Use it up
Wear it out
Make it do
Do withoutPerhaps I'd make a cross stich Sampler of those words if they hadn't already been embroidered on my heart.
Last night's supper was surely about using things up and making things do. I was "protein hungry" (something that other serious vegetarians may understand but that carnivores are unlikely ever to know), and I became aware that I really needed a bit of extra nutrition. The food that I have on hand is limited and choices are few because there hasn't been any money at all for replacing pantry niceties, much less necessities. All told, I've had a grand total of about$80 to spend on groceries in the past four months; everything else I've had has come from food donations. To say that things haven't been easy would be an understatement.
But to return to the story of my supper: I was rescued by a simple decision I made a month ago when I was preparing lentil burgers to freeze: I saved the leftover bean broth from when I strained the lentils to puree. Truthfully, the broth was the result of a careless mistake: I'd simply added too much liquid to the cooking beans but that cooking water from those beans just seemed too good to throw away. I admit that I very likely might have been careless about such a matter in the past--it's far too easy to discard things (especially the results of mistakes) without thinking, isn't it? I suspect that this is a bad habit that will only be broken by the painful knowledge of necessity; at least that has proven to be true in my own case.
Now I didn't know at the time how it would work out when I froze that bean broth but I figured it might be put to use in cooking rice. Last night I had the chance to try it out, and it worked brilliantly. I melted the frozen bean broth in the microwave and put it in the cooker along with the rice with enough additional water to account for the heavier starchy element in the broth. The extra water was a good decision because it turned out that it really was needed--any less would have made for chewy undercooked rice. As it was, the rice cooked just right but only barely so.
The rice was a lovely brown color and it had a rich, almost nutty, flavor. It was so good! And it served to quell that "protein hungry" feeling that had been nagging all afternoon. (As I've mentioned in a previous post, rice + beans = complete protein; protein combining is a sensible way to approach meals as a vegetarian.) I'm happy to think that there is leftover rice in the fridge for a meal today.
Good stuff. Very good stuff that might otherwise have been thrown out. That makes me happy, too. It doesn't take much care to keep instead of dispose. But it does require thinking ahead, and it requires a willingness to experiment a bit in the kitchen.
One thing I've been keeping in mind in recent days is what a cook would have done during World War One when food supplies were scarce and no one could afford waste. This WW1 notion came to me when I had to deal with two dozen donated large oranges that had to be used up right away but I had no pectin for making marmalade. I had no way to go to the store and no money to buy pectin even if I could go and there was no means to refrigerate the fruit--thank goodness I had sugar on hand. That's when I recalled an original WW1 era canning cookbook I was given many years ago. Cooks back then made do without pectin. If they could cook successfully using old-fashioned methods, I was sure that I should be able to do so, too, and I got busy cooking.
The marmalade madness that ensued was an interesting experience that required three days start to finish. The resulting marmalade is such as I'd never tasted or made before (it's rather more like a heavy jam and the flavor is very tart) but which I am greatly enjoying and will continue to enjoy for months to come. I subsequently made another batch of WW1 marmalade later when I was given lemons and limes, and I will surely be glad to make WW1 marmalade again and again and again in the future. It's very worthwhile. It takes only a small amount of effort, and it does not require as much active work time as it sounds like (although it does take place over a matter of days).
What can we do when there is only a little? What can we do when nothing can be wasted? How can we cope when we can't always choose what we want? In our modern lives, we have all gotten well and truly lazy; that's something I find that I can no longer afford. Not every experiment is as successful as my bean broth rice or my WW1 marmalade but that's okay; it's all about learning something new. At the end of the day, I've come to see that working in the kitchen isn't about recipes so much as it is about cooking methods. I'm glad for those life lessons, and I'm truly grateful for the food on my table.
Wisdom cannot be given; it must be gathered.
Life is good.