Today marks the one-year anniversary of my blog, A Literary Feast with a Side of TV Dinner. I’m so excited about this that I’m staying up way past my bedtime to write this post. Follow through has never been my strong suit. In this year, I’ve posted 29 times, averaging about 2 reviews a month, right on target with my goal. Yay! Of those 29 posts, 16 have been Friday Night Dinners, putting us all the way through Season One of Gilmore girls, and a couple of eps into Season Two. Not too shabby, seeing as this is totally not my day job. I’m still enjoying it, too– I put just enough pressure on myself to keep it going and make sure I utilize this creative outlet, but not enough pressure to suck the joy out of it. Why stress? The site has generated 80 followers on Facebook and 50 on Twitter, but only about 20 people read each post as it comes out, ha ha. I’ve never claimed to be Miss Popular. Enough kind souls have given positive feedback to keep me going and delude me into thinking that my writing is not completely going into the abyss; I will continue in my quest to speak on a level above my two-year-old every once in a while.

A Literary Feast -- The Rosie Project

It is fitting that I review The Rosie Project for this post, as it has traveled with me for much of the past year. While we were visiting my family in Maine last September, I was delighted to find it on the book rack at a discount store for only $3. The book traveled with me halfway up Mt. Katahdin, as (11 weeks pregnant) I had not yet decided if I would climb the whole way, or wait at the lovely Chimney Pond site for my husband to climb the strenuous part. I decided to go for it (that’s a crazy story that is best shared around a campfire or something), so in order to shed as much weight as possible, I left it at the ranger station with a plan to pick it up on the way down. Long story short, we took an alternate path down the mountain (!), and my hardcover copy of The Rosie Project hopefully found a home in another hiker’s backpack. By that time, though, I was engrossed in the story, so back to the discount store I went for copy #2. I finished reading it on that trip, and it sort of stayed with me; however, I didn’t put any of its meals into play until last month…

A Literary Feast -- Mt. Katahdin

Proof! Made it to the summit.

Because it’s been so long since I read the book, my synopsis will be brief. Don Tillman is looking for a wife. Don is a scientist. After many disappointing first dates, Don has a brilliant idea: why can’t he approach this problem the way he approaches the rest of life and work? Methodically. Don develops a questionnaire that can mathematically exclude anyone except the one who will be perfectly compatible with him. Foolproof, right? It’s blatantly obvious to the reader that Don is firmly rooted in the autism spectrum, but that is never stated outrightly in the book because– guess what?– it’s written in first person. We’ve had quite a rash of those pesky, unreliable first-person narrators recently, haven’t we? Don has no clue that he has been assigned a DSM diagnosis by a multitude of strangers; that fact is highlighted in one of my favorite scenes of the book. Don’s best friend and colleague Gene has asked him to deliver a lecture on Asperger’s syndrome. Don agrees and does the research, as he has no prior knowledge of autism or Asperger’s. He finds the subject fascinating and animatedly gives a lecture that is far from orthodox in the eyes of the organizer, although very well-received by the middle-school-aged “Aspie” attendees. Later on, Gene’s wife Claudia asks Don, “Did the symptoms remind you of anyone?” Don’s internal response? “They certainly did. They were an almost perfect description of Laszlo Hevesi in the Physics Department.” 🙂

Don has a schedule and a method for every minute of his day, including, of course, his meals. He implements what he calls the Standardized Meal System (meaning that he has a weekly menu that repeats until he revises it), with the following advantages:

1. No need to accumulate recipe books.

2. Standard shopping list– hence very efficient shopping.

3. Almost zero waste– nothing in the refrigerator or pantry unless required for one of the recipes.

4. Diet planned and nutritionally balanced in advance.

5. No time wasted wondering what to cook.

6. No mistakes, no unpleasant surprises.

7. Excellent food, superior to most restaurants at a much lower price (see point 3).

8. Minimal cognitive load required. 

This is very intriguing to me. As much as I love lists in general, I despise meal planning and making grocery lists. The advantages above are a dead ringer for the pros lauded of weekly meal planning: less cost, less waste, less wasted time, healthier meals. When I am on the ball and have a meal plan for the week, all those things are true and the days run just a little bit smoother. So, what if? I wondered. What if I made a weekly meal plan that repeats? The thought of only having to plan once is very appealing, but I also like variety. Would I like eating the same meal every Monday, every Tuesday, etc? I decided to try it for a month. Because Don is lightyears ahead of me in this endeavor, his meals reflect that and are quite exotic. (Lobster, mango, and avocado salad with wasabi-coated flying fish roe and crispy seaweed and deep-fried leek garnish, for example, phew!) Forget that. I’m going to implement the Standardized Meal System with my own menu. This is what I came up with:

Monday: chili with toasted tortilla strips (prep– grocery shopping)

Tuesday: chicken quesadillas with green salad (prep– cut up all veggies for the week)

Wednesday: meatloaf with quinoa salad (prep– cook quinoa)

Thursday: frittata with green salad and sweet potatoes (prep– cook sweet potatoes)

Friday: broiled chicken with rice and broccoli, sweet potato chocolate pudding

Saturday: soup and grilled cheese sandwiches

Sunday: leftovers or sweet potato pancakes

The implementation of my plan followed the pattern of most new resolutions– week one was gung-ho and went very smoothly; week two kind of got derailed because, you know, kids…; week three got back on track; week four was modified somewhat, but still functional. Overall, I really liked this system. Doing prep work on some days made other meals very quick to prepare. As you can see, most of these meals are fairly simple, anyway. I finally used my sister-in-law Grace’s tip of preparing a big green salad at the beginning of the week and keeping it in the fridge to eat all week (store the tomatoes in a separate bowl– they’ll make it soggy). Having a meal ready each night also gave us just enough leftovers to eat for lunch the next day. As the weeks went on, grocery shopping was a breeze, and I didn’t have to put much thought at all into meal prep each day. So freeing! Surprisingly, we didn’t really get tired of repeating the meals. I guess “Taco Tuesdays” and “Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti night” are things because habit is not unappealing to humans. Even the weeks that didn’t quite go according to plan weren’t a bad thing because I always had a meal in mind and the ingredients handy to make it.

Money was saved, too, not only because I wasn’t buying superfluous food when shopping, but because many of the ingredients could be used again the next week. Some of the modifications I made included making a smaller green salad because, evidently in my house, no matter how convenient it is, I am the only person who will eat it unless I serve it directly onto my husband’s plate. We also typically had enough leftovers that I could skip one of the easy weekend meals, keeping the ingredients in the pantry for another time. So many pros, and not many cons. Here’s the kicker, though. It took a bit of time to make the weekly plan, making sure that each meal was balanced and that they worked well with each other, utilizing the ingredients well. Unless you want to set it on repeat ad infinitum, sometime during week four you have to make another meal plan for the following month.

This I did not do. Sadly, then, our month of smooth sailing in the kitchen was a mere blip on the calendar. We are back to “dang, it’s 6PM– what are we going to eat for supper?!?” So much for follow through. At least I’m still writing. Here’s to another year of literature and food!