Food Update, Week of March 30

Thursday, April 2, 2020

My main project so far has been trying to not waste food.

On Wednesday 3/11, I stopped at the Lakewood Food Lion (which I LOVE, by the way, I know there are a lot of FL haters out there but that store is good — really good prices, super clean, nice fresh produce). This was before the coronavirus dam burst, but after everyone was worrying that it might.  I had been on an eating-down-the-fridge project, trying to get rid of all of the detritus that had built up in my pantry and freezer over the past few weeks/months/years of erratic eating, and I’d gotten through a lot. This was good, that was the whole point, to give me a fresh start. But it also meant that my backstock was limited. Not so good when the apocalypse comes.

When I left work that night I decided that since I had my car and I wasn’t in a hurry or starving to death, I should do a big shop while I was right there. So I bought some food for dinner plus a restock — I bought eggs, pasta, canned salmon, canned tuna, frozen chicken patties, canned fruit, cans of seltzer.  It came out to over $50 in groceries, which is a lot for me. (Usually these days I spend around $20 per shopping trip, with one shopping trip every week to 10 days. Sometimes more, sometimes less. But in that range.)

The next day, Thursday 3/12, was when the wheels started to come off the bus. But things were still generally rolling. The weekend was pretty normal. It was the next week that things really started to fall apart.

On Tuesday morning 3/17, before I headed in to the meeting at work where I would find out that I was being furloughed, I made a trip to King’s, where I usually shop, and bought things I normally buy, but somewhat more than usual, just in case. I bought a stewing hen, ground beef, ham hock, russet potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, lettuce, carrots, cucumber, apples, eggs. Another $50. Then I went to the Food Lion on Roxboro Rd, which is more of a standard Food Lion, it is definitely not the Food Lion at Lakewood, and stocked up with more long-lasting items:  flour, oats, pasta, canned tomatoes, peanut butter, dried beans, canned tuna. And of course BROWNIE MIX. Because you never know.

Another $50.

So I had now spent $150 on groceries in less than a week. That is a lot of groceries for me to have at one time.

But you know. Pandemic.

I had previously planned on going down to the coast the weekend of 3/20 with my friend Ann, who has a house in Carteret County. We debated whether or not to go but in the end decided that we would. Neither one of us had a job, there aren’t any people to speak of where her house is, and I figured if we didn’t stop on the way down or on the way back, it didn’t seem significantly more or less dangerous than staying home.

So on Friday 3/20, we went away for the weekend.

We took a cooler with food with us so we wouldn’t have to stop for groceries and could just work with what we had. We were there for three days and we didn’t even scratch the surface of the food we had brought. So on Monday we packed up everything we hadn’t eaten and brought it back with us, including leftovers of the things we’d made.

We got back Monday evening 3/23, and I’ve spent the past week trying to work my way through the leftovers and everything I had bought in the pandemic rush before we left.

I ate the rest of the pasta dish I had made on Sunday that we didn’t finish (penne, tomato sauce, mushrooms, green pepper, onion). I also ate some of the rice pudding I had made in an effort to rescue a brown rice fail — I had put some rice on the stove to cook then completely forgot about it. It was over very low heat, so it didn’t burn, but it did cook down to mush. So I added sugar, milk, half and half, raisins. And that actually worked out pretty well. I ate some of it while we were down there, the night I made it, and the rest came back with me. I had some of the leftovers the first night I was back then I stuck the rest in the fridge. I thought I might have let it go too long, but I looked at it yesterday and it was still good. So I had that for desert Tuesday and Wednesday and can now cross that off the list of things I thought I might lose.

I had made cookies to take down with us — half went to a friend who was supposed to go with us but didn’t, because she has an elderly mother in the area and didn’t want to be 3 hours away, and the other half we ate some of while we were there and then I brought the rest back. They were oatmeal raisin cookies, made with a Marion Cunningham recipe that I tried for the first time, which had honey in it. The honey gave them a nice, complex flavor, they were very tasty, but it also made the texture a bit complicated. They got very soft after baking, so I put them in the freezer to see if that would help them keep, but then they kind of all fused together. But they were also quite crumbly, so it was hard to separate them. It was just kind of a big blob of cookie.

They made the trip in a freezer bag, then I stuck the remainder of the cookie blob in a cookie tin when I got back, and have been eating handfuls of crumbs, with the occasional whole cookie, since then. I ate the last cookie yesterday, so no waste there either.

And yay! All the deserts are gone! So now I get to make something else.

I made my standard cole slaw recipe before I went down, which is from the plaid Better Homes & Gardens cookbook — the dressing is mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, salt, celery seed — and I was worried I was going to lose some of that, because I had made quite a large batch, but I finished that up today and it was fine.

I still had half a cabbage in the fridge, so on Monday I made Marion Cunningham’s L. A. Slaw, which is good and keeps for a long time, and kept out about a cup and a half of chopped cabbage which I’ll need to do something with soon. I’m thinking maybe stir fry, or yakisoba.

I have to keep working on the iceberg lettuce, which I used to think of as being very ephemeral but is actually quite robust. It keeps surprisingly well.

I made a vinaigrette with olive oil and raspberry vinegar, and can probably have as many tossed salads as I want, with carrots, and cucumber, and red pepper while it lasts. I’m not sure what else to do with iceberg lettuce, other than put it on a hamburger (which is actually why I bought it, because I wanted to make a hamburger with a quarter pound of the ground beef I bought, and then freeze the rest of the ground beef). I was thinking about green smoothies, but I’m not sure if I have anything that would work for that. I’ve just been doing basic orange-banana smoothies, I don’t really have any other fruit or juices around, and I’m not sure how lettuce would go in that. I think I need to do some more research on that.

If anyone has iceberg lettuce suggestions, let me know.

I had cooked the hen before I left, I poached it with onion, celery, bay leaf, peppercorns, dried pepper, then took the meat off the bone and froze it in three ounce packets, so I can pull one out of the freezer and reheat while I cook the rest of my meal.

Last night I had some of the chicken with penne pasta and pesto that I have in the freezer, that my mom made for me, with basil from her garden, when I was at her house in the fall.

One of the things I had been eating a lot of before I flooded myself with food then went out of town was grits bowls. They serve them at Grub, and I had one, and it was good, but mostly it made me think, Hm. I could make this myself. So I did.

Here’s how I’ve been making them.

GRITS BOWL

For the grits
1/3 cup grits (not instant!)
1-1/3 cup water or chicken stock
1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 to 1 Tbsp butter (optional)

approx 1/2 to 1 oz grated cheese of your choice (cheddar, pepper jack, swiss)
Worcestershire sauce
ground pepper
tabasco sauce (optional)

Mix-Ins (as many or as few as you’d like … just regular cheese grits are good on their own)
cooked chicken (or cooked bacon or cooked sausage, or some combination thereof)
frozen spinach
chopped tomato
fried egg

1. Make cheese grits.
Put the grits, salt, and water or stock in a saucepan. Stir with a whisk to combine and get rid of any lumps, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, and cook covered, stirring occasionally, until all of the water has been absorbed and the grits are thick and creamy.

When the grits are cooked, turn off the heat and add the grated cheese, a few turns of ground pepper, one or two dashes of worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce, if desired. Cover the pot and let the cheese melt. Once melted, stir everything together so the cheese and sauces are evenly distributed throughout the grits.

2, Prepare the mix-ins.
In a separate pan, heat together the chicken, spinach and/or tomato, and whatever else you’d like to include. Season to taste. (I have been using Penzey’s jerk chicken & fish seasoning, along with ancho chili pepper, to great effect. Except that I just ran out of the ancho chili pepper so I’ll have to make some adjustments there.)

I use 2 or 3 ounces of cooked chicken, about a third of a cup of frozen spinach, and maybe a quarter cup or of chopped tomato, if I have it. Chicken is what I use the most, because I almost always have that in the freezer, but I’ve also made it with sausage or with bacon, which I cook up while I’m making the grits.

You can fry an egg separately, with a soft runny yolk or a hard center, as you prefer, and add that along with the other mix-ins. It depends on how hungry I am (and how many eggs I have available) if I include the egg or not.

You can mix it up in the pot you cooked the grits in, or you can put the grits in a bowl then add the mix-ins and mix it up in the bowl.

Good stuff — easy, cheap, and made with things you can keep on hand.

 

In pandemic updates, I read tonight that the songwriter Adam Schlesinger died from complications of COVID-19, which is tragic. (And not just because he was the same age as I am, though I do always find that disconcerting.)  I love Fountains of Wayne, Welcome Interstate Managers is one of my favorite albums, there are just so many great songs on that, and he did the songwriting for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which is a brilliant comedic satire that I have had extremely limited success convincing anyone I know to watch. But it is just so funny. Not designed for binging, though, the story moves slowly and it repeats itself. Which works fine for weekly appointment television but gets tiresome when you try to watch a bunch in a row. It works better if you stretch it out. And actually the songs are the best part, and I think you can watch most or all of those on YouTube, so you could skip the show and just do that. Though be warned that they are ear worms — I had the line “I have friends. I definitely / have friends” stuck in my head for days and days once. (And probably will again, now that I am writing about it.)

So sad.

RIP, Adam Schlesinger.

Stay safe, people.

4 Responses to “Food Update, Week of March 30”

  1. orinoco Says:

    Any lettuce can be prepared by the old “Hot Lettuce” recipe I picked up decades ago from “How to Cook and Eat in Chinese” which is unfortunately out of print and impossible to find and I wish I had lifted it from my mom’s shelves 20 years ago, the last time I was in her house. Because when she died I know my sister (who thinks McDonald’s is food) just threw all her cookbooks and stuff out.

    But I digress, as I am wont to do. Prepare this when you are ready to sit down to the table, it will NOT stand. It takes all of about three minutes to prepare.

    Hot Lettuce
    1 head lettuce or similar greens, torn into bites
    1 clove minced garlic
    1 Tablespoon each white cooking wine or sake, soy sauce, and oyster sauce mixed together
    (can double if you have a lot of greens)
    Good pinch sugar added to the liquids and stirred well
    Oil for stir-frying

    Heat the oil and sauté the garlic until fragrant. Add the greens and toss till they start to wilt. Quickly add the liquids and sugar and toss. Done.

  2. lessisenough Says:

    I have all of those things in my house right now, even oyster sauce! I will try it for sure.

    Sorry about the loss of How To Cook and Eat in Chinese. My family has the opposite problem, we are all a bunch of hoarders, but as people die their things get passed down to the next hoarder in line. So now my house is filled with things from my aunt (who kept things from my grandmother and my other maternal relatives) and my father, who kept, literally, eveything — my mom has been cleaning things out and recently came across the hospital bill from when I was born in 1967, and all of my pediatrician bills — plus he had also acquired things when his aunt passed away and from his mother. So I have a bunch of that stuff that I now need to try to sort and organize. I have decided that part of the solution is a few more bookshelves.

    And on the plus side, I have PLENTY to keep me occupied during this time of social isolation.

  3. mm1970 Says:

    I also seem to have managed to get ahead of the pandemic shopping. It was enough to keep us stocked until pretty recently (so, for a whole month), when things have SLIGHTLY settled out. Though I have plenty of oats, I’m finding that I have to order beans, lentils, and rice, at much more than I’d normally spend. Indeed, our weekly grocery bill (averaged out), is getting pretty close to $230 when it is normally $170 (family of 4 in California). Both my kids got free lunch at school (all students do in their schools), and boy, my teenager can EAT.

  4. lessisenough Says:

    Yes I think everyone is becoming newly aware of how much food gets eaten when everyone is home eating all of their meals!

    The only thing I noticed being more expensive the last time I shopped (my first shopping trip carried me from 3/17 to 4/6) was eggs. There were no eggs at all at Food Lion and at King’s the cage-free eggs were actually cheaper than the regular white eggs. Regular eggs had gone from $2 something to $4.15 (Food Lion eggs had been $1.09, not sure what they are now), the cage-free ones were $3.45. I think those were left from a prior shipment.

    I did spend a lot more than usual but mostly that was because I bought everything I thought I might need instead of just getting what I knew I needed for the near term. I did try to focus on things with an extended shelf life. It’s stressful for me to have too much food that I need to figure out what to do with before it goes bad — I really hate throwing food away.


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