February 11, 2006

A while back I asked my doctor if she thought my metabolism had changed, and she suggested I keep track of my caloric intake—in other words, keep a food journal. For a while this went very well (lists being, after all, things that keep me pretty happy). But as the days went on, I found myself fighting the impulse to stretch the truth—to lie to my food diary.

It isn't that I'm worried about my caloric intake, or wish I ate foods that were healthier. I just wish my daily diet were more interesting. For someone who professes a deep love for cooking and food as art, what I eat is shamefully dictated by convenience, laziness and ennui. I'd rather not admit that:

•   Nicole and I went to Gray's Papaya and ate hot dogs for lunch. And then we went down the block to Dunkin' Donuts for dessert. And I liked it.

•   I ate takeout sushi four nights of last week.

•   I haven't outgrown an all-consuming craving for macaroni and cheese made from a box.

•   One evening I stood in front of the refrigerator and ate four cornichon pickles—and then a handful of Ghirardelli chocolate chips—and then called it a night. That's just disgusting.

So I promised myself I'd do better: I'd make real meals— ones I would be proud to eat. Two days into this plan I got a package from my mother containing three boxes of Girl Scout Cookies and four boxes of macaroni and cheese. I ate three-fourths of a box of cookies in one sitting and the next night I made macaroni and cheese. The next night I ordered sushi.

I revised the plan: I would come up with a menu for one day's worth of good meals that were fast enough to make (or have waiting) on a work day. I make no claims about the health benefits of any of these meals—but they're all the kinds of things that remind me that it isn't so much harder to make meals during the week, and the result tastes so much better (though I am partial to crunchy-spicy salmon rolls).

So here it is: my perfect-world, simplified weekday menu (I managed to get them all into 24 hours, though not on the same day). These recipes are mostly intuitive and allow for improvising (and also for leftovers). The Chicken Salad makes at least four lunches and is good for about a week (my co-worker says it's like what happened when the British took the Waldorf Salad to India). The salt is supposed to keep the salmon from smelling fishy, but unfortunately it doesn't seem to do anything about the smoke (this recipe is the reason we had to disable our smoke detector). I'd forgotten how good this orzo is—and it makes good lunch leftovers too. The key to green beans, I think, is barely boiling them at all (one or two minutes) before throwing them under cold water. Dinner is ready faster and they taste better.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go order sushi.