Towards the Slow and Simple Life and Beyond - Reusing Food Scraps/Leftovers to Save Money, the Planet and Slash Meal Preparation Time.
I think I first woke up to how much I waste when I went to live in a remote aboriginal community. I am not romanticizing this kind of lifestyle. It can be tough. But it gave me a real glimpse of what a traditional hunter/gatherer lifestyle looked like. The effort expended in getting enough food to feed a family meant that moderation was not optional. Traditional aboriginal laws dictated how many eggs were taken from a nest to ensure that the species of bird or crocodile lived on. There are many such environmental laws. Traditional Aboriginal people have a spiritual connection to the land - we’ve all heard this, but living with the Yolngu of Northeast Arnhem Land I came to understand that it is a very practical connection too. Going bush for Yolngu people is like going shopping. There’s so much on offer. But the difference is Yolngu feel a responsibility - spiritually and from the sheer necessity to survive - to take care of their supermarket. Its a symbiotic relationship. One day I had this strange vision my own culture and I as a plague of locusts sweeping across the landscape devouring everything in sight. It made me feel uncomfortable so I determined to pay more attention to the impact of my consumption, to rein it in, and learn to do something other than just consume stuff. I am still learning.
One area I turned my attention to was how I use up food scraps and leftover meals. To my delight gaining more skills in this area helped make life easier, slower, and more enjoyable - I felt efficient, clever and resourceful. Learning to reuse food scraps and leftovers cut down on my shopping, waste, potentially hazardous chemicals and streamlined the unpacking of groceries. I get healthy meals on the table more often, with less fuss, in less time and cook less often. I feel more connected to Mother Earth and even though I buy a lot of organic food (which is indeed a lot more expensive - about 30% more), I have crunched the numbers and compared the cost of my food expenditure with that of the average comparable Australian family (yes such stats are available online) and found that, without any wishful thinking or deceptive massaging of figures, I easily pull out ahead. What a lovely surprise. The planet benefits and so do I.
I realized that when I waste food (and to be honest I used to waste a lot of it) I waste all the resources that go into growing and transporting it. I watched my free-to-air, national broadcaster (ABC) “War on Waste” series and one lady who was interviewed in the car park of her local supermarket summed my problem up perfectly. She says she buys a whole heap of food in her weekly shop with great intentions of cooking it but then gets tired and busy and doesn’t. The fresh food spoils and has to be chucked out.
Reflecting back, I was way too ambitious as a young mum about what I planned to cook, how much time and energy I would have, and what my kids would actually eat. Here’s a glimpse of what I do with scraps and leftovers now.
When I peel and chop veggies as long as they are organic I throw the leftovers into a zip lock bag, be it the Stasher bag I talked about last week, or a recycled plastic zip lock bag and freeze them. This includes the skins of onions and garlic and the ends of celery and carrots. Veggie leaves as well. Floppy old veggies can be added to this. I believe that the produce has to be organic for this idea to work because commercial pesticides are absorbed by the skin of produce. Think about it - farmers don’t want spayed produce to wash clean of pesticides with the first rainstorm or irrigation. They need to stick well to stay in order to deter pests. To recycle a whole heap of non-organic fruit or veggie skins concentrates pesticides either in our meals if we cook them up, or in our soil if we compost them. Australian agriculture still uses Roundup (https://youtu.be/AHZg--xbLoQ) as a herbicide even though the WHO warned four years ago that its main ingredient, glyphosate, probably causes cancer and a string of litigants with lymphoma and leukaemia are presently suing Monsanto, the company responsible. The first litigant in America has been successful having been awarded $38 million.
So I stick to organic produce when I can but particularly when I aim to reuse veggie peelings and add food scraps to my compost or worm farm. When a bag is full I choose 1 of these options:
1. Boil up the veggies and strain for veggie stock. This I freeze in a Stasher bag or large Pyrex dish or place in the fridge in a large glass bottle for casseroles, soups, pasta dishes etc. The leftover mush goes into my kitchen compost bin.
2. Boil up the veggies, cool and purée in my smoothie machine - the NutriBullet. To this base I add soup mix (a mixture of legumes and peas that taste good in soup - available in supermarkets, health food and bulk bin stores) dried or fresh herbs, cubed potato and whatever other veg takes my fancy. I salt and sometimes a little bit of plain yoghurt and this concoction makes a lovely soup.
But wait there’s more! Soup leftovers can be reincarnated the next evening into a casserole by adding diced chicken or lamb or vegetarian sausages and peas and serving with mashed potato and beans, and the night after that add chickpeas and perhaps some different herbs and spices (ras el hanout is nice) and fill baked potatoes. If there are still leftovers there’s always the toastie. There’s not a lot of leftover dinner food that can’t be transformed between 2 slices of bread in a toasted sandwich maker. Or add to a meat sauce along with passata and tomato paste to introduce more veggies into the diet.
3. Mix vegetable peelings like carrot, potato, sweet potato, pumpkin and parsnip with salt and olive oil and bake in a hot oven until crisp and eat as a snack.
4. Put them into the compost bin or worm farm. We have a worm farm, outside compost bin and a small inside stainless steel compost bin that has a charcoal deodorant pad inside the lid to minimize odour in the kitchen.
To reinvigorate stale bread there are two options:
1. Sprinkle with water, place in a casserole dish with a lid, or wrap in recycled alfoil and reheat in a moderate oven about 160 degrees Celsius for about 15-20 minutes. I take it out and let it sit to cool down a little and find it tastes like its been freshly baked.
2. Cut off the crusts, tear into pieces and freeze for great coarse breadcrumbs to cover oven bakes or for croutons to sprinkle on soup. It doesn’t matter what kind of bread it is. I even toss the breadcrumbs into a mixture of olive oil, salt, and whatever mixed herbs take my fancy. I usually use Italian or French. Toss grated cheese and then freeze. A pasta bake topping is then ready to go when you need it. Or toss the the mixture onto a tray, bake for 5-10 mins at 180 degrees Celsius and serve up as a snack to the starving masses when they come home from school.
Overripe bananas can be frozen for smoothies, or puréed and then frozen to make a great simple ice cream. Just allow to melt a little and then re-blend to soften to a ice-cream consistency. Overripe bananas are the best kind to use in baking. As a banana matures the sugars in it intensify. Just freeze them until they are required.
Greens that are about to expire can be frozen too and used in smoothies.
Apples and stone fruit past their prime or unused can be boiled with a little water and sweetener (maple syrup, Natvia, or honey etc) +/- allspice/vanilla extract then cooled and puréed in the blender to make a great exotic sauce topping for ice cream. Or they can get tossed into a smoothie. Berries can be reused this way too.
Grapes past their prime can be frozen, thawed just a little and eaten like frozen lollies.
Leftover fish, meat and chicken and/or their bones can be boiled for stock +/- puréed for a soup base, casseroles etc. I decided to reduce our meat intake because of environmental, ethical, and health reasons but have found this one of the best ways to cut down my food bill. If you want to slow down and simplify, and save money so that you can slow down and simplify, ongoing weekly expenses like the food you eat are a big consideration. Edible animal proteins have been creeping up in price for years and are now the most expensive item on my weekly shopping list.
Thai cashew and stir fry vegetable is a favourite take-away for my husband and I - particularly after a long afternoon bush-walk. I have discovered I can purée the leftovers, add coconut cream and have a flavoursome Thai soup the next night.
My next little experiment is to try growing new vegetables from the ends of old ones. Again thanks to the marvels of modern technology I have discovered that the ends of carrots, celery, romaine lettuce, potatoes, tomatoes, garlic and onions can grow new plants. See this link to find out how: https://youtu.be/rk2Z954prz4. A wonderful slow and simple project to do with kids on the school holidays.
Leftover meals can be dated and frozen to form the basis of a new meal. Say you have a little meat sauce left after spaghetti bolognese. This can be turned into a potato filler, an Indian curry by adding Indian spices and veggies and a side of rice, or simply put on toast or into a toasted sandwich maker. Add salsa and Mexican spices, chopped capsicum and beans and make burritos or nachos. Make it into a pizza topping. Stayed tuned into this blog and I will walk you through a week of these transformer meals.
Some of these ideas I have thought up myself. Some I have read about. If this subject floats your boat then there are plenty of online sites to explore either via your search engine or YouTube. I have found great material in my local library on this subject. But I also make sure to join the library where we take family holidays because I enjoy reading about these kinds of ideas on holidays and have more mental space to absorb it.
What tricks have you learned about giving limp veggies and fruit a second life? Or to reuse fruit and vegetable peels, rind and the end pieces that we usually throw away? How do you recycle leftover meals? Please share in the comments below.