Freeze Away

Speaking of away, I should acknowledge that I’ve been there recently. “Away,” I mean. I’ve been working a lot, traveling some, and both are, unfortunately, connected. While I don’t mind working so much, I do have issued with the “away” part, both because I am a nervous flier and because I really don’t like to be away from home very much.

Which I know is tremendously uncool.

Don’t get me wrong – I can enjoy travel. And I do think it’s essential to becoming a more informed, empathetic, well-rounded person. However, I have come to realize that I am happiest when at home, and every trip, no matter how productive or enlightening, is just a way station in the process to get back home again.

This last week’s travel was a work trip. To Reno. And apologies to anyone from Reno who enjoys and knows how to make the most out of their home, but personally, I do not wish to return to a land of cars, strip malls, gas station slot machines, dirt and rocks. Okay, fine, I know all about the diversity of high desert ecology and the wild mustang herds were pretty cool and I’m sure Lake Tahoe has something to offer, but overall? Reno, Nevada is Armpit USA and for once in my life, I was thrilled to board a plane out of there.

So. Sorry, Renoans. Or Renoites. You know what, I don’t really give a shit.

As happy as I was to get home, one of the downsides of this is realizing that there’s nothing left in the fridge after you’ve spent the past week eating in sub-par restaurants in a city where no one knows how to use Yelp properly (or, um, just has horrific taste). Sure, you could eat a bowl of cereal if the milk’s still good and there’s probably enough ingredients for grilled cheese, but when you’ve been away, you want a meal. A real one. Something to scoop and scrape from a bowl, something made with your own hands, something that’s warm and delicious and will hopefully reduce the weird and disgusting bloat you’ve acquired along with dry desert nosebleeds.

Enter the freezer meal. I recently/not-so-recently-because-I’m-a-lazy-writer-these-days wrote a post about cooking freezer meals for friends who just became parents for the first time. The idea was to set them up with ready-made foods that didn’t require a shopping trip plus and hour or more in the kitchen. Just take whatever out of the freezer in the morning, and heat the thawed product for dinner. Easy enough, especially when the only other thing your brain has room to contain is how to care for the newborn who now lives in your house.

Freezer meals are also great for non-parents after long workdays, kitchen creativity droughts, or spates of travel. They’re time-saving, economical, and in some cases, can feel like a great big hug from your Past Self when your Future Self is tired, dehydrated, and just can’t cope with another trip to the grocery store where they will wander, bewildered, through aisles of too much selection and not enough to actually eat.

So what to freeze? Casseroles. Soups. Biscuit, cookie, and scone dough. Sauces. Cuts of meat, packages of vegetables, and little bags of rice and grains to even out all of the fries you’ve been consuming lately. And when you’ve been eating like a garbage person for the past several days, that lovingly preserved and warmed bowl of chicken-parmesan-and-kale meatballs in a lemony broth of carrot, onion, celery and fennel served with a little bit of ditalini or orzo is like a gift for your body and brain.

And then, the next day, when you wake up and realize you’re an adult and can reasonably eat cookies for breakfast if you damn well please, you can preheat your oven to 350 and pop in those frozen balls of dark chocolate, cocoa nib, and earl grey cookies you practically invented (or just adapted from this recipe, which is, with a few tweaks of my own, about the best basic cookie dough recipe I’ve ever found).

These gifts to yourself, this benevolent foresight for when you are hungry, sick or tired, are the most satisfying “life hacks” you can experience. They will give you a reason to come home again, and to tackle the things that may have been neglected while you were away (seriously, boyfriends, is it so hard to do a load of dishes between the beer drinking and Tombstone pizza-eating?).

They may even give you the strength to sit down and write again. So get to freezing.

A Cat, a Freezer, a Friendship

No, this post is not as morbid as it sounds, but I really feel that for you to understand its true scope, I have to lay it out in that order:

A Cat
In May of 2002, I got a cat. Actually, I got The Cat, which became his name since nothing else would fit. From 2002 to 2014, The Cat moved with me a total of 8 times, 6 of which were cross-country moves. He never complained. He never got revenge. He was always my fellow traveler and best bud, and when he died this year of advanced lymphoma, I was, understandably, devastated.

One of The Cat’s favorite people was Courtney, my Seattle best friend, fellow cat person, and willing conversational companion with The Cat (he was a talker). Courtney knew exactly how it felt to say goodbye to a friend like The Cat, and for Christmas this year, she commissioned this from Cincinnati-based artist (and obvious knockout talent) Dylan Speeg:

the cat painting
Which means two things:

1. She beat me at Christmas AGAIN.
2. I’m getting her back.

A Freezer
Courtney is currently knocked up and will remain that way until sometime around the first week of February. Her daughter is anticipated to be either a drummer or a soccer player, but either way she kicks like a boss and already has a terrific library at her disposal.

Because babies are notorious for keeping their parents desperately sleep-deprived and unlikely to cook decent, wholesome meals for themselves, I had planned to have an arsenal of freezer meals available to Courtney and her husband for whenever their daughter shows up.

Below is the starter list of meals to be delivered throughout January and into February. Which basically means here’s what I’ll be eating and freezing portions of for the new parents to reheat whenever they have an extra 30 minutes of lucid wakefulness:

freezer meals
A Friendship
And I’m doing this because Courtney is my best friend (also kind of because she keeps beating me at Christmas and THIS WILL NOT STAND, MOTHERFUCKERS). I’m doing this because for both of us, food — at least the kind that is delicious, nutritious, and made with care — means love. It means that someone is thinking of you. It means that someone wants you to feel warm, nourished, and thought about when you might be sitting wild-eyed in your living room after three consecutive weeks of sleeping for no more than an hour at a time, so how on earth can you be expected to purchase, prepare, and consume fresh meals?

Also because she beat me at Christmas.