I love the creative challenge of doing a lot with a little, especially when it comes to food.
My husband and I just took a long weekend trip for our anniversary, and planned to cook most of our meals at our rental. We stopped at a Trader Joe’s before checking in, spending the amount of one dinner out on groceries for the weekend. We needed food for three breakfasts, two dinners, a lunch or two, and the inevitable snacks.
Some of the star players: hummus, romesco dip, smoked salmon, arugula, eggs, manchego, and lemon. We also treated ourselves to some boxed cereal (this is a big deal for us), and bought some crackers, fruit, peanut butter, and a chocolate bar.
I brought homemade bread and olive oil from home. (Some things are just better brought from home, when possible.)
Bread with peanut butter and banana for breakfast, toast with hummus, romesco, and arugula for a light lunch or snack, that same combo topped with an egg (and some olive oil and squirt of lemon) for a posh breakfast tartine the following day . . . we were cooking gourmet with nearly-bare fridge and cupboards!
Smoked salmon featured with a bread dinner (cheese, fruit, hummus, etc.) and then found its way into a pasta with delicata squash, shallot, and arugula (and of course more olive oil and lemon).
I so enjoyed the opportunities for creativity that arose when I only had a few things to work with. Often, when attempting to meal plan, I find myself stuck with no ideas—there are too many choices! But, when I find creative ways to self-limit, I can get more ideas. I once heard something remarkable about the brainstorming sessions at Pixar: they first set very clear boundaries. With clear markers, they’re then able to create more effectively and freely. Like children in a playground . . . . Indeed. Boundaries help us—set us free—to create.
For instance, the summer we were part of a CSA (community supported agriculture), we’d get a bag of local, farm-fresh veg (and sometimes fruit, eggs, or bread) each week. I didn’t choose what came each time; what Farmer Chris planted and harvested was what we got. It was such a fun journey that summer to cook with what was given me. Cucumbers, potatoes, arugula, tomatoes, spinach, beets . . . instead of setting all the parameters myself, I simply responded to what was given.
How can we apply similar principles each week, even if not part of a CSA (and certainly not taking weekend vacations regularly)? It’s all about finding ways to set boundaries. Maybe you choose to feature particular vegetables each week and rotate so that you get a variety. Shopping the sale ads is a great way to begin making choices. And bonus tip: what’s on sale is often what is in season, since there’s a bounty. So, not only are you getting a better price, you’re also eating produce at its tastiest, and eating—as I would argue—as “nature” intended.
Far too often, our culture screams that more is more. However, we tend just to get lost in all the “more.” We find ourselves frozen in the grocery store, unable to make up our minds about what to buy, let alone what to make with it in the coming days. And that’s if we can even get out the door to the store; sometimes we sit at home paralyzed and overwhelmed. We opt for delivery or take-out.
It’s time to flip around the way we think about “having it all.” Often times, setting good boundaries can be the most fruitful—and joyful—route of all.