Monday, May 19, 2014

Who Needs Mushroom Madeira Sauce Anyway

I have not been in a grocery store since April. And we're not starving. Or even hungry. We have banana bread and homemade apple cinnamon muffins on the counter. No-knead bread is rising on the stove. The fridge is stuffed with leftovers from the last three nights, two different kinds of iced tea and eggs from the backyard. I've picked asparagus from the garden and I think I'll be picking arugula this week. We had sweet and sour pork chops with baked potatoes and butter beans last night for dinner. I've figured out three different ways to extend a ham for over a week and am getting pretty good at hand-rolling flour tortillas for burritos. We mad vanilla ice-cream last week and I think I'm going to try chocolate-coconut this week. (I still have a milkman, remember...) I figured out how to reduce the amounts of sugar and honey in my granola recipe in order to extend those ingredients a bit longer and determined that, just like aluminum foil, you can reuse parchment paper slightly more than three times when baking. It gets a little crunchy by the fourth round in the oven.
It worked. It actually works to stock your house full of food in case you need it or just don't want to deal with grocery shopping or whatever. Oh, we are definitely out of things and I will need to replenish some staples in the next week to ten days. The fresh version of every food was the first to go. I think the mangoes of two weeks ago were the last piece of fresh fruit to be eaten. The muffins were made with frozen homemade applesauce from last fall. The banana bread from two blackened samples sitting in a bowl on my counter. All vegetable matter for at least a week and a half has been frozen. Peas, corn, broccoli. You get the picture. I used the last scrid of cheese on burritos last week so there are no grilled cheese sandwiches or ham and cheese on rye or cheese omelettes. The yeast supply is getting scanty and I think I'm down to ten pounds of ground flour and ten to fifteen pounds of wheat berries for grinding. The rolled oats will be gone this week so we'll be stuck with steel-cut which means no more granola. I have five or six potatoes left in the pantry and three carrots and a couple stalks of celery in the fridge. So, while it really did work, it certainly doesn't make for exciting eating. Of course, if you are unemployed or living with fewer means than you are used to or, God forbid, illness has struck, you probably don't much care about whether your dinner was pasture raised pork, cooked with mushroom Madeira sauce. You just want dinner.
Not grocery shopping has put the focus on food but in a very different way than I expected. It has given me pause. It's absolutely, positively lovely to eat original, exciting meals which have been prepared with exotic ingredients. Truffles! Mole sauce! Confit! Caramelized pecans and goat cheese in a chicory salad! Balsamic this and Himalayan salt that! Green peppercorns and wood ear mushrooms! Yay! So delicious and precious and...completely unnecessary for day-to-day living. I have been made to realize that I carry a heavy load of guilt in this arena. For twenty years, I had subscriptions to Gourmet and Bon Apetit. I collect cookbooks and have been a member of our food co-op for decades. We had a farm share, shopped at the farmer's markets, bought our beef and pork and chicken from our local farmers and raw milk from a friend. I would regularly buy $15/lb. cheese and heaven to me was a visit to Whole Foods. We would rather drink warm water than bad coffee. It's true. I have been a food snob for over twenty years and have helped to create three more food snobs in my wake. I have children who will say to me, in all seriousness, "Mom, why didn't you get the blood-orange Greek yogurt?!" Or, "my favorite salad is the pear and goat-cheese with arugula and champagne dressing." What the hell?! I didn't even know what a blood orange was until I was 40 years old! I mean, don't get me wrong, the kids would rather eat a chicken finger or pizza or a cheeseburger than anything else, but they like to have rosemary-salted french-fries with that burger and isn't chorizo so delish on your pizza?! It's crazy!
These past three weeks have been very good for so many reasons. They have given me time to reflect on our relationship to food and all of the emotions that go with it. Time to observe my children's desires about food and how they behave when those desires can't be met. I have been forced to be more creative and thoughtful about each and every meal that is made and to have a running tally of what is left in the house. And I've watched the kids settle into an understanding that the world does not come to a grinding halt when the American cheese has run out. They've been awesome about it. No whining or complaining or tantrums. A sort of, "won't it be great when we can have cheese again?!" appreciation has set in that makes me feel very happy. It means that they understand that American cheese in the house maybe isn't just a given., certainly, there will be times in their own lives when they can't afford it. And they'll know that they can pull dinner together with some hamburger, salsa, elbow noodles and frozen corn.

Monday, May 12, 2014

In which I draw the line.

Okay, we've made it thus far and I'm feeling pretty good about what's left in the pantry and freezer. Plenty of beans, meat, rice, flour, noodles, canned fruit and chocolate. More meat than we can possibly go through in the next couple of weeks and the hens started laying again. Lettuce is growing the garden, the peas are up and trellising and the arugula is looking like it might want me to eat it by the end of this week. Or the beginning of next. Maybe. There are frozen vegetables and the magical butter shelf is still hard at work, delivering delicious golden fat to my toast every morning. There are spare jars of peanut butter and even some apple butter and an unopened jar of salsa. Milk continues to be delivered for the granola, tea is made from the bazillion spare bags in the spice cupboard (what on earth made me think that I needed to store eight boxes of Celestial Seasons herbal tea for the end of time, I wonder...). Still, there are some challenges.
Lunches rank high on the list of those challenges. One child is in school and needs to take a lunch. Every day. On bread, which needs to be made the night before. One cannot send leftovers to school where there is little to no capability for reheating and/or there is a large "EW!" factor on the part of the eater and his lunch table buddies. This is bothersome when the cheese drawer is down to a skinny brick of Monterey Jack, half a wedge of Pecorino Romano and some spreadable herbed goat cheese. Peanut butter and raspberry jam every day for two weeks with a container of canned pineapple may not be so palatable for my lunch-taker. I'm working on alternatives but am not hopeful. Egg salad is tricky because it's kinda smelly. I think I will, honest to God, cook a ham so we have ham for sandwiches and ham salad and so on. That might go far to fill the belly of the sandwich beast. More on that later...
The other issue that I have and which may drive me to drastic measures like entering a grocery store is that we ran out of coffee. Yesterday was the last of it. Rather, it could have lasted until Tuesday but my husband drank it. I made the last pot yesterday morning and poured two cups for us. I then hid the remaining cups in a pre-heated thermos that is wrapped in it's own personal flannel jacket. This jacket was made especially for the thermos by my husband. I tucked it back behind some containers on a tray that lives next to the warm refrigerator. I was convinced that it would provide us with two cups each until Tuesday and then I would book a flight to Hawaii where I would harvest the coffee myself, thus ensuring that I would not have to enter a Hannaford or Price Chopper this month. This was not meant to be.
Last night I picked up the thermos to reassure myself of its fullness and my impending morning caffeination was empty. EMPTY!! I turned and looked at my husband, aghast. "Where is the coffee?!" I sputtered. "Uh, I drank it," he said. "WHAT? WHY?" I said. "Because it was there." End of story. End of coffee. Thank God for tea.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Three Mangos

Three days ago I decided that we were going to try this crazy experiment and see if we could stay away from the grocery stores for ONE month. I mean, I pride myself on being a prepping queen and have a house full of food. A freezer full of meat and applesauce and vegetables. A pantry full of canned fruit, beans, all manner of dry goods including oats, rice, flour, quinoa, pasta and barley. I buy sugar(s) and baking supplies in bulk and have more spices than I can use, oh, ever. I have dry milk for the days between milk deliveries (that's the only thing we keep this month) and a fridge that seemingly creates butter on the second shelf, in the back, overnight. I was blessed with a relative who sent me tallow and a husband who makes the most delectable ghee, so the fats are covered. I cook nearly everything from scratch and Drew makes the most awesome bread ever. And did I mention the beer? He makes beer. Most importantly, I have hens! Many hens! Who give me eggs! Except...when they don't. Which is, well, now. Apparently, the eight week old chicks that I put in the coop last week are acting as, uh, birth control or something. The hens are not laying. There are no eggs. Every day. No eggs. Every since, basically, I decided to do this. And did I mention that my kids are teenagers and an almost teenager? Who eat all the time? Who open the fridge 306 times a day and say, "God, Mom. Why do we never have any food in the house?" while simultaneously rolling their eyes and slamming the door and turning on their heel to leave me up to my elbows in flour, blowing hair out of my eyes while I roll out the homemade noodles or bread or cornbread? And did I mention that baking without eggs becomes an exercise in...cornstarch? Did you know, for instance, that cornstarch, when stirred properly into a bread pudding, will actually thicken the milk and sugar and create a puddingy like dessert thing? Not that the locusts were into the consistency aspect of that particular dish. They poured the last of the whipped cream and Hershey's chocolate syrup on it and ate it like it was the last supper.
In three days we managed to eat very well for dinner. Lunches and snacks are going to be another story entirely. Once you've completely run out of convenience foods like the Annie's mac-n-cheese, which is an after-school staple, and you've eaten all the American cheese and kimchee sandwiches, (yes, for real) and there are no bags of whatever to open and stick your grubby paws into in order to scarf the contents, you might be actually required to...make something. If you were a teenager, this might come to you as what we adults like to call a "nasty shock". Effort expended? Is it a...joke? Peel the banana? Wash the apple? Slice the bread and spread the peanut butter onto it? Perish the thought.
This brings me to the three mangos which are sitting on our counter. They are not ripe. They will not be ripe for a few days. Anyone who eats mangos knows that they require quite a bit of effort to get to the delicious, flowery fruit. Carefully peeling away the rind in strips, holding the fruit gently so as not to bruise the fruit, taking a super sharp knife and holding the slippery, juicy oblong we cut just so, in order to remove as much fruit from the pit as possible. This could take an astonishing five minutes. Mangos are not for the faint of heart. Or teenagers. But I'm willing to take bets that in a few days when there is literally nothing to eat which does not require some effort there will be fights over who had how many pieces of mango and whether the person who peeled and pitted the mango deserves more slices or not. Any antes?
I feel the need to end this little update with a note about frosting. It is unwise for us to leave opened cans of frosting (with sprinkles included in a little plastic cup on top) in the freezer where children can find them. I won't make that mistake again.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Month Without Hannaford

Yeah, yeah...I know. It's been four years since I've posted here but, well, I've been busy. And I'm posting now. Not because I'm less busy but because I'm undergoing a challenge that I feel the need to write about. This blog will provide me with a therapeutic purge every few days this month. Because I'm doing something drastic.
I'm forcing my family of five, with two teens and a pre-teen, to endure a month of "making do" with what we've got in the house for food. I'm going to see if I can really and truly not pay a single visit to a grocery store for one month. My rules are simple. Animal food doesn't count, obviously. I can get that at Tractor Supply, so no need for Hannaford for the doggie kibble. Also, I won't cancel the milk-man. Maybe that's cheating a little bit, but I don't want to risk my relationship with his business and I'm assuming he likes, (maybe even needs?), to keep his customers. So, he stays. Each week we'll get milk delivered. I have one very big order from him which includes cheeses, yogurt, and eggs coming next week but after that I'll stick to just milk.
Years ago, just after 9/11 I guess, when my children were very little, I decided that having a goodly supply of food on hand might not be such a bad idea. Shortly after that national tragedy we had several personal events that reinforced that thinking. The first was that my father-in-law and father died three months apart. The second was that I got the flu which turned into a six week bout of pneumonia, and the last was that my husband was let go from his job of 25 years. These events; national and personal tragedy and illness, made it very clear to me that there actually were times in your life when you might not be able to get to a grocery store.
Thanks to a mom who paved the way, I had been gardening and canning and preserving for years by that time, but hadn't really thought of it in terms of "what if you really NEED this food?" It was always just an exercise that I engaged in without deeply thinking about it. 9/11 and the subsequent chain of events changed that for me. It was as if the world was suddenly brought into ultra-sharp focus and I began to read and think and read and think some more. I mainly studied history, resource use and its relationship to conflict, the reasons for the rise and fall of civilizations, the role of government; both domestic and foreign in resource use and how we respond as societies to catastrophes. This naturally led to my wondering about how we could best weather any bit of nastiness that we might encounter both as a nation and as a family in a community. Whether tragedy is inflicted upon us by nature or man doesn't really matter, does it? What matters is the response.
This exploration took some time and energy, as you can imagine. The conclusions that I have reached are not dire, nor are they Pollyanna-ish. It's easy to get caught up in the doomsday scenarios and join the Chicken Little paradigm, but I think it's not quite like that. And I definitely don't think it's a productive use of our time. I do think, it's true, that resources ARE limited. I do think that the Wall Street Journal is really just selling a fantasy of savvy marketing, when they publish articles like "The Scarcity Fallacy", as they did a week or so ago. They want us to believe that there will always be enough because that MAKES MONEY. And that's their business. Hey, I have no problem with money. I do have a problem with lies, however, and I do have a problem with denial. There needs to be an attitude of stewardship toward all of our resources, and pretending that isn't so by publishing articles to the contrary in such a widely read newspaper (which is owned by whats-his-name, Murdoch, by the way) is irresponsible. But I digress.
In the early to mid 2000s, I realized that I had been engaged in what is now referred to as "prepping", only I didn't call it that. Heck, I didn't call it anything. It was just a part of my regular life. Do two major grocery shopping trips a month and at each of those trips, buy a little extra. Put it in the freezer. The pantry. Always have some extra. It got be a little game with my husband and I where he would say something like, "uh oh, you're slipping. There's only one extra container of baking powder in the pantry." Eventually, I began looking around the web and found that I was absolutely not alone in what I was doing. That, in fact, there was an entire culture of "putting up" and "prepping" that people had been practicing for decades! I was just late to the party! As an aside, one fantastic resource for food storage has been the Mormon church. I know of a wonderful lady who is a pro at this and I encourage you to read Brandy's words of wisdom at her blog;
So, here I am. 2014. With what looks like a ton of food in the house! But is it? Is it really? How long can it really last? And will I panic as the pantry shelves start to get empty? When we've eaten the last can of butter beans? And how will I do this without white or brown rice? I only have sushi rice in the house right now. And what about kid's lunches? And what if the arugula and lettuce don't mature quickly enough to be eaten in the next several weeks? No fresh produce? Argh! And what about those hens who sometimes just stop laying? Well, we're about to find out the answers to all of those questions!
I'll post updates here and if you are interested, post a comment. Either here or on my Facebook page. I'd love to hear what you think and whether you are willing to try this experiment as well.


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