Monday, May 3, 2010

Meal planning: harder than it looks

Today was ET's Brunch in the Park, an event we throw every year for the current actives and alumni. A bunch of us made various breakfasty dishes. Watching the meal planning and preparation process was quite interesting. Most people went with something very simple, such as "pancakes" or "bacon", where the planning reduces to "Step 1: Buy a lot of whatever. Step 2: Cook all of it." I volunteered to make eggs, but I unwisely decided to get all fancy and make oven scrambled eggs with lots of mix-ins on the side.

My crucial mistake was not bothering to figure out the proper ratios -- I just went to the supermarket and bought "one" of everything: one head of broccoli, one 3-pack of bell peppers, etc. It turns out that one head of broccoli has significantly less mass than three bell peppers. It also turns out that it's hard to pan-fry things when all the stove space is continuously occupied by the pancake makers.

The worst part, though, was that the eggs were far too little and far too late. I cracked 25 eggs, but I should have done two or three times as many (or used an equivalent amount of that egg stuff that comes in cartons). We had around 30 people and only about 10 of them could have gotten an adequate amount of eggs. (As consolation, I can offer the fact that eggs + sauteed mushrooms + fresh basil = awesomeness!)

This episode gives me a whole new appreciation for the work our cook Karen does in planning meals and specifying what needs to be bought. She specifies the week's shopping list very neatly -- 4 pounds of broccoli, 3 cans of butter beans, foo units of bar, baz units of quux. Of course, she's had at least 20 years of practice, so I shouldn't be surprised that she's expert. After all, 2h/meal * 7 meals/wk * 20 full academic years works out to ~ 10,000 hours.

I just hope I can devote that kind of time and energy to some kind of lifetime pursuit or career...

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