I hate wasting food.
I know that’s a weird thing for someone with “disordered eating” to say. I mean, aren’t eating disorders about either ingesting everything in sight, or not eating at all? Isn’t the trick to mix tasty treats with dish soap or coffee grounds and bury them underneath the onion peels so you don’t grab them right back out of the garbage and eat them anyway?
(Side note – I’m still kinda salty that when I tried therapy a few years ago, Dr. P denied that I had an actual eating disorder. “It’s just disordered eating.” Well, gosh, thanks for invalidating me; guess I’ll…try harder? Part of me wonders if, given my current state, I’ve earned that designation level yet. Achievement unlocked. Yay?)
Anyway. Speaking of Dr. P – I do remember talking through a binge with her where I’d plowed through most of a jar of chocolate peanut butter. (Pro tip for weight loss: DO NOT BUY THIS.)
Anyway – she had challenged me to just…throw it away. Like…in the garbage, without eating it. THROW AWAY PERFECTLY GOOD FOOD.
And it was HARD.
Spoiler: I actually did it…but I’m still bitter about it, and if it were here right in front of me right now, I’d eat it. Even though this post is, like, six (?) years old. I’d give it a quick eyeball and a precursory sniff…if it smells like PB and I don’t see any discernible mold, yeah, I’d hit that.
Anyway. I don’t think I’ve thrown out food since, save a couple of onions that have gone softer than a rejected candidate on The Bachelorette. Food waste is kind of a problem here in the US, and I am determined not to contribute to it. If I possess an ingredient, I am going to find a way to make it edible and EAT IT. (And feed it to the hubs. Who is, I’ll admit, generally a good sport about these creative culinary journeys. While he’s more than capable of feeding himself, he very wisely recognizes that Someone is Cooking for him and appreciates the work it takes. Although…when we first met, I found that he had this cookbook, so maybe “capable” is a generous label.)
To be fair – when you’re learning to cook, you gotta start somewhere. And if that’s with a can of peas, a can of carrots, and a can of Spaghettios, have at it, I guess. <gag>
I started taking tentative steps towards learning to cook about <does math in head> fifteen or so years ago. I hadn’t been feeling well, generally, and, after numerous tests failed to show any reason for my nausea and general malaise, my doctor had basically thrown up her hands and said “idk man.” I began to wonder if maybe my chemically-laden diet of preservatives-riddled boxed food and sugar-free soda maaaaaaybe wasn’t helping the situation. So I bought a cookbook:
From there, I dove right in…and learned a couple of things really quickly. My first lesson was that recipe timing is apparently measured like football minutes, where a fifteen-minute quarter can take a full f#&k!ng HOUR. (The second lie cookbooks tell: Serves 4. Four what? Kindergartners? Ants?)
But I was COOKING – I was converting “this was raw and/or a vegetable” into food that was edible – and sometimes, really good!
Once I gained confidence, however….I started getting a lil cocky. I was doing things like buying tofu. And it was actually freakin’ delicious, which only encouraged me to push the boundaries harder.
I started trying to recreate some of the beloved recipes from my youth. Like…corn fritters. (Which our State Fair now serves, but I was there first. #hipster) Or Zucchini Crisp, which really does taste like apple crisp, and if you don’t tell your kids what’s in it, I promise they will eat it. (Check out the links for the recipes.)
From there, I started taking some liberties. Corn fritters are awesome, so how about corn pancakes? YUM.
Out of zucchini for zucchini crisp and only have yellow squash? (First – no one runs out of zucchini; it’s what you plant only if you have tons of friends. Fun Fact: August 8 is Sneak Zucchini on your Neighbor’s Porch Day, and I am here for it.) Throw in whatcha got and see what happens! (Spoiler: it was amazing):
In other words, I learned quickly that food can’t read, and no one is grading your work – so you can do WHATEVER THE HECK YOU WANT in the kitchen. If the end product is edible, it’s a victory. I took to this like my inner child was just told that there is no bedtime, and school attendance is 100% optional.
So how does this tie in to not wasting food? Well, since I hadn’t generally been feeling well, I decided that in addition to cutting out artificial sweeteners from my diet (RIP, diet soda) I really should work on incorporating more veggies. And…I don’t love vegetables. (Some people claim that they do. I claim that they are lying.) Veggies are foods I tolerate in the spirit of Good Health….but given the choice between eating a vegetable and pretty much anything else, I’ll almost always choose the latter. (Unless the other option is cantaloupe, which is the most vile food on the planet. I see y’all chowing down on big chunks of the stuff every summer, and I swear you’re trying to prank me and I’m just not in on the joke.)
My answer to eating more veggies was to commit to buying them on a regular basis – because I know that once I’ve paid for it, I cannot bring myself to waste it. For several years, I participated in a CSA, or “crop share.” After paying for the entire season up front, every week, I’d receive this gloriously abundant box of vegetables, and every week I would bring it home and frantically Google “what is this thing and how do I cook it?” (I’m looking at you, kohlrabi. Straight. At. You.)
But as a result, we’ve actually found some things that have become regulars in the recipe rotation. Since it’s desperately trying to be summer up here in the Midwestern Tundra I call home, I thought it’d be a good time to share some recipes/cooking techniques that we’ve come to love – just in case you get saddled with a butt-ton of kale or parsley (or your spouse found out his kids like carrots, so he ran out and bought FIVE POUNDS of them) and like me just cannot BEAR to let food turn to compost in your crisper drawer.
Roasting was my initial approach for weird stuff like rutabagas and turnips – when in doubt, toss cubed mystery veggies with a bit of oil and bake at 400-425 until browned on the outside. Of course, I’m measuring the oil very carefully….calories, ya know. But a tablespoon goes a long, long way, and also helps other spices like paprika or salt stick a bit better. Lay ’em out on a baking sheet in a single layer and maybe give them a stir after 10-15 minutes (otherwise, you’ll get this lovely burnt-on-the-bottom, not-quite-caramelized-on-the-top result that is Not Delicious. Treat them like they’re in a spray-tan booth and rotate them.) I would often have these with baked fish, which I keep pretty simple – I sprinkle on lemon juice, basil, and garlic, and bake. This ends up being a pretty low-calorie meal that takes up a lot of room on the plate.
(Side note – it’s super interesting to roast radishes, of all things. They lose their “bite” and become something quite different from the peppery beasts that normally rudely interrupt the blue cheese bliss on your salad.)
A lot of my CSA haul ended up taking a starring role in stir-fries, too. To be fair, mine end up more like stews, because I have yet to invest in a real wok. But they’re still tasty. Here are a few ideas to get you started. Each of these will cover about a pound of meat and a couple cups of veggies, or any similar combination.
- 1/3 cup broth (chicken, veggie, whatever)
- 1 T cornstarch
- 1 T honey
- 3 T lemon juice (or lime, or heck, any citrus)
- 2 T soy sauce
- Giant blob of garlic (from the Costco gallon-sized jar you bought thinking “I looooove garlic!”)
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or a full teaspoon if you live on the edge of being a bada$$)
Recently, I’ve been making something similar with a jar of curry paste I bought for a different recipe and had to use up:
- 3 T red curry paste
- 2 T dried basil
- 2 T fish sauce
- 2 T soy sauce
- 1/3 c broth
- 1/2 T cornstarch
- 1/2 T honey (optional. I usually forget)
- Garlic, garlic, garlic (again with the giant-a$$ jar in the fridge)
If your Instacart shopper accidentally subs out green curry paste, you can work with that too. Sub out the garlic for some ginger (1T dried or a diced hunk of fresh if you’re bougie like that) and you’re good to go.
Got a ton of green leafies you have no idea how to eat? Kale, spinach, and beet or turnip greens all work well in African Soul Soup. One of my vegan (yet humble; not sure how that happened) friends turned me on to this one; it’s hearty and spicy and filling and ALSO uses up the flat of chickpeas you bought. (again, Costco, really?) I know it sounds strange – the recipe contains peanut butter, broth, and tomatoes, but if you like peanut sauce, you’ll like this. If you decide to give it a go, here are some tips from a home-schooled chef:
- I cut the broth in the recipe back by 1/2 cup. I like stews more than soups….
- The recipe tells you to process the PB and broth in a blender. Ain’t nobody got time for that, and I am NOT washing another appliance just for the sake of creaminess. I just smash it all together in the pan. No one has choked on it yet. But speaking of choking….
- The instructions have you “toasting” the spices in the pan before adding the liquid. WARNING – turn on the hood/fan thingy, pals, or you will essentially pepper-spray yourself once the cayenne becomes “aromatic.” As former President Clinton advises, do not inhale.
- If you use a heartier green like kale, you’re going to have to let it simmer for a good bit longer. It DOES cook down, eventually….but you might need to let it meditate in the stovetop sauna for a good 10+ minutes.
And speaking of garbanzos….if you happen to be gifted with a bouquet of fresh parsley (and you don’t hate beans), try this recipe. It’s also great if you sub out half of the beans with wild rice, and you won’t hate yourself if you go totally wild and serve it over baked squash. (Although that’s enough fiber to prep you for a colonoscopy. Sometimes “delicious” should come with a warning.)
Full disclosure, though – while I’ve found a number of recipes that are actually pretty decent, rest assured that we’ve had multiple cooking failures along the way. I’ll fill you in on that next week. For now, here’s a preview:
You made a cake out of…what now?
That smells great…but what is…that…lump?
And be sure to tune in next week to find out if we really had what appeared to be unicorn stew for dinner. 🙂
P.S. Speaking of finishing up things….on Friday, the hubs surprised me by finishing this landscaping project we started YEARS ago. My son, who was 16 at the time of that post, is now….21. Better late than never. Ha ha.