In recent months, I have become very fond of meal planning. I used to be good at creating meals on the fly, and while I suppose I still am (indeed I can create a very tasty plate with eggs, legumes or a grain), I felt the need to freshen things up, while closely watching our food budget. Writing a weekly list for our dinners helps me branch out of my go-to repertoire and cook more efficiently. I’ll search for bookmarked recipes or Joan and I will flip through cookbooks in search of inspiration (“This looks good, let’s make it a dinner!”, she’ll say to every single picture). I’m now far more organised in my produce shopping, and far less likely to dash to the shops multiple times over the course of the week, overspending and wasting what I haven’t thoughtfully used. It also helps me ensure that our diet is varied and nourishing, taking into consideration our preferences, requirements and cravings. Truthfully, it’s made me love my job of nurturing my family even more than I already did.
I tend to meal plan when Joan is happily playing on her own, when the three of us are in the car with Ben driving, or when snuggling Joan in bed as I wait for her to fall asleep. I’ll take note of what we have in the fridge and pantry, refer to my bookmarked “must try” list of recipes, and assess any particular cravings we may have. I then ask Ben for his “eta”s for the upcoming week, meaning his estimated time of arrival home (as these change day-to-day, week-to-week), and plan our meals accordingly. We mostly eat dinner as a family, however if Ben is due home late (which for us, is after 6:30pm), I’ll feed Joan first. I love eating together, the three of us at the table talking about the day and being silly. I also really enjoy the meals when it’s just us two. For months and months and months (and months and months) I used to remain beside Joan while she slept, both during the day and from around 7pm, when she would usually be tired for bed. It’s only recently that she’s stopped being so wakeful and dependent on me in that regard, so it’s a real treat for Ben and I to sit on the couch together with dinner and Netflix (with the volume playing! And no subtitles!). We both enjoy spaghetti for date nights, so I often put pasta on the menu if Ben’s having a late night. It’s also a meal I know Joan will happily eat, without me needing to eat alongside her for modelling purposes. I save new dishes for the nights she’s not eating alone. When we’re all together, I gravitate towards things that require a little more “action time” in the kitchen, things that need a hot pan and my full attention, instead of simply simmering away for hours in a pot. And rice. Together, we have rice. Rice with curries, rice with dahl and rice with peanut + coconut sauce. I make sure to save these dishes for when Ben is home in time for dinner. There’s something about rice that makes him feel particularly nourished. Many of Ben’s family meals growing up involved rice, so I’m sure that influences his affection. I feel the same way about lentils and tuna casserole, and it warms my heart to know that we’re creating the same kind of associations for Joan.
Earlier this week I planned on making this peanut + coconut sauce for when Ben was working from home. A 5pm dinner meant I was able to take photographs before it became too dark, so, here they are. Dinner photographs are a rarity this time of year. Next week I’m planning on making falafel bowls and a recipe from Julia’s new cookbook. I’m still pondering what else to put on my list.
Peanut + Coconut Sauce
Notes: Joan particularly enjoys this sauce when we serve it with chickpeas, though Ben and I also like it with shredded chicken (stored in the freezer after making broth), which we defrost, then warm in the sauce. Play around with the quantities of garlic, ginger, chilli, tamari (or soy sauce) and lime based on your preferences (I personally like lots of garlic and chilli and lime, and only a little ginger and tamari). As with many recipes, it’s a case of try it once to get the method down pat, and the next time adjust it to suit your personal tastes. You could even add a little honey for sweetness.
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed*
1 teaspoon freshly minced or grated ginger
1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes**
1/2 cup natural peanut butter***
400g (x1 can) coconut milk
2 teaspoons tamari (or soy sauce)
Juice of half a lime
Optional: 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
* depending on the size of your cloves and how garlicy you enjoy it.
** you can use fresh, sliced red chilli of you wish. The quantity used (and whether you use seeds) is entirely up to you and how hot your chilli is. Sample a piece to get a taste before you add it to the pot.
*** natural meaning made with 100% peanuts, that’s it.
1. Heat the oil is a saucepan over medium heat. Cook the garlic and ginger for a minute until fragrant, then add the chilli flakes and stir for a further minute (watch it to make sure it doesn’t burn).
2. Add the peanut butter to the pan and stir to coat it in the oil and spice. Your peanut butter may be runny, or it may be quite solid – that doesn’t matter, just stir it as best you can before adding the coconut milk and bringing it to a simmer. To avoid the mix sticking to the bottom and sides of the pot, stir constantly with the aim of incorporating the peanut butter into a smooth sauce. Use a whisk if you wish. Allow it to bubble away for a few minutes. The longer you cook it, the more it will reduce down and thicken (differences in peanut butter consistency can also affect how thick your sauce goes). I prefer a thinner sauce (simply because it makes it stretch further, giving Ben more leftovers for his work lunches). Add the tamari, lime and sesame oil (if using) to taste. Pour over your meal and when cool, store leftovers in a jar.