Using What We Have - No Waste in the Kitchen

The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.  Calvin Trillin

I detest waste and love using up leftovers. Well, I love imagining that I am going to use up leftovers. Often I put them in little pots in the fridge and let them languish for two weeks before I tip them thankfully into the compost. But no more. Confession time - we have been overspending our grocery budget recently. We always make it up from somewhere else, and no-one here is about to starve, but robbing Peter to pay Paul is not a long term strategy calculated to make me calm and happy, so drastic action is required. It is my absolute favourite kind of action. That's right, it is not shopping. I am thinking I should rename this blog. How To Never Go To The Shops If You Can Possibly Help It has a nice ring to it.

So what I need to do is to get us back into the black and then save up another whack to fund our once-a-month dry goods shopping trip. Extensive mathematical calculations show that this means two weeks of no food shopping. Well, we can buy milk when we need it, and some meat, because right now we have none at all. But we will be mostly vegetarian. Can we do this? I don't see why not. We have a lot of food. Most of it is lentils and dried beans. Because you can buy and store a lot of dried beans for very cheap and in very little space. It will be very good practise for the apocalypse. And reducing waste in the kitchen makes so much sense on the sustainability front. Apparently in Australia we waste up to 20% of our fresh food by forgetting to eat it. Oops. I do not throw away 20% of my food. But this week I threw 6 mandarins in the compost which we had collectively decided not to eat. I am as guilty as the next person of buying new mandarins before the old ones are eaten up. And every time I throw food in that compost bin, I cringe a bit because food is so precious. For most of human history, and for large swathes of the world today, food security is not a given. Three meals a day is a hope, not a guarantee. And yet, in my life, food is so abundant and easy to come by. In our society we can afford to waste food. And so we do, because it easier to throw food away and buy new food than to stop and work out clever things to do with the just-past-its-best food. Not wasting food is a creative endeavour that I try to embrace and often fail at. But over the next two weeks it will be a priority. So here we go!

I started today, by using up some more of my summer-grown potatoes and the week old brussels sprouts from the bottom of the fridge. I imagine that every European cuisine has winter recipes for potatoes and brassicas. I am sure I have accidentally recreated some old peasant dish here. Buttery boiled taters, steamed sprouts tossed in bacon fat with bacon. Yum. There is nothing you can do to make this food look pretty, but it certainly sticks to the ribs on a cold night. Here is how not to waste any precious bacon: cut off the bacon fat (I do this with scissors) and let it render out its delicious fatness in a hot pan. Put the curls of fat in a wee bowl to cool and crisp, cut them into little pieces with scissors, and use them as dog treats. Rosy is trying to teach the dog to lie down. It will be a long process, but bacon certainly helps (mind you he lies down all day, so I'm not sure why she feels this is important..). Meanwhile, use your rendered fat to cook the sprouts. Oh yum. Only sensible way to eat sprouts.

Anyway, on to the next adventure. The tub of leftover rice (I got enthusiastic about cooking rice for curry the other night) I made into fried rice for Posy's school lunches this week. Then I used up the last of the old yoghurt to make new yoghurt, which is just amazing kitchen magic. I am writing this while I wait for the heated milk to cool enough to add the old yoghurt.

So, kitchen adventures this week and the next. The last time I bought any food was, let me see, yesterday. Vegies and milk. So Tuesday the 4th of July will be my next shopping day. Would you like to join me in using up what you have, and banish waste from the kitchen?


Hazel said…
I'm with you! I go through phases of being really good at using everything up and then I lapse and find festering pots of who-knows-what in the fridge.

Our budget is also rather stretched at the moment, not helped by the fact my husband is on late shifts and helpfully goes shopping in the morning when I'm not there to keep a check on his off-list purchasing (he tends to come home with treats like doughnuts that we don't need because I've just made a batch of flapjacks and a fruitcake...)

I have plenty of pulses too, and a kitchen full of fruit and veg (and salad and radishes in the garden- whoo hoo!!) so I should be able to do it.
Linda said…
I too hate wasting food so your post appealed to me. Good luck with not shopping for so long. I can't imagine doing that!
Meg said…
Fried rice for lunch sounds a delicious way to use up your leftovers. We are having stew lots of ways here. I made a big pot of it yesterday, heaps of veg, and we'll be eating that 'til it's gone. Serve with rice or pasta, bake with mashed potato and cheese on top or go all out and make dumplings or even pie with homemade pastry. I won't need to go to the shops for any of those meals but I might need to once all the stew is gone and I need to make something else. Meg:)

Mimi said…
Blow using the bacon rind for the dog! I wrap it around skewers (purely for presentation), bake till crisp and use it for a crunchy snack for the child and the husband. Sometimes even for self. If anyone can make this happen Jo, it's you. I love a good Peasant Food week. Good for the heart (literally), the soul, and the imagination. Go you. Mimi xxx
Jo said…
Hazel, goody, a partner in leftovers..

Linda, it is sheer laziness really. Shopping, ugh.

Meg, can I come to your place for dinner? Stews with dumplings, and pies? Bliss! Don't tell my girls. They already think I'm a bad mother..

Mimi, don't tempt me!
Anonymous said…
Hi Jo
Another one here that hates wasted food.....however when one composts,is it really wasted,it does feed the garden after all, and then feeds us, at least that is what I tell myself:)
My husband does the cooking and he is a stickler for using up I get the last on the chicken for my lunch, and all the leftover veggies and potatoes got in the oven together.
It's asparagus season here so we shop often to keep me in the green stuff...when it's gone that's me for another year.
Jo said…
Marieann, that is a noble reason for shopping, and also, your husband is a treasure. Composting makes wasting food slightly more bearable, doesn't it. But putting food in the compost bin that I have spent money on is rather painful.
Anonymous said…
About 18mo ago, we got convinced to use cash more for stuff, and only use the credit card for emergencies. So, this meant using cash for the groceries. It's sort of cool, because most weeks I stick to the budget, and I am pretty much managing to skip* a week at the supermarket once a month, and I am fairly sure I'm spending less. Although, without fail, I have a week off, and I spend more the next week. Probably not as much as I would have spent each week, but confused yes. I shall stop thinking about that now. I still do fruit and veg and the butcher each week though. I am perpetually tossing a tub of sour cream that's 1/4 full, a handful of liquid spinach, and the odd tub of dog noms that get lost in the Very Narrow and Very Deep fridge.

I've just started composting sort of. I have one of those wee bokashi thingies, but I'm a bit confused by it as it is filling up quite quickly, and I'm not sure what happens once it's full. It's three quarters full, so I am going to have to work that out. Plus, I'm only composting vege scraps.

*by skip, I mean I spend $20 or so on random bits I actually *need* and don't get side tracked so much by the mint slices.
Monique said…
Here am I reading your blog. When I should be popping over for a cuppa. Hope yr feeling a wee bit better. Xx
Monique said…
Here am I reading your blog. When I should be popping over for a cuppa. Hope yr feeling a wee bit better. Xx
Jo said…
Monique, hello darling, you are much safer over your side of town. We will drink tea when I stop being contagious xx
Jo said…
Miss Maudy, that is such a good trick, skipping weekly shops and using cash. I sort of use cash in that I record it all and can see exactly how much I am spending on a daily basis. A bit fiddly, but very effective. It is really obvious when I need to stop spending..

I have a bokashi bin, which I might start up again. To be honest it is not going to make compost for you. It kind of ferments the scraps. You can either dig them into the garden or put them into a normal compost bin/heap, where they will compost extra fast due to pre-fermentation. If you have a normal small suburban garden I would go black plastic compost bin. Will do a compost post soon..

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