Nothing like a good old fashioned pandemic lockdown to spur your creativity in the kitchen, eh?
My husband works at the local grocery co-op as a butcher. But with the pandemic, we are not doing any shopping, not even at his store. We’ve got what we need at home, and he’s under strict orders from yours truly to not make ANY stops between getting off his bike, going back to the meat room (where, fortunately, handwashing and bleach have always been the name of the game when it comes to keeping a clean workspace as a butcher!), and getting back on his bike and going straight home at the end of the day. Why? As he has suddenly been thrust into the position of primary breadwinner for the first time in our 6 years of marriage, our only priority is to keep him healthy. So that means no browsing the shelves, no standing at their cash register for miscellaneous things, and minimizing as much risk as is possible when he’s away from home.
So with that, there are the occasions where we realize we can’t just ‘run down to the store and grab it’, and financially because we, well, can’t afford to spend like we once did. While we’ve always been pretty good at using as much as possible without waste, here are some things I thought I’d share to spark some creativity with y’all – and hopefully hear what you’re up to as well!
- NON-DAIRY MILK: Probably my favorite because it’s a HUGE money saver, but you can DIY a bunch of different ‘fake milks’ beyond the usual nut milks. While we love the taste of almond and cashew milks, once we learned how honeybees are dying off en masse in the almond fields of California, and how cashew milk is even less sustainable, we immediately ended our purchases of those ingredients.
- Last year we switched over to DIY oat milk, as not only is it tasty but it is SO easy to make, WAY cheaper than storebought, zero packaging, and way faster than nut milks to make (no soaking!): 4 cups of water + 1 cup of organic oats + dash of salt, toss in the blender for 20 seconds, then run through a (tightly-knit) colander or use cheesecloth to separate the pulp from the liquid. I usually do it a couple of times before pouring the milk into a jar and tossing it in the fridge. Bonus: I love the many ideas online for using the ‘oat pulp’, like using it as a facial scrub base (add honey, etc.) or stir it into your cookie dough when making chocolate chip cookies.
- Now that we are in pandemic mode, we’ve found that oats are in shorter supply and rather than quickly use up our pantry supply, it’s spurred me to finally try my hand at DIY flaxseed milk, which I’ve found a) there’s no shortage of golden flaxseed in the grocery stores, and b) it’s one of the most sustainable AND best tasting ‘fake milks’ out there, not to mention incredibly healthy. I’ve been sampling different recipes as everyone seems to have a slightly different way of blending and separating, and this recipe has been by far the easiest on. Bonus: use the leftover flaxseed gel stuff as an egg replacement, as a binder in gluten free recipes, or toss into a smoothie!
- THICKENERS: As many have probably seen, a bunch of folks have decided to join us home bakers and because of that, it’s become like gold. We noticed pre-pandemic that we weren’t able to find arrowroot starch (our preference over cornstarch for both taste and sustainability factors) in bulk and so during our elimination diet in February, we discovered that rice flour is not only a decent sub in waffles but an even better as a thickener! So whether it’s for making a sauce or binding things like meatballs, consider rice flour. On a recent trip to Freddy’s (Kroger), I noticed that the gluten free section have a ton of it in stock!
- USING ALL OF YOUR CITRUS! My favorite new thing is just before peeling and/or squeezing an orange or lemon, I will grab my box grater and get all the peel off and onto a cookie sheet, toss it in the oven for 10 or so minutes, and once it dries pop it into a spice jar. Not only are you using more of the fruit you paid for, it’s WAY cheaper – and more flavorful – than buying a jar of dried zest. And hooooly cow the homemade orange chicken we make with it? Seriously beats the heck out of any takeout we’ve ever had.
- CROCK POT MEALS: So I noticed in the bulk aisle last week (what was left of it, as anything that’s normally ‘shoveled’ has been removed and just the overhead ones are left at a few stores) that folks have emptied out the green split peas, but haven’t touched the yellow ones or the lentils. Now I’m not huge into lentils, but my husband has always talked about how much he loves dal when we’d go to the amazing little Indian place in town for their lunch buffet, and when I went into the ‘international foods’ section of the store (isn’t it strange how pasta is Italian but not segregated as international in our melting pot country, while Mexican, Chinese, Asian and even British food is?), I found a TON of chana dal for next to nothing $$, which is a beautiful – and delicious – compromise for those of us who want to make an easy meal in the slow cooker but aren’t keen on lentils. Why? It’s made from chickpeas. Woo hoo!
- EXPERIMENT WITH FLOURS! Folks are buying up the all-purpose and bread flour, but there are SO many other great options out there for baking! One of my favorites is spelt, and it appears to be largely ignored in the aisles compared to the traditional favorites. It does have gluten, but is much easier to digest, which is awesome. Also, if you’re making bread, try combining different types of flour! Our favorite sourdough is half bread flour, half whole wheat flour, but occasionally we throw in some rye and seeds as well to make it interesting, or one of my new favorites, a tomato sourdough where you just add some tomato sauce and herbs (perfect use for this random jar of nigella seeds that I have had around for a few months…).
- DIY YOUR PASTA! It’s cheaper, it’s tastier, and it’s really fun! And it’s another way to experiment with flours to see what flavors you like best. As for us, our favorite is definitely using 3 of our ducks’ eggs with 2 cups of semolina and a dash of salt (combine, let sit for 20 minutes, and roll/cut – if you don’t have a pasta maker or attachment, consider investing in one as it will more than pay for itself, but if not just roll it out thin and cut it or use the sheets to make lasagna!). Suggestion: double or even triple your recipe, so you can dry the remaining – we use clothes hangers!) and enjoy over the coming weeks.
- RENDER YOUR OWN LARD! Ask the butcher at your supermarket if they’ll give you their extras (or sell for a small fee – many will give it away though rather than toss it), cube it up and toss it in the slow cooker for a couple hours until it separates, then pour through a cloth into a canning jar. This can replace the oil you cook with, the butter you’d use inside baking pans, and particularly amazing for toasting bread in a skillet on the the stove, whether plain or for grilled cheese!
- BUY WHOLE NUTS INSTEAD OF NUT BUTTERS! Folks are also hoarding the peanut butter for real, but for those who have a food processor or similar device, take advantage of buying nuts in bulk and just tossing them right in. It takes a minute or so before converting from nuts to powder to paste, and you can add your own salt or flavors if desired. Again – it’s also cheaper and tastier. Husband particularly loved this as he can eat PB by the gallon if allowed, especially with the homemade strawberry vanilla rose jam I made last year 🙂
Some other ideas that don’t include pictures…
* Make your own stock – save all the bones from chicken etc into a pot of water with salt and pepper and veggie scraps like onion peel, boil for 30 minutes then simmer for at least a few hours. Pour into canning jars and refrigerate (note: to freeze, fill wide mouth jars 3/4 full, set in freezer without the lid til it solidifies, then add the lid).
* Sick of rice? Try farro. Again, enough folks don’t know what it is which means there’s usually farro to be found in either the bulk aisle or the grains section. I love using it in minestrone, just soaking it overnight with kidney or cannelini beans then rinsing before tossing them in the slow cooker with everything else. Yum.
* Take advantage of seasonal produce and PRESERVE! Support your local farmers if they are open in your area (in Portland they’ve got a few drive-through farmers’ markets set up and my friend in LA said they’ve got one there as well). Seems like a weird time to can/freeze/etc. if you’re in the Northern Hemi like me, but if you see a monster-sized bag of apples on sale and couldn’t possibly eat them all now, make applesauce!
* Check out this article on Wasting Less Food in Self-Isolation.