We’re heading into our third week of food resolutions of 2020. Five Food staffers have taken the plunge and dedicated themselves to changing their eating and cooking habits. One is attempting to treat every meal as a chance to connect, nourishing her soul. One is working to make more satisfying breakfasts. One is bringing lunch to work more often, while another deleted food-delivery apps from her phone in an effort to order less takeout. And one has been forgoing meat, not just for his health but for the planet’s, too.
How are they doing? Read on — and follow their progress on Instagram at #eatvoraciously.
Week 2 of the better breakfast challenge: Brought to you (me) by the word toast.
If I have bread and stuff to put on bread, I can always find a way to turn it into a meal. A swipe of jam, a schmear of peanut butter. But in an effort to start the day off right with a filling and satisfying breakfast, I wanted to bring a little more intent to my toast game.
I decided to finally heed the siren call of my borderline millennial status — not to mention the advice of several readers — and go full-on avocado toast. That wasn’t something I wanted to do with so-so bread. Out came the recipe I published for no-knead whole-wheat bread, and onto the crusty slices I spread mashed avocado simply flavored with lime juice and kosher salt.
The toppings are where you can really have fun, though I decided to keep things relatively simple. Sliced kumato tomatoes provided just the right amount of brightness and fresh flavor. Then I drizzled on extra-virgin olive oil, followed by kosher salt. I couldn’t decide between two of my favorite Instagram-submitted suggestions, za’atar and everything spice, so I didn’t. I used each on half the toast.
Delightful. My avocado toast consumption until then had honestly probably been only in the low single digits, but now I kind of get the hype. Even my skeptic husband enthused about this breakfast. It was just the right mix of fat, grains and vegetables to keep me satiated until lunch.
I held on to the rest of my loaf of bread, despite my son’s voracious appetite for it, for another reader-nominated meal I was excited about: Cheese! After all, I can already make a lunch or dinner out of it when combined with plate full of sundry items plucked from my fridge or pantry. Certainly it was time to try it for breakfast.
What a revelation. It felt casual and fancy at the same time, like a genuine indulgence that took very little effort — great for the frequent harried mornings that involve juggling day care drop-off, dog walks and an unpredictable public transportation commute. I filled my plate with a ripened soft cheese and a variety of colorful, complementary and contrasting accompaniments: dates, cornichons, honey, pepper jelly, grapes and walnuts. And of course that bread.
There’s a sign in the newsroom with a quote from former publisher Katherine Weymouth: “Journalism is now a conversation.” I loved all of the emails readers sent me last week, the complimentary and the challenging.
Several people wrote that they like my resolution to eat only when I’m with people, never alone, but that often they don’t have anyone to eat with: people who have lost spouses, live by themselves or travel a lot for work.
I live alone part of the time, which is both wonderful (binge-watching “Cheer”) and challenging (no one to talk to while watching “Cheer”). Netflix just released an ice cream flavor globally with Ben & Jerry’s, basically declaring that as a species we love using as many numbing tools at once as possible. No judgment; using food to numb emotions is highly human behavior. But right now I’m trying to use food to connect with people, not just satisfy whatever hunger (physical or emotional) I feel at the time.
So last weekend, encouraged by life coach Martha Beck, I went outside my comfort zone and bought a single ticket to a communal dinner at a D.C. restaurant.
I felt a little embarrassed that I was going alone, and breezily asked the maître d’ if anyone else ever bought just one. “All the time,” he replied. My assigned seat was next to the only other single-ticket holder that evening, who turned out to be a man traveling for work. It was all fine, but not comfortable, and I generally want to be comfortable while I’m eating. I love eating alone in restaurants; I was worried that eating alone in a group seemed like something you would do if you were lonely, rather than just alone.
Then I wondered why I think “lonely” has a connotation of embarrassment. Former surgeon general Vivek H. Murthy declared loneliness an “epidemic,” with health consequences similar to smoking and substance abuse. Maybe a step in addressing this epidemic, as with other epidemics, is removing the stigma.
At $121 (with wine), the dinner I attended is not within reach for most people every weekend. And with resolutions, the question is, how can I live my priorities by making this a habit, not how can I be perfect for 30 days. For the next several days, I’ll search out human connection over food in an everyday way, rather than only best-behavior evenings out. There has to be something between spendy dinners and mukbang livestreams. I’ll update next week.
Also, please let me know if you want to talk about “Cheer,” because I’m dying over here.
I peeled my eyes open and looked at the clock on my phone. 9:15. I’d overslept by just … 90 minutes? I scrambled to get dressed and pack up for a mad-dash bike ride into the office to make a 10 o’clock meeting with my boss (and his boss), and just as I was about to walk out the door, I remembered: Lunch!
This was the first day that I had failed to pack a lunch the night before, and while my original resolution to bring lunch at least three days a week could survive this slip-up, I was still batting 1.000, and I wasn’t ready to cave yet. So I quickly assembled a turkey-and-cheese sandwich, grabbed yogurt and an apple, stuffed them into my backpack and began my ride downtown. I somehow got all the lights, locked up my bike by 9:50, was at my desk at 9:55 and made the meeting with a couple of minutes to spare.
That’s not an ideal morning routine for anyone, and it’s one I had been able to avoid thanks to batch cooking and portioning out dinner leftovers each night. Over the past week, my lunches consisted of a hearty Vegan Chili Verde from our Plant Powered newsletter series, and some leftover Trader Joe’s kung pao chicken. But sometimes, you just crave a sandwich, so I stashed away a few ingredients to make that possible earlier in the week. Wednesday morning, I was grateful that I had.
When I started this challenge, I viewed it as a limited-run test. Could I alter my behavior around weekday lunchtime, and could I actually enjoy prepping and eating — and reheating, so much reheating — leftovers in the office? With two weeks now behind us, I’m ready to admit that the answer is yes. I can do this, and it’s not just drudgery.
No, I’m not ready to put the kibosh on regular lunches out with colleagues and friends, and I’m not planning to stop checking in at my favorite local lunch spots forevermore. But yes, I am both capable and willing to bring my lunch from home multiple days a week after this month is over, and feel good about doing it. And I’m enjoying the serenity of taking most of my meals up on the rooftop or inside the building’s peaceful penthouse.
Of course, while I was typing that last sentence, a departmentwide email invitation popped up from my colleague and Known Proponent of Eating Lunch Outside the Office Tim Carman, inviting us all to step away from our desks for a Friday lunch at a fantastic nearby taqueria. Not today, temptation. Maybe next month. Today, I made myself an Elaine Benes-style big salad.
As we head into Week 3, I have a crazy thing that to report: This is getting … easier?
The amount of planning I did at the beginning was a slog for me, but I think that was mostly about the kind of cooking my pantry was built to support. Once I stocked up on vegetable broth, chickpeas, tofu and mushrooms, my options opened.
My time-honored/time-strapped strategy is to make a lot of quick stir-fries from whatever I have on hand. If I add more mushrooms — a lot of mushrooms is also fine — or throw in some tofu, I won’t even care that there isn’t any meat, a statement that is more genuine than it might sound. That plan has served me well so far with things like ’shrooms and grits and tofu étouffée. And, not going to lie, I made both of those because they were fun to say. But they were also delicious.
And I’ve been looking through some of my old cookbooks for dishes that I haven’t made before. Last weekend, I made the spinach gnocchi from chef Marc Vetri’s first cookbook, “Il Viaggio di Vetri.” It’s a dish I had at his restaurant in Philadelphia years ago and loved. I did it differently, but still delicious. And this weekend, I plan to make an eggplant dish from Michael Schlow’s “It’s About Time.” I don’t really like eggplant, but I trust chef Schlow. And who knows? My attitudes seem to be shifting. Maybe eggplant is now my favorite and I don’t even know it yet? (Not holding my breath, but we’ll see!)
I’ve also started to think more about what this will look like going forward. I was talking to a friend this week, and she predicted I wouldn’t go back to eating meat come February. At which point I invoked the first paragraph I wrote in the first story about this endeavor:
I am not a vegetarian. Never have been. And probably never will be.
I guess that “probably” leaves some wiggle room, but I’m sticking by the premise. Because I kind of want some chicken wings. I don’t need them. There’s no “craving.” I can totally wait. But as long as I know they’re out there, they’re going to be on my mind.
Also — and this might seem a weird thing to have strong feelings about — but I miss chicken stock. I make my own, and I like it so much more than vegetable broth. Granted, I haven’t made my own veg broth yet, but I use chicken feet for my stock, and it’s amazing. I don’t know what vegetable feet I could substitute to get a similar result.
So, poultry extremities are what I miss so far, I guess. I never claimed to be normal.
On the other hand, those feel like things I should be able to get over.
In Week 2 of my zero-takeout month, I encountered a massive challenge: A nasty cold. It wasn’t just that my energy was too zapped to cook dinner. Nope, for me, sickness unequivocally equals a tub of long-simmered chicken ramen, preferably the curry-laced version from our neighborhood noodle shop, Toki Underground. I have sworn for years that the spicy broth has magical healing powers.
I might have pulled the sick-card exemption — and surely, you all would have understood if you’d seen what a pathetic figure I cut on the sofa, sniffling as I binged “The Witcher.” Still, I resisted the urge to order up a cure. Honestly, considering that my fellow resolutioneers (resolutionarys?) are each doing their best really helped me stick to it.
Instead, my husband brought home some instant ramen from the grocery store, picking a few options that claimed to be a step up from the usual college fare. When doctored up with add-ons (ginger paste, Sriracha, fresh garlic, scallions, a dab of soy sauce and an egg yolk), the resulting concoctions were pretty good. I’m particularly partial to Mike’s Mighty Good Craft Ramen, which looks like a fancy Cup O’Noodles and whose boast of “insanely rich broth” isn’t too far off the mark.
Crisis averted! Lesson learned? There’s power in a group resolution — oh, and add a few more packets of these to the pantry, because cold and flu season is just getting started, folks.
Otherwise, we stayed on track with our regular dinner-planning schedule, meaning we didn’t have to resort to any of the takeout-alternative meals we’re hoarding. That’s mostly down to luck. (As I’ve explained before, we tend to resort to ordering in when our plans change or when we’re bored with leftovers.) And we’ve gotten a few more suggestions for additions to our freezer supply, including those from a reader who enthusiastically endorsed Trader Joe’s cauliflower gnocchi and shrimp dumplings.
At some point, I’m going to want to have a chance to test out some of our stashed meals, which actually sound like reasonable first-choice options, not just backups. Maybe this exercise will lead not just to less takeout but to a bigger rotation of easy weeknight menus? I guess we’ll all have to stay tuned — now that’s a cliffhanger worthy of my new bestie, Geralt of Rivia.