Tuesday, July 8, 2008

From zero to hero

A lot of what I've learned lately has focused on failing. Failing at things is fine; it teaches us what not to do, so that when we try again, our results are even better than we may have initially expected. Or at least what we wanted the first time around. The only big problem with failing is that it often creates waste - and food waste at that, which is my personal least favorite type of waste.

I, like everyone out there, have experienced my share of failures. I've made tortillas so brittle they'd crack if you dropped them. Loaves of bread that can prop a door open. Last weekend I bought strawberries at the farmer's market, and got sidetracked when I got home - and didn't remember the berries until two days later, when I found that a huge bunch of them had already started to mold (despite my best efforts, yes, my house is often so messy that I can overlook a flat of strawberries for two days. Sad, but true).

Two weekends ago, my picky eater brought home a big bag full of plums - somebody on his cricket team had a tree in their yard and decided to share. Only problem was, there were too many plums for us to eat before they became worm food. No problem though; I knew what to do with these - make jam! We green bloggers are jam making experts.

I, however, am also supremely lazy. So I found a recipe for no chopping, no peeling, plum jam.

I followed the directions. Well, mostly, anyway. I didn't have a thermometer, but I cook enough, so I was sure I could tell when everything was ready.

Problem was, even after adding all the sugar I had in the house (literally) and boiling for a really long time, it never turned into jam. It was just a sort of sour, plum sauce.

Sour like rhubarb.

Wait a second...

Rhubard. I love rhubarb!

This stuff was runny though, so I needed to get creative.

I found this recipe for rhubarb cake. Instead of the rhubarb, I substituted half a pint (or so...I'm not exact when it comes to cooking, as you may have noticed....) of the plum sauce for the fruit, and baked this puppy up (minus the orange zest). Picky eater gave it the veto, but in my own mind, I went from zero to hero in sixty seconds flat...this was a winner for me!

The point is, we all fail sometimes. The challenge is not to beat ourselves up over how we fail, but to ask ourselves how we can turn these failures into something succesful. We all try to reuse other things in our lives, why not reuse our food flops to make something useful? Like that delicious cake. I'm going to go have another piece right now...


Heather @ SGF said...

Good save! I stress about food waste too. I'm trying to cut back what I buy at the farmers market. I'm getting better, but it's hard. I'm the only one that eats this stuff (my hubby normally just has cereal or toast for breakfasts and dinner since he eat a large restaurant meal for lunch) but I always cook extra hoping he'll eat some of it (he's not exactly a very healthy eater - eating lots of veggies to him is the onion and lettuce on a burger). In the end, so much ends up in our compost pile. I still need some serious work here.

Grey said...


I have this absolutely horrible, dry, eggy bread in my freezer. I put so much work into making it (it was supposed to be an "overnight bread"), I couldn't throw it away. So I occasionally take it out and whittle it down for bread crumbs for other recipes - it's about the only use anyone could stomach it for, I believe.

Now...can you give me a recipe for some severely wilted spinach? ;)

Bugs and Brooms said...

Yummy! I wish I could figure out how to salvage the greens that have spent too much time in the crisper....

Debbie said...

I am proud of you and your thrifty grammie would also be proud. I am working on buying only what I need for two people but it is hard after having cooked for six for so long. I am trying to organize my fridge better ~ maybe that will help a bit. Things get lost in the crisper sometimes. I wonder how your plum sauce would have been as a marinade also?

Green Bean said...

I love this post. We need to go easier on ourselves. None of us are perfect. We sometimes waste food, use too much gas, take too long a shower despite our best intentions.

The lesson, it seems, is not to give up, just keep plugging away and eventually we'll end up knee high in delicious cake!

ilex said...

Great stuff. That kind of thinking the very heart of homesteading.

Melissa said...

heather, I feel your pain! I too find my husband would rather eat something less healthy than what I've cooked...and getting through a csa share of veggies on my own with only a little help can be tough some weeks. Worst case though I try to at least get it frozen. But now I've hit your problem...no more freezer space! I think being in CA we are lucky enough to have fresh produce nearly year round, and since I'm going to be traveling for part of next month anyway, I think I'm suspending my csa for the month to give myself some catch up time!

grey, I feel your pain with the bread - I've been there! as for the spinach, don't tell anyone I said this, but even when it's really wilted, it's still pretty good with lentils (or in a soup) it'll get soggy there anyway, right? Here's my favorite Indian lentil recipe: use yellow lentils (I buy them under the name "toor dal" I think it's the same thing as split pigeon peas), Put them in a pressure cooker covered by about 1/2 inch or so of water - regular boiling water in a pan works too, just takes longer. Throw in the spinach and some salt. When they're done cooking (maybe 20 minutes or so in pressure cooker) heat a small fry pan with a tablespoon or so of oil, throw in a teaspoon or so each of cumin and black mustard seeds, followed about 30 seconds later by a few dried red chiles. Heat until the chiles start to darken, and dump over the lentils, and mix well. Serve with rice and an indian mango pickle. Enjoy!

bugs and brooms, I'd say it's soup making time for you!

debbie, I keep trying to figure out what she was saving all those peanut butter lids for and still have not come up with a reasonable idea. I think you're right, it'd be a great pork marinade I bet!

green bean, I'm ashamed to admit, I'm not even ankle deep in delicious cake today...because I ate the whole thing already! It was a small pan...

ilex, thanks! that's what's been fun about this whole journey for me, is learning how to rethink things.

BlackenedBoy said...

I am so hopeless when it comes to cooking. Maybe reading your blog will help me.

I think it's really creative how you saved the situation there.

I really do need to take a cooking class or something, though.

Maybe I'll start cooking with my parents.

Melissa said...

blackenedboy, I think you'd be surprised how much a little observation and participation would teach you pretty quickly! I've never taken a cooking class, just learned by watching, then once I knew most of the basic terms, by following recipes and seeing what worked and what didn't. It's a great skill to have and can really save you lots of money, besides making sure you have tasty meals!