Melissa’s magical spreadsheet: How a grad student on a budget became the ultimate foodie

At our CSA member potluck last summer, I learned two things about CSA member Melissa that blew my mind a little.

First, Melissa doesn’t repeat recipes. Like, she makes a different thing every time she cooks. Compared to my staples recipes ways, this seemed wildly adventurous.

Second, Melissa ensures she’s always trying something new by tracking all her cooking in an ever-evolving magical recipe spreadsheet. In the spreadsheet, she also keeps notes on dietary restrictions, time spent, ingredients, and tweaks she’d make. As a person who loves her spreadsheets, I had to know more. (P.S. Yes, you will get a chance to see this spreadsheet).

So I set out to learn more about the journey from Melissa’s grad school kitchen to her current life as maybe the ultimate foodie.

When Melissa moved to DC 7 years ago, it was her first opportunity to cook for herself, and at that point, she was just “trying to find recipes that fit my grad student budget and that I wouldn’t mess up.” Originally, she saved recipes she liked in a Word document, and enjoyed keeping notes on what worked. She found she truly enjoyed reading food blogs and planning her meals for the week. (Scroll down for links to Melissa’s favorite recipe resources).

“I always aspired to more seasonal eating because I was aware of the environmental impact of what I was eating, but being on a budget made it hard to integrate into my diet,” says Melissa. She got her feet wet with a CSA that dropped boxes at her workplace before finding her way to Owl’s Nest.

Along the way, she met her partner Dave, who impressed her with his knowledge of food and cooking. They connected over their shared love for culinary adventures. Eventually, she turned her list of recipes into a spreadsheet they could share. After that, she says, “it got out of hand really quickly.”

Today, Melissa is a self-described “huge CSA nerd.” Not only does she use ALL her share each week (as in, she brought pickled chard stems to that CSA member potluck), she and Dave have volunteered regularly on the farm over the years.

How does she make time for this delicious life? For one, she really likes it: she doesn't just enjoy eating, she also enjoys reading food blogs, planning meals, and spending time in her kitchen.

Plus, her spreadsheet is a helpful resourcee: she has some recipes tagged as weeknight meals, and so after she picks up her CSA share on Tuesday, she usually makes a couple of big batches of those in “one big cooking session that will last till the weekend.”

Then, Melissa and Dave spend weekend hours on culinary adventures, trying more elaborate recipes, like this Ratatouille Pie, Julia Child's Zucchini Tian, and Marinated Summer Squash with Hazelnuts and Ricotta.

Read on to learn more from Melissa, and even get a peek at that epic spreadsheet.


Melissa's favorite kitchen tools

For Melissa, a food processor is key, because she makes a lot of creative pestos and for when, she says, "I’m tired of chopping."

She also loves her micro plane, especially for grating ginger and garlic.

Finally, Melissa extra loves her ice cream maker! It's a standard 2 qt from Cuisinart and she says: "I have made some pretty wacky flavors--carrot halvah, huckleberry tea, I even made basil ice cream for my coworkers (they preferred the chocolate stout ice cream I also brought, unsurprisingly)."


the spreadsheet

Melissa was kind and generous enough to share her magical spreadsheet, and there are a ton of recipes. Don't miss out on the "Best of CSA" and "quick snacks" tabs - lots of useful stuff there!