Friday, October 23, 2009

Store Lists: More Little Notebooks

I’m about half way through reading  Milk Eggs Vodka: Grocery Lists Lost and Found by Bill Keaggy. He and his friends spent several years collecting grocery lists that people left in their shopping carts or dropped in the parking lot. He has arranged them into categories, like Doodles and Noodles or Chides and Asides. In truth the lists are pretty similar in their brevity, bad spelling, and preponderance of processed food. These little scraps of paper, while fetching and evocative, are not nearly as detailed and organized as my little notebooks. Are you surprised?

I have two such notebooks, one for Berkeley and one for Sonoma. I’ve been using the Berkeley one for ages—maybe since we moved to the west coast 13 years ago. I started the Sonoma notebook in 2005, finished it up last week and initiated a new one today. These notebooks are a little beat-up by the time I’m done with them—what with going in and out of my purse, resting on the child seat of the grocery cart, and finally sitting on my kitchen counter where I can consult the current plans and add items for next week’s shopping. Each page is filled with my scribbles: items crossed out as I throw them into the cart, others circled that aren’t available, and the odd note to myself.

So let me take you through the process. I pull a couple of cookbooks off the shelves, sit in my favorite chair with them on my lap, and start flipping through indexes. Sometimes my choices are based on a hankering (like today I just felt like some red meat) and sometimes on the basis of what is hanging out in the fridge (like the tomatillos I bought recently without a designated use). When I find a suitable recipe (within my capability, time and cost constraints, taste and aesthetic preferences), I jot it down on the right hand side of the page, along with the cookbook (Mastering the Art… becomes MAFC) and page number. On the left hand side, I list the ingredients I need to make the recipe. I repeat the process until I have two or three meals planned. This sounds intense but in fact it doesn’t take very long and I love looking through the cookbooks and imagining good things going into my mouth.

I try to make enough food at any given dinner to give me an additional dinner of leftovers which, fortunately, everyone in this family adores. So three preparations yield at least six meals. Because I don’t like to eat the same thing two nights in a row, I often alternate leftovers with freshly cooked meals. For example a typical week might look like this: Cook 1. Cook 2. Leftover 1. Cook 3. Leftover 2. Eat out. Leftover 3. You get the idea.

Taking the time to plan the menus and shopping about once a week suits me just fine. I am fortunate to have farmers markets and good supermarkets in easy reach. I love knowing that at the end of the process we are provisioned for the week and that once I start cooking, I’ll have everything I need. Most of the time.

Dang, I forgot the milk.


mashenka@dc said...


I keep a cooking notebook in DC and in WV too! But I really only use it for dinner party meals, rather than the meals I cook for us alone. And in addition to using it to list ingredients to buy and creating menus that make sense, I also use it to map out my plan of attack in a timeline--brine turkey Tuesday night, toast bread cubes for stuffing Wednesday night, down to the last 5 minutes that gets everything to the table ...

Anonymous said...

I just love reading your blog and getting away from the craziness of my life!! Thanks for doing such a great job. Susie