Sunday, 29 March 2009

Putting the "oooh" into frugal

Yet another article on food waste and how to avoid or take advantage of leftovers – I would like to think that the growing plethora of such articles indicates that people are more conscious that what they are currently doing is completely unsustainable.

For example, whilst Kylie Kwong rather irritates me on TV, she makes a very powerful point when she says, "if I throw out a kilo of white rice, I'm also wasting the 2385 litres of water that it took to grow that rice".

I have particular sympathy for the ethos espoused by Detmar Haupt, who attributes his minimised waste to control freaky precision. Since I took over as the Knight of the Kitchen Realm a couple of years ago, kitchen waste has been eliminated.

Firstly, we buy very little that comes in a packet. The only packety food we typically buy consists of milk, cheese, tinned tomatoes, tinned sardines, pasta, rice and lentils. Most of this is recyclable. As for kitchen waste, there's very little of that. Offcuts are either eaten by me, or the guinea pig (with the exception of large amounts of melon rind, or potato peelings, the latter being toxic). Consequently, the kitchen bin (25L) is emptied once a week and is often only half-full. It's a small thing, but I have also discovered that one does not die if one eats an apple in its entirety. Contrary to what my stepmother says, if you eat the seeds, a plant won't grow in your intestines…

I've also learnt that unless there's a really enormous amount of mould (and a little bit of forward planning – i.e., if you know something is perishable, use it FIRST), most leftover stuff is probably okay to eat. Obviously not if it's raw chicken/pork/seafood, but judicious refrigeration and reheating can easily keep food for a few days after its initial cook.

Whilst we buy an enormous amount of fresh food, which doesn’t come in lots of packaging – and I am increasingly avoiding plastic bags when buying loose fruit and vegetables – we never buy more than we intend to eat. Come Saturday morning, the crisper is inevitably empty. This also makes regular fridge cleans an easy task.

It's probably just as well we don't try to compost, because I doubt there'd be enough to feed a heap.

The additional benefit to all of this is that we spend far less at the supermarket in dollar terms (this is amplified when you take into account inflation) than we did ten years ago, and we eat far better too.

It is also worthwhile accurately portioning out food before it is cooked. I have got used to using measuring cups and my electronic scales so that I know how much pasta/rice/quinoa/lentils is right for one or two portions. It's not hard. By all means cook an excessive amount, but have a plan for how that will be used for another meal. If you're not prepared to do meal plans, don't shop and cook to excess. Easy.

In other news, a scan of the pantry shelves this morning revealed that in the last four or so months, I have made over 30 jars of jam/marmelade/chutney, many of which cost virtually nothing to make because the fruit (figs, blackberries - yes, they have a use, and since we don't use sprays they were organic) came from the garden. And the fruit that I did buy, at super-cheap South Melbourne market, was invariably less than $2 a kilo.

If you have never eaten blackberry and lime jam, I urge you to try making it. Ditto fig and lime.

Indeed, to ensure that nothing was wasted, I made eight jars of jam yesterday afternoon (fig, blood plum).

Between this and the spoils of Coles getting rid of Bonne Maman for 99¢ a few months ago, we are jammed up for the next year.

I would say that the most useful culinary skill I have acquired in the last year is preserving (or at least equal first with sourdough-making). Given that we would otherwise be looking at paying around $4 for a smallish jar of jam (if not more), knowing how to do it oneself could be very cost effective.

My other super secret tip for jam is to go to places like the A1 bakery and middle eastern grocers, because we have scoffed some unbelievably good Syrian apricot jam, which was very reasonably priced.

On a slightly different note, the Guardian's food blog Word of Mouth continues to be worth a read - this post is no exception. Read the comments. Laugh.

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