Bananas

Saturday, May 23, 2020

I have a couple of friends who frequently end up with large quantities of slightly past-its-prime food — food that is still usable for certain purposes but can’t be distributed because it fell outside the window of acceptable food safety (e.g., it was held at the wrong temperature for too long) or for some other reason. Sometimes the problem is just too much of one thing all at the same time that they don’t have the capacity to distribute while it will still be edible.

Knowing that I both (a) hate food waste and (b) love a food bargain, these friends will contact me when they have some excess food item they need to get off their hands. Which is how I recently ended up with a case of ripe bananas in my kitchen. (I actually took two cases, but was able to give half of them away to friends and neighbors.)

I said I would take them because I know that you can peel bananas and freeze them and they will keep indefinitely. You can use them straight out of the freezer for smoothies or you can take them out and thaw them to use in pancakes or muffins, or to make banana bread.

I have a friend who would freeze bananas in the peel and then take them out and thaw them in a bowl and take the peel off when they were thawed and mash them and make banana bread. This is fine if the only thing you are going to do with the bananas is make banana bread, and if you are willing to wait for the bananas to thaw before you use them. It won’t work if you want to use them frozen in a smoothie. This I learned when I tried to peel a frozen banana and I thought my fingers were going to fall off, they were so cold. You cannot imagine how cold your fingers can get until you try to peel a frozen banana. OMG so cold.

So now my strategy is to peel the bananas and wrap each banana individually in little piece of plastic wrap. I put the wrapped bananas in a plastic bag, and then I put the plastic bag in a zip-top freezer bag. (I usually insist on putting a label with anything I put in the freezer so that later I can figure out what it is, but I’ve found bananas to be sufficiently visually identifiable that I can skip that step.)

I know that seems like a lot of plastic but you can reuse it for the next round of bananas, so it’s not as bad as it sounds.

Then you can just pull out of the freezer however many bananas as you need.

If you have just a few bananas, not a case of them, you can skip the freezing step and just wait until they get ripe enough to made banana bread. For banana bread, you want your bananas to be really ripe — almost uniformly brown.

I had a good whole-wheat banana bread recipe that I liked a lot that I hadn’t made in a while so I was going to make that but then when I looked at it I was reminded that it calls for maple syrup, which I don’t have at the moment. So I went in search of a new recipe, and because I had so many bananas to use up, I was looking for the one that called for the most banana. Some of them said one or two bananas, some said two or three, some of them said a half cup or one cup of mashed banana.

Then I found one that I thought said one and three-quarters cups, so I made that one, but then later when I looked at it more carefully, I realized it actually said one and a quarter cups. Oops. But it worked with one and three quarters, so I just stuck with three medium-to-large bananas as the baseline banana amount. (The original recipe says two large bananas or three small. Some of the bananas I had were GIANT, they were like mutant bananas. I think I used three pretty big bananas and it worked okay.)

I made the recipe three times:  the first time for me, and to test the recipe; the second to give to the friend who gave me the bananas; and the third to give to a friend who told me that he loved banana bread so much that sometimes he would drive to the Bob Evans restaurant just to buy their banana bread. I gave him the recipe along with the bread, maybe it will inspire him to learn how to make it. It’s never too late to learn how to make your own banana bread.

As I made it, I made some adjustments to the recipe. Here is the final version I came up with.

[NOTE: I was not able to put nuts in this because I didn’t have any, and was not motivated to go get any, but if you like nuts in your banana bread, feel free to add 1/2 cup nuts — walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts — to the final mix-in.]

HELP I NEED TO GET RID OF A CASE OF BANANAS BANANA BREAD

1/3 cup softened butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1-1/2 cup flour [NOTE: The original recipe calls for 1 cup wheat flour and 1/2 cup white flour, but I used white flour only because that’s what I had in my pantry and there was no flour to be had in my local grocery store the last three times I shopped. Once I can get my hands on some wheat flour, I’ll try it with that.]
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon [optional]
1/4 tsp nutmeg [optional]
1-1/4 to 1-3/4 cup mashed banana (from 3 ripe bananas)
1/4 cup buttermilk or yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract [optional]

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until combined.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices, if using.

In another bowl, combine the banana, buttermilk or yogurt, and vanilla.

Alternate adding the wet and dry ingredients to the butter/sugar/egg mixture and stir until combined.

Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake at 350F degrees until the top is brown and the loaf is springy to the touch. (You can use a toothpick to test, but with so much banana in this, the toothpick may still come out looking wet even when the batter is cooked all the way.)

Do your best to not to eat all of it as soon as you take it out of the oven.

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.

Waffle House

Sunday, March 29, 2020

When my brother’s girls were little he would make waffles for them on weekend mornings. Every time I’d visit and we’d be having breakfast, he’d tell me how great it was to make waffles, how much the girls loved them, how great they were. He would go on and on about it. Every time. He’d tell me I needed to get  waffle maker. Homemade waffles are great. You should get a waffle maker.

I’d nod my head and agree. Yes, waffles are great.

(My mother’s mother, our Grandma Evelyn, used to make waffles for us for dinner when we’d stay over at her apartment when we were young. She died when we were still in elementary school, I was 9 and my brother was 10, so our memories of her are limited.  But that is a strong memory for both of us, having waffles for dinner with our Grandma Evelyn. Maybe that’s why he liked making waffles for his daughters so much.)

While I was nodding my head and agreeing about waffles being great, I was thinking about how the chances of me going out and getting a waffle maker were zero. I live by myself. Making waffles for myself was just not on the list of things I needed to do. And anyway, I live in North Carolina. If I want waffles, I can go to Waffle House.

Never once, in all those years he was telling me I should make waffles, did I find myself thinking, Gee I wish I had a waffle iron so I could make waffles right now.

Then at some point in the past year or two (the last two years of my life is just one  giant glob of time that can’t be separated into individual units … I have no idea when any of this happened or how much time elapsed between all of these steps), my friend Sara brought some stuff in to donate to The Scrap Exchange. Included in the donation pile was a waffle iron that she had intercepted from a mutual friend’s donation pile but then decided she didn’t want to keep. (I don’t remember the specifics but I think she had one, but she thought this one would be better, but it turned out it wasn’t better, so she brought it in to donate. Or something like that.)

She asked if I wanted it.

Now, a waffle iron wasn’t something I was about to go out and buy, but if someone was standing right in front of me with a nice vintage waffle iron, right there in my office, it seemed like I should take it. If it turned out I didn’t use it or it cluttered up my kitchen or whatever, I could always complete the donation cycle and finally get it to land at The Scrap Exchange. So I said I would take it.

The nice vintage waffle iron sat in my office for a bit then I moved it to my car and it stayed in my car for a bit then I finally got it into the house, where it probably sat in the living room for a few weeks/months, until eventually I found a permanent home for it in the kitchen cupboard.

And then, finally, one day, I made waffles for myself. (I don’t remember what inspired this but I think the first time I made them it was for dinner. Maybe I was channeling my Grandma Evelyn.)

They were good. But the recipe I used — the Everyday Waffle recipe from the plaid Better Homes & Gardens cookbook — made a lot, and also I put way too much batter in the waffle iron, it oozed all out the sides and made a big mess.

[SIDE NOTE: For anyone reading this who hasn’t made waffles before and is about to, you ladle a small amount of batter into the middle of the waffle iron and it flows out to the edges; when you put the top down it squeezes it all through the little channels. You don’t put a bunch of batter all over the waffle iron. After I did it, that seemed perfectly obvious, but it didn’t occur to me when I was putting the batter in for the first batch. Live and learn. And clean up the mess as you go!]

I made them again a few weeks/months later. The second round was better. I figured out how much to put on to the waffle iron without making a mess, I ate the ones I made fresh out of the waffle iron instead of making them all and then eating some (they are better hot because they are crisp; if you let them sit, they wilt from the steam), and I put the leftovers in the fridge and ate them later. They were pretty good left over. Not as good as they were hot off the iron, but good enough, with some strawberry jam on them.

So … they were definitely good, but because I haven’t made them much, they take a fair amount of mental energy; I have to think about the steps involved and make sure I’m doing them right, and also it takes a bit of time to mix up the batter then cook them all, and the recipe used kind of a lot of milk and it made way more waffles than I actually needed, so it felt wasteful. And you are supposed to separate the eggs and beat the whites separately but that just felt like SO MUCH WORK that I just mixed the egg in together. Lazy person’s waffles. So I wasn’t even doing it right and it still felt like too much work.

So, after actually getting a waffle iron and making waffles, it turned out that making waffles is something that I thought about fairly often but rarely did. Just about every Sunday when I wake up and think about what my day looks like, I think about making waffles. But then I don’t make them. It seems like a good idea when I’m lying in bed pondering my day, but once I’m up and doing things, it just seems like too much trouble. I end up making something else, something easier.

Until … pandemic!

Because what else do I have to do with myself but beat egg whites stiff and cook up the country ham slices that had been in the fridge for a month or two (exp. date July 2020 … still good!) and make some fresh hot crisp tasty waffles. And eat waffles and maple syrup and country ham. Sweet & salty & delicious.

Yum!

So if any of you out there are trying to figure out what to eat, and you have a waffle iron that you never use because it just feels like too much trouble, now is the time. Now is the time to make yourself some waffles.

Here is the recipe I used, which is half of the original Better Homes & Gardens cookbook recipe. (For today’s batch, I used self-rising flour, which already has the baking powder and salt mixed in with it, which I bought it by mistake and used it like it was regular flour in any number of recipes until I finally noticed the label and started using it properly.)

PANDEMIC EVERY DAY BUTTERMILK WAFFLES

  • 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp white flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sour milk or buttermilk [I used 1 Tbsp vinegar + sweet milk to make 1 cup]
  • 1 beaten egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup melted butter (or melted shortening or neutral tasting oil)
  • 1 stiffly beaten egg white

Sift together dry ingredients. Combine milk, egg yolk, and oil; stir to combine; then stir into dry ingredients. Fold in whites (“leaving a few fluffs,” as the cookbook tells us.)

The full recipe says it makes three 10-inch waffles. I made smaller ones, and think I made four waffles, three of which were immediately devoured and the last put in the fridge to be eaten later in the week, with strawberry jam.

 

I do hope that everyone is well and healthy during this time, and staying safe, and being creative in thinking about ways to spend your time and energy.

If anyone is wondering what’s going on in my life, I will tell you that a new Executive Director came on at The Scrap Exchange in May 2019 and my job switched from finance to operations while we tried to work through some major bottlenecks (most of which we were able to get through by the end of the year). In January, I asked to cut my hours down to 10-20 hours a week for three months to try to recover from the last two years of dramafest, and then we could revisit at the end of that time period to see where things were at. I was nearing the end of the three months when our two stores shut down and all of the staff, including me, were furloughed.

So now I’m in a weird in-between state, with no responsibilities, and not even really able to think about what I might do eventually, or when I might want to do it, because the whole world feels like it’s in a state of suspended animation. And I know people are suffering, and I don’t want to minimize that or be flippant about it, but I’ve really been enjoying myself. My normal state is one of social isolation, so this hardly feels any different — except of course that I don’t have a job. Which in some ways is worrisome, no job means no money, but in other ways is such a huge relief. Because I don’t have to think at all about this place that I spent the last ten years of my life spending so much time and energy worrying about and trying to make work. It is someone else’s problem now.

I’m sure I will start to go crazy at some point but I’m not even close to that yet, it just has been feeling really good to not have to think about anything and for once in my life to not have to think about what I should be doing. Because there’s nothing I can do, whatever I’m doing is what I should be doing.

I’ve stopped listening to the news and I don’t have a TV so that eliminates some major sources of anxiety. I’m still reading the paper but I can be selective about that. I’m strictly limiting my use of the internet. I’ve mostly been reading books (published a minimum of 10 years ago), and listening to previously downloaded podcasts, and watching DVDs on my computer. And trying to get through all the things in my house that I spent the last 2+ years ignoring. Just getting through that should keep me busy for months.

And then after that, who knows. There’s always waffles.

What Not to Eat

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

I was in graduate school at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School from May 2014 to May 2015 and I took the TTA bus (since rebranded as Go Triangle) from Durham to Chapel Hill almost every day. The grocery shopping strategy I had used for the prior 16 years, from when I relocated from Arlington, Virginia to Durham, North Carolina in 1998 and began working from home, was no longer an option. No more shopping every few days getting a few things at a time. No more  waiting until I felt like cooking something to look in the fridge and see what I had then go to the store to get what I needed.

My life was changing. I needed a plan.

The perfectly sensible plan I came up with was that I would shop and cook on the weekend to make food for the week. I would take my lunch, and I would try to keep on hand simple things I could eat for dinner.

This is what I had recommended to other people who couldn’t shop and cook like I did due to schedule constraints. Try to be organized and take care of it on the weekends.

This is a good plan.

Did this plan work?

Let’s start from the beginning.

My first day of school was on a Tuesday, which was also the day when I did my Scrap Exchange bookkeeping work. So I got up at the butt-crack of dawn and got myself over to UNC and figured out how to get from home to the bus and from the bus to KFBS and did orientation and all that and then figured out how to get back to the bus and back home. And then once I was home, I got my stuff together and rode my bike over to The Scrap Exchange and did my bookkeeping.

It was a long day.

I was riding my bike home from work, happy and relieved to have made it through this Olympic decathlon of a day, and I had a moment where I was very proud of myself for going through what I had gone through to make it all happen. It was the culmination of a long process that had been a lot of work. But I had done it. I had taken the initiative to find out about the program, to call and talk to the admissions people to find out if this was something I should even think about doing, to figure out how you even take GRE’s these days, to study for them and sit for them and do well enough on verbal section that the first thing the admissions counselor said to me when I walked in to her office was “Wow, you did great on your GRE!” (Which I hadn’t actually, I did great on one part and terrible on the other but if she wanted to just look at the part I did great on then that was fine by me.) I had put together the application, gotten letters of recommendation, scheduled the interview. Actually showed up for the interview. And I got into a program that is very competitive, it is one of the top accounting programs in the country. None of that was easy, especially when you are 47 years old and your last (and first, and only) experience with higher education ended in 1989. And when  you don’t actually want to work as an accountant (separate story there…).

So at the end of my first day of school, I’m riding my bike home down an empty Main Street, past the fancy restaurants that had sprouted in downtown Durham  over the prior few years, and I think to myself, I’m really proud of you. This was a lot of work, and you didn’t have to do it. You had a lot of hoops to jump through, but you did them all, you got accepted into the program, and you did what you needed to do to enroll, and you actually  enrolled.  And then after all that you actually went to school — you got up early and got dressed in real clothes and made it to school on time and made it through the day, got yourself back home to Durham, and then went and got your other work done. That’s a big accomplishment, you should be proud of yourself.

And then I had this sudden, awful realization that this was the FIRST DAY.

This was not the end of anything, it was just the beginning. And I was going to have to do the same thing over and over again, every day,­ for the next 11 months. And I didn’t cry, but if I had had any idea how hard the year would turn out to be, I would have.

So anyway, I made it through the first day, and the second too, and the rest of the week. I got up a few minutes earlier  to  put together a nice lunch in the morning, using  a bento box I got at Crate & Barrel a few weeks before school started. (As any kindergartener can tell you, there’s nothing like a new lunch box to make you feel excited about going to school.)

I felt very competent and on top of things. Cutting up carrots and an apple then heading off to the bus stop.

We were in class for three-and-a-half hours in the morning, 8:30 to noon, and then an hour break, and then afternoon class from 1 to 4:30 p.m. For unknown reasons, KFBS is FREEZING. It was so cold in that building. So after three-and-a-half hours of sitting in a classroom that was approximately the temperature of a walk-in cooler, for lunch, I would go outside the back door, near the cafeteria, and sit on the little brick divider wall  that ran along the stairs and try to absorb whatever heat I could from the hot stones I was sitting on and the humid air hanging around me. Like a skink sunning myself on a rock, trying to raise my body temperature back up to something that made me feel like I wasn’t dead.

It was nice and peaceful back there and I brought good food. Fruit and vegetables, and chicken or some other protein, and maybe a cookie or some other sweet.

I shopped on Sunday, got food for the week, cooked it up, got everything ready.

This all sounds lovely, no? And how long did this last?

Well, in the middle of week three, I got sick and missed part of one class and a night of studying, which seems like it shouldn’t be a big deal except it is when you are in class seven hours a day, five days a week.  Every day is like a week — we did financial management in six classes, which included a quiz, a midterm, and a final exam. Missing anything is no bueno. You are hanging by a thread to start with, anything that disrupts the routine could easily be the end of the line.

So it turned out the organized shopping/cooking/eating strategy lasted exactly three weeks.

The weekend leading into week four, I was like okay I can spend three hours shopping for food and cooking or I can try to catch up and pass my exam. Given how much I had gone through to get in to the program, I decided that studying was more important than cooking. And I never fully recovered. That was the end of the shopping and cooking on weekends.

For a while, I was able to keep it rolling by making things like empanadas (recipe from the More-With-Less Cookbook), which are simple and put everything (meat, vegetable, carbs) together in one convenient package so you can make a batch in half an hour and have week of grab-and-eat meals.

But slowly I began the inexorable slide to eating out more, and eating more packaged food. Take-out Chinese, Clif bars, Pop-Tarts. Usually once a week I would time my trip home so I could bike to Franklin Street,  go to Cosmic Cantina for a burrito, then catch the bus back to Durham.

As the weeks wore on, it became harder and harder to figure out what I even wanted to eat — nothing appealed to me, whether I was fixing something at home or buying something at the grocery store or going to a restaurant. When that happened, I would go to McDonald’s and get a McChicken sandwich and a yogurt parfait for $2.14. Food problem solved.

Unfortunately that happened a lot.

I also started drinking soda, much more than I had been. I drank pop when I was younger, in high school and college, but I stopped almost entirely when I was just out of college making $15,000 a year at my first job, because I had so little discretionary income, I couldn’t afford to spend any of it sugar water. And after that, I would tend to drink it when I was on a trip, but not as part of my regular life.

Bit that changed when I was in school. I’d drink coffee in the mornings — which I never had before — and Coke or Pepsi in the afternoon and evenings.

During the fall and spring when class started slightly later than they had over the summer, I’d still take the 7:30 bus, which gave me time to get breakfast before class. I’d get a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel, which was one of the only things I liked in the cafeteria. Every now and then I would drive, and I would take the route that took me past the Biscuitville on Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd and I would stop and get a sausage and egg biscuit. (I love love love Biscuitville.) In the spring, I became hooked on the spicy chicken sandwich in the cafeteria, the combo meal with a large Coke and fries.

I read recently about a study that showed that sleep-deprived people experience food cravings similar to those of marijuana users. And I was like oh, hey, that would explain the bacon egg and cheese bagels, and the fried chicken sandwiches.

The few times I did try to cook during that year, I found that the smell of food in my house made me feel sick. It was sensory overload, I couldn’t handle it.

And all of this felt like it was a cumulative problem. The longer school went on, the worse it  got.

At some point during the spring term, I was discussing my food problems over email with a friend who is a corporate lawyer and has a crazy busy work schedule. Her suggestion was sandwiches —she said you can get a bunch of sandwich stuff at the grocery store, it keeps for a long time, and you can almost always make yourself eat a sandwich. Also it doesn’t use hardly any dishes, all you really need is a knife and a paper towel, you don’t even need a plate.

That made sense, so I stopped at Trader Joe’s on one of my trips back from Chapel Hill and bought deli ham and turkey and cheese and lettuce and tomatoes and wraps and that’s what I ate if I hadn’t eaten at school and was hungry when I got home, a sandwich wrap. My friend was totally right,  it’s pretty easy to eat a sandwich, they are filling, there were no dishes, and it didn’t make my house smell.

This definitely helped get me through to the end.

I also broke down and started buying boxes of Clif bars and jars peanut butter and dried fruit and nuts and things I could keep in my locker, so I could have something not terrible without having to spend quite so much money. And I stopped feeling bad about buying meals out, because at that point I was going for survival. How much I spent and what I spent it on didn’t really matter.

I did manage to survive school … barely … but the experience was so mentally exhausting that it took me nearly three months before I could cook anything more complicated than scrambled eggs.

I was finally starting to get back on track with shopping and cooking when I started studying for CPA exams, while also working at Scrap Exchange and working with a few of my long-time Filemaker clients (both of which I had also continued to do while I was in grad school) which more or less derailed me all over again.

At first, I started to revert to my in-school pattern of eating out more, but that comes with its own challenges — first you have to figure out where to go, and then once you’re there you have to figure out what to order. And of course it takes time to actually get there and get your food and eat it. This initially led me down the McChicken/yogurt parfait road — all of the decisions are already made, and you only spend $2 — but I decided I didn’t want to do that again, I needed to figure out something else.

And then I made a slow-cooker barbecue pork for a Scrap Exchange Boot Camp lunch, and I realized that this was the solution to all of my problems: you cook a five-pound pork shoulder, it takes about 20 minutes of prep time and 8 or so hours in the slow cooker and you end up with two weeks of meals. (If you live by yourself … much less, obviously, if you are feeding other people in addition to yourself.)

I cooked one pork butt, ate it every day for two weeks, then tried to move on to something else for some variety but gave up after a week and cooked another one. And then another one when that was gone.

I ate it on slider buns, so I could eat one or two or three, depending on how hungry I was, and I bought full seeded watermelons at King’s, and that’s what I ate all summer. Pork barbecue sliders and watermelon. For breakfast I’d fry eggs and eat them on a tortilla with the barbecue. For dessert I’d eat watermelon.

I couldn’t decide if this was fine, because who cares if you eat the same thing every day for weeks on end, or bad, because what is wrong with you, you’re eating pork barbecue for every meal. My god.

But I did it anyway, because I didn’t have to decide what to eat or think about what I felt like eating, I didn’t have to shop but once every few weeks, I didn’t have to do hardly any dishes, my house didn’t smell like food (except for the first day when I cooked the pork), and I didn’t have to spend $12 a day on prepared food. And the pork barbecue is really good, and it’s REALLY easy to make. If you have a slow cooker you should make it. (And if you don’t have a slow cooker, you should think about getting one, they are cheap.)

Here’s the recipe, which I found by googling “nc barbecue slow-cooker pork” , or something like that,  and got from The Domestic Front, and adjusted slightly:

Slow-Cooker Pork Barbeque
(Eastern North Carolina style)

4-6 lb pork butt
1 or 2 onions
1 Tbsp liquid smoke

FOR THE SPICE RUB
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp paprika
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper

FOR THE SAUCE
1 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1-1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp cayenne

Combine ingredients for the spice rub and coat all sides of the pork with the spice rub.

Combine all ingredients for the sauce and stir to mix.

Quarter the onion(s) and place in the bottom of a slow cooker.

Place the spice-rubbed pork on top of the onions. Pour the liquid smoke over the pork. Reserve 1/3 of the sauce to serve when eating; pour the remaining 2/3 of the sauce over the pork. Turn the cooker on low and cook for 8-10 hours.

At the end of the designated cooking time, take the cooked pork out of the slow cooker and, if desired, drain off the fat. Pour the sauce out of the slow cooker and allow the fat to separate. When cool enough to handle, chop or shred the pork. Pour the de-fatted sauce  over the shredded meat and stir to mix.

Serve on sandwich buns, with the reserved sauce

NOTES
Whether or not you have to remove fat from the pork and from the sauce depends on how much fat is on the pork to start with. The first time I made it, I didn’t drain the fat and it was very greasy. However other times I’ve made it, there was hardly any fat to drain off. So I think that just depends on your pork. (With one round, I saved the fat and later used it in a batch ginger snaps. They were good.) You could also try to brown the meat and drain off some of the fat before you put it in the slow cooker, but that adds complication so it’s hard for me to recommend that since the point of this is that it’s extremely simple and takes hardy any time.

I’ve made it with fresh garlic and without garlic, because I never have granulated or powdered garlic around, and I’ve made it with various kinds of paprika (half-sharp, smoked) and haven’t noticed a difference between any of them. The original recipe calls for smoked paprika.

This freezes very well. Though you will have to get yourself to stop eating it before it’s gone in order for that to work.

 

 

On Grocery Stores

Monday, January 16, 2017

Both of my parents grew up in Seattle, Washington. I was born there and lived there until I was 8, and went back fairly regularly after we moved away to visit relatives. My parents had gone to high school on the south side of the city, at Cleveland, but after my father got out of the service and my brother was born, they moved over to the north side of town, near the University, first in Laurelhurst and then in View Ridge.

When we lived in Seattle, we shopped at a small neighborhood grocery store owned by a close family friend of my grandparents named Walt Landis. The store was on N.E. 45th, just before it turns into Sand Point Way, and I have many fond memories of spending time there as a child.

Walt was a joker, he liked to tease me. He’d bring me and my brother in to the back warehouse area of the store give us the freshest, juiciest strawberries. After we’d been there a little while he’d say, “I think your mother is calling you.” So I’d go out to find my mom, and she’d say, no, I’m still shopping, you’re fine. I’d go in back and tell Walt that she hadn’t been calling me and he’d say, “Oh, okay.” Then a minute later he’d say, “I think she’s calling you now

My grandparents had moved to Seattle in the 1940s and my grandmother lived there until 2001 when she was nearing 90, at which point she moved to Western New York to be near my parents. At the time I was living there, she lived in the same area we lived in, first in a house in Hawthorne Hills and then, after my grandfather died, she sold the house and moved to  in an apartment off of Sand Point Way.

My grandmother sometimes shopped at Albertson’s or the Tradewell on Sand Point Way, but usually she went to the QFC in University Village. The QFC was originally on the west side of the shopping center and it was more or less a standard grocery store, but in the 90s, University Village went upscale and took the QFC with it. The store got very much larger and moved over to the east side, near the Burgermaster.

Usually when I would visit my grandmother, we would do some activity in the late morning — run errands or visit someone or do some out-of-town-visitor type activity — and then we’d go back home to eat lunch, rest for a bit and watch her shows (“… like sands through the hourglass, these are the days of our lives…”). Then in the afternoon we’d go out to get what we needed for dinner. At this point in her life, my grandmother shopped for groceries almost every day.

I remember one time when I was visiting, when the QFC was in its fancy-dan iteration, and we had gotten what we needed and were ready to check out, my grandmother looked at each of the lines to she if she could find the checkout person she liked.  She spotted her and said, “Oh! Here she is. Let’s get in this line.”

When we got up to the head of the line, my grandmother introduced me to the cashier. “This is my granddaughter Becky,” And the cashier seemed genuinely pleased to meet me, which I think surprised me a bit. I think I expected my grandmother to like this checkout person more than the checkout person liked my grandmother, that the checkout person was trying to act  friendly because it was her job. But it seemed like she actually enjoyed seeing my grandmother, and she was happy to get to meet me, as if she had heard about me and was pleased to be able to put a face to a name. My cousin Deanna had recently visited (and of course my grandmother had been in the store with Deanna) and the cashier commented on how lucky my grandmother was to have both of her granddaughters out to see her, one after the other like that.

When we were leaving, my grandmother said, “Most of the ones who work here, they don’t even look at you, they just run the groceries through. You know …” she put a blank look on her face and moved her hand as if she were running groceries across a scanner. “But she’s really nice, she always talks to you, asks you how you are.”

When I was self-employed and working from home every day (from 2002 to spring 2012),  I shopped pretty much just like my grandmother — I went to the store almost every day. [I’ve written about my shopping strategy in a few places, like here and here.] I definitely recommend this approach if you work from home, especially if you have a store that is within walking or biking distance from your house. It gives you a break from working, gets you out of the house, and gives you something to look forward to so you don’t feel like you are trapped for the rest of your life in your office with a bunch of work you don’t want to do. Not that I ever felt like that.

Also you can spend much less money on groceries, because you can check to see what in your refrigerator is about to go bad and then buy what you need to make something to go with that. You will hardly every throw anything away, and you can train yourself to spend small amounts of money at a time at the store. Because you are walking or on your bike and you can only carry so much home with you, and also you know you will be back in a few days, you will stop feeling the need to walk up and down every aisle and buy anything you ever might use. You will just buy what you need for right now (and maybe tomorrow or the next day) and that is all.

That’s what I used to do. It was great.

I shopped mostly at Whole Foods, because it was a nice walk from my house and also it was a nice store, and very shoppable. The way I shop when I’m shopping multiple times a week, and walking to the store, is to get the necessary items first, then fill in with optional items until one of two limits is reached: either (a) I hit my price ceiling (which at the time was about $12) or (b) my basket is getting too heavy for me to carry home. This approach works much, much better in a smaller store than in a giant supermarket. You can’t be wandering back and forth willy-nilly through all the aisles in a store the size of an airplane hangar until you decide you have what you need.

The local Whole Foods (in Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill) started out as a locally owned chain called Wellspring. The Durham store was originally on the north end of Ninth Street, in a space later occupied by Magnolia Grill (my father’s favorite restaurant in Durham) and now by Monuts. It outgrew that space and moved up Ninth Street to the space later occupied by George’s Garage and now home to Panera Bread and Juju (the area my friend Ann and I now refer to as “Cary Durham” because you feel like you’re in Cary when you’re there) and then in the early 90s moved over to Broad Street, across from Duke’s East Campus, taking the place of a very sketchy A & P that had been there in the 80s.

Whole Foods bought the Wellspring chain some time in the 90s and promised to keep it all just the same. Which it  pretty much did, for a number of years.

I remember when I did my food projects in 2009 and 2010 and wrote about shopping at Whole Foods, and people were totally down on me for that. But I liked my Wellspring/Whole Foods then, I liked the people who worked there and I was there all the time and I knew where everything was, they had lots of specials and you could almost always find something at a good price. It was a good store.

Some time around 2011 or 2012, they renovated the store, taking over the storefront adjacent to them and bumping out the bike shop that was there, which was fine by me as the people who worked in that bike shop were the worst kind of sexist bike snobs. I hated that store.

After the expansion and renovation, the store went from feeling like Wellspring, the store it had always been, to feeling like every other Whole Foods in the country. That was obviously on purpose — of course they want to make their branding and everything consistent — and I’m sure it did what they wanted it to in terms of bringing in new people, but around that time, I stopped shopping in the store the way I had been.

Part of the problem was that they changed all the aisles around — and then right after I’d finally figured out where the things I actually wanted to buy were, they changed it around again. The first time I was willing to work through it; the second time I was like okay no.

The store got much bigger, but most of the additional space was devoted to expanded prepared foods and seating area. The actual shopping area was almost the same size as before (except for the cheese counter which was all the way down near prepared foods) so that part wasn’t a problem, but it seemed like their prices went up. I could no longer find things on special that were within my very tight price range. This caused me to start shopping at other stores, which then started a downward spiral of not shopping there enough to see any deals, which meant that even when I did go to the store, I only bought very specific things, because I wasn’t engaged enough to see what was on special and was actually affordable.

In spring 2012, I started working two part-time jobs, in addition to my self-employment work, which made my shopping and cooking schedule somewhat more complicated. Whole Foods was in the direction of one of my part-time jobs, but they changed their hours to close an hour earlier (at 9 p.m.) and often I worked until later than that, so I couldn’t stop on my way home, and it didn’t work for me to stop on my way to work. Also because my schedule was so erratic, and because one of the part-time jobs came with a fairly regular supply of leftover catering food, I wasn’t cooking at home as much.

During that time, I started shopping more at Compare Foods, which is a New York-based grocery chain catering to Hispanic customers. It  has very good prices on produce, and pretty good quality, and I generally like shopping there. There is a Compare that is walkable from my house, though it is not as nice a walk as to the Whole Foods. Near the Compare is a small independent grocery called King’s, which is very Southern and very local, and which reminds me of Walt’s grocery store where we shopped when I was a child. I love King’s.

So I gradually switched from shopping mostly at Whole Foods to shopping mostly at King’s and Compare, and from walking to shop a few times a week to driving and shopping once a week or every other week. If you’re shopping infrequently, it’s much harder to walk, because you can only carry so much.

These days I’m going to an office 5 days a week, so typically I shop on the weekend (King’s and/or Compare) or I stop at Food Lion after work or the Durham Co-op Market on my way home.

The Lakewood Food Lion (or Food Dog, as one of my friends likes to call it) was renovated last year and I now completely love that store. It’s always clean, it has very nice looking produce, and it has really great prices on almost everything. Also it is mostly neighborhood people, there is usually very little sign of the  hipster apocalypse that has invaded Durham in recent months, so that is nice. I feel like I’m actually in Durham, not some bizarre place that used to be Durham but is now a place that fancy people want to live in. (Ann and I were driving around town a few weeks ago and saw yet another sign proclaiming “Luxury Apartments — Coming 2017.” We started joking that we’re going to start a band and call it Luxury Apartments Coming 2017.)

I have mixed feelings about the Co-op. It’s a nice store, it’s locally owned, everyone who works there is really nice, and they have a great ice machine. (Seriously, they do.) But I can’t do my regular shopping there because the selection is limited, the prices are high, and I don’t need organic gluten free everything. I think it’s probably good for people who either have enough discretionary income that prices don’t matter or who are willing to spend whatever it takes to get certain kinds of foods (organic, local, etc.). And I know there are plenty of those people around, I am just not one of them.

I do not regularly shop at Whole Foods these days, but I do go there for specific things. The main thing I go there for is the “Can’t Commit? Try a little bit!” cheese basket, where they have small quantities of fancy cheese for less than $3. This is perfect because when I buy a regular amount of cheese I don’t always finish it before it gets funky. So this gives me the amount of cheese I should be buying, and it’s much better cheese than I would buy if I were buying a larger quantity, and I get to try all kinds of new varieties depending on what’s in the basket. This is hands down my favorite part of the store.

I also buy nuts and some bulk items (oats, popcorn), and I make a special trip for the 365 brand tonic water because it is much better than regular grocery store tonic, and almost the same price. If you like gin and tonics, you should definitely try it. It’s really good.

For a while I was going to Target for certain things that they sell super cheap — cereal, peanut butter, juice, brownie mix (and Aim toothpaste for 89 cents!). But recently they installed self-checkout kiosks, and the last time I was there they had only one or two lanes open, way down at the other end of the store. It was like they wanted everyone with groceries to go through the self-checkout, and I find the self-checkout experience generally unpleasant. I’d rather have a person with a job checking me out than using a machine that grates on my nerves … place item in the bagging area … so I only use those when I have to, or if I have one or two things and all of the lines are long. Target isn’t convenient, so between the hassle of getting over there and the pain of the self-checkout kiosks, I decided I should just pay extra and go to Food Lion for the items I used to get at Target and be done with it. (I may make an exception when I run out of toothpaste.)

I shopped at Costco recently for some things we needed for a work-related event, and I know that Costco has very good prices on high-quality items, but I find shopping at Costco a completely soul-crushing experience. The combination of walking in and immediately being faced with enormous piles of enormous televisions, and all of the food packaged, and everything in such huge quantities. There’s just no life there. It’s like everything that depresses me about the world today, everything I hate, shrink-wrapped and piled high, aisle after aisle, in one cavernous retail establishment. Also it seems to me that the prices aren’t always better, especially since you might have to buy way more than you need, so even if the unit cost is lower, the total amount you’re spending is more than you would spend in a regular store.

I’ve tried to like you, Costco. I really have. But I just can’t.

So that is the current state of my feelings on grocery stores: pro Food Lion, con Costco, and a true believer in King’s and Compare. I’m sure you are all happy to know that.

 

Writer’s Block

Monday, May 25, 2015

SoundHorn_sm2

Wait, what should I do here?

 

Well I survived my year-long provisional existence, where every day lasted a month and the year was over in two weeks.

I had a nice visit with some new friends at the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County Oregon, and got to spend a few days wandering around Portland.

All good.

And I had on my list of things to do before leaving “write blog post” but it didn’t happen, so that is still on the list.

And now I’m back but I have NOTHING TO SAY.

But in a desperate attempt to get this crossed off my list, I’m writing anyway.

My parents came to visit for my graduation, my mom said that it had been a while since I’d given them a new recipe. She said I was due. I said, “Hmm… I don’t have any new recipes because I haven’t cooked anything.”

I said here’s my recipe for the year: you can get a McChicken sandwich and a yogurt parfait for two dollars at McDonald’s. Cheapest meal around. You can’t even get food at a convenience store for that.

She was nonplussed by this bit of wisdom. Nor has anyone else I’ve shared it with been much impressed.

Go figure.

Nonetheless, I stand by it. This works especially well when you leave your house at 7:15 a.m. and return at 9 p.m. (or later) every day. There is a McDonald’s every half-mile in this country, and if you have two dollars ($2.15 if you’re in Durham, sales tax is 7.5%), you can stop thinking about what you might or could or should eat and just go get a chicken sandwich and yogurt parfait and be done with it. And no dishes either.

Problem solved.

The last new recipe I gave my parents was Marion Cunningham’s version of mahogany chicken. It meets all of my key recipe criteria: easy, cheap, good. And it makes good leftovers, all that yummy sauce. And if I ever manage to get back to cooking actual meals again, it will be one of the first things I make.

(For the record, I have moved past the McChicken sandwiches and on to scrambled eggs, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten. One step at a time.)

So this post won’t help my mom, she already has this recipe, but maybe someone else will like it.

Mahogany Chicken Legs with Fresh Ginger
from The Supper Book by Marion Cunningham

4 Tbsp peanut oil
8 chicken thighs and legs
1/3 cup peeled and sliced (1/4 inch thick) fresh ginger
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup sherry
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup sliced scallions [optional]
1/2 cup whole cilantro leaves [optional]
4 cups steamed long-grain white rice

Put the peanut oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken pieces, skin side down, and the ginger slices. Brown the chicken for 10 minutes, then turn over and brown for 5 more minutes. (It is important to use a deep skillet because the chicken tends to spatter while browning.) Reduce the heat if necessary to keep the chicken and ginger from burning. If the ginger slices brown too quickly, remove them to a paper towel and put them back in the skillet when you add the soy mixture.

Mix together the soy sauce, sherry, and sugar. Pour the soy mixture over the chicken, cover, and cook for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the scallions and cilantro leaves. Serve immediately with the rice.

Universal Pilaf, Legume Version

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Back when I was doing a series of pantry-cooking posts, I wrote about my favorite recipe that I turn to when (a) I’m hungry (b) I need to fix something at home, going out is not an option and the food fairy is not coming, and (c) I feel like I have nothing in the house to make a meal out of.

It is the Universal Pilaf recipe from Amy Dacyczyn’s The Tightwad Gazette.

Typically I end up at this recipe when I’m thinking about how hungry I am and I start going down my mental list of what I can make and multiple items have to be abandoned due to a lack of key ingredient.

Omelettes? … no eggs. Tacos? … no beans no chicken. Quesadillas? … no cheese. Scrambled eggs and cheese grits? I JUST SAID NO EGGS NO CHEESE. Are you even listening to me?!?

Sheesh.

Sometimes the part of my brain that can keep track of what is in the pantry/refrigerator/freezer gets cranky with the part of my brain that just wants to eat. And once I get to that point, it’s time to head for the pilaf options.

Usually I have either cooked chicken or ground beef in the freezer, so I think of this as a recipe for chicken or ground beef. But the last time I went through this mental exercise, I had neither. But I did have a can of chickpeas in the pantry, one that I had bought to make a large batch of hummus with but ended up making a smaller batch and reserving the second can for future use.

Okay then. The future is now.

We have grain (rice), vegetable (spinach and/or peas, carrots), aromatic (garlic), and protein (chickpeas). We always have chicken stock, because I buy whole chickens and poach them and freeze the chicken stock, and I can’t imagine ever not having some kind of fat (butter, olive oil, coconut oil, bacon grease) somewhere.

We can make pilaf.

As I was pulling the vegetables out of the freezer, I ran across a small container of chicken fat, and that seemed like a good option for the fat.

So I put the frozen chicken stock and frozen spinach on the stove to thaw, peeled and sliced carrots, and heated a tablespoon or so of the frozen chicken fat.

When the fat was hot, I added minced garlic, then added a cup of rice and coated the grains with fat, then put in the rinsed and drained chickpeas, then the two cups of chicken stock. Covered and returned to a boil, then added the carrots and spinach along with a little bit of salt and fresh ground pepper. Covered, turned down the heat, and let it simmer. When most of the liquid had been absorbed, added about two teaspoons of Penzey’s Hot Curry Powder. Kept on the heat until the liquid had all been absorbed, then turned off the burner and let it sit for a few minutes, then moved off the burner entirely and let it sit for a few more minutes.

While it was finishing up and steaming, I chopped some dried coconut flakes and some cashews (roasted, unsalted), and put into a dry skillet and toasted them lightly.

Put the pilaf on a plate, sprinkled on the coconut and cashews, mixed it all together.

Yum.

Makes two large servings, four small ones, or one large-ish and two small-ish ones. (Usually when I make this recipe, I eat it once for dinner and twice for lunch, so I think of it as three servings.)

Not bad for a dang I am hungry and I have nothing in the fridge night.