I wrote out my first menu plan on April 29, 2008. I filled in the categories of Lunch and Dinner and Extras (we're nibblers for breakfast) and I wrote the sources for my recipes and I wrote the cost of each week's groceries. The menu plan was an attempt to be more thoughtful and frugal about the food we bought and then tried to consume before it turned bad. It has since then turned into a sort of record of our lives (thank you Ax for the idea). I can flip pages and see my cooking style evolve and streamline. At some point I began to write in meal events such as 'Parents and in-laws all for dinner for Zebulin's graduation' or 'Goodbye dinner for Mel and Everett, and goodbye picnic for Billi and Daniel' (both in one week - it was cruel), or 'Val's first meal back in the U.S!' I've been able to track the cost of menus and as I've found my rhythm that bill has thankfully gone down (though it's still staggering compared to other parts of the country!).
Subscribing to a CSA just reinforced menu planning even more. Perhaps it's possible but I can't imagine how I would make sure to use up all those random items in a week without being very deliberate about it. Our CSA joined Twitter (thus finally convincing me to join) and they post our share the day before so that I can start planning before we pick it up. We also have a Yahoo group where members share their ideas and recipes for the produce each week. It's a challenge, for sure. I've said before it's like a puzzle - figuring out what to do with all these pieces you've been handed and stick within a budget and the time frame of a week. I love it. I still get excited when I find out what's in our bag for the week. And I'm still proud when I manage to use it all up efficiently and deliciously before the next batch comes in. Every time I have to throw a languishing bok choy away I vow to plan better for next week. In short, a lot of effort goes into this. One of my organizing tools has been this blog - a little sidebar section that links to most of what I'm cooking each week. I just added a list of what we actually get in our CSA each week above the recipes I use it all in. In a glance I have a summary and online catalog of recipes for all the planning I've scribbled in my notebook. But a disclaimer: if you ever peruse that section beware that not all recipes are tried and true. Often times I get a repeat in my CSA (lately it's Basil!) but there is always some new thing and its recipe is a shot in the dark. If a recipe/link stays up more than a week it was a winner. That sidebar is my way of letting you know what I'm attempting, as well as keeping me straight when I look at a fridge full of pieces.
On a side note - Axon and I went to see Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and the mover and shaker of the Slow Food Movement) speak at the BCPL a few weeks ago. The evening was informative and inspiring and sobering and we agreed with most of the things he said. But one thing in particular struck me. In a question/answer session someone asked him what his favorite part of the 'success' of The Omnivore's Dilemma was. He seems a humble and sensible man and he stumbled over what to say to that question. I don't remember his answer. Later a farmer got a hold of the mic - he introduced himself as the owner of Springfield Farms - the farm that Zebulin and I order all of our pork, beef, eggs, and chicken from. He said 'I just want to speak on behalf of farmers, I want to say thank you, thank you for your book and for what you've done, you've brought people back to our farms and it has made all the difference.' I started kind of tearing up and then Michael Pollan said 'That is my favorite part of the success of 'The Omnivore's Dilemma', hearing people say things like that.' Gee, I'm kind of crying again just typing it out. All that extra menu planning - it's so worth it.