July 2014

Periodically, because it's good household management but usually because we're in a budget crunch, I go on a campaign to eat the food that we have. Those items that have gotten pushed to the back of the pantry or freezer. Anyone else have this issue? I consider it the fat corn years intended to supply the lean corn ears (see Genesis, the story of Joseph and Pharaoh), but just like the biblical story, it takes some creative management.

I'm going to keep a journal, hopefully during the entire month of July, of my own efforts to economize as I clean and organize my food. My journey is happening in 2014, a time when Americans waste about 25% of what we buy (see newsstory here). That's appalling, but it easy to do. When my culture fails this way, it pains me. When I am too lazy to eat the rest of the spaghetti sauce in my fridge, hey, what do you know about my life? Stay off my back.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Cooking Ahead

I have twice taken a day to cook, presumably "once a month" cooking, although I love cooking too much to relegate it to a monthly chore. However, when I am working full-time, I often don't enjoy cooking. I'm too tired, too distracted, have no margin for feeding people (and yet, they are not successfully weaned from food yet...).

The idea behind once a month cooking is to do all the chopping, all the browning of meat, all the washing up at once, which is more efficient. This is true. However, if you are like me, you can fall into the trap of Big or Nothing: if I am not functioning at the greatest efficiency, I shouldn't even try.

Last August (or maybe the year before), I took half a day to put away six meals, with the help of my friend Julie Duncan, who sells Pampered Chef. It was such a joy to have those meals available during the semester, and they blessed me when I prepared them for my family. Please note: if you put meals in the freezer, you must take them out and cook them for your family to eat. Do not waste your time and money. Eat what you have!

That said, Saturday night I was at loose ends. Sometimes, I will bake cookies or something when I am in this mood, but my waistline was not in favor of sweets, and I wasn't in the mood to bake muffins (which I also eat during the school year--hooray for "eat what you have" habits!).

So, at the odd time of 7:20pm, I went to Walmart and bought ingredients for three dinners. I came home, had enough energy to put two into my freezer, and today, I made the third. I used the time I had to do what I could, and sometime in the next three months, Future Me will smile at how Summer Me spent an evening cooking instead of playing Candy Crush.

I must admit, today, when I made the third freezer meal, I decided to go ahead and cook it, instead of freezing it. Sweet and sour meatballs for dinner, which used up an onion and two peppers I had bought for a black-eyed pea salad that I was avoiding making. Eat what you have.

New Leaf Wellness has some of my favorite freezer meals. The other two meals I put away were Mexican Chili with Cornbread Topping and Beef Enchilada Stack (because, of course, I was using up tomatoes I had on hand).

If you have time this summer, I hope you will clean out a shelf or two of your freezer. Future You will thank you.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Buy what you eat

This is not a new concept, but it is worth revisiting. One of the reasons that we have stockpiles of food in our pantry and freezer is because we do not buy what we eat. We buy in response to our fears or our culture: this is on sale, this looks pretty, this is someone else's good idea.

What could you do with 25% of your budget for food? If we Americans throw away one fifth to one fourth of what we buy, why aren't we more alarmed about reclaiming that cash? We're too busy, and we just don't think about it.

I have three items in this picture, representing three bad reasons to buy something--even if said item is on sale. The first is Starbucks Via. This iced coffee is fantastic. Because it so expensive, I don't drink it very often (plus, it really wires me. I think I have to drink hot coffee in the morning, so I only drink it in the afternoon. Lightbulb: I could drink it in the morning. Ah, I love this blog.).

But when I see it on sale, I think, "Oooh, I should buy that. It's such a treat, I'd love to have more on hand." I currently have 3 boxes, and I drink maybe one serving once a month. That means I currently have almost a year and a half of Via iced coffee. I either need to increase my consumption or stop buying it. Even if it's on sale. Really.

Even if they repackage it and it looks so adorable.


The next item is the cocoa. This is a fantastic product from Melaleuca because it is delicious and has 5g of protein per serving (great balance, for diabetics as well as the rest of us). Just a sec: I need to go pour myself some more iced coffee. *hands a bit shaky*

I bought about 6 packages of the cocoa a while back when they were on sale. My youngest and I were ecstatic. Then, after a few months, we got really tired of cocoa. I still have 2 bags left. Save it till we think it's a good idea again?

Perhaps, before I buy such a great bargain, I should consider how many servings I'm purchasing. There is an actual financial loss, even if the item is on sale: save $2/package now, throw away two $8 packages later.

I bought some delicious bbq pork this spring; it comes in rather large packages. I should have repackaged it, but I was teaching and simply didn't have time. We ate so many bbq sandwiches when I thawed out the first package that now I can't stand the idea of eating it ever again. I have four more. I will have to intentionally offer to take it to the next church potluck, or wait for a funeral dinner, or have lots of hungry teens over.

If you buy some great bargain that you will get tired of, it isn't a great bargain.

Lastly, the baby carrots. I actually bought these for a potluck, but they represent those foods we purchase because we think we should be eating them. For example, if your family likes Rice-a-roni, but you think they should like a homemade risotto that you make with brown rice--well, it's a recipe you saw, you've never actually made it--so you buy a giant bag of brown rice that now sits accusingly in your pantry...who needs this kind of stress? Buy the Rice-a-roni.

Buy what you eat.

Consider your go-to recipes, those meals you make when you are too tired to cook. Mine include spaghetti (with jarred sauce), macaroni and cheese with a vegetable, and hamburgers and fries. Keep the ingredients for these staple items on hand. My daughters like quesadillas and pasta skillets and paninis; I buy ingredients that please them. My husband packs a lunch for work, and I eat alone if I am not working full time, events that can be planned for, allowing usable purchases.

I hope that you won't go shopping this evening. Go dig through your freezer. You probably even have time to make that complicated risotto recipe. It is possible that trying that recipe will make you appreciate Rice-a-roni all the more.

Note: I tried to research the price of the cocoa from Melaleuca's site, and I apparently bought it way back. They don't even make it now, which is a shame. I mean, I personally am tired of it, but it is a great concept.

Monday, September 29, 2014

It's time...to get SAUCY!!!

Hi, this is Lizzye, proud daughter of Angie. As I guest blog today, I wanna take you on a journey through your fridge. You probably have that fruit thing, a meat section, or a spot dedicated to cheese. But what about your side doors? Yeah, that's right, those aren't just for decoration, and they aren't just for storing all the things you don't use. Is it just me, or is there like 30 sauces and dressings that sit idly in those compartments crying out for the right to be used?

So, now your thinking, I don't use them, but I don't need to. I'll save them for when I'm having fries, or a salad. What you didn't know, is that sauces such as Ketchup, Mustard, BBQ, or even hot sauce can go bad. You can save them for a magical moment, pull them out stir the gross oily mixture up and suffer the smell, or you can start using sauces before they turn into something that resembles a melted McDonald's shake.

The first problem with sauce is that you assume they have to go ON something, when in fact a lot of sauces can go IN something. The other problem is that each sauce has one item tied to it like life depends on that combination. Ketchup = fries. Salsa = chips, Hot sauce = wings, BBQ = ribs, Dressing = salad, etc. Those are popular because they're yummy, not because they are the only combination possible.

Do you have that weird friend who puts ranch on fries, or hot sauce on onion rings? Shhh, I don't need to hear their name. I'm actually going to tell you THAT THEY ARE NOT THAT WEIRD, THEY ARE INGENIOUS. Don't be afraid to put a sauce on a food where it "doesn't belong." A sauce is never somewhere it doesn't belong, so stop thinking it is. That kind of thinking will accumulate sauces faster than chocolate accumulates women.

I personally like Asiago Caesar dressing on tortillas. And onion rings. Now step back to when I said sauces can go IN things not just ON them. That is where the search engine is your friend because there are countless recipes that include significant amounts of a sauce as an ingredient. So plug in a sauce to your search bar, get off this page and go get saucy in your kitchen! Lizzye out, keep up for more great ideas with Angie, a wonderful loving mom.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Building a new habit

This semester has been insanely busy for me: a new job, full (FULL) days teaching at my old job, helping my recent high school grad look for a job, and the baby finally taking her moment in the spotlight of busy. It feels like I never have time to breathe. I am definitely falling behind in laundry and housecleaning.

However, we're not ordering out. I go to the grocery store about once a week, because I don't have time to think about food. I am using up meats in the freezer, still ordering produce every other week, and cooking freezer meals that I had the foresight to put together before the craziness set in.

I have been out of biscuits for the past week. However, I had spent a little time making up vanilla scones from a mix that was shoved in the pantry...and I've just been eating those instead of the beloved biscuits. I know from the summer that I can survive without them.

I have planned carefully to have leftovers on nights that I am going to be tired, but there have still been times that meals have snuck up on me: "What?? People need to eat? Didn't we just do this??" I have overcome all of my gourmet expectations: we eat what we have. Grilled cheese, an odd mixture of foods that the girls wanted but now won't finish, etc.

The other day, I put on our "eat up" list some frozen fried ravioli that my middle child used to like. It had been in the freezer for over a month, and I thought, hey, it's not the most healthy, but it could be a side to a soup, and it would no longer take up space on the bread shelf. (You know, pasta is bread. Even when stuffed with beef and fried.) Then one evening I walk into the kitchen to find her (the one that bought it, the one that then turned her nose up at it) finishing off the ravioli with marinara dipping sauce (which was also cleaning out a jar in the fridge). Who knew! Even my picky children are adapting to our new lifestyle.
photo courtesy of Bonnie Camp

The time that I took in July contemplating how we eat and seeking something simpler (not only in effort, but in emotion and expectations) has blessed us in both our finances and my stress levels.

The change was contemplated and implemented during a time of rest. The blessing has come during a time of stress. Note that you could not create the change in a time of stress--you're too stressed! But using wisdom in the quieter seasons pays off when things get crazy.

I also think it's significant that I only worked on one area this summer. I didn't try to conquer my whole life: just the kitchen. Next summer, I could pick the housework, or fitness.

I don't know about you, but I'm already looking forward to summertime.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Eat What You've Stored

We've all read the stories from someone at the end of their life who wishes they had used the fine china, worn the pretty negligee, or skipped the occasional day of work.

Here's another thing that might be on your regret list: never eating the food you have stored.

I have taco soup in the freezer that I cleverly put back for good reason: the recipe made a lot of soup, and instead of getting thoroughly sick of eating it, I could store it so I would be appreciative some busy day in the unknown future.

It's still there. Have I had busy days since I froze it? Yes. How did I manage to feed the family? Chances are, we ordered pizza or I dashed to the store for something easy. Really?? What is the point of saving for a future that never qualifies as "busy"?

The other day, I used some red pepper that had only been in the freezer for two weeks. In fact, recently I used some cookies that had only been frozen for three days. Part of me was shocked: why did I save this if I'm only going to USE it?? But what is the crime in using something two days after freezing it instead of two months?

Using from your storage should be rewarding. This is the very purpose for which you are storing! The next time you are on a baking craze, you will know that future you will be appreciative. Future you will actually use the rolls, not hoard them. What if you made a cake for someone that went bad just because they thought it was too pretty to eat? You start to look like Miss Havisham from Great Expectations.

Instead of panicking as you eat the food in your freezer (What if I am in greater need sometime in the future and there's no soup in the freezer??), celebrate. You planned; you benefited. Might I suggest you serve it on your best china as well.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Be gourmet

I had leftover hotdogs, for which I bought a can of saurkraut. If you had told me when I was a child that hot dogs with saurkraut and grilled onions would be one of my favorite meals, I would have thought you absolutely crazy. Saurkraut was the only item that caused our mom to take pity on us kids. Not only did we not have to "try some, you'll like it"--we got to eat at a small table in my brother's room, over the hardwood floors, just to escape the smell.

So I bought a can of saurkraut for the dogs, but what I did not buy was hot dog buns. I had mental arguments with myself over this fact for two days. I considered cutting the dogs and stirring everything together: a dog/kraut skillet. I only had two hot dogs; if I bought hot dog buns, I'd be freezing five of them.

In the end, I served the hot dogs on hamburger buns I had in the freezer. I sliced them and then cut them, and arranged the pieces on buns, topped with the kraut and onions.

It was divine. It was gourmet.

I think restaurants do that: "Rats, we're out of hot dog buns. Well, let's just serve it on a hamburger bun and act like it's the latest thing, a creative leap forward in culinary art."

If I only had baby kale to put on them--then they would have been the most fashion-forward imaginable.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Nine days after

I have been very amused this past week. After a month of trying to clean and organize the food supplies at my house, I seemed to end as full as I had been at the beginning. Maybe it took me a month before the progress began showing; maybe writing about it was holding me back. In any case, this past week, the contents of my freezer have dwindled, I guess mainly as I ate the muffins. The refrigerator also grew bare, since it was the second week out from Produce Acquisition. Both the veggie and fruit crispers are cleaned and contents planned for (instead of mysterious buckets of maybe food).

Today I made biscuits, and tomorrow I will enjoy one with honey...first time in a month. My husband and I cooked out for just us two. Well, technically, I wanted to feed the college student one more time before the semester started, but she forgot and drove on without eating. However, I would usually buy something for us to eat and save the "freezer food" for company and some fancy cooking out occasion. But we were eating what we have.

I have a few other random observations.

I am learning to escape Food Panic. Have you felt this before? What if you don't buy butter at the store, and you are out at home but forgot to put it on the list? Then you get home and there are three pounds of butter. Or you are sure your family will starve if you don't have ten meals prepared for. I have noticed I make a lot of purchases based on a fear of running out of something.

This feeling is heightened Christmas Day, the only time in the United States when there is not a 24-hour grocery store waiting with any exotic ingredient you might need. A feeder of Food Panic, those grocery stores. What did we used to do when stores closed?

In the last week, I did not have queso fresca for a recipe (I substituted). Another time I ran out of colby (again, substituted), and today I didn't have American cheese for our burgers (I used Swiss). Granted, since all this seems to be a cheese theme, I did buy more cheese for the freezer. But what if we had to do without cheese on our burgers?

It would not be the end of the world. Really.

Today I considered the fact that my youngest daughter is starting school on Monday, and I will begin teaching in a couple of weeks. I am interviewing for a second job. Do I want to store up meals again? Am I content planning three days out instead of fourteen? Am I able to live in the busy season without Food Panic?

I was tired this evening, and my husband suggested we have peanut butter and jelly. I can't remember the last time I fed him pb&j for a meal. We have cherries on hand, so it would even be a healthy meal. I could make salad if I wanted to.

Maybe eating what we have is teaching me a little more contentment. I'll keep you posted.