My first vlog. This is day 9 out of 13 straight days of work. Here’s how I feel.
I’m going on my third full week of this challenge and I think it’s important to reflect on a few things I’ve learned thus far:
- Eating with little to no food waste is possible with some resources and knowledge of yourself and your own habits. If you know that bulk meal prepping works or does not work for you, then keep it up. I learned that bulk meal prepping really isn’t my jam and if I have an excessive amount of leftovers then those are more at risk to be wasted than perhaps leftovers that could provide two solid meals. I like making enough extra food to provide dinner, lunch and dinner again. That all being said, don’t be afraid of the freezer, but take a peek in there every so often and actually eat the things you have stored. Check once at night before bed and take one thing out to thaw for dinner tomorrow.
- Shopping for food is okay! I obviously ate perishable items first so as to not throw away any fruits or vegetables, but I could not maintain a healthy diet with only carbs, frozen meat and beans on hand. When shopping for food thing of needs versus wants. Go back to your inventory and see what you ate and what you threw out. Re-purchase what you ate in its entirety and skip anything that became waste on your behalf. When it comes to take-out or eating at a restaurant save the plastic reusable containers and don’t order more than you need. I like to eat take-out max. twice after the initial meal. Don’t get crazy with your order.
- If fresh vegetables or fruits are either not accessible or are sold in quantities too large for you or your family to consume consider canned or frozen fruits and vegetables as viable substitutes. These options can be cheap, convenient and nutritious alternatives to the pricy produce section. Canned tomatoes, canned beans and either rice or pasta as a full meal can be filling, delicious, waste-free and inexpensive. It’s a shame that people like me can buy and often throw away fresh vegetables while a large population can’t afford them to begin with. Less than 10% of Americans can actually afford to eat a balanced diet, according to this article. Everyone can benefit from canned or frozen options. Lets be smarter shoppers so as to not throw away another person’s meal.
At the start of this new week, my fridge is full of fruits and vegetables courtesy of my mom who stopped by while I worked day 8 of my crazy 13 day work week (vlogs to follow). I have leftovers from her in the fridge, which makes for less waste on her part and easier meals for me.
Sharing leftovers…good concept to work in this blog.
It’s that time of year. The weather is wack and everyone is slowly getting sick. It was time for soup. I had all the ingredients for tomato fennel soup in my fridge and I got to work. I used the remainder of the fennel from last week’s meal and used the remainder of my peeled tomatoes from last night’s pasta. Based on last week’s meals, I learned that mass meal planning is not the most effective way to cook for myself. I get tired of the same things after a while so freezing half of my raw ingredients (if I’m working with meat) or saving some unseasoned sauce and vegetables, for example, allows me to repurpose leftovers.
The fennel and tomato soup came together very quickly, and was the first soup I ever made using a blender! It utilized the rest of my fennel, all of my tomatoes, and things I normally have on hand. It’ll taste even better tomorrow with my toasted pita!
I bought some food yesterday, I’ll admit. It’s been a rough couple of days and I couldn’t deny myself the pleasure of happy cherry gummies and a quality bag of pasta. On the bright side, neither of those went to waste! I ate leftover pasta for lunch and have some dry pasta saved. I also ate all the happy cherries while watching Harry Potter last night. I’ll have to go shopping soon. While I consumed most of my food, I officially have no more vegetables and I will succumb to sickness if I don’t eat a vegetable in a few days.
There’s a reason it’s called a challenge: this is harder than I anticipated. Since I “cheated” I’ve had two more meals “out” and I sought comfort in a hot coffee and brownie from the museum cafe only just this afternoon. Unfortunately I had to throw away some food due to my inability to eat at home all of this weekend (bye bye, black beans, broccoli rabe and leftover rice). I think I need to start freezing things in a more timely fashion, and meal prep more realistically. How often will I actually want to eat the same roasted pork tenderloin? While you tell yourself “yeah I’ll just heat up the rest later,” how often can you do that with the same meal? Especially when you need a little comfort food? On my next shopping trip I’ll be sure to acquire smaller portions and more variety (two smaller bunches of different veggies instead of one large bunch).
Tonight I indulged in a little waste-free dinner option. Sometimes the dump-and-go dinner reigns supreme despite having leftovers. I had tomatoes, half an avocado and jalapeños that needed to get eaten. I sautéed a small onion in olive oil and scrambled some eggs in the same pan. Today was a double cheese day so I melted in one slice of American and finished it with shredded cheddar. I put the cheesy eggs on top of the vegetable mix and topped the bowl with hot sauce. I can call this the poor woman’s huevos rancheros, or just cheesy eggs for the soul, but one thing is for sure: nothing went to waste. I even have some leftover veggies and more eggs and cheese for either dinner or breakfast tomorrow.
Another problem I’m facing, aside from the leftover problem, comes from my “no shopping” rule. I ran out of fruits and I’m running out of veggies quickly. To not buy fresh produce limits my diet to pasta, canned items and frozen meat—not quite the balanced diet I need to juggle all that I’m attempting. I also run out of certain things like eggs quickly, but I can’t not buy eggs. As someone who doesn’t eat much meat and needs quick protein most days, eggs are essential. Once it gets down to the nitty gritty and I’m left with lasts, I can’t survive on only frozen hot dogs. I’d probably get wildly sick.
So I don’t know. Is shopping for food okay when I have food in my kitchen? Is meal prepping actually effective?
So yesterday I deemed my lunch as “cheating,” but what is cheating if I never laid down any rules? Tonight, one of my best friends reached out to get dinner. And when you haven’t seen your friend in a month, you can only say yes. So I went to dinner, and I’m now stewing over my leftovers in my second wind of this evening’s activities.
So am I supposed to deny social events to avoid wasting food? Is that an extreme? For 22-year-old me, yes that’s an extreme. Food is not just sustenance, but a vehicle for human connection. If you can’t bond with someone over food, maybe he/she is not the right one for you. If you can’t eat whatever you want in front of someone, maybe he/she isn not truly a friend. So I got home, put my Tupperware in the sink and went out to dinner to catch up with a friend over some comfort food after a long week. I don’t feel bad. I boxed up my leftovers in a paper box, and the restaurant was even nice enough to give us free drinks.
I think the ground rule here is to not throw away any edible food. Eat things before they go bad. And don’t buy groceries until you absolutely need more.
For breakfast and lunch I maintained my no-waste goals and finished up the cooked peaches in a big bowl of oatmeal. For lunch I brought some leftovers.
And now for my proudest accomplishment…
This is my bread starter. When I went to sleep last night this jar was filled half way with starter. When I woke up and removed the tea towel from the jar, it was filled to the brim with fermented goodness. Now that I’m trying to waste as little food as possible I’m faced with what to do about the discarded starter. If you, like me, are a sourdough starter novice, you learn things about maintaining a living organism that you made. That’s right, I’m basically Dr. Frankenstein. Anyway, in order to keep your monster under control, you must discard a portion before feeding it. Instead of discarding, you can use the young starter to make other recipes like pancakes and crackers.
Stay tuned for adventures in discarded sourdough. Lets turn the trash into treasure, ladies and gentlemen.
That’s right. I’m a dirty cheater. I bought a sandwich. No ordinary sandwich. I bought a bobo—a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich with a hashbrown in the middle. Why? Because I didn’t eat lunch, was in the right area to get one and was clouded by lust and desire for carbs, cheese and bacon.
To be fair, I ate the whole thing and recycled the paper wrapper so really I didn’t waste anything; however, the goal for this week was to spend no money on food as long as I had perfectly good food in my house. So I’m sorry. I feel like I can do better. My total spending on food today was $4.83.
On the bright side, I’ve learned that a well stocked spice rack is the best thing to combat the monotony of eating from the same selection every day. This morning I ate some absolutely heavenly oatmeal due to some careful spice usage. Instead of flavoring my oatmeal after its cooked, I flavored the almond milk as it was heating using cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon. I strained the milk before adding the oats and topped off the bowl with peanut butter. It was warm and vaguely chai-like, which was perfect on a chilly morning.
I’ve decided to undertake a simultaneous project as well: bread starter. I bought a big ol’ jar yesterday and my baby has been bubbling away for 12 hours now. Hopefully by tomorrow I see some real action, but for now it’s still young. I can’t wait to make bread from scratch without wasting packages or watching a fresh loaf get stale and moldy before I can eat it all.
For dinner (if I even make it) I plan to use some of my already cooked spaghetti squash and add either leftover tomato sauce or make a quick butter and sage sauce. A key to combatting food waste is also to prepare as much of your fruits/vegetables in one shot. You’re definitely more likely to eat spaghetti squash if it is already cooked. Same goes for kale, swiss chard, melons and so on. The task of preparing each food as you eat it is discouraging, especially when you’re tired. I suggest cooking whatever you have either right after you buy it, or while you’re making something else. This way, its easy to say “oh here’s some already prepared kale, dinner is almost done!”
I’m sorry I cheated, folks. I feel awful and yet still oddly satisfied by the bacon. It won’t happen again.
I’ve been reading about other chefs and laypeople who decided to go waste free. The Zero Waste Chef did something called the Use-It-Up Challenge, and it really aligned with what I was planning for my week (or however long it takes to eat the food in my house). One particular section caught my eye: the inventory. The chef took inventory of everything in their kitchen, so I did the same. I looked in every cabinet, my refrigerator and the freezer to itemize exactly what I have, and honestly I was shocked.
Here it is. The Inventory as of 9/26:
- A big bag of yellow onions
- 3 bulbs of garlic
- Spices, oils and honey
- 1 can of chickpeas
- 1 can of white beans
- 1 box of pasta
- Half a bag of whole grain egg noodles
- 3 cans of tomatoes
- Chicken Stock
- Trader Joe’s squash soup
- Peanut Butter
- Frozen Bolognese sauce (thanks, mom)
- Frozen plantains
- Frozen hamburgers
- Frozen hot dogs
- Frozen hot dog buns
- Frozen Italian sausage (sweet and spicy)
- Frozen chicken breast
- A little bit of black beans
- Half a bulb of fennel
- Sliced cucumber
- Cooked peaches
- Jalepeno peppers
- Tomatoes (from my mom’s garden. Thanks, mom)
- 1 pita
- Shredded Cheddar
- 1 avocado
- Cooked rice (of unknown age)
- 6 eggs
- Fresh sage
- Fresh thyme (both from my mom’s garden. Thanks, mom)
- Grapefruit peel (for my bourbon)
- Assortment of hard cheeses
- Half a container of almond milk
- Leftover tomato sauce
- Cooked spaghetti squash
- Roasted spaghetti squash seeds
This is so much food, and yet my fridge looks sparse. I’m shopping for one person with a fridge the same size as the one 4 girls share in college. I have enough food.
Today was day 1 of this challenge. Here’s what I ate:
- Espresso and yogurt with strawberries and cooked peaches
- Lettuce-less salad of tuna fish, black beans, fennel and cucumber with balsamic and oregano-infused olive oil.
- A teeny bag of potato chips
- 1 pita with hummus
- Pork chops with fennel pesto and roasted fennel stalk and onion
My portions are small since I tend to graze throughout the day. I spent $0 on food and ate everything or saved it for later (like the massive dinner I accidentally put together).
I’m proud that I ate an entire vegetable, root-to-stalk, this week. With the remaining bulb of fennel I have and the other delicious findings from my cabinets and fridge, I think I’m going to tackle Tomato and Fennel Soup, something I’ve seen on many a hipster menu this time of year. Chilly days are ahead of us, and soup seems to be the only remedy.
I work 6 days a week and still try to make the most out of my one day weekends. My boyfriend came to visit on Friday night, which meant a week long cleaning spree in addition to planning how to fit as much fun into one day together. Friday through Sunday was a whirlwind of working, cooking dinner, hiking, drinking and working again, and I decided that instead of cramming a week’s worth of chores into one night I would actually take care of myself.
I opted for leftovers for dinner and I spent some time hanging out on my couch, catching up on some of my favorite Youtube accounts and calling my mom. Calling my mom took up an hour, but we fully caught up despite talking almost every day in short phone calls. I did some yoga (following this video) and it made my think of other ways to take care of myself.
My most recent mantra has been “everyone is on a different path,” but sometimes I reject that thought, and feel as if I’m failing. Today I needed to remember that people don’t post their hardships on social media. No one posts about how high the rent is, but they will post their fully decorated studio apartment. It’s important to draw similarities and learn from peers rather than draw conclusions and become jealous of a fabricated perception of another person’s reality.
It’s also important to prioritize your time and use it wisely. I could’ve made tomorrow’s lunch or prepped a wall for painting, but that would’ve worn me down after a full day on my feet. Why do that now when I can make lunch in the morning when I have extra time anyway, and prep my wall when I’ll actually be painting in a few days? Rome wasn’t built in a day, and wearing oneself down in order to conquer the world just makes them too tired to organize it.
A very important lesson I’ve learned (and I lesson I’m trying to apply more): take care of yourself. You can’t help others if you’re not well. You can’t pour from an empty cup, you can’t put the oxygen mask on your neighbor if you yourself are not wearing one. You won’t be productive and you won’t be as helpful as you intend to be. In a not selfish way, you need to put yourself first sometimes.
There’s a maintenance man at work who always enthusiastically tells me about his tomato sauce. It started because my name, Marcella, is literally so Italian it becomes synonymous with pizza and pasta to most people. Besides that, I love that this sweet guy tells me when he makes sauce and asks for help when he needs to improve it. I’ve opened him up to simmering to thicken and adding a bay leaf to reduce acidity (you’re welcome, by the way) and he can’t believe his results. It’s very sweet.
That being said, I thought I would try to actually follow a sauce recipe for the first time in my life. As an Italian woman you’re born with an innate knowledge of how to make sauce exactly how you like it. So why a recipe? Bon Appetit’s Basically is doing 10 recipes in 10 weeks, the first one being sauce. I was going to make something else for dinner but plans change and I had all the ingredients sorta. I used passata instead of peeled tomatoes and pecorino romano instead of parm (because money) but everything else remained true. The garlic, red pepper flakes and fresh basil were pretty routine, but it was the technique at the end that transformed this from good to great. Cooking the pasta below al dente, saving some pasta water and finish cooking the spaghetti in the simmering sauce with butter really made this a home run AND that’s something you can do with any pasta.
The other thing that really made this pop was the amount of salt I added to the pasta water. Add so much salt that you feel bad about it because as Samin Nosrat says in Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat most of that salt will go down the drain with the extra water, but a lot of salt is needed for the noodles to absorb flavor. Salt isn’t a spice, it’s an essential mineral that when used will enhance the flavor and texture of your dishes. Don’t oversalt, but start to build your flavors and enhance what’s there by using salt.
Really what I learned is that technique can be everything, and technique can be simple for the home cook. Sure, maybe 5 star french pastries won’t be coming out of your kitchen any time soon, but damn good pasta will be minutes away every night.
Hey folks and fans. It’s been a minute, but I finally have wifi in my FIRST APARTMENT. That’s right. I moved two weeks ago into a real fixer upper of a one bedroom apartment. I started with low expectations of both myself and the space, but after two weeks of a little bit of work each day it’s coming together. Of course, I couldn’t do it without help from friends and family, specifically my mom, Dave (my mom’s boyfriend) and Nick (my boyfriend). You can see some of my projects, additions and adventures (when I remember to post) on Instagram @picturemarcella.
Along with the FIRST apartment comes my FIRST electrical bills, FIRST internet bills and FIRST furniture purchases, which have all been their own unique version of exciting. That really sums up my FIRST apartment. It’s hard work, and you need to be a bit of a pain in the ass to get things done (ie. get your landlord to fix your sink) BUT it’s all part of the life lessons that come with being in your early 20’s. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, right?
My next FIRST is having my FIRST article published at my current job. I had the opportunity to drink beer on a boat and I wrote all about it here. I work in marketing, but once in a while a fun assignment will pop up with my name all over it (look out for the hard cider pairing chart coming out soon). Food has always been a passion, and I’ve had a knack for writing since I was published in my town’s local newspaper at age 11 (for a sports story, imagine that). I never imagined that I would be so heavily associated with the beer scene in the Hudson Valley, but since my sample article for my job application was about the local hiking & beer scene, it’s been my claim to fame around the office. I’ve got no problems with it.
I absolutely love my job. I come into work every day ready to put my best foot forward and contribute to the local farm, food and beverage scene. It inspires me to read about, write about and experience the food and drink cultures around me. I want to somehow do it all and I’m not sure where to start: wine, beer, meat, cheese, agriculture—there’s so much involved! Since I’ve been plowing through books (currently on Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat—amazing, btw) please let me know if there are any smart reads on any of the above subjects. What are the holy texts of food? Contribute to my list of FIRSTS, give me some tips!