredients for cornbread and not mix them together, then mix them together, toast some tortilla strips, smash avocados, and do all the dishes in between. 
Alex spent the day trying to toss a nerf football down the hallway into the sideways laundry basket he set up on our bed.
As guests arrived, I was just finishing the guac and totally ready to start hosting. 
To up the viewing stakes, we had guests pick a team and a combined total points tie-breaker. Though everyone left fed and entertained, each having had a place to sit after all, it was my sister who took home the grand prize—she beat out Alex, whose guess was closer but over the mark (Sherlock will also note that “Price is Right” rules were in effect).