I don’t know what it was—I can’t remember any more. All I know is that I found a container of a Something at the back of the refrigerator, and I’m pretty sure it has been there long enough to develop its own consciousness. And I don’t think it likes me.
Food waste is a common occurrence in America, that’s for sure. Take a glance into any dumpster behind a restaurant or grocery store, and prepare yourself for heartbreak at the amount of food that has been left for the landfill (unless you’re a Freegan—in which case it is a gold mine). Take a glance into a school’s garbage cans after a meal, and you’ll see that it’s something that our kids are led to learn early. Take a glance into your own garbage can after a meal or two, and you may find that it’s happening every day in your own house as well. Leftovers are often thrown away, even if they’re still good food.
But even if you don’t toss leftovers after a meal, they still are often wasted. I know that for myself, though I carefully wrap them with the best of intentions, I often forget about them. I’ve found mystery containers of forgotten leftovers sitting sadly in my fridge, crusted over, oozy and smelling awful. Even worse, I’ve bought food at the grocery store during a rather indiscriminate shopping trip, figuring I’d find a use for it eventually, only to forget about it until it’s too rotten to use (I’m so sorry, you poor cucumbers.)
Food going bad like this is tragic for two reasons—first, it is just plain gross to have to clean up. Second, it frustrates me that food has been wasted. Since we home-make almost everything for our meals, that container of moldy grossness is literally hours and money that I am throwing away. No good. Especially as we start to grow our own food and pry nutrition out of our not-quite-amended soil, its incredibly counterproductive to have it ever go to waste.
So! Andrew and I have come up with a solution to this that has significantly reduced our leftover food waste, and it is as simple as a whiteboard on our fridge. We keep track of what is in the fridge, and we plan out our meals for the week--this means we can have very purposeful grocery trips, and we can logically incorporate yesterday’s leftovers in today’s meals. This has several time-saving benefits—I don’t have to stare at the refrigerator at 3pm, wondering what in the world I should make for dinner that day, our shopping trips can be short and to the point, and our leftovers often make shortcuts to the next meal.
Sometimes, we even purposely plan those time-saving leftovers. For example: if I have planned an enchilada night, it’s highly possible that we’ll end up with some extra refried beans, veggies, or enchilada sauce. Often, the extras are not enough to be a meal in just themselves, and that perfectly good food is at risk for accidentally getting shoved to the back of the fridge and falling into rotten obscurity. HOWEVER, if I plan something like black bean soup for later that week, I can dump the extra beans, sauce, and any other veggies into the pot. BOOM. Soup’s ready. Nothing is wasted, and I don’t have to take the time to soak more beans!
Extra pasta sauce means we can have pizza or tomato soup with fancy grilled cheese the next day. Too much Falafel dough becomes a spicy Mediterranean soup with the addition of some water, extra salt, and maybe some sautéed onions or tomatoes. Bread butts (some people call them heels?) get frozen before they mold and eventually become breadcrumbs or croutons when I have stockpiled enough of them. Extra roast beef becomes sandwiches or a topping for twice-baked potatoes. Extra rice can become phirni, arancini, or fried rice. In fact, dishes like arancini work better with day-old rice. I love having extra rice to play around with...
Finally, sometimes the leftovers become what we very elegantly call Garbage Meal Mash. This is usually a meal when we don’t have guests and aren’t afraid to experiment dangerously on each other. We’ll take all the extra bits and pieces that have accumulated over the past few days, and we’ll invent something out of them. Once I made pancakes with leftover hummus and tabbouleh—I mixed an egg, some flour, and a little bit of baking powder into the mix and cooked it on the griddle until golden. With a little hot sauce or ketchup, it was suprirsingly delicious! Sometimes cheese and vegetable odds-and-ends go into a Veggie Pie, or they become a strange stir-fry. And sometimes our experiments just turn out weird and vaguely regrettable (seaweed does not go with everything). However! It’s always edible, and at the very worst, we end up just laughing through dinner and promise to never do that particular combination again.
(As a word of caution, you probably want to make sure you use leftovers within threeish days of making them. No use trying to save food if it has already taken a turn for the worst.)
Now I’m curious--what foods have you been able to twice-use? Is there a type of leftover that you’d want to brainstorm a second use for?
We are a husband and wife who are trying to live simply. We are learning much as we transition from life in the city to life in the country. Come along with us, and maybe you can also learn a thing or two as well.
We love writing for these fine folks as well!
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Simple Life Homestead