Creativity in the Kitchen

photo: Mediterranean Delight from Mystic Pizza

It has been a very interesting month to say the least. Instead of getting bogged down in the dirty details of the current chain of events out there, I decided to channel my inner zen and look around, specifically at what is in the kitchen. Beyond outright cheering for no makeup and no pants, unless a video conference is scheduled, what other goodness can we celebrate while being at home? Trolling social media feeds to see what friends and favorite celebs are doing, gave me inspiration to try new recipes. I would love to say I made this pizza in the photo from scratch but I’d be lying. I went on a search for things that a) seem tasty, b) don’t require a degree to make, and c) may work if I don’t possess all the ingredients. Luckily, I had recently stocked up on a few staples, joined a veggie mail-order group, and made a mad dash to the nearest Costco with all of the other people in town before lockdown.

I took inventory of the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. It seemed like I had a lot of options in there. I started with lazy options like cheese sandwiches and mustard, or toast with cheese slices and fancy bean dip. Feeling confident after adding that delicious dip to bread, I was on a roll and onto grilled cheese and mediterranean salad. The salad required opening cans of items that sounded mediterranean, like chickpeas and olives, and patting myself on the back for having grape tomatoes and feta in the fridge. I even added spices and pepper with a bit of lemon-infused olive oil that I had in the pantry.

At this point, I felt ready to host a cooking show for all my friends online. But first, I needed a crash course in the use of the Instant Pot I just “had to own” because it sounded like a good idea until I could not figure out the instructions. More importantly, I needed assistance identifying vegetables that I had never seen but were now sitting in my kitchen, freshly delivered. Intimidated by fennel that I confused as strange celery with fur, I consulted a friend who is a pro in the kitchen. I had to forego the saute option in the Pot until I could master making beans and rice, separately, because that was too many steps for me in the first round. It turns out I also have a restaurant-style rice cooker so two pots at the same time is almost the same thing! I grilled veggies in a grill pan on the stovetop with more spices and different olive oil from the pantry.

Fennel (not to be confused with “furry celery”)

This cooking thing was going so well that the refrigerator options grew exponentially. I had several meals that consisted of beans, rice, and veggies. The confidence gained by adding dip to bread on the first day enabled me to make tougher decisions in varying meal options as to not tire so quickly of eating the same things. I added salsa to beans and rice, beans and cheese to veggies, and then I combined all of those ingredients because cheese and salsa is good on almost everything. In between, I continued to eat the mediterranean salad and sandwiches with peanut butter or cheese options. I shared potato chips with the dogs and ate a spoonful of my favorite hazelnut spread when I needed a sweet treat. I eventually graduated to complex options like squash and fennel soup, spring rolls, romaine salad, and two-ingredient pancakes mixed in the blender.

As I watch supplies in the pantry and refrigerator slowly deplete, several things have occurred to me. First, I did not check expiration dates on condiments and pantry items. I noticed this while putting the lid back on the perfectly tasty hazelnut spread that expired seven years ago. Sadly, I threw it out. However, as a general rule, I have not produced a lot of trash from cooking at home. I compost and empty the countertop compost bin into the main one on a weekly basis now. As an added bonus, I have not spent money on food other than the initial investments at the store and mail order. I systematically ate food from all areas of the kitchen but without having a plan to do so. I seemed to graze in the pantry first. Fruits and freezer items were my least favorite options until I ran out of snacks. Second, wholesale-sized purchases present a challenge: three half gallons of milk became coffee creamer and a new favorite, almond milk ice cream in multiple flavors! This was so good I shared the results on social media with friends. I also figured out chia pudding with fruit is so easy and filling!

Chia pudding with almond milk and frozen blueberries in an up-cycled jar

If I continue on the same path for the next several weeks, I will have more than enough food and several options waiting to be explored. More vegetables arrive next week. This means more educational conversations with friends because I’m receiving the mystery box for a while. That said, the company allows me to add items that are in stock. Bring on the fresh berries and mushrooms!

Finally, this eating schedule also requires exercise. So far, 15-30 minute bursts of exercise a few times a day is helping. I must keep this going so my pants fit when I am required to wear them again. However, as soon as I can get another slice of heaven, I’m going to order the whole pizza. I hope you are enjoying this time at home as much as I am!

The Travel About Trash

The last few months have been focused on eliminating waste in my life. I cannot believe how incredibly hard it is to reduce waste during travel if you don’t either plan ahead or basically change the way you think in general.

Two stateside trips in the month of August were eye-opening about how far we have come and how much further we desperately need to improve! I’ll tell you about the first trip now and the second in another post so you don’t have to spend your entire day reading!

My family agreed to meet me for a ridiculous and fun-filled family adventure in a rental zig-zagging across as much of New Mexico as we could possibly pack into a few short days. Unbeknownst to the good spirited travelers, I was on a quest to use all of the items I packed in my carry-on to avoid trash. This included: a metal silverware set in a tiny zipper case, metal straw, and reusable coffee mug with its cardboard sleeve. I also carried a backpack with a smaller daypack to avoid using plastic bags.
I set off for the airport and made it as far as TSA. It turns out I should not have packed a yogurt for breakfast. It was over the three ounce liquid rule so they dumped it into the trash. I was mystified that they allowed my metal silverware set through that contained a knife and set of chopsticks but would not allow a yogurt I planned to eat for breakfast. I found out later my knife was contraband but both airports let me bring it through  . . .
I made a mental note to tell everyone about this later and marched on to Dunkin Donuts where they filled the reusable cup I purchased from a major competitor. I sat on the airplane and sipped coffee from this mug, skipped breakfast because I was still pouting about the yogurt, and sadly watched all of the other passengers drink from the free airplane cups. The little plastic cups stuffed with paper napkins and miscellaneous trash fell into the flight attendant’s plastic trash bags again and again.
I arrived in Albuquerque and waited for the family to arrive. The very kind woman at the hotel did not understand why I wanted to use a water fountain when she had complimentary bottled water for me. I did not realize at the time but this is a very common conversation everywhere.
The family traveled like the Bernstein Bears by car, Dad as the driver with me as the navigator and Mom and sister in back. The sister tried repeatedly and mostly unsuccessfully to block the glaring summer sun with one of the seemingly million maps my parents collected throughout the trip. At one point Dad was driving at least 75 mph when they decided the sister should roll down the window and try to fold the map while he rolled up the window as fast as possible. That was truly the most entertaining thing that happened in the car.
I was hopeful we could use the maps on the phones and not create a need to recycle but phone service was spotty and Mom actually collects maps. She tried hard to maintain her neatness by using a trash bag in the car. My sister brought along a solar powered cell phone charger for the trip which was one of several environmentally positive things she did.
The reusable cup was a major success! We ate breakfast at a different hotel every morning; I used the same cup all day for coffee and water. The gas stations and fast food places allowed me to fill water for free wherever we went. Most of the time it went very smoothly. The bigger National Parks have water fountains so we made excellent use of those opportunities as  often as possible. Twice I ordered a drink and used my own cup; neither place charged me.
The utensils were a huge breakthrough habit! I used my utensils at breakfast every morning in lieu of the plasticware provided. I went back to the room and grabbed them when I forgot them. Depending on the location within the same chain of hotels, either styrofoam or paper plates were the only options for food service. The metal straw came in handy when we stopped at a restaurant with table service and washable dishes.
The reusable bag was an interesting dilemma. I didn’t bring a bag big enough for a blanket I purchased in Santa Fe and didn’t think to carry it without a bag. The reusable bag my sister brought was also too small. I ended up taking the plastic bag and filling it with all of the purchases. Mom used it as the trash bag in the car but ultimately it went into the trash when we left.
I celebrated the fact that I saved at least 15 cups, six sets of plastic utensils, and made choices that reduced the overall amount of trash I created. Other than the National Parks, I found no place to recycle items. This disappointing fact made me happy to have reduced my personal amount of trash. The trip left me to consider what more to do, especially since I’d be going on another trip a week later.