Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pantry talk - living the pantry lifestyle continued

My, one should not write and push "Publish Post" when they are in a hurry. I went back later and read yesterday's post. My ideas were all scrambled.

I completely forgot to tell you the point of why spending money on eating out was a priority when we were a two career couple in the 1980's... it was so we could spend more time together as a family. Stephanie was too little to help in the kitchen (when I was tired and cranky after a busy day) and hubby was too busy so... there were many long conversations over coffee and a soft drink at Russ', Point West, Coral Gables, The James Street Inn, "that breakfast place" we enjoyed in Douglas, The Hatch, and The Loaf and Mug in Saugatuck... years and years of good memories when it was just "us three"...

The priorities and the way we spend money has changed over the years. For instance, I still make almost everything from scratch but now that there are only three of us at home and I work within the confines of a chronic illness... I purchase a few favorite premade items like pizza crust (Boboli is good but Wal Mart also sells a less expensive brand that is excellent if you don't need a whole wheat crust); frozen deep dish pie crusts; Old El Paso flour tortillas (sold in the aisle with the salsa, taco seasonings, etc.), and others that do not come to my mind now.

Both the Boboli or Boboli style pizza crusts and the Old El Paso tortillas can be stored in the pantry instead of the freezer and have a good shelf life. (I do make pizza dough in my bread machine most of the time, when I'm feeling up to it.)

Mostly, though, I keep in my pantry the basic items needed for cooking and baking. That's where having a good cookbook collection comes in handy. The way I keep a pantry is very similar to what is shown in The Tightwad Gazette volumes II and III. Amy talked about storing the basics and then having cookbooks to look up new recipes containing both basic ingredients and when they grew or were given something new.

My recipe book collection has changed through the years, I gave away most of my "gourmet" cookbooks (I took gourmet cooking lessons when I was young). I now have a few basic cookbooks and lots with recipes the way I cook. I especially love recipe books that have prose in them and if there are beautiful pictures... well, they will find themselves next to my bed at night or with me under a warm throw on the sofa (and probably end up with cat hair on them).

A favorite book for finding "how to cook" ideas and recipes for veggies is my copy of The Victory Garden Cookbook. I've had my copy for about twenty years (except for when my mother-in-law borrowed it for awhile). It is almost falling apart. This is a category of cookbooks I'll be looking for at the next library sale.

I believe this book is out of print but available used. I highly recommend it for both gardeners looking for a way to use excess veggies and people like me who had a mother who "cooked everything to death" and needed good ideas. Although... I still cook even canned green beans to death and it made me smile to see Trisha Yearwood has a recipe by that name (her cookbook is Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen).

As mentioned before, I also learn a lot through reading magazines. As the person in the family responsible for putting food on the table, I see the research as necessary to my career as wife, Mom, family chef, chief bottle washer, etc. Just last month, I perused Backwoods Home magazine (Jan/Feb edition) at the bookstore and saw that it had two great articles about cooking cheap and from the pantry and since I actually had the money... I bought it.

I took it with me to the hospital on the day of the surgery and had my husband read it, too. We both agreed one article in particular helped a great deal and we've been keeping a pantry for decades. I can often find free cooking magazines on the "free shelf" at the library.

By keeping a basic pantry (those items needed to make most of what I cook), a freezer with meat purchased on sale, and a refrigerator with extra eggs and milk... I can look for a new recipe in many cookbooks and have on hand what is needed. The only difference... how "deep" I can make the pantry.

It's interesting that many of the emergency preparedness articles I've read since Katrina are encouraging three months worth of basic foods, three weeks worth of foods used often, and at least three days of foods that do not need to be cooked. I'll write more later about lessons learned when we lived from the pantry.

There are some items it is easy to have an entire year's worth on the shelf... salt, pepper, cocoa, cinnamon and other spices, vanilla and other extracts, etc. Other items are more expensive or they take up more room but you would be surprised how little it can cost when using basic foods. I used to purchase oatmeal from my former food co-op but a dear friend in the co-op now purchases it for me (she orders twenty-five pounds at a time... or more).

I store it in see through Rubbermaid type containers and it doesn't cost much to keep enough for four or more months. I once bought an entire fifty pound bag and it lasted well over a year (that was when my son-in-law was still working on his PhD and before they became the "New England contingent"... well, he was from New England already... we often shared with them from the pantry).

I've also learned to store what I use and not what cooking experts say is acceptable or not. For instance, I loved watching The Frugal Gourmet but he was always talking about how bad garlic powder and onion powder were. I stopped using them until I came to my senses and realized he was WRONG. I enjoy watching cooking shows (especially those on PBS, which I'll be able to get again when our antennae is put up) but I also have learned to overlook when a cooking teacher is being a little too much of a food snob. If it was fine with Mom, it works with me... well, except pickled pigs feet. I never acquired a taste for them.

It reminds me of when I opened my mother-in-law's frig and there was... gasp... a Pillsbury Pie Crust package on the shelf! She was famous for her pies and her beautiful crusts. She told me she started using Pillsbury crusts because she was too tired to make hers from scratch (she was probably eighty years old when this conversation took place) and much to her amazement... no one noticed the difference. Hehehe... I was set FREE... Hallelujah. Oh, pardon me... I get goose bumps just remembering that moment.

My basic "pantry" is a set of shelves in the garage and I use kitchen cabinets as well as the tall cabinet I keep in the kitchen (inherited from my mother-in-law, coveted by my daughter). I keep extra TP and other paper items in the tiny shower in the tiny bathroom. I learned to do this from Manuela (who must show a picture of that shower-used-as-pantry again and I'll link to it). I found a large, wire basket at Goodwill that (when turned upside down) is perfect for lifting the large packages of TP off the shower floor just in case water would get on the bottom... which has never happened.

The only time we use this shower is when the grandchildren visit and we've been meeting them elsewhere since the New England contingent has graciously gifted us with a vacation. Although this year I... um... encouraged (no, too mild a word)... their anniversary trip to England instead. Who knows when circumstances will align themselves again to make this possible and after years of blessing us... being able to go on their dream vacation would be a great reward. However, I digress...

I purchase meat for the freezer when it is on sale. Ironically, it is my most expensive grocery store that has the best meat sales. I've found if you pay careful notice, you'll see a pattern about grocery store sales. I can buy most cuts of meat 40% to 50% off and save even more if I go early in the day and they have cut the price even more because it has reached its' sale date.

By purchasing for the pantry (and on sale most of the time), then I am prepared for those times when there is no income. I have often gone weeks and weeks with no cash on hand except that saved back to purchase eggs and milk. As I've written before, it is insurance you can eat whether you suffer a job loss or there is a disruption in the trucking industry (even Wal Mart is often out of something I need because they operate on Just In Time... meaning the factory or in this case grocery store stocks only for that day).

Next time I write about the pantry (Monday?), I'll share how I decide where to shop. As for when... whenever we have been given a financial gift, receive a tax check (like we are expecting now), and when hubby works at the bookstore at the beginning and end of semesters. Unfortunately, I've had to stop working and I'll miss the people and the check!

Saturday I want to share a little about books I'm reading.

(I haven't had a chance to look at back comments and answer them since I'm "borrowing" my son's computer but I will quickly answer the one comment from yesterday... we can no longer claim Christopher as a dependent even though he is a student because he is nineteen and makes more than the minimum amount allowed for us to be able to claim him.

He is quite pleased to be able to claim himself now, hehehe. :)

He is recovering... two steps forward and one step back. )


Heather L. said...

I decided I needed a break from food shopping and that I wouldn't go this week! I cleaned out the freezers, discovered some things, organized it all, and we've been eating creatively this week. It will be good to have some fresh green veggies next week, but I'm glad to have "gotten rid" of some things by doing this, and now know just what I have. The craziest thing I did was take a very old bag of dried pears (in the freezer) which were too hard to eat, boiled them up for awhile and then pureed them. It turned into about 12 cups of pear butter! Voila! :)

I was also hoping to save a bit of money but am wondering if I'll just be spending more next week re-stocking. We'll see how it goes. I'm sure it was worth it.

Lady-in-the-Making said...

WOW! What wonderful ideas! Thank you so very much for these nuggets of wisdom. I sincerely appreciate it since I'm just starting to stock my new pantry!

Anonymous said...

I love your ideas!!
I was curious if you could discuss how long it took you to get a stocked pantry ? and how you budgeted for it on top of reg shopping?


mom2six said...

Brenda - Your posts always make me smile with your wit and wisdom. Thank you. In Jesus, Nancy