Sunday, April 3, 2011

Waste Not, Want Not

Grandma Johnson, like a lot of other grandparents, lived through the depression. I guess because of this she developed, as anyone might, a reluctance to throw away food. She was sitting at our kitchen table on one of her visits enjoying some baby carrots (our family has a long history with baby carrots) and she dropped one on the floor. She didn’t hesitate, just picked the carrot up – it had rolled onto the living room carpet – and said:

“Waste not, want not,” popping it into her mouth.

Mom pleaded with her to throw it out as she was doing this, arguing that she could actually see cat hairs stuck to the dewy carrot skin, but Grandma Johnson lived by her words. She was an English teacher, after all.

We as a family remember this with mild horror and affection. We still bring it up occasionally when we think of her. “Waste not, want not.”

I’ve talked before about my own struggle to be a frugal yet creative cook. You know that Oatmeal comic about cooking at home? It pretty much sums up my first frustrating experiences going solo in the kitchen. In fact, my dear friend and former roommate Jon just reminded me of the first time I tried to cook chicken and the destruction I caused in our tiny Oxford, Ohio kitchen. We remember it fondly of course, and the photographic evidence lives on in Facebook glory.

I’m trying to evolve into a resourceful home cook with a well-stocked pantry. I want to develop a repertoire of tasty and cost-effective recipes I can fall back on when inspiration fails to strike. I’m not quite there.

I thought of Grandma Johnson and her famous words when I found this mustardy carrot slaw recipe on CHOW. I loaded up a Madison’s shopping basket with about two pounds of carrots (the adult ones) and brought them home to meet my box grater. I figured if I made a few side dishes and tasty spreads at the start of the week, I could work my way through them at lunchtime from Monday to Friday.

Grating two pounds of carrots turned out to be more work than I imagined. I got through it, mixed up the dressing and worked it all together with my bare hands. I didn’t have chives on hand and had to substitute white wine vinegar for red, but the taste is still zingy, sweet and mustardy.

I juiced the orange that I had used for its zest and fished a tiny bottle of bubbly from the back of the refrigerator. Waste not, want not? I can live by that.

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