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Six Months Later…

Although it seems like only yesterday it’s actually been six months since I ended my Year of Inconvenience. I continue to have people stop and ask me from time-to-time, how the “cooking from scratch” is going, or if I’ve continued with any of the routines I had grown accustomed to during that one very long year of my life. Sometimes I’m asked those questions while I’m shopping – my cart brimming with canned goods, chips, deli salads, frozen pizza, and boxed cereal. I’ve since learned to hide all of those items under the bulk rolled oats, flour, and fresh produce (just in case).

I guess the bright side is that some of the things I learned in that year have really stuck with me. While sitting down to write this post my house is bathed in the sweet aroma of maple syrup and toasted pecans, as a batch of fresh made granola bakes away while the granola bars I made earlier still cool down next to the stovetop. Those are two of the items I continue to make from scratch whenever needed, even though they are just as easy to buy as all of the other items that line our pantry shelves.

Speaking of the pantry, just one look and you can see how things have changed over the past six months compared to eighteen months ago. Canned beans and mushrooms balance nicely beside the jars of nuts, dried beans, and flour. Tucked safely behind the toaster is my “snack corner” – a plethora of salty choices I had to previously do without – and instead make a batch of popcorn whenever the munchie craving struck me. There really isn’t much room in the pantry for all of the jars of bulk foods, additional cookbooks I collected that year, and the newly added canned goods. But that’s the way it is now, the blending of two distinct ways of getting food on the table, either slowly from scratch or semi-conveniently.

While the pantry isn’t as organized as it was last year neither am I. Two necessary evils that cooking from scratch really forces one into are organization and planning.  In fact without the meal planning it’s just too easy to look at your significant other after a long day of work and say, “I’m so tired, let’s just pick up a frozen pizza.” Ah pizza, the dish I swore I would never return to in it’s frozen form. We’ve probably made a ratio of 2:1 frozen to fresh pizzas over the past six months. Without the planning and preparation of sauce in advance, let alone planning enough prep time for the dough to rise, that box of Connie’s Pizza is just too tempting of a backup plan. And so I give in.

The other thing I swore, I mean seriously promised to continue to make from scratch every week was bread. The first time we ran out of bread (which was probably in late May when the farmers markets opened up) I gave myself permission to buy a loaf from the market, since the bakery they were selling was obviously made them from scratch that morning. Lightening didn’t strike me as I handed over my money in exchange for that crusty loaf of multi-grain goodness, nobody judged me – I mean really – it was just too easy to get away with. We did that for several weeks at the market and by July the summer heat and my social calendar gave me even more reasons to make excuses to not bake bread. When the markets closed in late September I knew I either had to start baking bread again or make up a new excuse to buy it. Needless to say it’s November now and my bread pans remain as cold as my convenience-oriented heart.

I have had some other successes in sticking with the from-scratch routine, such as back in September when my Mom delivered a 5-gallon bucket filled with tomatoes from my brother’s garden. We cooked that down all day into some delicious sauce while the same day a neighborhood friend also brought over about 2 pounds of cherry tomatoes just gleaned from the remaining plants in her garden. Those sweet little things got roasted with garlic, olive oil, some fresh oregano and rosemary, and we packed them in small batches to freeze for use on our fresh pizza. The warm autumn weather in Wisconsin this year just kept on producing more and more tomatoes, and we processed one additional batch we received from a farmer-friend. Where was this abundance of free tomatoes when I really needed them back in August of 2010?

Well life does indeed go on and I’m recommitting to return to that path of real food love whenever possible. In fact I still have my list of things I never did try making during that year (nor have I ever made before) that still warrant discovery – like home brewed beer, layer cake, vinegar, mayonnaise…

52 Weeks By The Numbers

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Let the countdown begin. When I began my year of inconvenience I thought it might be interesting if I kept track of the quantity of staples I was buying and making. Not everything mind you, but mainly the items I would have typically purchased conveniently at the supermarket (or in this case at my co-op). I’m pretty sure I missed tracking a number of items, or at least it feels that way now recalling how many weeks these items were part of my at times, frustrating routine.

Here’s a glimpse into my 52 weeks of inconvenience, primarily cooking or baking for just the two of us (although some food items became gifts, while others were served to our dinner guests. I started to provide links to the recipes below, but decided instead to develop a recipe listing in one of my future posts just to stretch this out a bit further.

Ingredients Made From Scratch
40pounds of flour(14 lbs. whole wheat flour and 26 lbs. white flour) 40 loaves of sandwich bread, 7 loaves of cinnamon raisin bread, 3 loaves banana bread, 6 Christmas Stollens, 24 hamburger buns, 24 flour tortillas, 24 popovers, 18 bagels, 12 pita breads, 12 pizza crusts, 4 batches flax seed crackers, 2 batches chocolate graham crackers, 8 crusts for chicken pot pies, and 4 pounds of pasta. Oh, and a crazy cake, cinnamon rolls, cookies, and I’m sure I missed a few other things as well. Whew!
52 pounds of tomatoes 144 ounces diced tomatoes, 96 ounces tomato sauce, 80 ounces pizza sauce, 54 ounces pasta sauce, 28 ounces roasted tomatoes. And I was worried I wouldn’t have enough to last.
8 pounds of rolled oats, 5 pounds of pecans 21 pounds of granola8 batches of granola bars (200 of 2×2 squares)The rest of the pecans were used in the Christmas Stollen
5 pounds Masa 7 batches (80) corn tortillas. I love making these and likely will not go back to buying them pre-made.
13 pounds of whole chickens and 13 pounds of turkey breast About 4 chicken and turkey dinners as well as leftovers for sandwiches, soup, and stock.
448 ounces (or 56 cups) of stock Chicken soup, veggie soup, turkey soup, lamb stew, tomatillo pork stew, chicken pot pies, dozens of rice dishes and other crock pot dishes
48 Tablespoons or 24 ounces Instant yeast Sandwich bread, cinnamon raisin bread, stolen, hamburger buns, bagels, pita bread, pizza crusts.
52 ounces honey Breads, 8 batches of granola bars (200 squares)
48 ounces maple syrup Granola (sweetener) and pancakes. Life is so sweet.
10 pounds fair trade sugar Okay that number should scare me into a five-mile hike. Yikes, that’s a lot of baking.
3 pounds (48 ounces) brown sugar Granola, some breads, granola bars, cookies
8 pounds (256 tablespoons) unsalted butter Wow, really? What did I make with all that butter? I only use unsalted for baking and some cooking. And I wonder why I gained 6 pounds this past year…
97 ounces or 12 cups of olive oil Salad dressing, marinades, pasta sauce, and all of those made from scratch dinners.
20 dozen eggs (that’s 240) Okay, if Lisa and I averaged 4 eggs/week total for breakfast that would be understandable. Many, many eggs were used in baking and pasta – and the rest made for some great breakfasts.

My year ended on April 17, and I still have some of the tomatoes and chicken stock in my basement freezer. I remember when I was so worried about putting up enough tomatoes last summer, to last me through the winter, and much to my surprise I didn’t use them all. We’ve eaten a few meals over the past two weeks (since the year officially ended) that were part of my stocking up on frozen dinners. Things like curried chicken pot pie, turkey meatloaf, turkey noodle soup, and pork carnitas have added a bit of value to what might have otherwise been a convenience food splurge for me.

In fact, over the past two weeks not a whole lot has changed for me… uhm yet. I baked two breads, made a batch of granola, one pizza, a number of from-scratch dinners, and averaged at least 3 out of 7 lunches from scratch each week. What did change is that I purchased pasta, chips, salsa, breakfast cereal, canned beans, a few salads and one sandwich from my co-op. I have a half-gallon of milk in the refrigerator right now for making yogurt (tonight) and I also think twice before buying anything convenient, partly out of habit and partially out of guilt. Could I actually be a changed woman? Only the next 50 weeks will tell for certain.

Week 47 – St. Patty’s Is Simple, So Do It

I struggled again with what to write this week. No whining, no complaining, no sniveling as the Irish say. It was a tough week for me, as tough as week six was last May. So many hours spent working, so little time spent preparing for meals. So when faced with those pressures this past week I learned a few more cooking shortcuts. Too little too late you ask? Perhaps, but it gave me some peace of mind in terms of finishing up what I’ve started.

Short cut number one, bake off the easy things while enjoying your morning cup of coffee. I made a one-pound batch of granola on Saturday morning, which took me 10 minutes to combine the ingredients and 20 minutes to bake (stirring two times at each 10 minute baking interval). How easy was that? It didn’t need to be time away from a fun or productive day (okay, it was another day of work) but we were out of granola and believe me, it almost got ugly the day before when I ate the last bit of it. I did the same thing on Sunday morning, making up a batch of my favorite granola bars. Again it took about 20 minutes toasting the grains and combining them with the sweeteners, and another 20 minutes of baking. The second delicious accomplishment that didn’t dig into my Sunday hours one bit.

Short cut number two, and you still have two days to accomplish this yourself, is to make yourself a nice Saint Patrick’s Day Corned Beef and Cabbage dinner in the slow cooker. Seriously, this was one of the easiest meals I’ve made this entire year, and was right up there on the list of deliciousness. What could be better than a one-pot meal that cooks while you are away at work, filling your kitchen with that savory aroma of someone slaving over the stove all day? Just make sure you don’t over-cook it, so if you have a timer or a crock pot with a timing function, set it for 6-7 hours just to be safe.

Here is my St. Patrick’s offering, the quick, easy, and delicious recipe. I don’t think I spent any more than 25 minutes all together in gathering the ingredients from my refrigerator, peeling, chopping and putting them into the Crockpot. Enjoy with a tall glass of Guinness after that long day of work.

St. Patrick’s Day Corned Beef And Cabbage

One 3-4 pound piece of uncooked corned beef

2 cups water

One 12-ounce beer (Guinness or any kind of lager will do)

1 small head of green cabbage, cored and quartered

1 large onion, quartered

2-3 large carrots, sliced diagonally into bite-size pieces

6-8 red potatoes, peeled slightly (not thoroughly) and quartered

2-3 generous sprigs of fresh thyme

1-2 bay leaves

 

Lay the corned beef on the bottom of the slow cooker and top with all of the vegetables, thyme, and bay leaves. Pour in the beer and water. Cover and cook for 6-8 hours until the beef is tender.

Transfer the beef to a cutting board and cut into thin slices. Serve in shallow bowls surrounded by the vegetables, and make sure you serve some of the cooking liquid over the top because that is the truly delicious part!