Monday, April 11, 2011

The "New" Frugality

Making do!
from wikimedia

With the Great Recession apparently behind us, it seems there is once again at least cautious optimism and hope for the future. But, in the past few years, we have changed as a nation. There is conversation about "the new frugality" and how Americans and their lives have changed.

Many of us grew up with parents and grandparents who survived the Great Depression AND World War II. I think frugality has been encoded into these generations' cells! In March, we visited the WWII Museum in New Orleans. I saw a poster with words I remember my elders saying:  "Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without."

Here are a few other things I remember:

* There's no reason to waste aluminum foil or plastic wrap to cover a dish before stowing it in the refrigerator. Simply place a plate on top the bowl. (I also use this system to microwave leftovers in glass rather than plastic containers.)

* If there were leftover food scraps, they went to the farm dogs and cats. At my grandma's house often our job was to take the old enamel basin with all other food waste (such as egg shells, coffee grounds and vegetable peels) "over the hill." It was an area, literally over a small hill on the path to a windmill, and it produced rich compost.

* My great aunt made delicious hamburgers. She would add small cubes of bread, as well as other ingredients, to stretch the meat. I love hamburgers prepared this way--I'll post a  recipe later. In addition, when making casseroles, it is easy to use less ground beef and add beans for protein.

* What do you do with that little bit of ketchup left in the bottom of the bottle? Unthinkable to throw it away! Open the new bottle of ketchup; turn the old bottle upside down and carefully place its mouth over the mouth of the new bottle to let the old ketchup drain into the new. If you are good at balancing, it can stand there by itself and take its own sweet time draining.  This also works for mustard, hand lotion and other thick liquids.

* During WWII, everyone planted a Victory Garden. This was a patriotic way for those at home to be self-sufficient and eat well, leaving commercially prepared vegetables for the soldiers. And, during the Depression, my parents tell me that they survived because their families had gardens. My mom and grandma canned during those hot days of August and September. The sweat and hard work would be rewarded by rows of jars, with jewel-colored contents.We could "go to the cellar" all winter to pick up a jar of green beans, beets, tomatoes, pickles, peaches and corn. My mom always says it is like opening a jar of summer.

 Alice Waters, who some call the Mother of American Food, has nine fundamental guidelines for food:

Eat locally and sustainably.
Eat seasonally.
Shop at farmers' markets.
Plant a garden.
Conserve, compost and recycle.
Cook simply.
Cook together.
Eat together.
Remember food is precious.

My grandmother would say, "Well, of course!"

What sorts of frugal feats do you recall from your elders?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Asparagus and Cheese Soup

Asparagus heralds spring like nothing else. Tender, green stalks push up from the ground when other vegetables are just getting started.

About the worst thing you can do to asparagus is overcook it and it is easy to do. This will make it turn an icky yellow-green color and will sap all the flavor and texture from it. Sometimes, this is the only kind of asparagus my clients have had--and that makes them no fan of the veggie. But, cooking it correctly makes all the difference; I have converted several of my clients to this delicious and healthful vegetable.

This recipe is geared toward babying the asparagus, so you shouldn't have any trouble with it.

Note: I love the new red potatoes in this recipe. But, once I forgot to buy the potatoes and had some leftover rice in the fridge. I dumped it into the soup, in place of the potatoes, and it made a creamy, comforting soup. Now I can't decide which I like best, so I have given you instructions for both. Hope you enjoy!

Asparagus and Cheese Soup
6-8 servings

1/2 large onion, chopped finely
2 medium carrots, chopped finely
1 red pepper, chopped finely
3 tablespoons canola oil
4 tablespoons flour
1 to 1 1/2 pound asparagus spears, tough ends trimmed off* and remainder chopped into 1 inch pieces
4 cups milk (I use 1 percent)
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
8 ounces new red potatoes, cubed, OR 1 1/2 cup cooked white rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (about 8 ounces)
8 ounces ham, chopped
1 tablespoon butter (optional)

In a large pot, heat oil and saute onion, carrots and pepper until tender. Sprinkle flour over vegetables and stir to coat.

Add asparagus, milk, broth, potatoes (if using) and seasonings.

Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly; reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 10 minutes or until vegetables are just tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in ham and rice (if using) and turn off heat. Add cheese and stir until it melts. Stir in butter, if desired.

*The easiest way to trim asparagus is to hold each spear in two hands and bend. It will snap at the place where it should be discarded.