Self-Care: How We Treat Our Pantry and How It’s Related to the Ways We Nourish Ourselves

As I mentioned in last weeks post about neglecting our needs for clothing, I have been going through a lot of things and areas in my life that have been neglected for far too long. The kitchen pantry is one of those places, and it’s one that is packed with loads of unattended and badly neglected feelings. Food is a tough one for many, seeing how it is so closely connected with our survival instincts. And again, I’m not a professional, these are only my experiences with food.

The environment I grew up in was one filled with many conflicting messages, and food was a source of great confusion. As I’ve said before, my care-giver’s focus on image, and how we were seen was priority number one. So along with wearing the right thing, we also needed to look the part. To my family, this meant being thin. It wasn’t until very recently that I’ve gotten to my “desired weight”, or the one that would be approved of by my care-givers, now that looking thin is no longer a top priority for me. My goals now are to be at a healthy weight through diet and exercise.

But how they went about showing me that being thin was a priority was what was most confusing. One of my care-givers offered me money to lose weight. I believe the arrangement was 40 dollars to get to my ideal weight. I couldn’t have been more than twelve at the time, so I agreed. I wanted the money for sure, but also the opportunity to please them. To feel loved and accepted, whatever the cost, by my care-givers.

What was most confusing about this task was that I was given no direction on how to change my habits, and I was being fed by them as well. I had no idea what to do to lose weight or how to acquire the resources to get me to what seemed like an unachievable goal. So I felt like a failure. This was a huge blow to my confidence and one I’ve carried for a long time.

And to add to the confusion, instead of being shown the resources and support to achieve my goal, I was ridiculed for my weight. I was called a “human garbage disposal” while my entire family laughed at my expense.

Another layer of confusion was when I told my care-givers I was hungry they would almost always reply with, “there’s a fridge full of food in the kitchen”. That wasn’t untrue, but I had no idea how to cook or prepare meals for myself and the extent of my culinary abilities lie in being able to open a box of cereal or bottle of soda. No one was around to show me how to make a meal, or the different parts and techniques that make the sum of the whole.

To make things even more confusing, I once pulled pork chops from the freezer to try and cook a meal for myself. I defrosted the meat and cooked them in a frying pan. Thinking back now that wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but there was no one around to show me how, or to tell me that undercooked pork is potentially dangerous. But I finished cooking them and ate them without getting sick. I was kind of proud of myself for trying to take care of myself and was feeling pretty good. Until my care-givers came home and scolded me for using the pork chops they were saving for later in the week.

So there I stood, not knowing how to take care of my needs for food asides from opening a box of cereal, being told that there was plenty of food in the fridge, only I wasn’t allowed to eat it without the consent of my care-givers, who already thought I was eating too much because I was overweight. And I was overweight because my diet consisted of cereal, soda, and whatever candy I could buy at the local convenience store.

And to add insult to injury, my care-givers were gone from 10am to 2am. So there was nobody awake in the house by the the time I left for school in the morning, and by the time I got home from school, my care-givers were working. I went to bed whenever I wanted and ate whatever was left over in the fridge, sometimes not seeing them for days. So getting consent to make meals for myself or to be shown how to take care of my own needs wasn’t even an option.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, and I’m rearranging my cabinets to make room for new purchases when I realize that there are some food items that have been in my cabinets and pantries for about half a decade. That’s a long time for a box of pasta to be sitting around! I was treating my pantry like a museum, curating different “staples”, things I should have to have food. But I only ate a few things, I just started learning how to meal prep and had no idea how to put together a pantry. Speaking of building a functional pantry, Minimalist Baker has a great post on how to set up your own pantry, if you were in the same boat I was.

What I had was cabinets full of foods that I rarely used, if at all, and no intention of ever using them. They were just there. I’m not entirely sure why, but I have a feeling it has a lot to do with my upbringing, being told we had plenty of food yet none of it was for me to prepare and just wanting to know I had food.

I’ve been cooking for a long time as a way to make a living. I started in a small but successful mexican takeout place when I was 20, and I’ve been cooking in some form ever since. But when it came to cooking for myself, I just didn’t. For a long time I ate takeout and went to restaurants mostly and seldom cooked meals. It wasn’t until the last few years that I started to meal prep, bring meals to work with me and take an active role in nourishing my body.

One of the first changes I’ve made that has had a positive impact on how I choose to nourish myself is through batch cooking. I make a plan by choosing about three recipes to cook for the week and keep them in the fridge for easy meals I can reheat instead of cooking at the end of a long day. I also batch cook lunch and breakfast to bring to work with me on my cooking day. One of the benefits is that I’m able to organize my shopping list around the recipes I choose for the week so very little food goes to waste.

To batch cook, I simply take the recipes I’m going to cook for the week and multiply them by two or three times the original quantity. So if the recipe yields two servings, if I multiply all the ingredients by three, I have six servings. These I store in the fridge for later and reheat them all week. I usually cook a few recipes and some kind of grain to have some variety, so I’m not eating the same thing day after day. But after realizing that a good portion of my pantry was old enough to start school, I made a plan to use up what I had, to organize my pantry, and hopefully, my relationship to food as well.

I’ve been searching for recipes that use these items that have been taking up cabinet space and am making plans to rotate and keep my stores fresh. For example, instead of buying boxes of pasta, just to have incase, after I use up what I do have I’m going to buy pasta fresh from the pasta shop that is close to home. This way, I’ll be eating fresh foods while freeing up space in my pantry and supporting a local business at the same time.

I was a little worried about the price I would be paying, being a thrifty New Englander, but I’ve found that buying fresh isn’t that much more expensive. A pound of pasta is roughly around 4 dollars fresh. Compared to .79 cents for it’s dried counterpart, yes that’s four times the cost. But if you only eat pasta once or twice a week or less as I do, that’s only 12 dollars a month or 9 meals, roughly 1.50 a meal assuming you get 3 meals from a pound of pasta. So it’s affordable, and the quality is undeniably superior to dried. It’s also a nice way to treat yourself with a special, affordable meal.

I think what sparked this investigation into my relationship with food and how I eat, started with my self-care Sunday dinners. As I’ve talked about in my post on self-care Sundays, I’ve decided to spend one day a week to take special care of myself. I chose my Friday or the last day of my work week, which falls on Sunday (actually it’s Tuesday now:) but a large part of the day involves preparing and eating a special meal. Something I normally wouldn’t make. This act helps me to enjoy being around food and the process of making it. Being creative, and trying something I normally wouldn’t cook for myself. Before these dinners, looking up new recipes was something I seldom did! I would usually eat the same three or four recipes without veering from those few.

In short, I’m teaching myself the healthy habits and boundaries around food I was never given. What used to be a source of fear and anxiety, has now become a resource. I look forward to coming home on my Fridays, knowing that I’ll light a candle, put some music on and cook a meal that I know I’m going to enjoy. It’s a source of pleasure to know I’m able to care for myself in this way. And I’m also eating healthier foods as well! We spend so much of our time relating to food, why spend that time and energy being fearful of it, or uncomfortable around it? Treat your food with love and you will love what you eat. Thanks for reading. Peace :]

Here are a few of my go-to recipes if you’re looking for something new or to start batch cooking for yourself, enjoy! :

Roast Vegetable & Quinoa Harvest Bowl

1-Pot Everyday Lentil Soup

Easy Vegan Ramen

Image Credits: “Early 20th century pantry in Pittock Mansion” by mharrsch is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

What Can We Buy vs. Make? Sustainability Meets Budgeting.

I like to make things. Things I need, that look pretty. That I’m able to eat, are functional, sometimes not functional. Whatever it is that I’m making, I enjoy the process of bringing something new into my life and the world. I also like to budget. When the numbers all come together, and I’m slowly but surely achieving my financial goals, it feels good. Good because I’m attuning to my own needs. Needs for security, if it’s in regards to building an emergency fund. Or needs to live sustainably, if it has to do with me paying off my credit card debt. But when these two areas come together, when I make something that would otherwise cost me time and or money, the feeling is exceptional.

It’s for these reasons that I often look for things to make that are of interest to me, or items and food that I use or eat day to day. It is in this vein that I will be going over some of the ways I make the things I would normally buy. Or turn something already owned that may be on its way to the garbage, into something of practical use. Nothing I’ll be listing here is new by any means, but it may be helpful to get a run down of how someone else puts sustainable, practical, practices into use. And maybe open the valve for your creative juices to start flowing. Let’s get started!

Most of what I make is related to my food consumption. I’m a baker by trade, so I don’t make a lot of bread at home, but I’m always looking to create something delicious to snack on or drink. I made a lot of beer in my early thirties. Clones of brews I liked, some that were staples, like IPAs and Belgiens, and some seasonal. They usually came out pretty good, and it’s something I’d like to get back into.

I don’t drink quite as much as I used to, but there’s something about opening up a bottle of a beer you crafted that feels special. The time, thought and energy you put into its making, mixed with the some of the varieties of specialty ingredients that are available to the home brewer to give your brew that special twist that makes it yours, is comforting. Plus they’re great little gifts for friends and family. There’s also a large community of homebrewers out there willing to help one another along the way. If you’re interested, check out Homebrew Talk, there are loads of recipes and advice for the new or seasoned brewer.

Also, the time spent making it has a unique feel. It’s like being in a science lab that’s been draped in old and colorful tapestry. The science meets art aspect of brewing is appealing to me because it’s creating something as you would in a lab, but enlisting the senses to bring it together the way you would your favorite meal. The elements, fire and water, but also the equipment and live cultures of yeast bubbling away that will soon turn the wort into something satisfying to the taste buds, that bring the whole experience together. There’s also the added benefit of its cost.

For the quality of beer you’re producing, you are saving loads of money. Some of the clone recipes are spot on, and if you drink occasionally, then it’s a great way to have some quality brew on hand for when you have company over, or to get in the habit of having a rotating selection of seasonal brews that will bring another dimension to your enjoyment of the time of year.

There is a lot that goes into it, so be prepared to spend some time doing the research if you decide to dive in. I once had a batch explode on me. Luckily it was in the closet, but I found shards of glass sticking out of the wall. They call those bottle bombs, which happens during the bottle conditioning phase if you put too much priming sugar in before bottling. I’m not saying this to deter you in any way, just as a reminder of how important it is to become familiar with the process.

Repurposing old furniture can be a rewarding experience. If you have a few tools and the creativity to see new purpose for old pieces. I was rooting around in my basement not too long ago when I found the bamboo bottom of an old dish strainer. I was going to throw it away when I realized it was durable, water resistant, and made for drainage. So I thought I’d use it to some degree for my house plants. I brought the piece upstairs, left it on a chair, didn’t have time for the plants and the bamboo strainer started collecting things, as things that lay around are apt to do.

It was collecting linens, towels and face clothes, to be more specific, and I enjoyed the aesthetic of the white towels on the bamboo “shelf”. So I decided to keep it as a linens shelf and find similar pieces to create an open storage concept. With the light wooden tones that remind me of a spa, a piece of “would be garbage” turned into something aesthetically pleasing, and functional as well. All I need are a few candles, a diffuser and some ambient lighting and I’m on my way to a relaxing, sustainable and functional environment. My own little spa.

Something else I’ve been making a lot of are bandanas. If you’ve read my post, “Read the Labels, No New Clothes, Well Maybe…” you’ll know that I wear a lot of bandanas. For my working life I’ve pretty much always worked in the food service industry to some degree. And as a result I have always had to wear a hair covering. Since I was already wearing bandanas, being a hippy, I just continued to wear them during work as well.

I started making them not too long ago out of old shirts I had. I used to wear paisley bandanas exclusively. I even made a window covering by patchworked together a few dozen. This gave my bedroom a Boho vibe in my first apartment when I was 19. It was enjoyable from what I remember. But the bandanas I make nowadays are of a solid color and much softer than their paisley cousins. I rotate between four of them, and made them with no sewing involved. When it’s a bit safer to go shopping, I plan on going to some local thrift shops to look for old Tee-shirts that may be suitable to make the jump from worn-out shirt to new bandanas.

If you are handy with a sewing machine, or want to learn how to use one, a project I have planned is to take some of my old articles of clothing, ones that I have a sentimental attachment to (that’s normal, right?), cut them into squares and make a blanket from them. A sort of patchwork quilt, where your memories are embedded into their very fabric (sorry, I couldn’t resist) and you’ll also have a comfortable throw laying around for the colder seasons.

Another project I enjoyed putting together was a wall of windows I created. By making a frame out of 2″x 4″s, and hanging old windows I found and collected over time inside the frame, it created a transparent partition. It had loads of character, while salvaging some windows that would have been garbage along the way. This isn’t the most kid friendly piece of furniture so if you decide you’d like to try it, find a place where it will be out of reach of the little ones in your life.

For the pantry, sauerkraut is pretty easy to make as are most fermented vegetables. You’ll need some fermentation vessels. I use mason jars as they are a convenient size and shape for storage and easy to sterilize. I made this recipe from Minimalist Baker not too long ago, Gingery Apple Cabbage Sauerkraut.

Pickled cucumbers and other veggies are just as easy. You can use the same mason jars and you need only make a brine for the veg you want to pickle. More sterilizing and pour the brine over the veg and either can them, which involves boiling them in water for a certain amount of time, or put them directly into the fridge for a quick refrigerator pickle. And making either from veg you grew yourself is most satisfying and budget friendly as well.

Speaking of veg, if you haven’t started a garden yet, there are few things more gratifying in life. Watching the seeds you planted during the colder months grow and bear fruit as the year progresses. I like leafy greens such as kale and collards. I use these vegetables often. Two to three times a week, so I like to have a few plants going to harvest from.

Other varieties, such as cucumbers and squash, are prolific producers. So if you plant some of theses guys, make sure you have a plan for what you’ll do with all the veg you will be reaping! Other treats, such as watermelons, produce once towards the end of the season. So make sure you are watering and tending to your plants with diligence.

There are so many ways to make and curate the things we need and use. We’ve been bred to believe however that we often must buy the things we desire or need. And if you think about it for any length of time, we live in a capitalist democracy. Sure, we can vote whomever we want into office to make changes to the laws that we see fit as a community or on a societal level, but they’re still getting paid by our tax dollars. And they are most likely being earned at the industries and corporations that are running and controlling the economy of our country.

The prase, “vote with your dollars” has always struck a chord with me and for this very reason. The better we are as a community at saving those dollars by embodying a thriftiness, making the things we need or shopping locally to support our local community, the better we will be at not buying whatever’s popular or trendy because we saw so and so eat/wear/use brand X. And we will embody the spirit of community that’s connected and built from a sustainable place. One that values craft and diligence in the items we use, above those of being disposable and/or with ease of use.

I’m not saying that everything disposable and easy to use are inherently bad. But that’s another topic for another post. What I feel is most important about making the things we use and need is the sense of capability in caring for ourselves and those that we love. And in so doing, creating a deeper sense of community and connection.

So go make things! Enjoy the process. Start a project you’ve always wanted to do or find something you use or drink everyday and see if you are able to make it at home. Instead of saving up for something that’s on your wish list, why not see if you can make it yourself. Who knows what a little research may yield. You may be surprised at how much you enjoy the work and how satisfying the fruits of your labor feel.

Image Credits: “Tools” by shoesfullofdust is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Misfits, Co-Ops and Farmers: Types of Markets That Could Help the Environment

Markets. They’re where we buy the things we need. If you’re like most of us then when you go to the market it’s usually a super one. I live in Massachusetts so most of us here go to Market Basket. You may have heard of it when it got some press back in 2014. There was concern in the form of protests and strikes, due to the firing of Arthur T. DeMulas by his cousin, Arthur S. DeMulas. Arthur T. eventually bought out his cousin Arthur S. and gave the employees of the grocery chain more benefits and raised the working standards, putting the workers and customers first.

As much as I love Market Basket and the story of Arthur T. taking care of his employees and in return them supporting him in regaining ownership of the chain, there are still some issues I feel are plaguing not just Market Basket but most stores, super and regular alike. The major issue with most food we buy today is, a sides from how we produce it, the amount of waste that’s involved in its packaging.

Some quick numbers, the EPA’s Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2017 Fact Sheet reported that in 2017, United States citizens composted and recycled about 94.2 million metric tons of waste. While only about 35% of the waste we recycled and composted actually was recycled or composted. That’s 61.2 million metric tons of recyclable and compostable materials that went into landfills. Or found its way into the ocean. And who knows where else. But that’s only one year’s worth of waste! And most of it is coming from packaging. I’m not sure how much is from food packaging but I’m willing to bet it’s quite a bit.

When I’m at a grocery store or any kind of store for that matter, I’m amazed at the amount of packaging we are taking our food and products home in. Aisle after aisle of neatly packed and stacked items. Shimmering with plastic, glass, paper and metal, all kinds. I understand that we’ve come a long way in food safety and for a while these types of packaging were necessary to deliver food free from bacteria to the folks buying it. But there are definitely more environmentally friendly and responsible ways of packaging our food that will keep it just as safe and just as fresh. We’ve come a long way in regards to making compostable packaging as well as food safety. Why not put more of those practices into use?

For starters, there are zero waste grocery stores, but they are few and far between. I think there are about ten within a 16 mile radius of where I live and I’m in a small suburb just a few miles from Boston! I imagine pickings are even slimmer the further you are from a major city. But there are other places you can shop to reduce waste even in an average grocery store.

Some grocery stores and most co-ops have bulk sections. You can usually find pantry staples in this aisle such as rice and beans, legumes and oats. And they are often times cheaper than their pre-packaged counter parts. This will reduce the amount of plastic packaging for sure, but only if you bring your own reusable bulk bags. Avoiding the plastic bags you find in bulk and produce sections. A quick Google search yields a variety of options and sizes for carrying home your bulk items and produce. Some of which I’ve linked to below.

Speaking of produce, another way to cut down on packaging is to buy fresh produce. From either the grocery store, co-op or farmers markets. The only packaging is the boxes they’re delivered to the store in. Or in the case of farmers markets, the reusable containers they brought from the farm. And bringing your own reusable canvas or cotton bags to store them in will eliminate the need for those clear plastic produce bags they keep in the produce section. Or whatever package the vendors from farmers markets are offering which may or may not be recyclable.

And while you’re shopping for your new canvas or cotton produce and bulk bags, why not pick up some reusable silicone bags that are freezer friendly? To freeze your own fresh veg and fruit in. The shelf life and quality of freshly frozen fruits and veg are far superior to comparable pre-packaged frozen products. And the only downside is that there’s a little more prepwork involved. Which translates to time. But if you set aside some time each week to prep the food you’re going to freeze, maybe while you’re cooking dinner, you can save money and packaging that would have ended up in the landfill.

So let’s say you get some reusable bulk bags for dry bulk items and produce. You buy a bunch of oatmeal and black beans. You get them home and now you have a bunch of loose dry bulk items and no where to put them! Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. I use glass Ball jars with a wide mouth which makes them easy to fill with just about anything. Beans, rice and oats as I’ve mentioned, but also flours, sugars and teas (actually I use old glass peanut butter jars for tea).

They’re easy to stack, look good, and all while maximizing your usable cabinet storage space with surprising efficiency and are super cheap. On top of all that, you can find them at pretty much any store you go to. I get mine at the supermarket but remember they’re technically “seasonal”. Because they’re traditionally used for preserving, canning and pickling. So they may only be available in late summer and fall.

And finally, markets such as the Misfits Market buys produce from farmers that don’t meet the aesthetic standards of supermarkets. A surprising amount of viable fruits and vegetables are tossed in the garbage because they are misshapen, discolored or otherwise deemed as “ugly” by the would be buyers. Markets like Misfits steps in and offers to buy the produce from the farmers at a fraction of the price. The produce is the same and they pass along the savings to you, the customer. They also source their produce from farms that use organic methods and non-GMO seeds. Another benefit of Misfits Market is that their packaging is a 100% sustainable. Either recyclable or compostable.

From super, to co-ops, to Misfits, to farmers. The above four types of markets are examples of where, given a little bit of forethought and planning, you could turn your next shopping trip into a greener one.

Image Credits: Adam Sergott, photo of vendors at Hay Market Produce                                     Market in Boston MA