IN EVERY JOB, in every world, “busy weeks” mean different things. Sometimes there is one project keeping you up all hours of the day and night, sometimes there are fifty things you are juggling. The most high-stress and time-consuming event for me, as any trial lawyer* will agree, is trial. Recently, the American Bar Association brought up the topic of what lawyers eat to prepare (or how they otherwise physically prepare) for trial, prompted by a Houston defense attorney’s post titled “Eggs Win Trials.”
For me, it’s less the type of food and more of the preparation. When that busy week strikes, if I know it’s coming, one of the best things I can do for myself is to make large quantities of long-lasting, easily-prepared, inexpensive-to-make food on Sunday night. Why is this so helpful? Three reasons: time, health, and guilt.
1. Time. If I fix enough so that I have a good amount of leftovers, I am taking back the time every day that fixing dinner or that going out of my way to a restaurant to pick up food takes away. The latter is a bigger time sink than you think, when you add up the extra driving and the preparation time. What happens to that golden extra time? Maybe I spend it doing more work, maybe I spend it taking a deep breath or reading something by Michael Chabon or watching something light on TV to unwind, it all depends. It doesn’t matter: I’m giving myself the gift of more time in a week where you can use it most.
2. Health. The siren song of quick-and-easy-takeout is strongest in the busiest of weeks. Maybe it’s to save time, maybe it’s because you have no extra effort to spend on cooking, maybe because you think of it as a reward to keep yourself going; in any event, many if not most takeout options are not the best for you. Sure, once in a while is fine, but your body will feel better if you’re treating it well. Having guaranteed healthy food sitting in your refrigerator at home is the best excuse you can give yourself to resist.
3. Guilt. I feel guilty when I go a week without cooking or when I find myself eating a lot of fast-and-easy takeout. In weeks when I need one hundred percent of my attention on the work at hand, I certainly don’t need any mental space taken up by an undercurrent of guilt for the food I’m eating. Not to mention the fact that feeling guilty, in general, just doesn’t feel good.
One of my favorites, for its ease in cooking and storage, its combination of meat, vegetables, and rice, and of course its taste, is a simple stir fry I found in my very first cookbook by Better Homes & Gardens. It’s easy, it’s quick, its vegetables maintain their crispness over several days, and if you double the recipe it can last a good 2-4 meals depending on how many mouths you’re feeding. One of my secret weapons (and by secret weapons I mean “ingredients I love and seek out recipes that use them”) is corn, and–while I change the form of it (the original recipe had whole baby corn)–I think it adds more pop to the recipe. Pun unintended but embraced.
*One Major Caveat: High stress does not mean miserable. I refer to the profession as a “trial lawyer” and not just a “lawyer” because not all attorneys are trial lawyers; many have jobs that seldom see the inside of a courtroom. One or the other is not inferior, they are both under the giant umbrella of People Who Practice Law. Given those parameters, anyone who willingly chooses to become a trial lawyer is someone who enjoys the rush, who can survive the stress, and who has a lot of fun speaking with a captive audience.
Szechuan Beef Stir Fry, adapted slightly from Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook
12 oz. boneless beef top round steak
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 cup carrots, sliced on the bias
14 oz. kernels of fresh corn
1 red sweet pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 cups hot cooked rice
1/2 bunch thinly sliced green onions
Place meat in freezer for several minutes before removing and slicing into bite-sized pieces.
In a small bowl, mix the orange juice, soy sauce, water, hoisin sauce, ginger, cornstarch, sugar, garlic, and crushed red pepper.
Heat cooking oil in a wok over medium-high heat. Add carrot and cook for 2 minutes. Add red pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add corn and cook for 1 minute. Remove vegetables from wok and set aside in a heat-proof covered container.
Pat meat dry if needed and add to wok and cook until slightly pink in center, approximately 2-4 minutes depending on stovetop and wok. This may require cooking the meat in several batches. Push the meat up on the sides of the wok.
Stir sauce and pour into center of wok. Heat until thick and bubbly (this is definitely a “you’ll know it when you see it” thing). Add vegetables to wok and stir all ingredients until coated in sauce.
Serve warm over rice and top with sliced green onions.
Some people blanch their corn before using it. I don’t.