EDF Realization: Size Doesn’t Matter

Allen Williams recently traded in his Silicon Valley dot-com career to pursue freelance food writing from Vancouver, B.C. Allen enjoys food exploration and combines childhood farm-style cooking with urban flavors at his blog, Eating Out Loud. When taking a break from cooking you’ll also find Allen sharing his vintage recipe card collection on his hobby site, Recovered Recipes.

A peek inside Allen Williams' pantry in Vancouver, B.C. (Allen Williams)

In all honesty, I’ve feared Kim’s Eating Down the Fridge challenge ever since signing up. I found myself lured in by the prospect of making creative MacGyver-like meals but grew concerned about our 520 square-foot condo which we had just moved to a few months ago. The pantry is petite and the refrigerator narrow and not very deep. It’s the smallest space I’ve ever lived in, and I wasn’t sure if it contained enough food to sustain two adults for an entire week.

Since our move, I find myself grocery shopping more often. When the work day becomes stressful, I enjoy stretching my legs by walking to the nearby market. I buy produce and meat as I need it, never going more than a couple days without a grocery trip. In an effort to be healthy and reduce wasteful packaging, I’ve banned buying most processed foods, namely canned goods. So, frequent trips for fresh goods are a necessity.

At the start of the challenge, it surprised me when I assessed my pantry and discovered what else I’ve accumulated on my many shopping trips. Preoccupied with adjusting to a world of different product brands and learning the metric system, I didn’t realize how much food I stockpiled.

I have more food on hand now than when we had a large home. It is also clear that I have a minor addiction to buying from the bulk food bins. Never before have I had such a selection of lentils, beans, rice, millet, quinoa, couscous, dried fruit and nuts. The nuts alone are staggering -- clear plastic bags filled with pistachios, roasted cashews, sliced almonds, whole almonds, peanuts and pecans. Not only am I hoarding, but quite possibly turning into a squirrel.

I took a deep breath and approached the challenge by coming up with meal ideas. The week started with using up leftover meat in basic fried rice. I then started working my way through the produce drawer, stir-frying veggies with bits of meat from the freezer.
Cornmeal and berries became sweet breakfast muffins while dried soybeans added to a pot of soup made a hearty lunch. A pack of dumpling wrappers from the freezer gave new life to a three-pound bag of carrots found on sale for 80 cents. Ground pork, grated carrot, garlic, scallions and soy sauce filled the wrappers and steamed for 15 minutes, making a quick dinner.

A package of rice cakes, those dreaded Styrofoam stunt doubles, peered down at me from an upper cupboard taunting me to be creative. Kim suggested a variation on marshmallow rice treats, but I had no marshmallows. Instead, I turned it into faux caramel corn by crumbling the cakes and smothering with a rich, buttery caramel coating. Delicious, but the recipe needs some refinement.

Although I started the challenge with fear of starvation, I’ve eaten well the entire week. It’s amazing what hides in our kitchens, whether large or small. I truly miss the grocery store and look forward to shopping this weekend. I intend to curb my bulk bin urges and shop more modestly. And with a little self-control, I can hopefully bring my nut collection under control too.

The first purchase I make this weekend will be a fresh bag of rice cakes. I am now determined to find a new use for the bland, airy pucks by creating a no-pop caramel corn recipe.

By Kim ODonnel |  June 26, 2009; 7:00 AM ET Eating Down the Fridge
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I'm only half-playing this week--too much summer camp buying required. But maybe the summer EDF should allow trips to the farmer's market. I stopped there yesterday and the veggies inspired me to use up a lot of other things in my fridge! Fresh veggie omlets for supper used up the feta, american cheese, eggs, orange juice and most of the bread. (And yes, the american cheese was just for the kids, not mixed with my nice feta!)

Posted by: GirlScoutMom | June 26, 2009 10:06 AM

Grains are a weakness of mine. Five kinds of rice (brown, white, sushi, arborio, wild), various dried pastas, and then add lentils, quinoa, etc. I've targeted a few cans hanging around the pantry earlier this week, I want to hit some of those grains next. Unfortunately, lentils say winter to me, so I'll have to think it through a little. Perhaps find some good salad ideas.

@GirlScoutMom - I've got 3 1/2 year old twins, so there's a fresh milk exception for them. There was some discussion of CSAs when this got going, so it seems a trip or two to the farmers market is a fair exception for those of us without a garden or not in a CSA.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | June 26, 2009 12:08 PM

Ugh! Lose the styrofoam pucks! Popping corn in jars stores indefinitely, pops up in a snap, and tastes orders of magnitude better than those rice cakes. You can use up the rice cakes for PB&J and banana sandwiches.

Posted by: zimmermann1 | July 1, 2009 1:35 PM

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