Monday, March 23, 2009

Waste not, want not

I'm getting more old fashioned by the minute. Old slogans from my Granny Goddard are making more and more sense to me. I may not be a modern woman at all, because I like this new, old fashioned version of myself. (But please don't take away my iPod or make me stop blogging.)

I still remember being a young girl and taking the kitchen scraps out to the back garden with Grandpa Goddard at their Sechelt home. And I remember hanging clothes on the line with Granny. And I remember having Sunday ham dinners, and then making something (beans, soup) with the ham bone. Apparently Granny and Grandpa were way, way ahead of their time, because now I'm trying to learn how to be like them.

This morning I'm making dinner in my new* crockpot/slow cooker. I did inventory of the cupboard stores, and I found a recipe using what we already had. Onions, cumin, cayenne, cloves (yes, cloves), garlic, and chicken drumsticks are at the bottom of the pot. Beans are on the stovetop, plumping up. And next to the beans, the bag of kitchen scraps from the freezer - broccoli ends, carrot tops, chicken bones, and the like - are simmering in a pot with water and salt. When the timer beeps, I'll strain them and add their broth to my chili, and add the beans on top of that.

The recipe called for skinless drumsticks. I pulled the skin off, and threw it into the stock. The beans came in a plastic PCC bag from the bulk bins, and I'll save that for my next trip to the store (I'm out of white beans now). The recipe also calls for canned chilis, which I don't have. I've decided to walk Shep to the store (we both need the exercise) and we'll buy fresh chilis and quickly roast them before throwing them into the pot. That way we won't get BPA from cans, we won't have to throw away or recycle a can (recycling still uses lots of energy and resources), and we'll have fresher food.

This is an entirely new way of cooking for me. A few differences:
1) Using chicken with bones. I used to only buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I stopped that habit because it's the most expensive way to buy chicken, but I'm realizing how much I'd given up by doing that. For one, the bones and skin make great chicken stock. For another, it's so much more expensive. For yet another, the slightly darker meat of the other parts of the chicken has great flavor and is more tender. (The extra fat is minimal, especially when you consider that we're eating much less meat per serving than usual - I'd rather have extra tasty meat in smaller quantities.)

2) Beans. My family has not enjoyed beans at all, ever. Then, delightful Ms. McChesney, Tessa's PE teacher, started to teach the kids about the health benefits of beans, and Tessa came home absolutely indignant because I didn't cook beans and "they're healthy, you know!" Ryan is also opening up to certain types of beans, because he wants to be healthful, too. And they're so much better for the environment than meat. I know, I know, this recipe has chicken in it....but I've cut the meat by half, and we'll still get plenty of protein from the beans, and it is a huge step in the right direction.

3) Reduction of packaged things like chilis and tomatoes and stock. I've been a scratch-cook for some time (at least a decade), but I hadn't thought about cans and boxes a bit. I'm thinking of it now.

4) Every part of the food is, well, food. The inedible (to humans) bits make great compost (which gets converted back into edible food in our veggie garden), or worm food (which also returns to us in the veggie garden), or stock (those bones and broccoli ends). I used to throw a lot away that now finds an alternate use.

So I'm learning. With all of these changes, I don't find myself wanting the old stuff, and I'm learning how to cook in such a way that I don't add a lot of cooking time by going the long route. (Throw the stock ingredients in a pot before chopping the onion for the the time I want it, it will be ready. Of course, I'm making a quick stock, not a rich one, but I think I could manage that, too. It's just a different way of thinking.)

* My old crockpot died, because I accidentally killed it by pinching the cord between the hot pot and the crockery insert, causing it to melt and (briefly) flame. I didn't want to throw it in a landfill, so I called around to find a place to repair it. The cost of the repair would have been $20, which is $14 for labor and $6 for the new cord. The only problem is that it wasn't the greatest crockpot in the world, and I was able to get a brand new, nice one that came with a small "bonus" crockpot suitable for things like spinach dip, that had a better design than the first one, on sale for $27.99. For $8 difference, I got a major upgrade. I really wish it had been more cost effective to keep the old one, but I did get a new one. I saved the crockery insert and I'm planning on using it as a garden planter, at least. :-)

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