It seems I’m not alone in trying to eliminate food waste from our caloric cycle. I’ve still been using the kitchen compost bin, although I stopped tracking the daily amount when our kitchen scale broke. Without taking the time to pour over the data, I’d say we were ranging from 7 to 10 pounds per week for a family of five. I expect that’s well below the national average. (I’m dispensing with the usual long pause for research here because I’ve recently been on medication which has sapped my creativity, and I don’t want to lose what momentum I have right now.) We’ve run into a corollary problem, though. Ever since joining up with the Backyard Harvest food-share, we’ve been blessed with more fresh produce than we can reasonably use in a week, and we end up losing a fair amount. That is not to mention the tomatoes I gleaned from the garden at our church last week, which ended up liquefying before I could transform them into salsa. You don’t want to know what happened to the cilantro, although most of the peppers seem to have emerged unscathed.
There has been a confluence of factors involved in my troubles with produce. I’m not trying to skate out from under the blame here, but rather put the problem in context. First of all, someone at work suddenly quit, giving the rest of us extra shifts. Since they were mostly day shifts, my available time for meal planning, prep, and cooking has diminished. Secondly, I am struggling with an illness which, as previously mentioned, has a rather severe remedy. Some days it’s all I can do to make coffee and pour cereal; planning a week’s menu currently feels beyond my capability. Third, I’m out in uncharted waters with regard to preserving and cooking a lot of this stuff. Radishes? Beets? This weird round thing? Oh, you’ve got to soak the beans for 4 hours before cooking them? That won’t work at 6 o’clock when everyone’s hungry.
I have come up with a few work-arounds, though.
First on the list is pizza. I’m sure I could make the dough if I had my act together, but I don’t. So, we buy the dough at the store, usually 2 or 3 at a time. It seems to keep for a week or so. Flatten, stretch, flatten, stretch…put some flour on the board so it doesn’t stick…then the toppings. Fresh spinach, diced tomatoes, and a mix of olive oil, minced garlic, basil, and oregano. Maybe chopped clams if we have them. No cheese on one for My Dear Wife, who can no longer tolerate dairy products. Or, spaghetti sauce; sliced deli ham; chunk pineapple (from the can; I drink the juice); and lotsa mozzarella. The Boys love Hawaiian pizza, and so do I. I can get two of those in the oven in about 1/2 an hour, then it’s 20 minutes baking time. Each package of dough costs around $1.50, and I can just get one decent-size pie from a package. Maybe there’s $2 worth of toppings ($3 for the clams), so for $2 per person we can have a family feast.
Stir-frys are a great way to use random vegetables together as well. The other night I wanted to make my sweet & sour chicken recipe, but we were out of canned pineapple. We did, however, have some pears. Oh, yes. Green beans, yellow squash, brown pears, and ginger sang together with the brown sugar/rice vinegar/sweet chili marinade and it was good.
Soup is good, of course. Lentils cook much more quickly than dry beans. Leeks are great for quick zest. Soup also gets old after the second day. Then I’ve got a backlog of leftovers, some of which are destined to spoil, and I’ve wasted food again. Freezing the leftovers feels more like I’m dooming them to an eternity of limbo in cryo-suspension than saving them for later. Seriously, I’ve got year-old stuff in the freezer now. If we were going to eat it, wouldn’t we have done so already? Yet throwing it out would be “wasting food,” and we can’t do that either.
Considering that it’s now autumn and the fresh, local produce season is getting behind us, I may not have this problem again for a while. Hopefully, that will give me time to find a solution or two.