Some of us have been stuck in our homes for upwards of two to three months. Food has become something much different than what we knew even in January of this year. Four months ago, I threw away packages of eggs when I reached their final date on the box. I didn’t worry about using milk before it went bad. I could just toss it in the garbage. The root ends of my scallions were garbage bound. I never bothered to portion out my meats. If I forgot some in the fridge, it could be thrown away.
I consider myself fortunate to be furloughed from my full time job in order to learn and adopt better habits for my time in the kitchen. These positive adjustments that I’ve gained in the kitchen are things I try to practice gratitude for when my brain goes to dark places in quarantine. Food has much more value now, both monetarily and figuratively. There are several adjustments I’ve made that have taught me to value what I have in my kitchen in new ways.
Scallions, for example, have been a staple of my veggie drawer for years now. I use them to top nacho snacks, drop into stir frys, bake into savory goodies. Early into quarantine, I discovered that regrowing scallions in the kitchen is not such a hard task. Many chefs I follow on instagram began placing their root ends of their scallions into cups of water to get at least a second use out of them, and in that I followed. This little thing has given one of my favorite produce purchases a second life. This isn’t something i’ll ever give up, I think.
Eggs are a staple in most households. We use them for breakfasts and baked goods, but they can go forgotten on the top shelf of the fridge for days at a time when the mornings start to get away from us. As I mentioned, I never worried in the past if the carton went past its prime. This week, I found myself genuinely worried about it for the first time in my entire life.
I spent the day freezing gnocchi to make sure that I used my eggs. I made Brasovence from our Cookbook of the Month, Carpathia, to get the rest of the eggs out of my fridge. The whole day was an exercise in using what I have, and it felt good. It’s amazing what you can make when you look for the things that are on their way out.
Dairy products make up the vast majority of what I keep in my fridge. Mayo, sour cream, cheese, and milk are important building blocks to all three meals of the day in the Eating Normal Kitchen. Prior to the lockdown, I had very set uses for all of these items, and if they happened to expire, it wasn’t a big deal. Like all of those things above, that changed when I found myself needing to make use of everything.
Milk has gone toward sauces and baking projects to get the most use out of it before the expiration comes along. I make milk bread almost every single weekend. Cheese sauces and alfredos and more goodies can come from a carton of milk that I have otherwise neglected. It’s been a delicious blessing.
Mayo and sour cream have gone toward sauces as well, though mostly chip dips. I am a firm believer in spinach and artichoke dip for daily consumption during quarantine, and now that I’ve realized I can make it myself in ten minutes with an old Alton Brown recipe, there probably won’t be any going back now.
Meat is becoming a more and more precious thing the longer quarantine goes on. I was a notorious waster of an extra chicken thigh or two. I threw out the carcass of roast chickens without a second thought. Now, I spend extra time after every grocery pick up separating a package of meat into meal portions for my husband and I. I save the bones from everything, raw or cooked, for stock later down the line. Meat off a roast chicken is a meal for at least three days.
I even saved the wing tips off of chicken wings to go toward a stock that wound up being one of the most gelatinous, fatty stocks I’ve ever made in my life-- and it was delicious.
Since portioning off each big container of meat for more than one meal, I haven’t let a single slice of meat expire in my fridge. I was notorious about that for pretty much my entire life, and I didn’t feel an ounce of regret. We had a culture of waste.
Fruits have also taken on a higher importance in my kitchen. Generally, I did not buy them in the pre-quarantine times. Last week, I decided to try and make healthier choices in my eating during the pandemic which has landed some strawberries and citrus in my kitchen for the first time all year. While I don’t normally eat berries, I’ve started adding them to my water to give it a little flavor. Most of my lemons and limes have applications in the kitchen beyond these jugs of water, but they certainly help there too.
Fresh produce has been easier to get than a lot of the frozen versions, and with meat shortages on the horizon, we have to use what we can get our hands on. The way we cook in America will likely be changed forever because of this moment in history, and the way we all make use of what we have will be a major tenant of that change. Our culture of waste cannot survive the current environment. Adjustments begin in the home kitchen. How are you changing the way you cook during stay at home orders?
Good suggestions from readers will be tested in my own kitchen and their results shared later in the month.
An idea born in Normal, Illinois, Eating Normal hopes to chronicle the eating Experiences of a Red bird.
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