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It's February now, and I've moved to phase two of the Pantry Project which is about not buying  anything that won't be used within a week or two.  I'm not always successful at that, but I'm getting better at saying, "No, I don't need those things.  I have plenty of other stuff to use up first." which really is the point.

I managed (finally) to get my kitchen rearranged, no small feat, let me tell you since while it looks as if I have ample cabinet space, the truth is that one is virtually inaccessible without a step ladder and grabby stick and two more have lost a substantial amount of space to the duct from the range hood/microwave.  Why they didn't run it straight up through the top of the cabinets and then out is beyond me, but then this house is a study in bizarre choices and awkward construction.  The housemate and I refer to it as "a benevolent Hill House." Yet another cabinet is ginormous, but most of the space is inaccessible because the door is located at the far end.  (I use it for baking sheets and rarely used small appliances.)

The Pantry Project

In any event, I did want to share an end-of-project photo to prove that I actually did finish.  To the left is my pantry.  It's all open and I'd prefer if it had doors, but I can't afford that right now.  Maybe one day I'll learn how to make doors, or be able to afford to have them made (It'd probably be a custom job since the niche was constructed for me when we re-did the back exit.)  I love having all the packaged food here because that's my kitchen desk to the right, and while I sit there, I can look at the shelves and think about what I might fix for any given meal.

Everything that doesn't go in the fridge or the seasoning cabinet is here.  As you see, there's a LOT of stuff, though two of the six shelves hold mostly baking items which I consider to be (in general) a bit different from cans of soup and boxes of pasta.  Kitty food also takes up a big chunk of space.

Since I've started baking two or three loaves of bread a week, I'm going through flour and yeast at a good clip, also dry milk, honey and millet.  I'm also using up the mixes I've had in my cabinets for way too long.  So far I've made Bob's Red Mill rye bread (a clear winner; soft crumb, slightly sweet, good sandwich bread) King Arthur Flour sweet almond bread (dry and surprisingly not as tasty as I'd have hoped) and one other KAF bread mix which I can't recall, in part because it ended up being a complete failure.  I also made gingerbread and chocolate cake, and I'm finally down to two mixes: One more chocolate cake and a KAF brioche mix.

I made a curry the other night from a mix I got through the Amazon Vine program (Briefly, if you're a member, they send you free stuff, you evaluate it and write a review.)  It wasn't great, it wasn't bad, but I used it to get rid of one package of ground beef that had been sitting around here for way too long.   If you're sharp-eyed, you'll see that I have about five or six more boxes of Indian food mixes sitting on the shelf.

Tonight's supper will be saffron risotto and chard with ginger.  If I can arse myself to fix some lentils to go with them that'll be great, otherwise I'll just let it go.  What I really want is an Italian beef sandwich from Marco's.

 

 
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I am seriously sick of schelpping stuff from one end of the kitchen to the other and sometimes back again.  This week I've been rearranging all my cabinets, and in the process, washing every dish and glass, and wiping down the insides of the cabinets.  I've moved half the dishes into the cabinet where I kept my packaged food, and all my baking supplies and part of the packaged food over to where the dishes were.  It's really a much more efficient use of space, but boy it's a boring process. My friend, Karen, would say otherwise; she loves cleaning and organizing things. When confronted with a household task that chaps my hide, I ask myself, What would Karen do?

I did actually enjoy the part where I found jars for all the bagged spices and herbs I had sitting here, and then made labels for them with our Dymo label maker.  I felt so accomplished as I surveyed the rows of neatly labeled and stacked jars!  I also made an inventory list of what I have in that cabinet.  Karen would be so proud!

Needless to say, now virtually every flat surface is covered with stuff waiting to be put away.  I got the herb and spice cupboard assembled thanks to a new two-tier lazy susan I found at Amazon.com for $12.  Everyone was complaining it was too big for their cabinets, but because I was going to put it into the corner of a corner cabinet, it was exactly what I needed.  The cabinet holds two of the two-tiered lazy susans, and two one-tier ones, plus a lot of plain old surface space on the second shelf, so I've got all my oils and vinegars in there as well as extracts, salts and 
syrups.   The best thing is that now I have more room, so if I need some ground this or cracked that, I have a space to put it, and I won't lose it.  (I swear I had ground ginger at Christmas but I can't find the jar anywhere.  It's gone on my Spice House shopping list.)  I was sad to find that my vanilla beans had all but dried out so I'm going to be making a jar of vanilla sugar with them.

In any event, the whole point of this is that I'm sick of arranging and incidentally also sick of editing.  I have four of the five sections on the Scrooge book edited and I think they're in good shape now.  The middle one -- Adagio: David Tarried at Jerusalem -- was the worst, but it was the last to be finished and the one that had kicked my butt right from the get go.  The emotions I'm trying to deal with there are difficult for me because I've felt them, and it's hard getting that down without making it sound whiny and self-pitying.

So what did I do to ease my ennui?  I baked.  When I was cleaning the cupboards I found a package of Bob's Red Mill 10-grain bread mix, and figured I'd give that a shot since I could just reach my mixer. I added millet, oats, chia seeds and raw honey to it, and for the oil, I used some herbs de Provence olive oil that Glinda's sister had given me.  It's in the oven on proof right now, and should be finished rising in another 30-60 minutes. Of course there was a lot of stuff added and I'm not sure how old the mix was so who knows if it'll turn out?  The dough was awfully wet, so I had to add about two tablespoons of flour.  Eh, what's the worst that could happen?  I could end up with a high fiber brick.

It actually looks pretty good, I think.  Now if it’ll just rise.

Oh, and that red and purple thing in the first photo?  That’s my vacuum.  If it wasn’t enough that I’m cleaning all the cabinets, I spilled a lot of mustard seeds and had to vacuum them up.  I had to sweep anyway, but I’d have preferred to wait until all the schlepping was finished.  Basically there's nowhere to walk in my kitchen and nowhere to set anything down.
 
I'll get there.  I always do.  And when I do I'll have a much better arrangement for my kitchen than I do now.  Moving from a larger place to a smaller one means you have to find analogs for the space you had or get rid of a lot of what you brought with you.  I've already done the latter; it's time to make a real effort to do the former.
 
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Macaroni and cheese in a white bowl.

The process is starting to get interesting because I'm almost out of the things I eat rather habitually (V8, Mrs. Grass chicken noodle soup, packaged mac and cheese, tuna) and am now having to force myself to take a good look at what's in the cabinets and ask myself, "What can I do with this that will be tasty and  economical?"  In other words, what can I fix that I will actually eat?

Over the weekend, I used up two pounds of oxtails I'd had in the freezer downstairs.  I'd never cooked them before, but I had  a recipe from one of the cookbooks I got at Christmas, so I ordered the fresh ingredients that I needed -- leeks, carrots; I had the garlic from what we grew over the summer -- and asked Glinda to bring home a bottle of red wine for the wine reduction that was the basis of the braise.

The result was very nice.  Oxtails are very fatty, and even after trimming them I ended up scooping quite a bit of fat out of the pot that had been refrigerated overnight.  Even then, the sauce was over-rich, in my opinion, and a little went a very long way for both Glinda and myself.  Jim liked them, so he got all the leftovers to take home.  I also made a loaf of semolina-cheese bread from a mix I'd bought a while ago from King Arthur Flour.  The bread was also a little over-the-top in terms of flavor and while I enjoyed the meal, it wasn't one I'll ever duplicate.  However I did manage to use up frozen meat and a baking mix, so it was a good end to week two of eating from the pantry.

Week three begins with my decision to use all the powdered milk I have stored in the freezer before I buy any more.  I saved an Oberweis glass bottle and mixed up half a gallon of milk this morning. I had to use the blender because dry milk tends to be lumpy, which is just a nasty surprise when you're drinking it.  This is going to take me a while, but it'll save me quite a bit of money which is all to the good.  While I pay off my Christmas debts, I really want to cut my grocery budget to the bone.  Tonight I'll be making a pan of gingerbread and mac and cheese.  Yes, Glinda will be buying a package of that today on the way home from work.  There is a reason; we'll be watching the last ep of season 2 Sherlock, and we both felt the need for comfort food.  Still, packaged mac and cheese is cheap; it's not going to dent the budget too dramatically.

US Meat Consumption

Today is also Meatless Monday.  For those of you who don't know, there's a movement to eliminate meat from American diets for one day a week.  I know some of you are probably recoiling in horror right now, and okay fine, nobody is going to force you to give up you moo or oink at every meal habit.  But though I like meat -- yes, I genuinely enjoy much of it -- I'm concerned about various aspects of meat-eating and would like to cut my consumption.  It's nice to have one day where you know you're just not going to indulge.  The Pantry Project is fantastic for Meatless Mondays because so much of what's stored is vegetarian or vegan.  I even unearthed a can of vegetarian baked beans this morning.  I'd forgotten I had them, and was ridiculously excited to see them sitting there.

Yet another advantage that I'm discovering as I pursue this resolution (One which I may extend to two months, with a bit of alteration.) is that I'm learning what works and what doesn't.  I'm paying more attention to what I like, what's easy to make, what's more economical.  I'm eating smaller portions because I'm more aware of what each one is costing me.  You don't notice stuff like that as much when you've got a pantry filled with food.  Say what you will about stockpiling food when it goes on sale, the effect can be just the opposite of what you intend.  It can encourage us to waste food because there's so much left, and it can encourage us to eat larger portions for the same reason.  YMMV.  I'm starting to know where my head is at, and what I need to do about it.

My goal is to at least open and use everything that's sitting in my fridge, cupboards or freezer.  I don't have to like it; I should make an honest effort to finish it, but if I don't I'll know I don't need to buy it again.  I'll know what I should have on hand and what I shouldn't bother with.  I'll be able to plan my cooking more efficiently, and cut down on waste.  Who doesn't want to do that?

And then, once I've got those cabinets cleared out, there's going to be what my mother called a "Grand clearing up spell." They're going to get cleaned, things too old to eat will be tossed, and the storage will be rearranged. so it makes more sense.

The thing I'm happiest about?  I'm proving to myself that I'm not too old to change the way I live.  Go me!

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Tracy Rowan

August 2013

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