This is an amazing moment for a parent… When you whine about making dinner and someone else does it for you.
This is an amazing moment for a parent… When you whine about making dinner and someone else does it for you.
So we’re just about at the 1 week mark of the Pantry Challenge. So far, I’ve run out of bananas and am perilously short on ice cream.
I expected the first week to being something of a non-event, since I buy groceries weekly. But I learned something after all. (That’s the point of an experiment like this, right?) We eat out or get takeout more often than I realized. It was hard going a full week with (almost) all the food we ate being food I made. Usually there’s pizza (or fast food) on Mondays for Library Pizza night. And then maybe sometime mid week we’d go out to eat. There’s walking to get ice cream at the Dairy Dome, a cappuccino at Kushala Sip… many small purchases over the course of the week. But not this week.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I ended up getting a coffee at Kushala Sip, but I paid for it out of my own allowance. And Adam asked for and got some Five Guys fries which I again paid for out of my allowance. But he’s recovering from a minor surgery and it seemed like it was only the right thing to do to get the poor guy some fries.
It will be interesting to see what genre of food I run out of first. I thought a lot about all the different kinds of dinners I can make, but I suspect that lunch-making materials will actually run out first. I have these thoughts of baking snacks instead, but the kids have a poor track record of eating the moderately healthy things I could bake. Breakfasts might also run out first, but Adam’s bread toasted makes an amazing breakfast, and we have enough ingredients to make that for the full run of the month, even if we eat a lot more than usual.
So here’s what we ate for dinner this week. Just as a reminder, you can follow all the fun during at The Pantry Challenge site! I am not sure I’ll post regular updates here (because I suspect they’re boring).
Last Peapod order arrived! Last restaurant trip made on the way back from camping. I meant to take a picture of all the crazy bags scattered across the kitchen floor, but we were in the middle of a board game, so I didn’t.
Mostly compliant with tacos to use a box stuffed in the back of the cupboard plus perishable veggies. After everyone pointed out it wasn’t June yet, we got one last round of ice creams. Mine is always a twist cone dipped in chocolate.
Adam also baked a batch of scones for his coworkers, several of which didn’t quite make it to work. That led to our first (and so far only) from-budget purchase. He got a pint of heavy cream, sultana (golden) raisins, lemonade, a cumcumber and a lime.
On Wednesdays we often host a number of our friends for gaming. I have thought a lot about how I can feed 10 people a nice meal on this restrictive budget. I think if I plan ahead, I can do it. But it definitely takes forethought. This Wednesday’s meal was sponsored by the color beige. Chicken pot pie is a fan favorite and was spectacular as usual. Adam’s home made bread will be a staple of our penury – he makes it every week and it never gets undelicious. (We have enough peanut butter and home made jam to last far more than a month!) Then we had the scones from Tuesday for dessert. So much delicious beige…
Fried rice is a farm share staple for me, and plays an important role in my standard cooking repertoire. See, you buy a rotisserie chicken (which can often be as inexpensive as $5 if you catch it on a sale night). You strip it and use the meat in fried rice (often along with the “what the heck do I do with this” vegetables from your farm share). Then you take the remnants of the carcass and pressure cook them (along with more random vegetables) to make chicken stock. A tremendous number of my recipes rely on a constant, large supply of homemade chicken broth, so I do this pretty often.
Pizza night. Honestly, it wasn’t as good as the violet pizza I made last time we had homemade pizza! But it was still pretty darn good.
I used this amazing technique called “get invited over to a friend’s house and eat their delicious food”. Like most of the techniques I’m using to not spend money on food, this is probably harder if you live in an impoverished community. But man, it was tasty.
I make chili (and cornbread) very often on Sundays. Maybe even as often as every other Sunday. The rest of the family eats leftovers for lunches. (My company provides lunches for us, which is an amazing perk.) Chili makes premium leftovers for lunches, and we all love it. I’m thinking that I’ll run out of ground turkey (which we use instead of ground beef) first of my dinner ingredients. It’s used in a ton of my recipes.
In a scant three weeks, the deluge of produce will begin deluging again. Farmer Dave is my farmer, and the farm share begins in June. Amnesia has finally set in after November, when the last of the produce was crammed into my overfull freezer and I gratefully contemplated the return of frozen veggies.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about food in recent weeks, and not just that I need to clean out my ‘fridge before the Davalanche hits. Last week I had two interesting food experiences.
On Saturday, the boys and I headed to the Fells for a hike and some good old fashioned foraging. We brought the book of edible plants with us. We quickly encountered violets and dandelions (although no ramps, which is what I was looking for). Suddenly the side of the trail transformed from scenery to bounty. My kids called wildly to say they’d spotted some more. Grey declared that violets were his favorite green. Thane gravely sampled the dandelions. We stuffed a plastic bag full, and ate some as we gathered. Green briar was a bit harder – we finally figured out that you just snap off the buds on the vines. You don’t actually take the vines with the thorns. Thane said these were his favorite, and got himself right scratched up in pursuit. (And in fairness, they were quite excellent.)
I figured the easiest way to get the kids to eat them easily was to make pizza with them. And that’s exactly what they did. And honestly, the greens were DELICIOUS.
The next day I participated in the Walk for Hunger. I thought ten miles would be easy peasy, but it was actually harder than I expected. (I was also breaking in new shoes, so that might have been part.) As we walked I thought about food, and quality food. I’m blessed by an abundance of food. (Based on my girth, it’s fair to say an overabundance of food.) So much of the food I eat is really high quality. And with access to wilderness without any chemicals, I can safely even add to that food with foraged findings I can locate based on an expensive book.
So it’s easy to forget that many people are hungry. And many people fill their bellies, but with things that do not contribute to health. There was this great sign along the walk that said “The opposite of hungry isn’t full, it’s healthy.”
The walk has already happened, but the need hasn’t passed. If you want to do a part to fight hunger you can still contribute. It’s also not too late to sign up for a CSA. I love how Farmer Dave drives me to eat way more vegetables than I would otherwise, and to learn to love whole new plants. Most urban areas have great local farm share offerings, or farmer’s markets.
Finally, if you want some delicious dandelion pizza, I can hook you up!
One of my husband’s colleagues gave him a promotion for a free week of Blue Apron. I’d read about Blue Apron before (primarily on the very awesome Amalah’s blog) and I figured the week of a new job was a great week to maybe have some low-stress meals to cook (plus, since my lunches come with my employment, I don’t need as many leftovers), so we kicked it off this week.
BTW, tragically I’m waaaaay to small to be sponsored by anyone, so this post is entirely unsponsored. It’s really sad when you’re willing to sell your artistic soul, but there are no takers!
If you’re not familiar with the concept, Blue Apron works like this –
1) On Friday you get a box full of super fresh, bizarre ingredients. (You know, cactus leaves. Tomatillos.) It’s absolutely everything you need to make the meals for the number of people you’ve ordered for. (Well, I think they expect you to have salt and olive oil…)
2) You stick it in your fridge.
3) For dinner, you pull out the gorgeous, full color recipe with detailed instructions and the corresponding ingredients and put them together. This may involve turning a radish into matchsticks, but perservere.
4) Twenty to thirty minutes later, you have a delicious, fresh, home-cooked meal in an innovative and very trendy recipe.
I personally think it’s a brilliant idea. The meals are pricey for homecooked meals. I think they’re about $10 a meal a person, which is a lot. But if you’re replacing eating OUT with this, you could save a lot of money. The instructions demystify some of the cooking. And the ingredients are fresh and high quality.
I was actually thinking it would be extra brilliant for people of means in food deserts. For example, my parents live in the boondocks, a 20 mile drive from the nearest grocery store. For the nearest grocery store with an ample produce department, it’s nearly 40 minutes drive. What if they got a box every week of healthy, simple, fresh meals? Then I remembered my dad hates vegetables. Oh well.
Honestly, I was kind of excited about the whole thing. Adam and I love eating! And cooking! And eating what we cook! The first meal came out pretty well. Over our Pork and Tomatilla Pozole with hominy, avocado & radishes we talked about how such a great idea might fit into our lives.
After much cogitation, I realized it doesn’t.
Here’s what a typical week looks like in our house. (Because I have no memory – that’s why I write everything out – this might happen to bear a small coincidental resemblance to this week.)
Friday: Eat the delicious Blue Apron dinner we made for two, since through some amazing coincidence both children are elsewhere at dinner time.
Saturday: Go to dinner with about 8 of our best friends while all of our children were at a YMCA kids night that I won in an auction in the winter. AWESOME.
Sunday: Brother is here. Make world famous chili and cornbread since Blue Apron order only serves two grownups.
Monday: Sacrosanct to library/pizza night. Adam is at aikido anyway, and children unlikely to appreciate “Pulled Chicken Mole Quesadillas”
Tuesday: Soccer practice, followed by Adam at trustees meeting focused on manse planning. Dinner was Subway (eat fresh!)
Wednesday: Gaming night. Due to need to watch two (2) Deadliest Catch episodes (having missed one while in New York), I was tragically unable to prep ahead of time on Tuesday. Therefore the 10 people (6 adults, 4 kids) at the gaming table will have an unusually simple meal of buttermilk pancakes and bacon. Mmmmm bacon.
Thursday: Maybe second Blue Apron meal?
Friday: Who knows. Grey is likely to campaign for sushi. The question is how much willpower remains…
On any given week, I may serve neighbors, gamers, visitors, children. The food needs to create enough leftovers for lunches for three people for the entire week. (Not usually a problem.) And I reserve the right to at any moment say, “Hey, why don’t you come over for dinner? There’s plenty.” And mean it.
So how DO I actually accommodate our crazy cooking plans? It’s complicated, but falls into the following parts:
A pantry that will weather the biggest storm
You could tell me that tomorrow I was hosting 40 people for dinner, and I can’t go to the grocery store. Oh, and one of them is vegan, a second is gluten intolerant, and a third really likes top quality steak. And I could make enough (different) food for all of them to walk away regretting their thirds. The way I do this is with a vast pantry, a stand alone freezer, a farm share, and a dry good cabinet packet with pasta and beans. (I’d make Pav Bhaji for the vegan with a big pot of Basmati rice, which would coincidentally work just fine for the vegan too. Then I’d make a big pot of chili, and figure out how the heck to cook the frozen steaks from my meat share.) This philosophy paid off handsomely this winter when, despite incessant storms and consistently closed roads, I had something to bring to each potluck.
The internet is amazing
I now do 90% of my grocery shopping on Peapod. We have a running list of things that belong in the pantry that have been used (in order to restock). When I go to “shop”, I also list out three to four recipes I plan on making that week, and any special ingredients those recipes require in addition to the pantry restocking and stuff I need every time (like bread, eggs & milk). The next day, some tired looking dude shows up at my house with a box truck and brings in all the stuff I asked for. It’s like magic. I’ve just actually hit “VIP” status with Peapod, which I think translates to “Do you even remember where the store is”. I regret nothing. (Except that my favorite tortilla chips are not available online. WOE!)
Farmer Dave is my farmer
Probably the killing blow to the Blue Apron concept is the fact that in a few short weeks I’ll be swimming in arugula. And tomatillos. No one tell Dave about cactus leaves, since I’m still figuring out what to do with purslane. The producelanche works just fine with my Peapod/menu planning technique, especially when I time it right and do my order the night I get the produce in so I know what bizarre ingredients I need to find recipes for, like kohlrabi. (Just kidding. I never actually use the kohlrabi.) But you really don’t need a box of carefully curated veggie when you get a crate of garlic scapes the same day. And I actually prefer the garlic scapes, thanks.
So to sum up, if you currently eat out a ton and/or live in a food desert and want to be a foodie, consider Blue Apron. If you want to eat more vegetables (because you are afraid that if you don’t you may never find the back of your ‘fridge again) you should join a CSA like Farmer Dave’s. If you love eating but don’t need to spend 90 minutes a week with your friendly grocery baggers, online groceries are amazing.
Finally, you should come to dinner sometime. There’s plenty.
One of the projects I planted during the winter that is sprouting this spring is setting up my church (Burlington Presbyterian as a farm share distribution point for Farmer Dave’s farm share. I participated in his farm share last year at the Lawrence pickup location (conveniently located in my building!), but changing jobs meant living too far away to pick it up.
We’ve been talking about stewardship a lot lately in church. Sometimes the word “stewardship” is a churchy way of saying “We need more money.” This is often true. But true stewardship means a lot more than that. It means taking care of the people who bring the mission of a church to life. It means fostering the connection and feeling of belonging with everyone who is a part of our church family. It means carefully looking at how the church’s financial resource are spent, as well as how they come in. It also means having careful stewardship of the world entrusted to our care.
This drive to stewardship is therefore affecting things big and small across our church. We had already done some things. For example,we use fair trade coffee, use CFLs where possible, avoid paper/plastic dishes, recycle religiously (get it?), and offer our parking lot for commuter parking with public transit. But we’re trying to take it the next step: installing timed thermostats (apparently we have high voltage something-or-others that make this more complicated) and looking to see if we can install solar panels on our beautiful big roof (if there’s anyone out there who’d like to help us with this drop me a line!).
Offering fresh, locally grown, sustainable produce to the community seemed like an excellent way to contribute to the cause of Stewardship, while also creating a relationship with people who might otherwise not know our church exists. Furthermore, for any shares that aren’t picked up (because the person is on vacation or forgets or something) we’ll be donating those shares to the Burlington Food Pantry. Fresh produce is one of the hardest things for a food pantry to offer.
Anyway, I’ve been pleased and amazed at how the distribution has come together. We’ve ironed out nearly all the kinks, and are now accepting registrations! We’re in a big push now. We need to have a minimum number of sign-ups for the site, or it won’t work. So if you or a loved one lives in the Burlington Massachusetts area and love fresh produce, sustainably grown and harvested the morning it’s delivered to you, please consider signing up!
Divide the stuffing between the two shells, and cover them with a top crust. This filling will not settle, so the pie will be as full as it is now. Also, please note that since this filling is gooey you can’t redo a top crust if you mess it up.
You can freeze pot pies, or cook them straight away, or refridgerate for a day or two. Cooking time changes dramatically depending on which of those you choose, from over an hour if they’re frozen to about half an hour if they’re not. Watch the crust — it’ll tell you when it’s done.
Theoretically the pie is supposed to sit for 20 minutes to gel. I’ve rarely been patient enough for this step.