Andrea Macko, Dishing It Out
Considering I’m a stay-at-home mom, you’d be surprised by how messy my kitchen is. Honestly, I am, too. Every time I enter that room (about 50 million times daily, by my conservative estimates), I sigh at its disheveled state. The floors may be clean and there’s a minimum of toddler handprints on the walls, but the counter is usually scattered with plates, utensils and other remnants of previously enjoyed meals.
It didn’t used to be this way. Back when I was working full-time, I’d arrive home to find clear counters, with perhaps a pot and a plate in the sink from my husband’s lunch, if the dishwasher was already full. I like to think that my kitchen is less-than-sparkling, however, because it’s always in use: between preparing three squares a day, snacks and baking, there seems barely a moment to tidy up, let alone reveling in an expanse of spotless countertop.
But I’ll let you in on a secret that might explain this phenomenon. While I was working, I rarely brought lunch from home, or went home for my midday meal, so dirty kitchen paraphernalia from this meal rarely materialized. And it’s odd because, before baby, I had time to prepare something healthy and delicious for work (leftovers are never an issue at this house, thanks to a husband with two hollow legs).
But I’m not the only one guilty of a spotless-if-stagnant kitchen. The National Post recently reported on the results of a survey conducted by Visa Canada on Canadians’ lunch habits found that at least 60 per cent of us go out for lunch once a week, with that lunch costing an average of $8.80. Ontarians eat out the most often, while Quebeckers are most likely to brown-bag their midday meal.
In all my years of working, I’ve noticed that brown-bagging has benefits other than just saving money. It’s usually the healthier folks who bring their lunch from home; perfectly cubed pieces of fruit and vegetables, maybe a suitable portion of pasta or something else with substance. Granted, I do remember a faithful brown-bagger with an addiction to pre-packaged snack cakes — but either way, if you’re making it yourself, you have full control over what you consume for your midday meal.
If you’re health-minded, dining out can turn into a mine field of questions and requests for substitutions or omissions from meals; it’s just easily (and less irritating for your lunch mates) to pack it yourself. For others, however, giving up control to the chef’s daily menu can be an enjoyable indulgence in an otherwise humdrum workday. Humans like variety, and tasty options abound in St. Marys. While most of our local lunch options ring in below the average price, those looking to keep a few extra dollars in their pocket may do better to brown-bag more often. And if you don’t have the will to tote your lunch from home, at least try bringing your snacks and beverages to save a few bucks.
Even though they require some work up-front, a huge salad is a real time-saver when it comes to toteable, totally delicious, lunches — especially now, when fresh produce is at its peak. Recipes are fine, but provided that you have a base (such as beans, whole-wheat pasta, cooked quinoa or rice) and an assortment of veggies, you can improvise a great meal. Homemade dressing — just as convenient as the bottled stuff — can be as simple as oil and vinegar, but herbs and spices pack a flavourful punch.
Taste as you mix it up, in your largest bowl, then portion it into resealable containers and bring it to work for as many days as you can handle. The health benefits and convenience far outweigh the 45 minutes or so of a messy kitchen you’ll have to endure.
I was pretty pleased with myself a few weeks ago, when I believed I invented a Mexican corn salad from remnants in my fridge and freezer. I turned to the Internet to find a “real” recipe for this column and discovered, amongst other things, a blog solely devoted to such salads. All had the same basic
ingredients (corn, tomatoes, spicy dressing), but there were variations for every taste bud, so I guess mine are as good as any!
“My” Mexican salad
2 cups corn kernels (fresh or thawed)
Half a 454g bag of salad shrimp, thawed
2 cups tomatoes, seeded and diced
Half an English cucumber, quartered and chopped
1-540mL can black beans, rinsed and drained
Handful chopped fresh cilantro or green onion
Half a small red onion, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup small cubed cheddar cheese
Mix all ingredients together. For dressing, mix at least half a cup of plain yogurt or sour cream (don’t use fat-free versions, as they separate), with at least half a cup of salsa of your choice. Stir into salad, taste and adjust as needed. Healthy and very filling!