When EDF Is Not a Game, But Real Life

In May, when I made a save-the-date announcement on the EDF Facebook Group page, I received an e-mail from west coast reader Jill Blevins, who knows a thing or two about eating down the fridge -- and not by choice.

“I was homeless with four kids,” she writes, “twice, and know what it's like to be poor, to think food stamps are a gift from God and to eat down the fridge for weeks straight, hoping the kids would sleep late so I'd only have to feed them two starchy meals.”

I asked Blevins, who’s currently based in Oregon (and no longer homeless), to share her candid perspective on making do with what you’ve got on hand.

Jill Blevins. (Family photo)

Asking me to abstain from food shopping is like asking an anorexic to please cut back on the eating for a while. It’s not the shopping that keeps me from Safeway (although buying in bulk can seem like a part-time job), but it’s that whole paying for it at the end that I despise. I’m cheap, no question. I was cheap before I had four kids and I’m cheap now when they’re all grown up and moved out. Not frugal, as frugal sounds respectable. Cheap.

In the early 1990s, my first husband and I moved to Montana without jobs, knowing barely anyone, when our kids were young. He’d lost his job, so we figured we could be looking for work just as easily in Montana as in California. This was stupid on so many levels but being young, we paid no attention to the warnings of “you can’t eat the scenery.” Besides, I was a stay-at-home mom with a mean streak of stingy. I’d wash and re-use as many sandwich bags as it would take to make ends meet.

Feeding four kids can wipe out even the most careful of penny pinchers, but when mine were the hungriest, we were the poorest. Our food budget was $230 a month and food shopping was a game I couldn’t win. Going down the aisles with a running total in my head was like playing some evil video game. I couldn’t get to the finish with all my required items crossed off my list. Something I needed, something frivolous like soap, stayed behind. Even now I’ll go three weeks without stepping into a grocery store, just to avoid all that total-tallying mental math.

You learn a few things through a crisis like this, or at least I did. I got pretty good at finding the bottom of those 50-pound bags of Costco flour. I got so good that I started baking for catering companies and small downtown cafes, making not just cookies but poppy seed cakes and mashed potato cinnamon buns. I made more practical things at home, like Dutch pancakes and crepes for dinner.

My grown-up daughter called last week, asking me for those recipes. She has good food memories from the years when I wanted my kids to sleep late on the weekends, just so I could get away with feeding them two meals. Two meals are cheaper than three.

“What was in those crepes, anyway?” she asks. “I can never make them the way you do.”

Do I tell her my secret? My beautiful crepes were filled with leftovers, things she and her brothers refused to eat, chopped up fine. Wrap it up in a crepe, garnish with a little something pretty, and present it as if it’s New York sirloin. They fought over dinner those nights, eating what otherwise would have gone to waste. Attitude is everything.

Things are easier now, or they would be if my husband and I weren’t living a state apart. I moved to help with my dad’s business while my husband stayed behind, for now, in a job he loves.

Living alone isn’t heaven, but I can eat popcorn and beautiful salad for dinner if I choose and nobody knows. I can eat the same thing every day for a week and it’s my secret, until now.

Every few days, I bake a new combination of carrot/zucchini/pumpkin/apple/banana muffins out of nasty produce only a baker would love. Sometimes the combinations are so good I write them down to recreate in the future. I learn best by trial and error, and I have learned that I love my free time. If I can spend three weeks without shopping for food, eating an inordinate amount of carrot/banana/pumpkin muffins, I can spend that extra time at street fairs and free concerts within walking distance of my new home. So what if I run out of milk for my coffee and I’m forced to use ReddiWip? I’ll enjoy the excuse.

Jill Blevins' Basic Crepes

1 egg
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon sugar and ¼ teaspoon vanilla for sweet crepes or pinch salt for savory crepes
1 tablespoon melted butter
additional butter for pan

Whisk egg with sugar and vanilla for sweet crepes, or whisk egg with salt for savory crepes. Add flour and milk alternately, adding melted butter when batter is lump-free.

Heat small skillet or crepe pan. Add a slight teaspoon of butter to pan, tip to evenly distribute. Add a couple of tablespoons of batter to hot pan. Quickly tip the pan again, swirling the batter around to evenly and completely coat the bottom of the pan. Cook crepe over medium high heat for forty-five seconds. Flip and barely cook the other side for fifteen seconds.

Makes 8 crepes. Recipe can be doubled, which I recommend.

By Kim ODonnel |  June 23, 2009; 7:00 AM ET Eating Down the Fridge
Previous: Emptying the Fridge on Meatless Monday | Next: EDF: The Challenges – and Joys – of Cooking for One


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A nice reminder of greater realities. Jill's story is touching.

Feel a little trite adding in this night's contribution, but here it goes. I had a block of tuna in the freezer (sushi style) and we had a lot of cans of tomatoes and some fresh mint that's hitting the wall. So, I made a roasted tomato sauce, subbing mint for the basil required by the recipe, and sliced the tuna and marinated it in olive oil, a fair amount of mint, and some mirin and rice wine vinegar. Seared the tuna slices and put the tuna and sauce over pasta. Pretty tasty, though I think I'd break up the tuna and add into the sauce.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | June 23, 2009 11:37 PM

A very interesting article that made me want to read more. I enjoyed every ounce and hope to see more!

Posted by: cheypie1018 | June 24, 2009 3:43 AM

What an inspiring story. Jill, I love the fact that your kids have fond memories about those meals, to the extent of asking for the recipes. You did good!

My plans for dinner seem like a luxury now. Bacon from the freezer, overripe hothouse tomatoes (and limp lettuce, resurrected by a soak in icy water) will become BLTs, with "aioli" made from mayo, garlic, lemon zest & juice. But I'll make up for my extravagance tomorrow, with my (all-pantry) puttanesca.

Posted by: MissWahoo | June 25, 2009 10:33 AM

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