It would be nearly impossible to eat locally without preparing almost everything we eat from scratch. This is typically the only way that we know the source of our ingredients. You may think that preparing everything from scratch is a lot of work. It doesn’t have to be labor intensive, but it does require careful planning and organization. During the weekdays especially, when we are all busy with work, school, errands, and other household chores, we have to know exactly what we’ll be eating at each meal.
In addition to planning what we eat, we plan any advance preparation that may be required. This typically includes thawing, soaking, or cooking certain items a day or two in advance. When it comes to the preparation of local beans and grains, soaking is fundamental. Most of our grains and legumes come from either our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) with Lonesome Whistle Farm or from Camas Country Mill. These resources were not available in the Willamette Valley until a few years ago and eating locally then would have been much more difficult. If we want to eat beans as part of our dinner on Tuesday, for example, we will usually place them to soak on Monday before we go to bed. If we want the beans for lunch instead, we soak them on Sunday night and cook them on Monday night so that they are ready to enjoy without any preparation for a quick lunch on Tuesday. As you can see, this requires some planning, but not much labor.
The cornerstone of our way of life is our written meal plan. Perpetually front and center on our refrigerator is a list of upcoming meals. Sometimes, but rarely, this list extends for an entire week. More often it is four or five days in length. As we approach the end of a list, we create the next one. The list includes every lunch and dinner we are planning to eat as well as notes reminding us of necessary advance preparation. For breakfast we rely on staples that we always keep on hand. When we first began making these lists, they were always made in conjunction with our grocery list – we planned the meals while recording what we needed to buy. During CSA and outdoor market season, the order often flips. We plan our meals based on what we find in our CSA box, or at the farmer’s market and fill in any gaps after the fact from the grocery store.
Constantly going through this planning process can be a challenge. We occasionally resort to writing “fend” for a particular meal when we lose creativity. We laugh as we do this, knowing that somehow we’ll be able to put something together from what remains in our refrigerator and pantry towards the end of the week. It is also very satisfying and gives us the comfort of knowing we will be eating well even during the busiest of times. Meal planning motivates and inspires us to relentlessly explore our cookbooks for new ideas. It is a platform for both predictability and inspiration.
Here is a hypothetical meal plan that includes meals we are eating during this time of year (following as closely as possible the handwritten format that we use):
Moroccan Lamb Tagine
*Cook minestrone for Monday dinner (soup needs to simmer for two and a half hours)
(Garbanzo beans for hummus and Orca beans for minestrone were both soaked on Saturday night. Chicken stock for soup and lamb for tagine were brought from freezer to thaw also on Saturday night.)
Minestrone alla Romagnola
Leftover Minestrone alla Romagnola
*Thaw ground pork
*Soak Rio Zape beans
*Soak purple barley
Grilled Pork and Apple Burgers
Beets, Beans, and Barley Bowls
Lentil Sautéed with Thyme
Sweet Italian Sausage
Beet Green Sauté