Monday, May 11, 2015

Pantry Challenge Wrap-Up and In the Garden

So, we finished up the pantry challenge at the end of April with a trip to the grocery store. We didn't really buy a lot while we were there. I bought some organic potatoes. Some chocolate probably made it into the cart. We stocked back up on grains (flour, rice, corn meal, popcorn).

Our last week of from our pantry meals were simple. We had chili for Sunday dinner. On Monday, I made a huge pot of rice. We had stir-fry and also made a rice pudding using the raisins we made in our dehydrator. On Tuesday, I browned some stew meat and served it with some leftovers (but I don't remember exactly what). I neglected to write down what we had on Wednesday and Thursday.

I don't think I did more cooking than usual. We do a lot of cooking at Chez Brown (as evidenced by the forever sink-full of dirty dishes - and yes, Deus Ex Machina, I am regretting that impulsiveness that prompted me to give away our dishwasher). Usually I do the cooking, but if I don't feel like cooking, we more-often-than-not will have take out. During the Pantry Challenge, we couldn't eat out, and it was actually kind of nice that it forced us to be more creative and more accommodating and willing to eat meals that weren't so meal-like (like stir-fry with rice pudding for dessert). The best part was that my family fully embraced the pantry challenge and even cooked on some of those nights when I needed a break from the kitchen.

There was only once or twice that we had a craving for something we couldn't replicate in our kitchen. Once Big Little Sister was craving hot wings as served at our favorite little hole-in-the-wall Mexican place (and so we went there for Mother's Day). And we cheated once and bought French fries downtown.

We contemplated carrying the challenge forward into May. We didn't, exactly, but we have all proven to be a bit more cautious about buying stuff at the grocery, and we are looking a lot more carefully at what's in the pantry. In fact, we took the opportunity the challenge gave us to organize some of the food on our pantry, putting beans in jars, for instance, and we found a can of pineapple that expired a year or two ago. Someone will get pineapple-upside-down cake for his birthday next week ;). His favorite.

Speaking of beans, I learned a really cool time-saving technique. I love cooking with beans. Chili just isn't the same without beans. I also love Cajun-style beans and rice and Huevos Rancheros. The problem is that I don't buy canned beans, although I have canned them myself, but it's a long process, and I don't always have the time to can them (which requires pressure canning, not water-bath canning). As such, if I don't think far enough ahead, we can't have beans.

Back in the 1990s, Amy Dacyzyn promoted herself as the Frugal Zealot. She published a newsletter called The Tightwad Gazette and had a pretty large, nation-wide readership (Ms. Dacyzyn lives in Maine). I have all of her newsletters compiled into three volumes, and I like flipping through the articles. Readers often sent in letters, and in one of those, a frugal individual provided a way of cooking dried beans faster. Basically, the beans need to be soaked overnight (which is the part I always mess up, and end up having to cook them all day, which is great during the winter when I can just put them to simmer on the woodstove, but not so great the rest of the year). Then, the soaked beans are put into containers and frozen. The frozen beans cook in about twenty minutes.

So, I have a pound or so of pre-soaked beans in my freezer, and they don't take any longer to cook than rice. It's a nice fast food without a can.

It was a fun challenge, and I'd definitely do it again, but I think, if we join next year, we might push it back to May. We'll have more options for foraged foods to add to the plate, the garden will be producing some things (like pea shoots), and the chickens and ducks will be more generous.

And here are some pictures from the garden.


Getting seeds started

Why, yes, I do grow dandelions *in* my garden. Don't they look delicious?

The new perennial bed in front of the newly painted house

Blueberry bush that was saved from being overrun by Lemon Balm

Work in progress. I pulled up and/or moved the raised beds, and I'm trying this new thing in hopes that I can get more growing space.

Stepping stone compass

I am so excited about my garden projects this year. It's better than shopping.


  1. Nice, and what's the compass going to be? I love various garden elements, mine can be boring :)

    1. It's just a compass showing the directions ;). In the picture the stone on the top left is pointing north. I might do something different with the center stone - maybe replace it with a mosaic, and I'm hoping to plant some ground cover crop around it.