Photo by thebittenword.com/FlickrCC
Total Mileage: 31 miles
Weekend Meal: Tuscan white bean soup
Maybe I was burned out from my cooking extravaganza during D.C.'s snowpocalypse weekend. Or maybe I wasn't hungry enough—Week 9 was another step-back week, with less appetite-inducing mileage than the two previous ones. Maybe the long President's Day weekend put me in vacation mode. Whatever the reason, I did not feel like cooking. I didn't even want to go to the grocery store.
But I knew better than to let myself get away with that. Unless I prepared at least one dish over the weekend, I'd be stuck eating takeout pizza for lunch every day the following week. Still, I was determined to avoid the grocery store. After the long lines and depleted produce sections of Blizzard Week, I wasn't ready to face the supermarket again—even though I knew, mentally, that the wait and supplies would be back to pre-snowstorm levels.
I had a carton of chicken broth and half a cup of heavy cream. I was ready. Maybe improvising wouldn't be so hard after all.
So I had to make something with the ingredients in my pantry. This doesn't come easily to me. One of the many things I admire about Sally Schneider is her philosophy of improvisation, her belief that you should be able to make something good out of ingredients on hand. I've had to improvise in the past—most memorably when the chicken I'd planned to use in a pot pie turned out to be spoiled—but I didn't like it.
I usually enjoy planning meals—picking a recipe early in the week, making a shopping list, going to the store, bringing home groceries, setting them on the counter. It's like preparing for a big exam—or, for people who didn't enjoy high school as much as I did, getting ready for a date. There's excitement, but also nervousness—the fear that no matter how ready you feel, things could fall apart.
For Week 9, I abandoned the hot-date model of cooking for a quickie approach. I opened my cupboard and saw two cans of beans: one cannellini and one garbanzo. I remembered a recipe I'd seen recently for Tuscan white bean soup. It called for two cans of cannellinis, but I figured garbanzos would be a good substitute. I didn't have shallots, but I had half a white onion; I had only one clove of garlic, while the recipe asked for four, so I subbed in a few sliced green onions. I had a carton of chicken broth and half a cup of heavy cream. I was ready. Maybe improvising wouldn't be so hard after all.
It wasn't. I cooked the onion in butter and olive oil, then added the beans, garlic, broth, and some thyme leaves I had in the refrigerator. After 15 minutes of simmering, I pureed half the soup in the food processor, then returned it to the pot so the soup had both smoothness and some texture. I whisked in the heavy cream, and I was finished. After the soup cooled, I poured it into four separate plastic containers to freeze for the week.
This week's dish didn't require the advance planning of red beans and rice or the extended cooking time of pulled pork, but it was satisfying in its own way. A handful of ingredients I already had plus a half-hour of effort had yielded lunches for a whole week. It's an important lesson for me to internalize now, as my running load starts to increase—next week has a 17-miler, and I'll do 20-mile runs during Weeks 13 and 15—and my life gets busier at work. I'm not ready to swear off roast chickens and slow-cooked pork butt, but expect more quick, off-the-cuff recipes in the weeks ahead.