Friday, August 1, 2008

Plenty: Using What You've Got

First - Happy August!

I'm almost finished with Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally, by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon. I've read a lot of books like this one, seeing as my job with the Oregon Environmental Council's Healthy Food and Farms program revolves around education and resources for eating locally, but what is special about Plenty was that it is set in the Pacific Northwest, B.C. to be exact. Though every state (and community and city block and even different spots in my garden) has different microclimates, it was great to read about the struggles and triumphs of eating locally in an area with similar resources as my dear Oregon. I've been attempting to eat as locally and sustainably as I can, but am nowhere near 100% local. While I'd love to try such an experiment under the right circumstances, I think what is most important is taking the steps to use the resources around me, getting to know my local farmers and producers, and making sure I'm living in a way that respects my resources.

One of my biggest challenges as a food lover is making sure my eyes don't get too big for my stomach. As you know, I love experimenting with food and new ingredients, which can be a bit taxing on my budget, my kitchen shelf and fridge space, and on the environment. Throwing out food that has gone bad before I've had a chance to enjoy it is a symptom of buying too much and reusing too little, problems that defeat the purpose of my efforts to live a sustainable life. Because I'm often cooking for myself, leftovers are a common phenomena, but I get too excited about some new recipe that I'll banish the Tupperware to the back of the fridge, only to find it a few weeks later (yikes). This is where the creative part comes in - I can no longer avoid eating leftovers and using the same ingredients for a few days (or weeks) - but that doesn't mean my meals ever have to be boring.

My roommate Weasel bought a great loaf of french bread from Trader Joe's last week, which had been thoroughly enjoyed - especially with that carrot soup a few days ago - but had gotten a bit stale. When I asked her if I could use the rest of it to make something for the blog, W laughed and told me to have at it - she wasn't planning on a meal of crunchy bread crust anytime soon. With visions of sugarplums sustainability dancing in my head, I set out to do something with the last chunk of the loaf instead of tossing it. I'm familiar with a lot of ways of using bread a bit past it's prime: homemade breadcrumb for coatings and stuffing roasted vegetables, bread and tomato soups, bread desserts, and the list goes on. Many traditional cultures - from Italy to Russia to Greece to Mexico - have developed methods of using leftover bread, as it was considered important to use every last bit of an ingredient to save money and time, something I - and most of us modern cooks - should really learn to do.

As I sat down to make lunch, I looked around at what was available - I still had a few of those wonderful little orange tomatoes, a bit of mâche, and some oregano and cilantro that wasn't getting any fresher with time. I decided to use up everything that might not make it to tomorrow, and put together a panzanella, a traditional Tuscan summer bread salad. I cut the bread into cubes and soaked them in red wine vinegar, olive oil, and salt for a half hour, tossed the tasty cubes with the halved cherry tomatoes, chopped herbs, capers, and some carrot shavings, and served it on a bed of mâche. Just a touch more olive oil over the salad, and I was ready to eat.

I'll be honest, it felt pretty great to be resourceful and creative - but it's only one step and I know I've got a long way to go. I guess that's what viable sustainability is all about - taking one step at a time towards better habits and a better life.

Have a beautiful day, and Eat Well.


  1. After this post I'll know just who to look for when and if I move to Portland with my boyfriend!! You'll know about all the markets and farms and places that I'd want to go to!! What a job!!

    Yeah, we are the same way about leftovers. I usually place them in a sealed container and relegate it to the back of my fridge, only to be rediscovered a few weeks later. But i'm trying harder to be more sustainable in my day-to-day life. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. You know, I have exactly the same problem as you do- eye bigger than stomach, I really understand :)
    anyway, this leftovers salad looks just great!