making do, kitchen edition

Let’s talk about those days when you don’t have time to hunt down recipes, shop for and prep amazing ingredients, and spend an hour putting a meal on the table. In other words, most of our lives nearly all the time.wpid-2014-05-08-14.14.07.jpg.jpeg

Working in the food world, I absolutely do my share of perusing food magazines, websites, etc for intriguing recipes. I also enjoy grocery shopping as well as any and all time spent in the kitchen. I’d rather make my own bread than buy it, put my own pizza together than bake frozen, and peel, chop, and steam fresh broccoli than turn to microwaved bags. But you know what? I do all of the above and some of it not infrequently. Real life has folks going to evening meetings, running kids to activities, trying to keep up with family and friends, and then some.

But eating poorly is not an option.

Case in point: When given a rare day of working at home, sans appointments, I can easily graze my way through the afternoon (there’s all that leftover Easter candy, remember?). Yet today I knew I needed to eat real food. I especially wanted a Cobb salad–a favorite restaurant order that makes me feel as if I’m worth some prep time. Cooking, peeling, chopping those rows of ingredients is a commitment and I felt strongly about making that commitment to myself, especially as it’s been a whole lot of running around for others lately.

A mental inventory of my pantry didn’t sync exactly with what I needed, but I was willing to be flexible. An avocado, bit of crumbled blue cheese, eggs that could easily be hard-cooked, and most important–a head of romaine, would start my Cobb off quite authentically. Chicken and bacon would have to take a pass as I had no time to thaw and cook just for a lunchtime salad. Decent fresh tomatoes in Minnesota in May? Forget it. Instead I thawed a small handful of frozen cooked beans, leftover from another time, and chopped colorful rainbow peppers which are marching toward their expiration date. I did have olives–score! But they were green, not black.

In the end, I got my Cobb salad. Served on a plain-Jane brown plate–part of a set inherited from my mom as I couldn’t bear to see her give away the dishes I grew up eating off of–it made me feel worth it.wpid-wp-1399575764648.jpeg

It wasn’t a recipe taken from a cookbook, it wasn’t particularly well thought out (freshly cracked black pepper served as the dressing), and it was only a shadow of what could be considered a real Cobb. But I made do with what I had.

And that, my friends, is key. Though there are times when it’s possible to prepare amazing meals, there are just as many–or more–occasions when making do will do. And the sooner that fact is accepted and even embraced, the sooner folks can get into the kitchen and start cooking.

We in the blogosphere are especially guilty of putting only the best out there. But I also want to highlight what happens between my weekly posts. My food is not always post-worthy, but it’s real and it feeds myself and those I love. My wish for you is to go forth and do the same. You’re worth it.


77 thoughts on “making do, kitchen edition

  1. This is exactly the post I wanted to read right now. I’ve been so busy lately that I can’t seem to even think about food, let alone create something new or “presentable”. Instead, I have been throwing together meals and snacks that are not masterpieces….but are still fairly healthy and filling. I still get enjoyment out of it, and I have not yet resorted to frozen meals and fast food!

  2. Yes to all of this, and to your salad which looks pretty appetizing! Thank you for a dose of reality. We have our takeaway evenings, but I try to cook dinner as often as I can, even if it’s really basic / makeshift. Ahh the realities of modern life!

    • Thanks, Saucy πŸ™‚ I don’t suppose I’m speaking for everyone, but there are many nights when we just throw stuff (mostly leftovers) together and call it a meal. But it’s never junk and that makes me feel better. Basic works!

      • Using and reinventing leftovers can be a real art form! For example I saw frittatas or something similar made with leftover spaghetti, which sounded like leftovers magic – if only I can remember where I saw it!

    • Thanks, Suzanne. lol, yes to real deal. So gratifying to know we’re all in this together.

      On another topic, I got my April Mary’s Secret Ingredient box. What fun πŸ™‚ Appreciate your recommend very much.

  3. Great salad. And very inspirational. πŸ™‚
    I shop once a week and by Thursday we are eating what I call “Pantry Luck”. I’ve spent more time now stocking up on fresh frozen food so we don’t end up with “monochrome” meals.Thanks for the burst of creative cooking. BTW, I love that plate!

    • Thanks, Fannie. Glad to inspire! The post was late because I had nothing to write about. And in the end, wrote up pretty much nothing anyway. But real life. Good to stock up. That’s the key to eating well on the fly–a pantry full of foods the folks in your house enjoy eating.

  4. I find time to cook every day. There aren’t enough meals in the day for all the food I want to eat, but the stuff I blog is usually only the most interesting dishes to me and always cooked when there is good lighting (like during the day).
    Every time I make a salad, I wish I were heating up leftovers but when I’m eating the salad, it’s usually so delicious I know I’ve made the right choice. Not every meal has to be a hot one and not every one needs to be a salad. I’ve brought lunch every day for weeks so today I’m treating myself to bought lunch. Still, it’s chicken and rice. Not processed at all.

    • Thanks for stopping over, Bunny πŸ™‚ Agreed that processed food is really the villain here. Whole foods go together just as quickly as the processed. It’s all about making good choices and, more importantly, being educated and also comfortable in the kitchen. Sounds like you’re there!

  5. i love this post liz, and proves you are human just like us. real food on real days and real good. like one of those food network challenges when you are only allowed to use certain ingredients or what is in the kitchen. excellent improv )

    • Thanks, Beth πŸ™‚ lol, hope there is no time ever that I led you to believe I am not human πŸ˜‰ My meal prep MO is exactly that–what’s on hand and how can I turn it into a meal? Would love the luxury of cooking with recipes, etc, but real life doesn’t seem to work that way right now.

      • oh, no worries, i just meant you are a kitchen wonder, with all that you create there, and good to know you are a kitchen mortal like us –

  6. I also love the salad that you made. I bet I could even eat it for breakfast, hehe. Unfortunately, some people do not like to take time to cook. I’ve heard many complaints from family & friends about cooking taking too much time and effort, that chopping, shopping, etc. is drudgery. But it is so not! I’m trying to convince them that it isn’t. I guess there are those of us we do see the value of cooking and find it fun even with busy schedules. I also try my best to use prepared foods sparingly because of all the processing. Sure those Pillsbury biscuits can be tasty, but there’s stuff in it that I’d rather not consume. Definitely better to not eat poorly! Really nice to see that you saved your mom’s dishes!

    • totally agree, Sam. It takes no longer to cook good food than it does bad food. This salad (love that you’d eat it for breakfast πŸ™‚ ) went together in 15 minutes. From my first thought to sitting down. Would’ve taken longer to unrwrap and bake frozen pizza.

      Thanks much for your kind comments. Funny how old-school unstylish dishes can mean so much.

  7. Very well said, Liz. This meal sounds like many of the meals I have during the week where I throw things together to satisfy my hunger πŸ™‚ Nothing wrong with that!

  8. Love your salad, Liz, and your post! Thank you for the reminder to get real. Life is always creeping up on us and consuming our time. I really struggle with putting a wholesome meal on the table many nights because of my work schedule. I am usually running to the grocery store on my way home from work to pick up what I need for a meal, which is another time drain. I need to let the idea of a “perfect” dinner go sometimes and just eat the canned tuna in my cabinet!

    • Thanks, Ngan! Don’t stress yourself over mealtime. Slow cookers work great. And there’s a lot of amazing things you can do with canned tuna πŸ™‚ Google it, seriously. Down with perfect and up with “good enough for tonight.” And I know your “good” is someone else’s “amazing.”

      • You’re so sweet! My cooking is a labor of love for sure, emphasis on the “labor.” Funny, after I wrote my comment to you, all I wanted was tuna for the rest of the day. I might just toss some over toast tonight and call it dinner. πŸ™‚ Have a great weekend, Liz!

  9. I like how you cobbled that together. I hope it tasted good. We’ve been doing a lot of hardboiled eggs lately. Can’t go wrong there. Good for you for not having to be Julia Child. I thought of you today bc I made a lentil soup today. I’ve eaten plenty out of cans in my life, but I actually diced and sauteed the veggies and tossed in the dry beans and seasoned it and let it simmer for an hour like a real cook. I thought, “Hey, this is what Liz does!”

    • you’re punning! love it–thanks πŸ™‚ Salad tasted lovely and real. I do eat junk because sometimes junk just tastes good, but it never tastes real.

      Very cool with the lentil soup. Was it more delish than the canned version? Though even canned lentil soup oughta be good.

      • It didn’t pack quite enough flavor. Even though I fried up two pieces of bacon and used that grease like it said, and added Italian seasoning, even some habanero sauce! But I’m still proud. And I ate an avocado, too, so we both had avocados. Fruit!

  10. So true! I certainly have my share of hurried, unpostworthy meals, most often Annie Chun’s ramen with veggies and a soft cooked egg. I am also a big believer in the power of piecing together a decently healthy meal from the odds and ends in the fridge. Kudos to pulling off a tasty looking salad!

  11. Great post! And so true. It drives me nuts when my husband is looking through a cookbook for something to make (an all too rare occurrence) and takes a pass on a recipe because he doesn’t have, say, Celtic sea salt. Recipes are not sacred, and so often should be adjusted anyway, of not according to the limits of ones pantry then according to personal taste or the variability of the ingredients themselves.
    By coincidence I had a Cobb salad for lunch today (at a restaurant). It had charcuterie chicken in it as opposed to the usual chopped and no avocado, but a nice departure from the usual.

    • you speak the truth! Recipes are in no way sacred and that’s the beauty of it. So much room for improv. And that’s awesome that you had a Cobb today, too. Sounds fancy πŸ™‚

  12. You clearly struck a nerve with this one! The kitchen has become so “Pinterest-ed”–all these dandy, gorgeous recipes EVERYWHERE–that we feel inadequate when we just put together a fresh, healthy meal!

    • Yes! I actually had Pinterest in mind when I wrote this, but didn’t want to put it down as so many folks enjoy. But. Pinterest makes everyone think that everyone ELSE has a perfect life. And none of us do. (Or at least I don’t.) Am comfortable with my many flaws, lol, and hate when people are scared out of the kitchen because they don’t think they can do things well enough. Doesn’t matter. Just gotta get in there and do it. Yep, this is my soapbox.

      Thanks for coming over to hang with me on it πŸ™‚

  13. A mother and a chef you are: you know your ingredients and their seasons, you are resourceful and of course practical (i.e. no mom defrosts chicken just for a lunch salad when the clock is ticking for after school pick-ups!). The blue cheese looks so yummy with the peppers and homemade beans!

  14. What a beautiful and delicious salad. I think it’s great to show regular fill-in meals. I’ve been meaning to post my go-to kale and eggs, but I’m usually half-dressed and too tired to photograph. This is inspiration to pull out the camera anyway. I’ll have to do it soon. I love that you kept the dishes you grew up with. What a sweet gesture.

    • Thanks, Amanda. Kale and eggs sounds delish–do you top cooked kale with soft-cooked eggs? How do you cook the kale first?

      And lol, half-dressed–the photo is of the food, not you! πŸ˜‰

      The dishes are definitely kitschy, but having eaten off them for so many years growing up, I thought it’d be fun to keep them going.

    • Thank you πŸ™‚ Leftovers are what we have most often. Cook one big meal and it takes you through another few days. But you’re right, the key is being creative enough to not bore the family.

      I will visit soon as we must talk whiskey πŸ™‚

  15. Huh? What do you mean not post worthy? Every meal of mine is! Heck no! Just the other day I was digging real deep trying to put something that would resemble a nice home cooked meal with the few ingredients I had on hand; really I was just super lazy and didn’t want to go to the market. We all sat down and it was not pretty! It tasted fine, but I would never in a million years put it out there for the world to see. I love your salad Liz….

    • I would believe you if you said every meal you put on the table is post-worthy, Seana! Appreciate you coming by to share in my normal-ness. Looks like there are a lot of us out there.

  16. This is definitely “normal” life. Sometimes you just need to get creative with what is in the house and in limited time. I have been completely swamped this week and my snacks for the kids have been less than par, several graham crackers with peanut butter and fruit. But in the end I know that when possible I cook and prepare whole foods. While we may have processed foods sometimes it is certainly less frequent than most families. You are doing a great job and that salad looks delish! I have been eating salads all week for lunch since the lettuce is on its last legs in the garden and I want to enjoy it before it’s gone! I’d like to say next week will be better, but swim team practices start for two of the boys, plus swim lesson all in the same day! Crockpot dinners here we come! Need to make granola bars or other packable snacks this weekend! Thanks for the reality check and making the rest of us feel “normal”.

    • nothing wrong with pb and fruit on graham crackers, Mama. Far cry from Oreos and the like. DIY graham crackers are less processed, I suppose, but have found they’re not always worth the time as my girls prefer what comes in that box.

      Oh how lovely to be eating salads featuring your own lettuce. We’re just thinking of turning the soil for our garden this weekend.

      And yes to the crockpot–makes eating well much easier. Thanks for coming over and your words of support πŸ˜€ Good luck with another busy week.

  17. Well said, Liz! Love your salad, it looked delicious! I had a really un post worthy meal last night of freekah, farro, pumpkin, cauliflower and sundried tomatoes. Just using up left overs and keeping it real (and healthy-ish), it was ugly but truly delicious as so often those one off meals using up leftovers turn out to be!

    • Thanks, Jayne πŸ™‚ Your meal sounds amazing. Some of my favorite foods, all tossed together. Bet it didn’t look too bad. Somewhat autumnal?

      Yes, keeping it real. My favorite part of this post has turned out to be the comments. Sounds like there’s much agreement on how we all make do and get by, but don’t sell ourselves short with quality of food. Yay, us πŸ˜€

  18. Your salad looks good and colorful! Canned tuna is my ultimate pantry emergency. I put it on bread, salad, rice and pasta during those lazy, busy, and sick days we all have to deal in our normal life. Great post Liz!

    • Thank you πŸ™‚ Appreciate your kind words. Canned tuna came up in a previous comment, too. Fave pantry staple. Yep, normal life is what we got, so better make the best of it!

    • Thanks, Kelli. Something about the rows of ingredients has always intrigued me. Glad you see it my way, that the exact ingredients in those rows can vary. And it’s so darned healthy, I could enjoy a slice of your coconut cream pie for dessert πŸ™‚ Appreciate you stopping over!

  19. Hey Liz! My food isn’t always blog lovely too! I just love to eat good decent foods but I like the way you think too! I love your easy peasy to make yummy salad too!

    I often make things that I happen to have in my pantry & fridge & nearly make a delicious meal out of it but sometimes, it doesn’t look great but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, right? x

  20. Great post, Liz! I really appreciate you posting up something like this πŸ™‚ I’ve been having the problem of not being inspired to make anything “post-worthy” for quite awhile. Your salad looks fresh, tasty, and easy to prepare–something that we can all relate to with our busy lives!

  21. Pingback: cocktail dreams, mojito moments | food for fun


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s