The Strategy: Invest in a few “micro splurges,” relatively pricey,usually small-batch spices, sauces, condiments, dips, oils, vinegars. Use them to take a piece of grilled or roasted fish or chicken or grocery store rotisserie chicken—or dry pasta—from ho-hum to hopping with flavor in a few seconds flat.
The Story: Once upon a time, what seems like a long long time ago, I thought a meal that took 30-minutes to prep and cook was SUPERFAST. Who are these inefficient people who don’t have 30 minutes to make dinner? This was back before I had three kids: one who needs prodding to get to homework, one who is that 2-year-old who gravitates to forehead-first crashes and general destruction, and one middle kid who needs to not be ignored while I glue the first kid to his chair to do homework and block the third kid from the knife drawer.
These days, my instinct to order in is strong and kept in nearly perfect check by living in Nashville. Lots of good food here in my adopted home. But delivery is only now becoming a viable option, and unlike my husband’s commute home when we lived in San Francisco, he does not pass our favorite Vietnamese, sushi, poke bowl, and Vegan Chicago-style pizza (oh, Paxti’s!) restaurants driving between the office and house.
I miss all that. But what I do have now are what I call micro splurges: a shelf full of high quality olive oils and vinegars; a small collection of condiments, like the Blackberry Farm onion jam; and a very large spice drawer filled with fragrant peppers, spices, and blends from the Oaktown Spice Shop.
Those spices turn dinner prep into a five-minute event, including the washing of the cooking or mixing vessel. At $6.75 ($5.50 bulk) per half-cup for Madras curry powder, smoked paprika, and zahtar, I pay much more than I would for a jug of thesesame spices and blends from the supermarket. But I’m amply rewarded when I see my kids and husband clean their plates of fragrantly spiced halibut, chicken kabobs, and turkey burgers.
I always imagined that Bec, with her Tribeca address and endless access to food delivery, would have no need for these micro splurges, as I call them. But when I emailed her the idea for a blog post she sent me an inspiring list: fancy mustards from Le District, Hudson Valley yogurt, good pesto made with olive oil, Ithaca dill and lemon hummus.
When I said, “If I were you I would just order in all the time.” She pointed out the obvious: “When I get in from a workout, I would eat half of the contents of the fridge before the delivery guy buzzed up.” So noted.
If I haven’t sold you on the cost-benefit analysis yet, try this: take a spoonful of Blackberry Farm or other small-batch onion jam and add it to a chicken taco made with supermarket rotisserie chicken and topped with baby arugula and generic-brand goat cheese. Or this: dust a simply dressed green salad with zahtar. Or cook some boxed, dried pasta, and coat it in the best store-bought pesto you can find. Add a squeeze of lemon. Now tell me that’s not worth a few extra bucks on the front end?