Posts Tagged ‘challenge to self’

A Zero Grocery Week Challenge

Our freezer has spoken. It said, “You put too much stuff in me, and now I’m going to spontaneously un-seal and ruin your fancy schmancy local ice cream, organic frozen broccoli, and yearly Energy Star savings!”

We caught it before it could make good on its threat, but it’s true: we have too much stuff in our freezer, and if that weren’t enough, we have plenty of food in the cupboard and fridge, too. Everything we really like gets eaten and replaced. Everything else, which includes:

  • Food that we bought because we know we should eat more of it but don’t really like very much
  • Convenience foods like cooking sauces that I always think I will be happy to fall back on in a pinch (and never do)
  • Food that was given to us
  • Food that looked good at the store but wasn’t that enjoyable
  • Food that I bought for a particular recipe that I never ended up making
…tends to sit. Eventually some of it gets eaten, but some of it also ends up getting tossed. You’d think that since I know about the environmental impact of wasting food, I would be better about it. I’m not. I am an impulsive cook: if I find out about an exciting new recipe, I want to make it. Now. Even if I had something else planned that I bought all the ingredients for. I’ve been slightly obsessive my whole life; that’s probably not going to change.

But maybe I can fix the problem in another way. This week I’ve declared a zero grocery week — my first, or at least my first deliberate one. We’re going to use stuff up in the freezer and cupboards, get creative, and spend no money on food this week.
So far, things are going well. I’ve had:
  • Leftover Ethiopian stew (shiro wat) (3 days) over whole wheat couscous (1+ years in cupboard)
  • Popovers with homemade strawberry jam (thanks, Emily!) using the last of the milk and pantry staples
  • Mock tuna with canned garbanzo beans (2 months), homemade mayo (2 days), and other things in my fridge, on top of
  • Whole wheat pitas (freezer history: 3 months)
  • Miso soup with slightly wilted green onions (2 weeks), dried shiitake mushrooms and kelp (3 months), and freezer vegetables (1-4 months?)

Coming up later this week (possibly):

  • Matzo ball soup with onions, celery, carrots, lentils, and freezer vegetables
  • Pesto with whole wheat pasta, canned artichokes in the fridge,white beans, and whatever other vegetables I can dig up
  • Home made pizza using frozen tomato sauce and porcini and shiitake mushrooms
  • Potstickers with the wonton skins and seitan I stuck in the freezer months ago, plus shiitake mushrooms
A little lower on fresh vegetables than I’d usually like, but it’s not like we’re eating PB&J sandwiches day in, day out. By the end of the week, I hope to have made enough progress in the freezer to see what we actually have back there. I’m also hoping I’ll start to make better decisions about what to skip at the store.

Have you ever done a zero grocery week? Did it cut down on your food waste or make you more creative in the kitchen? How do you buy smarter at the grocery store?

Taking back our food

One of my favorite desserts is an incredibly simple recipe from Mollie Katzen. It’s a light fruit soup that calls for just a handful of ingredients: freshly squeezed orange juice, ripe berries, plain yogurt, a squeeze of lime juice, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. The ingredients are simple enough that the whole thing sings when made with fresh, ripe ingredients…and falls flat when you even glance at storebought orange juice or anemic greenhouse strawberries.

As a culture, we’ve experienced a sort of gustatory amnesia about how good simple, fresh food tastes. We’ve been persuaded by food scientists, our own busy lives, and our love for convenience that packaged, processed food tastes good. But it doesn’t, not really. After cooking most of my own food for a few years, I recently ate a frozen dinner (ironically, one by Moosewood) and was appalled. I finished it, but felt queasy afterwards. Yet I’m sure that plenty of people who eat processed food on a more regular basis than I do would have been fine with it, maybe even enjoyed it.

My mother loves fruit trees, so even in our small suburban yard, I grew up with the taste of tart-sweet raspberries eaten straight off the vine, pink-blushed apricots, fuzzy and still warm from the sun, and glossy mahogany plums so sweet that biting into them was a religious experience.  I no longer have a yard, but I still remember how food should taste. And so, after a brief hiatus during college in which I ate mostly processed junk, I’m back to making a good deal of my own food and being amazed at how satisfying fresh, made-from-scratch food is — not just the taste, but also the process of making it.

This weekend I made bread. It was a sunny Saturday morning on which I had nowhere particular to be, so during long, slow risings, I read a book, drank my tea, and played with the cat. The kneading was rhythmical and soothing, and the smells of yeast, flour, honey, and sunshine became their own wordless poem. And the bread, eaten warm with a generous dollop of homemade marmalade, was delicious. Not because it was awesome bread, made with utmost skill and proficiency, but because it was fresh, and I made it.

This is my challenge to myself for the next year: every month, I’m going to try making something new from scratch I usually buy. I want to take back my food from the food corporations and get away from plastic packaging.  I’m thinking I’d like to tackle canning my own tomato sauce, making my own granola bars, folding my own veggie potstickers, among other things. Want to join me?

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