This will be the fourth year for our household to take up the Lenten Food Challenge. As with my prior year’s posts, I feel a little weird sharing this challenge since I was raised to have a secret Lent challenge that only you and God know about. You don’t tell people, you secretly pray, fast and give but I’m going out on a limb, again, and sharing mine again. Forgive me if this really is a cut/paste from 2016 but you may not pull up those challenges on your web search, so here it goes.
The last time I ate really “poor” was in my early 20s. I had rebelled, left home, and went to live on my own in a pretty crummy apartment in San Angelo, TX. I worked as a nursing assistant and ward secretary and managed to get into nursing school. Yeah! I made $3.95/hour. Boo! I had medical benefits and didn’t realize it at the time. It was my first full-time job and boy was I ignorant. As I look back, they were very good to a young girl who wanted to work hard, so today, I should sit down and write them a letter of thanks for tolerating me and helping me be a good employee.
Back to the challenge. At the time, I didn’t think I was eating “poor” by today’s standards. I was able to buy protein essentials – chicken legs and sweetbreads. Seriously, fried sweetbreads with gravy. They were cheap and yummy! I made a lot of ground beef chili and spaghetti. I didn’t really understand “healthy” food eating in the 1970s so I’m pretty sure everything I ate wasn’t healthy. I gained weight. But I never was in the purest sense of every being hungry. When I got paid, I celebrated with the new Pizza Hut pan pizza. I remember scrimping and saving and watching my money closer than ever.
So, I don’t really know what being real, sincere, ravenous hunger is like. I do know what it looks from the many pictures of Biafran children I was exposed to in Catholic school in the 60s. I am thankful we don’t have true starvation in this country. I believe we are more the victims of inadequate food distribution processes creating food deserts and poor access to food. But that’s a soapbox for another blog.
Lenten Food Challenge
For as long as I can remember, one of the main sacrifices in Lent is about eating. Think about how we eat. Do we have self-control or do we practice gluttony, one of the seven deadly sins represented by a pig in many faiths, religions, and lore? Traditionally during Lent, you either fast on certain days or you don’t eat meat on others but the basic sacrifice is around eating. You may give up your favorite foods, maybe don’t eat out as much or at all, and give the money you save to a charity. Some people may take part in Operation Rice Bowl. ORB has recipes of third world country meals that are generally vegetarian, (definitely not a Western diet), and sometimes a little challenging to eat. It is a great opportunity to experience what families in poorer countries eat on a daily basis. And for 2017, as it was in 2016, it is hard not to think about the Middle East, particularly Syria.
I admit it. I love to cook. I have over 100 cookbooks and enjoy perusing recipes. I tend to overbuy groceries but I am definitely better than when we started this challenge in 2013. I use a leftover list on the refrigerator, a perishable list, and an inventory of the pantry and freezer. An inventory list seems to help with feeling a sense of food security, so, perhaps there is some throwback to the years I was eating “poor.” Some of my 12 Laws of Dynamic Domestic Administration are designed on the premises of practicing self-control, being good stewards and sharing and caring. Perhaps the Lenten Challenge helps be reset my moral and value-based compass.
We are set up for the challenge again. I have inventoried the freezer. I have not inventoried the pantry this year. The rules again are not to buy anything except perishables and paper goods. The goals are to:
Decrease freezer clutter (actually see the back of the freezer!)
Save money for the donation
Being OK with less
Have some idea of what it may be like not to have food in the pantry or in the freezer.
After seeing the 2015 Indie film, Just Eat It, I am still focusing efforts on using every drop and scrap of food. Below are a few Lenten Food Challenge examples:
- Freeze the bean liquid from the bottom of a bean can. I freeze it in cubes and then use it for soup or stew thickener. Sounds gross, but it works. Ditto for leftover pasta water.
- Leftover coffee works great in chili or stews.
- Sad looking vegetables go into the pressure cooker with chicken bones to make a broth. Who really cares if a carrot or onion, celery or a bunch of parsley, is not perfect for broth?
- Save meat drippings and use for canola or olive oil. You don’t need a lot – just a tsp or so, especially in dishes you are using meat substitutes such as Quorn, to add just a little lift.
- Save all savory crumbs in a bag and use for coatings. Ditto for sweet crumbs. Why use a brand new cracker when there are crumbs at the bottom of most bags?
- Roast imperfect grape tomatoes with garlic and herbs and toss with pasta.
- Leftover chili paste and jam or jelly in the bottom of a jar makes a great Asian sauce. Add tomatoes, some sugar, Worcestershire, red wine vinegar and make your own BBQ sauce.
- Got less than perfect fruits? Heat over the stove with some sugar and make your own 3-4 servings fruit jam.
- Think of recipes as guidelines and take a deeper dive into the cooking process itself. For example, some of the best flavors comes from the crusty, caked on yummy carmelized stuff on the bottom or sides of a pan. Not the burnt, charred stuff, but the nice caramelized stuff that scrapes off nicely with a spatula. You can also add a very little amount of wine or water to ease of the mixture and stir into your dish to thicken, deepen and enhance the flavor.
- Extend the life of vegetables by brining them overnight in cool salt water, rinsing well, then adding an acid/oil mixture such as citrus/olive oil, pickle juice/canola oil or vinegar/bit of oil. Add some garlic and herbs and you have a homemade giardiniera to eat with salad, a slice of pizza or a side of spaghetti.
Helpful Hints: As you work on your own Lenten Food Challenge, look at everything from a saute, pan-sear, soup, stew, roll-up, or sauce perspective. Other questions to ask yourself as you peer longingly into your refrigerator, freezer or pantry trying to stop thinking about a nice, new cut of beef, fish or chocolate.
- Can it be simmered into a broth, like this corn-cob basil broth?
- Can it go over beans, pasta or rice?
- Can you make dumplings or a quick pie crust?
- Can it act as a base or topping for your dish?
- Can it partner with eggs for a frittata?
- Can it be cooked or braised and emulsified into something yummy?
- Will roasting something you normally don’t roast make something interesting and use it up? Example: roasting mushrooms.
- How can you enhance the visual appeal of eating leftovers with bits of herbs, sprinkles of chips or crackers, a bit of honey or cheese, or even one berry or small vegetable?
Finally, Think all of your taste options – sweet, savory, sour, salty, bitter, spicy and the elusive umami and how to make each dish as appealing as possible with what you have on hand.
For 2017, I don’t think we will starve, we will save money, and we are probably eating healthier and more interestingly.