Eat From The Larder Challenge: Week Four Wrap Up

They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. As it turns out, “they” are totally full of crap, but for the purpose of this post that doesn’t matter. We are at the tail end of this Eat From The Larder Challenge, and I feels like I’ve found my groove. It feels like the home cookin’ habit has re-established itself.

It’s not that I don’t want the convenience of ready-to-go take out or the indulgence of restaurant dining if I stop to consider it, it’s just that I don’t stop to consider it very frequently.

This past week – most of it with a broken fridge – has actually been pretty easy. We had our friends over for brunch and it wasn’t an issue at all to host. I served eggs, bacon, my dad’s homemade sausage, chocolate chip zucchini bread and stewed nectarines. I don’t think anyone went away hungry. Neighborhood kids came and went and there was always food for whatever mouths were under my roof at mealtime. I’m starting to feel like I’m in a good pattern with weekly baking and thawing of meat, and of course the garden is producing now so salads are easy.

After four weeks of eating down our larder, the breathing space in the freezer is wonderful. The frozen fruit and canned goods are dwindling just in time for the garden to start refilling the stores. It feels right, like the grow-it-store-it-use-it pattern is nicely flowing.

Dairy is our big limit. Milk has been gone for days. I’m fortunate my children aren’t half-gallon-a-day milk drinkers. Yesterday I used up the last of some powdered milk I had in the back of the baking cupboard for sandwich bread. I think we have a teeny hunk of feta left and a cup of half-and-half our friends brought with them when they came to brunch.

Other than that, I’m not feeling like my cupboards are particularly bare. None of the basic dry staples – flour, rice, beans, pasta, sugar, etc. – have been used up yet. The hens keep making eggs at an impressive pace. There is still meat in the freezer. Hell, there’s still bacon and butter in the freezer. We are a long ways from pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold.

It’s worth pointing out that my goal – and I’ve been working towards this for over three years – is to carry roughly a year’s worth of rotating food supplies in my larder. So if I had been feeling nervous about our food stores after four weeks, it would have demonstrated that I’d sadly misjudged how much we eat as a family. As it is, I feel pretty on track.

My husband and I have been talking about where we go from here. Frankly, we’re ready to keep going, with maybe a small budget for replenishing dairy and the occasional staple food. Once the Week Two transition resentment (“What do you mean you’re hungry again!?”) faded, we’ve both found this challenge extremely rewarding.

But Homebrew Husband and I aren’t the only members of the family, so I ambushed my daughter and interviewed her about these past weeks. The video below is about four minutes of her kid-perspective on this challenge.

If you don’t want to watch, or aren’t in a good place to, the short version of the video is, my daughter is totally game to do more Eat From The Larder Challenges and is perpetually surprised that she’s now in the double digits (which makes two of us – when did I get old enough to have a ten year old!?). I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised about her positive take on this challenge – Bella adores watching Victorian Farm with me and wants a small log cabin when she grows up, so these step-back-in-time type activities are right up her alley.

I have a bit of a confession. A few hours after this post goes live, I will be at the grocery store for the first time in a month, buying celery. My son’s preschool class is making vegetable soup tomorrow, and he drew celery as the vegetable to bring (I thought of providing a big bunch of lovage, which I have in abundance in the garden, but ultimately decided not to be that mom). I figure this food purchase is in the same category as paper or crayons or other school supplies and is, therefore, exempt from the prohibitions of the challenge.

In other confessions, I learned recently that Homebrew Husband has been buying PowerBars and beef jerky from the office vending machine. There were a total of four vending machine purchases, totalling exactly $1.00. (The vending machine at his office is subsidized so everything is twenty-five cents.) HH would like the reading audience to know that at least one of these purchases was made so that he didn’t have to eat leftover chili dog immediately before interviewing his potential new supervisor. It’s hard to argue with logic like that, and I think the spirit of the challenge has been adhered to.

What We’ve Been Eating

Sorry for the limited photos. I think as this challenge has progressed we’ve rather forgotten we’re doing it. I’ve neglected to snap pics of several meals, including our fun brunch, some tasty steaks and random stir-fried of leftovers and eggs (the fastest food around!).

Breakfasts

Lots of eggs, oatmeal, and pancakes with fruit from the freezer. The kids licked this cherry topping from their plates.

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Lunches and Dinners

Our “fanciest” meal was salmon cakes with wild rice blend risotto. The salmon cakes were a huge hit with the kids – canned salmon, breadcrumbs, and egg got seasoned and shaped into patties. The grown-ups had their salmon cake with parsley-caper sauce. Also salad! I am so happy to have plenty of greens!

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This was a Greek-flavored pizza-type thing. The sauce was a jar of fig-thyme preserves, with feta cheese, the last of a red onion and kalamata olives providing toppings.

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Tuna sandwiches on the best whole wheat sandwich loaf I’ve ever made (and it was easy!). I saved the recipe for this one, I’ll be sharing soon. Homemade mayo and sweet pickle relish flavored the tuna.

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After our big brunch we had some leftover sausage which combined with other leftovers to make a sausage and sun dried tomato quinoa pilaf and….

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…Italian sausage skillet pizza.

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Chili with blue-cornmeal muffins made a good lunch while we were working in the garden.

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Did I mention the salad greens are ready?

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The last of the chili was served up with rice and polish sausages from the freezer to make a bun-less chili dog bowl. The leftovers of this is what Homebrew Husband declined to eat at work. And really, can ya blame him?

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We are only a few days from completion of our Eat From The Larder Challenge. Except for the celery thing I’m going through towards May, and I know many of you are right there with me.

I’ve also heard from a ton of people who are participating less – they are Eating From The Larder to the degree their lives allow – and, guys, that’s wonderful. Every step you take to learn how to work with what you have, every meal you would have stopped for take-out but instead cook at home, every dollar saved and information gleaned as you figure the best food storage fit for your family – that’s what it’s all about.

Whatever steps you can handle, at this stage for you, towards a bit more freedom, a bit more values-based spending, a bit more creativity in the kitchen –  those are the steps that mean You Win, you’re doing it.

I’ll do one last Wrap Up in a week or so, but I just want to sincerely thank everyone who’s participated in the Eat From The Larder Challenge. I think we might have to make this an April tradition, what do you think?

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Comments

  1. Can I just say how much I’ve enjoyed reading about your Larder Challenge? So refreshing.

    My husband and I figure we spend $800 a month on groceries during the winter months, that’s a whole lotta chunk of change! Like, um, a mortgage payment. But we crave fruit so much!!!

    Besides, it’s nice to use of food before the expiration days and just clean out what you have. Plus, it allows me justify a little time on Pinterest for tasty quick meals.

  2. I’ve been participating and have managed to make it this far only buying milk (mostly for home-made yogurt) and then some ramps this weekend at the farmers market (I gave myself a planned exemption for exciting new spring produce). I also had one meal out for my friend’s birthday and stopped to get ice cream on a few sunny days. I still have a ways to go emptying my chest freezer and pantry, so I’m going to continue into May, with the adjusted rule that I can buy ingredients to combine with freezer/pantry items. The main thing I’ve learned this month is that living alone, I really don’t go through that much food in a month. I also end up getting a lot of free meals (perk of being a graduate student). This summer I’ll have to try to ease up a bit on my freezing and canning if I want to maintain a good yearly cycle.

  3. Nancy Fortner says:

    Nice touch to bring in the perspective of your charming, articulate just-turned-10 year old. Suggests that your parenting skills are right up there with your prowess in the kitchen and garden. Now I’m going to google Hum-Dow…

  4. Alexandra says:

    What an erudite young daughter you have!
    I’ve enjoyed reading about this challenge and will be doing my version later in the year when the timing will make better sense for me and my family.
    P.S. I’ve been googling ‘humbau’ as well… Hmmm, curious what it is that your daughter is craving!

  5. Your daughter is very elloquent. What a cutie! :)

    One thing my husband commented on just last night is how glad he is that nothing goes to waste. Friday’s steamed salmon and white rice became Saturday’s stir fried rice with veggies and little salmon and Sunday’s salmon patties (same recipe) with cheesy pasta. Each rendition was tasty and required very little effort.

    While we haven’t completely stayed away from the grocery store, we’re making a concerted effort to select ingredients to go with what we already have and I’m SO psyched about a season of canning coming up to stock the larder.

  6. I just wanted to say thanks so much for this larder challenge! We did buy groceries twice this month, both times for special dinners (for example, our April 15 “money dinner” requires both bacon and lettuce, neither of which we’d put up). And now that April is over, I’m really, really looking forward to going to our local Amish grocery store to bulk up again on organic flour, because we’re scraping the bottom here.

    April is a perfect time for academics who garden to NOT buy food. For the same reasons you point out, it’s good to empty out spaces on the shelves. But also, life is SO busy on campus, that it’s been great to rearrange my schedule so I don’t have to waste time at the grocery store.

  7. Alexandra says:

    This challenge has been so great to read about and very inspiring/motivating. I need to keep reading these kinds of reminders as they really make a difference in our lives for a few days. then I seem to slide back to old habits. I have learned a lot from you and the other posters. thank you! I made a sweet spicy bbq sauce for a brisket in the crock pot with leftovers culled from the door of fridge: grape jelly, ketchup, raspberry jalapeno jelly, salsa, veggie stock and Worcestershire. It tastes good! I am trying to use it up and pleased with this success!

  8. I am loving reading about your Eat From The Larder Challenge. Very inspiring! Though I wasn’t following the challenge per say it did motivate me to move through some of our stored garden goods as we prepare for the coming harvests. We are still waiting on our lettuces. Thank goodness for garden herbs to give us a little fresh green in our meals. For us too, it’s the dairy that drives us to get to the grocery store every other week or so, or I think we could go longer… April for me is the month that I have a complete lack of motivation when it comes to cooking. I think an annual Eat From The Larder Challenge in April is a great idea. Thanks again.

  9. Cracked me up to hear Bella say, “You’re using adult talk. I don’t understand adult talk.” This after explaining her personal experiences with the eat-from-the-larder challenge as articulately as many of the adults that I know would have. If not grocking the meaning of the phrase “undue burden” is the extent of her verbal limitations at age 10, there’s going to be no stopping this girl as she grows up. :-) (BTW–I’m extremely jealous. While other things are thriving, for some reason so far this spring, I’ve had THREE plantings of lettuce fail, either to germinate, or to prosper. Here’s hoping number four breaks the cycle!)

  10. I read about your challenge in early april. I am an avid reader of your blog and the idea seemed a very good one. I wanted to participate. Somehow, find a way. With the kids, including one ravenous teenager, I nearly stopped myself from trying. After a while, my husband and I decided for once to skip one trip (We go twice a month) to Costco and eat from our larder for two weeks. We had lot of canned food. We decide not to tell the kids, wait and see. They did not even notice. It was a great experience, hence we decided 2 things:
    1) try to skip the biweekly trip at least once a season
    2) start a garden this year

    Also, your weekly wrap-up and the thinking behind it ( the muffin shop trip with the little one) really opened my eyes.

    We spent the week-end planning what will be our next garden (summer is not really there on the east coast) and I already put aside the canning recipes that I will make next fall. Also I can’t wait to get onions in order to make the caramelized onion recipe.

    Thanks a lot for the challenge. I will keep reading and participate.

  11. Love the video — and love reading about the larder challenge. I didn’t participate, but it surely did get me thinking about using up the things I have in my freezer and such. Our cold storage isn’t terribly deep, but I did get into some of the older items, especially after you had your fridge failure (so sorry about that.)

    Thanks for doing this. It was fun to read — but your daughter’s analysis was the absolute best! I’ll look forward to doing a larder challenge with you sometime.

  12. So, Bella needs to forget about being nine, and learn to explain she’s 10 going on 25! Watch out world, and she can come harvest in my garden anytime, and will probably teach me a thing or two.

    We’ve still got meat and fish in the freezer, and the chickens have slowed with the rain, but we’re still up a dozen+ on eggs in the fridge. Still plenty of dried beans and such. We only ate the ubiquitous “beans and rice” once this past month. I “allowed” the hubbie-purchased boxed soy milk into the frig last week when I remembered that I’d used up his gallon of 2% to make yoghurt when we was out of town earlier in the challenge (of which I have just enough to squeeze through this week if I limit my smoothies). Before that I used the powdered milk for hot chocolate one afternoon and with enough honey and vanilla it worked just great.

    I’m thrilled to have less to dig through in the small chest freezer, and our storage of apple sauce from 2012 and 2013 is getting used up whereas we’d usually reach for a purchased banana or orange. I found a bag of frozen kiwi, too, which I’ll save to help my friend make jam jar favors for her daughter’s wedding in a few months, still before any of our other fruit has ripened in the orchard.

    Having a variety of things in the pantry and a garden of artichokes, greens and a few spears of asparagus has helped greatly. I miss fresh broccoli, so that and milk and cereal and yeast will be on the first shopping list in a month, yet we’ll continue to focus on eating down the larder and I relish the canning jars being emptied in anticipation of this coming year. It was great to donate our unused monthly grocery money to our local food bank and rescue mission, too!

    Thank you, thank you, Erica! I’m thinking I might do this every March and April in the future.

    Oh, and I love humbao, from my days in China. Where do you get the one’s Bella likes?

  13. Your daughter speaks pretty well! I can tell you don’t talk down to your kids, and that’s awesome.

  14. Your challenge has been a great inspiration. I wish I had participated more fully, but it isn’t in the cards for us right now. We are slowly cleaning the freezer by consumption, and instead of replenishing our shampoo, conditioner, and lotion as they get low, we’re using up all the little bottles. That feels really liberating too. It might take a year.

  15. You have inspired me to eat down my larder. I tend to be a food hoarder, but I do need to make room for the upcoming farmer’s market and garden season. I just wish we had a freezer so I could put up more of the garden bounty. (I’m not much of a canner). I love your blog, it’s great to read about gardening, etc. with a PNW perspective as I live on coastal Oregon. Thanks for what you do, I look forward to each posting!

  16. What a great wrap-up post. I am inspired from your greens photo alone!! I’ll be digging to the back of my fridge and freezer this weekend. Your daughter is the best part of this post, though – she is just delightful. I think you have a future TED speaker on your hands — watch out, Michael Pollan!

    And who knew there was a show on BBC called Victorian Farm…

  17. Wow, your daughter is such an eloquent speaker for being 10. So confident too. Definitely a proud mama moment for you. I have thoroughly enjoyed your eat from the larder challenge. My husband and I have talked about doing this for sometime now but just haven’t done it yet. Our son leaves in a couple of weeks for a month, maybe we’ll do it then. I’m being a chicken because I don’t want to hear him complain about not having what he wants to eat. :)

  18. Forgot to say I am a huge fan of Victorian Farm. I’ve watched all of the episodes.

  19. Kit Maloney says:

    Holy, schmolie, what an impressive 10 year old!! Coolest.Kid.Ever! :-)
    Oh, I will miss seeing photos of your ‘week in meals!’ I wish you could keep that going! I found that inspiring….
    What also sticks with me was something you said before you started this challenge: [seriously paraphrasing bc I'm too sleepy to go look it up] Something like “If you have a lot of ingredients in your kitchen but still don’t know what to eat, maybe your problem isn’t a shortage of food… maybe you have a skill deficiency…” ha haa… the words “skill deficiency” echos in my brain whenever I look through my cupboards now. :-)
    I am new to your blog, so I wasn’t on board in time to properly prep for this challenge, but I really enjoyed following along and will plan to do it with you next April. (Maybe by then I will have sorted out a few of my shortages and deficiencies!) ;-P

  20. Over the course of the past month, we’ve bought two gallons of milk (I have no kids, but I am very much a gallon-a-week kind of woman), two pounds of coffee, and one package of Earl Grey tea. We also bought: One loaf of bread, which we ate, and one carton of eggs, which we haven’t actually opened yet, but which we did buy before the month was done. We’ve also eaten out easily half a dozen times, and bought chocolate. The $120 or so that I might have spent on groceries this month has, instead, gone to re-stocking our wine “cellar” with half a dozen bottles of “dinner wine” ($10/bottle, Ontario wine) plus a few other odds and sods.

    Things I am looking forward to re-stocking, as we are WAAAAAAAAAAAAAY below “par” on these fronts:
    Granulated sugar
    Tinned tomatoes
    Tinned tuna
    Frozen veggies
    Short pasta
    Marmite (which the grocery store was out of at the end of March, and may yet be out of still, but which is a favourite of my lovely wife’s)
    Tinned beans (less of an issue, but still there)
    Chicken and/or other fowl (I suspect that our Beltane Dinner – rather like our March 31st dinner – is going to involve a BBQ’d duck, purely because: Guh! Duck! :-D)

    I am filled to the brim with I-WANTs and, for the most part, what I WANT is to know that I have enough tinned tomatoes and enough VARIED frozen veggies to make those quick-and-easy pastas, curries, and chillies without my own brain/body going “Again???”

    See, we still have dry goods. We’ve got a TONNE of various grain products – amaranth, couscous, quinoa, millet, corn meal, wild rice, basmati rice (turns out I had a bag of the stuff hiding in the back of the cupboard), rice and soba noodles, wheat flour, and a wide variety of other flours all floating around and available – plus red lentils and a few other, less plentiful, dry beans still ready to be pressed into service. There are dried mushrooms, dried chilies, some thoroughly desicated dried tomatoes (you can break them up using a hammer, srsly), and a little bit of dried fruit (cranberries)… plus crumbled walnuts, almond flour, and pumpkin seeds also available.
    We’re good to go on the “things to survive on” front, for another month I suspect (and now that May is almost upon us, I’m starting to see dandelion greens coming out and know that there will be garlic mustard and similar read in a week or so).
    We even have some fish and sausages left in the freezer.

    What we don’t have, or don’t have “enough of” is vegetables. The elements of food that make FOOD actually taste good and interesting.
    I’ve got a cup of edamame (or less) in the freezer, plus one tin of tomatoes, a little over a pint of tomato sauce, a couple of chutneys (I’m thinking of doing diced moose sausage with apple-cranberry chutney over left-over lentil-quinoa mixture for tonight’s dinner), and a bag of frozen veggies that would need to be thawed for… quite a while… in order to be accessible (they thawed and refroze some time during the Pleistocene, and are basically one giant block). there might be some peas hiding somewhere, too, but… Not a lot to go on.

    What I’ve learned from this is that investing in more frozen (or dried, but frozen is tastier) veggies – broccoli, edamame, spinach (and other greens), but also stuff like eggplant, roasted tomatoes, snap beans, asparagus, and cauliflower – is a necessary thing, whether that investment comes in money (buying stuff from the store) or time (growing/foraging, harvesting, and processing) or both (freezing half of every CSA share, for example).

    I’ve also learned (or confirmed) that bringing tomato preserves into my diet is a good idea. For *years* I didn’t want anything to do with tinned tomatoes, tomato sauce, salsa, you name it. But these days, I use tomato preserves at least once a week, sometimes more, and this particular challenge has brought into sharp relief just how much I use, and appreciate, them.

    I’m a good cook. But, to echo your own words, my cooking is “resiliance cooking”. It’s tasty, but it’s not fancy, and it’s rarely something that I’m willing to spend uninterrupted hours on. I look at the meals you’ve made this past month – and I do realize that grilled/baked/sauteed animal + carbs + kale is not a time-intensive combination – and have no idea how to make stuff like that based on what I’ve got. (Maybe it’s the photography?) I wonder how much of that is your culinary (and photography, admittedly) skills versus how much of it is ordering a side of beef every year, or having overwintering veggies, or keeping egg-hens – having options in your “larder” that I don’t current have – versus how much of it is just Lazy Cooking on my part, opting for the 20-minute, two-pot meal involving tinned beans, pre-blanched veggies, freeze-dried pasta, tinned tuna, freezer fish or pork that can be cooked-from-frozen rather than something that needs to be thawed in advance (which is, I suspect, a fair bit of it).
    Unlike you, I didn’t entirely get over the Week Two Resentment (in my case, it was Week Three Flavour Fatigue, or something to that effect)…

    …Anyway. What I’m getting at is that I do a *lot* of pastas, curries, and stews… either as combination side-dishes or as a whole meal. In trying to stretch my proteins a little bit, and in not being able to go to eggs and cheese the way I might otherwise have done, those tomato preserves have become even more important in my cooking. That’ll be reflected in future grocery trips and canning plans, for sure. I suspect I’ll be creating my own “real food prep list” based on what I’ve learned from this experiment, and delving more into “once-a-year shopping” via meat and veggie CSAs, by-the-batch wine making, and sugar shacks.

    It’s been an experience. :-)

    TTFN,
    Meliad.

  21. All of those meals you listed sound amazing.

  22. I have to say I’m jealous of your culinary talents. I long to be more creative in the kitchen, and whip up nothing but homemade gourmet stuff, but the reality is meal planning and preparing stressed me out and is a chore. I hate being solely responsible for the healthy feeding of my family. It adds to my frustration when every night, my 6 year old complains non-stop during mealtimes about the food. Ugh.

  23. Thank you, Erica for such a smart idea! This challenge was, well…challenging! I enjoyed it and made much more of it than I thought I could. :) My family was not as cooperative as they could have been with hubby buying fresh fruit and veg several times. I had almond milk, but that was not a reasonable substitute for cow milk evidently.
    I did end up making homemade bread a couple times and who knew we ate that much bread? I also did a very good job of rehashing leftovers and usually we do not do that at all. Just have smorgasbord night and warm up what’s in there. This month I was creative and made it into something else! Your creativity must have rubbed off on me. :) I must say that the challenge DID show me how stale my repertoire has gotten to be. I will continue to pep that up. We are not nearly as adventurous as your family, but who says we can’t be?
    We have hens, so fresh eggs. My husband is an avid hunter/fisherman so we have lots of elk, deer and fish in the freezer. I buy chicken and bacon in bulk, so there is usually something good to eat. I found that we don’t can/freeze near enough vegetables and since I have a garden, I will have to do something about that. Have lots of frozen fruit tho for some odd reason….
    Going to keep going thru May except for allowing purchases of fresh fruit and veg and milk. I will ramp up my breadmaking (looking forward to your wheat bread recipe) and try to put away some veg so that we start a small stockpile.
    Thanks again, and here we go…….!

  24. I like the concept eating from the larder. I have done it for years on an irregular basis. I call the meals “one time only” because I just take what is there and make it work. They are tasty, unique and a fun challenge for me to prepare. I hope more people are inspired to take the challenge of creative cooking and using what is already at home.

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