Sentences I do not want to hear from my builder, 'I just moved your mandarin tree while you were out. I needed to put a post there.' This was at 9am on one of the hottest days of the year. We were having a new fence built, just behind a row of two-year old citrus trees, oranges and mandarins, which are a little marginal in our climate, but are on the edge of flourishing, due to their protected position and my continual mollycoddling. They are my BABIES, and one day they will be a gorgeous green hedge of golden citrus goodness. I think the poor builder was rather startled at my shriek, and sudden disappearance, and just as sudden reappearance armed with secateurs, seasol and the garden hose. No, I did not tie up the builder with the hose, prune him and waterboard him with seaweed concentrate, however tempting that course of action seemed at the time. He is, after all, a very good builder, and they are as precious and rare as mandarin trees around here. I tried not to weep as I pruned a good third of the foliage off the poor baby tree to reduce stress and water loss by evaporation, watered it thoroughly with seasol concentrate to help with transplant stress, and left the hose trickling on it all day. I think it may survive. The builder was completely bewildered by all the fuss. I think he regards plants as some kind of green, fluffy landscaping accessories that you can move around like fence posts.
Meanwhile, back in the kitchen I have been keeping a tight hand on the grocery budget. The thing I absolutely loved about my week of not buying groceries, was not going grocery shopping. I just hate shopping, and grocery shopping is right up there on the list of jobs I like to procrastinate about. So my bright idea on the Monday morning following my week of no shopping was to take twice my weekly grocery budget in cash to the shops, and shop until it it was gone, then stop, and that is it for groceries for two weeks (I kept some back for milk). I shopped with menu plan in place and list in hand, and actually went under budget. I couldn't believe it - I never go under budget for the groceries. It did get used up when we went blueberry picking at a local farm on the weekend, but I am not complaining there of course, and we have a few kilograms of blueberries which will keep us in fruit for weeks. I am still using up odd and hitherto unused exotic ingredients from the back of the cupboard, but I am also buying a few things in bulk which will last for weeks - oats, potatoes, lentils. We are eating very normal dinners, and aren't wanting for anything, so I can't understand exactly how it is that it is suddenly so easy to stay in the grocery budget, other than that without popping out every couple of days 'just' to get sour cream, or extra chicken, or icy poles because it is so hot, we are not picking up those tens of extra items over a week as well that normally sneak into the shopping basket on those occasions.
But I do think there is an extra reason as well - I have discovered this convenient truth about the store cupboard. There are certain staples that I keep topped up all the time - flour, dried beans, sugar, dried fruit, nuts. What occurred to me this week is that all of this is not necessary if I make a menu plan. If I am not going to be baking with dried fruit, why buy any that week? Also, if I have one kind of a basic food, I don't need five other varieties. This week I will be out of brown sugar and caster sugar, but I have plenty of raw. Sugar really is very interchangeable in most recipes, even meringues. Raw sugar makes meringues look rustic, and their texture gets chewy and delicious. I suspect most recipe breakthroughs come from the 'necessity is the mother of invention' school of cooking. I am thinking that the secret of saving money on the grocery bill is not to be afraid of slashing the shopping list, and being willing to experiment (and have a family who is willing for you to experiment!). Also, if I am running out of an ingredient and 'not allowed' to pop out to the shops to pick up 'just one thing', then I am forced to rummage around in the back of the cupboard and use up what I find back there. And who knew that when I ran out of vanilla extract that we would discover that meringues and cup cakes taste very exotic and delicious flavoured with years-old bottles of orange blossom water and rose water, bought for who knows what forgotten recipe now? It actually makes cooking more fun to have to make do, certainly more fun than rushing around in traffic at dinner time hunting for one vital ingredient, which ends up as half a bag of other indispensable items, which mostly consist of, though are not limited to, chocolate and chippies. Just think how thin we will all be too:)
Has anyone else out there been doing a cook-from-the-pantry challenge? Please tell me about successful 'make do' ingredient substitutions, and go on, we all want to read about the unsuccessful ones too..
Sheet Pan Dinner: Asian Chicken and Veggies
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