The Comforts of a Cooking List
In 2021, I’m looking forward to a tentative trip to Italy in July. Or maybe a birthday party with more than one guest in March. I guess just a martini at home next Friday.
Though we’re nowhere near close to being able to make post-Covid plans, What I can do is march purposefully into the kitchen and make an amaretti crumble with mascarpone cream. Or stir-fried celery with peanuts and bacon or something with the ‘nduja I bought on sale.
These are my only plans for the foreseeable future. I am so excited by them (and by my ability to do anything at all) that I have written down a list of 16 things-and-counting to cook over the next several weeks.
I call it my cooking list: It lives on my fridge, and I can already tell that it will be one of my greatest joys of the new year.
My cooking list lives on my fridge, and I can already tell that it will be one of my greatest joys of the new year.
A cooking list has many obvious, practical benefits. It helps me avoid grocery shopping without direction, hurriedly filling my cart with the usual rice and eggs to be topped with chili sauce and scarfed down before a shift at work.
It encourages me to be in touch with the seasons, remembering to cook with blood oranges while they’re at their best and buy celery root while it’s still around. It reminds me of all the recipes I ogle on Instagram and discover in new cookbooks before they are scrolled past and into oblivion or relegated to the bookshelf.
More profoundly, list-making — and even better, crossing things off said list — is comforting, full of pretty possibilities.
I don’t know how these long, scary first weeks of 2021 will progress. Still, I’m sure that I’ll be able to find what I need for Carla Lalli Music’s buttery beets and grapefruit. I’m confident that the pleasure of eating something delicious, the satisfaction of checking it off of my list, and the excitement of adding something new in its place will make me feel good.
As I started the list, I wondered how my favorite cooks plan their own culinary endeavors, if at all. Some of them were nice enough to tell me.
“My cook list is a mishmash of things that exist between a note in Google Keep, a sheet of paper held by the lightest of magnets on the fridge, and in my head/taste buds,” Ozoz Sokoh, writer of Nigerian food blog Kitchen Butterfly, wrote to me on Instagram.
Lately, Sokoh has been cooking things her teenage daughters discover on TikTok, seasonal produce like broccoli and cabbage, and lots of pasta, noodles, and rice.
“Things I’ll make soon — lemon poppy seed muffins, focaccia, potato bread, biscuits, sausage patties, maybe some gravy, and kelewele, with plantains.”
Italy-based food writer Emiko Davies plans meals for her husband and two daughters, ages 8 and 2, around what looks good at the market, what’s languishing in the fridge, or what she’s recipe testing. Kids Mariù and Luna, who can often be seen rolling pici or slurping minestrone on Davies’ Instagram, are tasters for her upcoming cookbook about Venetian cicchetti.
“They’re not huge fans of baccalà mantecato, which is on my list this week — though luckily, I’m quite happy to keep that all to myself,” she wrote.
Even recipe developers find time to try others’ dishes. Meryl Feinstein of Pasta Social Club bookmarks interesting recipes on the New York Times Cooking app, texting links back and forth with her husband. Davies keeps a list of dishes that catch her eye in cookbooks or on Instagram.
“Right now, I can’t get Hetty McKinnon’s pulled noodles with miso cacio e pepe out of my mind,” she said.
McKinnon, a cookbook author whose kimchee mac and cheese was the first thing on my list, said she wishes she could plan meals in advance but is too busy developing recipes for the New York Times, Bon Appetit, and other clients. Instead, she wings weeknight vegetarian comfort dishes based on her kids’ preferences and her own cravings.
Some cooks don’t want to write cooking lists at all. Recipe developer Holly Haines said there’s no planning, no grocery lists, and no content calendaring behind her meals and hunger-inducing Instagram videos. She creates according to her mood, which makes her everyday experiments like smoked duck sotanghon and crab hand rolls even more impressive.
Recipe developer Holly Haines said she creates according to her mood, which makes her everyday experiments like smoked duck sotanghon and crab hand rolls even more impressive.
And sometimes, a list remains a list, written but never completed. That’s perfectly fine.
“Usually over-ambitious plans get taken over by pure laziness,” Clarence Kwan, whose Instagram commentary and “Chinese Protest Recipes” zine aim to dismantle white supremacy in food, wrote about his own meal-planning habits.
Kwan and his family think about food constantly, discussing lunch at breakfast and dinner at lunch. Nevertheless, he said, “an elaborate meal plan will often be sabotaged by instant noodles,” and “a run at the local market can be ruined by a bag of chips, eaten in the car.”
The intrinsic motivation behind a cooking list — written or mental, fulfilled or abandoned — is that it just feels good to think about feeding yourself.
Post-holiday season, Kwan’s to-dos include warm, vegetable-based soups and stews, “like a Japanese chanko nabe, or a homey Chinese chicken and napa soup or kimchi soondubu jjigae,” he said.
“That, or I’ll just end up cheating and getting takeout jerk chicken and patties.”