Eat From The Larder Challenge: Week Three Wrap Up

Let’s imagine for a moment that this isn’t a corner of the internet dedicated to growing vegetables, cooking good food, hanging out with chickens and periodically swearing.

Let’s image this is Upworthy.com, a website dedicated to sharing mildly interesting and/or uplifting things marketed with the most annoying yet compelling headlines ever.

If Upworthy were to title this post, it would be called something like this:

  • This Compressor Spent Ten Years Locked In A Cold Dark Room. When It Finally Gave Up, I Nearly Cried.
  • I Thought It Was A Refrigerator, But Then I Smelled The Milk.
  • Try Not To Roll Your Eyes When You Hear About This First World Problem.
  • I Thought This Kitchen Appliance Was Unstoppable. I’ll Never See Cold Storage In The The Same Way Again.

On Friday of last week the compressor on our fridge died. Temperature was sitting at around 48 degrees when I discovered the problem. The freezer had crept from from 0 to about 25. I immediately took action by eating all the melting ice cream. Priorities.

I wish I could say that I’m surprised, but the truth is this rather fancy, name-brand fridge has been one giant, expensive mistake from the minute we bought it ten years ago. It’s been repaired countless times, it’s sprung leaks and peed all over our floor, damaging the floor and kitchen cabinets. The particular model had a problem where the door fell off and squished people, so there was a recall and the door hinges were replaced. The ice maker breaks so often my husband can field strip and repair it before the ice even starts to melt. The paint on the door is literally bubbling up and rusting off for the second time. I’d bang my head against the fridge in frustration except for the very real possibility the entire door would fall off and kill me.

Duel file this one under “First World Problems” and “World’s Tiniest Violin.”

Meanwhile, we have a second fridge in the garage. It’s a 15+ year old hand-me-down value-line Hotpoint that cost maybe $350 new. It has given us zero problems. Typical. I use the second fridge to hold curing meats, fermented items, food experiments in progress for this blog, overstock fruit and vegetables I’ve purchased or harvested for processing and my collection of seeds.

Because of the Eat From The Larder challenge, our main fridge was fairly empty, which was a blessing when I had to play Food Tetris to arrange everything in the garage fridge. But my hand was forced on some freezer items that became refrigerator items due to space constraints. So more than any other week so far, this week has been about using up what must be used up. So, yeah, for lunch one day we ate puff pastry jam tarts. Try not to judge. I’m not saying it was healthy – I’m just saying I didn’t have to throw out puff pastry. Also, I think I need bigger pants now.

Psychologically, I feel like (major kitchen appliances repairs aside) we have a better groove than we had last week. Instead of throwing fits about not going to the Muffin Store, my son asks, “Is the laddah challwenge ovah yet?” and I say, “No, not yet, sweetie,” and he just sort of sighs in this sad, resigned way.

Here’s what we’ve been eating:

Breakfast & Snacks

Eggs continue to get laid at an impressive rate, so most breakfasts are quick-scrambled eggs.

My quest for a rocking homemade granola bar is over! These Cranberry Chocolate Chip granola bars based of the recipe in the DIY Cookbook are great and actually hold together.

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Puff Pastry Everything – when the fridge died, I had several sheets of frozen puff pastry that became not-frozen puff pastry. I made a faux chocolate croissant type thing, blackberry jam tartlets and savory caramelized onion hand pies. All were, frankly, delicious.

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Lunches and Dinners

After an early April dearth of veg, I am relieved to say the garden is producing enough for me to get my greens on. One of my overwintering cauliflowers (Maystar) headed up last week. My intentions were good – roast it for dinner with curry, or maybe make spicy cauliflower. But I couldn’t help myself. I ate the entire head, floret by floret, right in the garden. Didn’t even share.

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Braised elk shanks got paired with whole wheat spaghetti as we continue to eat down the game in the freezer.

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Leftover shanks, plus leeks, cauliflower greens, and a few parsnips from the garden were turned into this “kitchen sink” soup – as in, I put everything in it but the kitchen sink. With flatbread and a salad from the lettuce that’s finally large enough to harvest, it made a great meal.

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Of course the infamous killer hamburger was thoroughly enjoyed….

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After the fridge died, we were left with a rapidly warming whole chicken and a thawed meatloaf that needed eating. So one dinner was basically just meat – chicken and meatloaf patties cooked on the grill and served with a bunch of dipping sauces. This became a few lunches, too.

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Classic rice and beans! I think we’ve managed to avoid this pantry cliche up until now, but the truth is, we really like rice and beans. With a little home canned pork shoulder, some roasted corn salsa and a dollop of frozen guacamole this was a very satisfying meal.

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A bunch of frozen burritos that I made several months ago for fast school lunches were taking up room we didn’t have anymore, so I converted them into fake enchiladas by laying them in a baking dish and covering with a mix of tomato sauce and peach salsa (surprisingly tasty) and a handful of shredded cheese. Baked until hot and melty, they were really good with a side of the thawed guacamole from the night before.

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We didn’t do much for Easter. We aren’t particularly religious and Homebrew Husband was seriously sick all weekend. I had plans to try to make a fancy From The Larder holiday spread, but nothing came of it.

All in all, feeling solid with the challenge. I expect all the money we’ve saved this month eating from our larder will get funneled into fridge repair or replacement which is a bit bittersweet. On the one hand, it’s awesome that the financial impact of something like a dead fridge can be mitigated by tapping into our food stores. On the other, I would really rather that money go towards other things. I’ve also considered just going without that fridge for awhile and seeing if we really need it. Time will tell.

How is the challenge going for you? Are you eating down your food stores? Are you happy with the money you are saving? Will this change the way you eat, or are you itching to get back to more convenient options?

DIY Non-Toxic Weedkiller That Works
{Reader Question} What Foods Should I Preserve?

Comments

  1. Mary Hall says:

    Oh, god how I look forward to your posts. They always crack me up and make me think. Sometimes even in that order.

    Good luck with your new fridge.

    • I know! I was, let’s not say stalking, that has an ugly undertone, but I checked last night to see if the new week’s post was up yet. And then checked again and then told myself that no, going to sleep was more important than checking one more time.

      Our month has gone wonky and I’m not even trying to keep up with the challenge in my own, much less substantial way, but I’m still really enjoying the updates and as I build up a real pantry in the years to come, I’m sure I’ll think of this idea each spring and while I doubt I’ll do a full month, I’ll be more mindful of consuming the foods that keep getting pushed to the back.

      • This post was late – sorry about that. Typically they publish at 4:30 am Pacific Time but this weekend with a sick hubby I didn’t have much writing time, so I wasn’t able to get it done Sunday night. I tried, but eventually had to make the call that going to sleep was more important than getting the post wrapped up. :)

        I’m glad this series is fun, even if you aren’t doing the challenge yourself.

        • Myra Gallier Zocher says:

          You are like a dear friend. Love your posts, and look forward to them….because, well….YOU CRACK ME UP! Repeatedly. Keep up the great work, we all love you.

    • Thanks!

      • I would have tried to do this challange if a simillar thing had not happend to me a few months ago. We had a small chest freezer in the basement that died on a week that i was supper busy with work and since i wasnt cooking as much i didnt notice till it was beyond to late! Lost a duck, at least 2 chickens, a pork shoulder and some other assorted cuts of meat from our csa this is not grocery store meat i got on sale this is realy good quality meat from local farm! On top of that i lost i dont know how many lbs of strawberrys and peaches that i picked and pealed/trimed and froze countless hrs and dollars in a puddle of meat juice in bottom of freezer, along with i dont know how many qts of frozen chicken, beef and elk stock i made, bags of veg scraps and bones i use to make more stock, frozen corn zuccinni etc. Any way I shed a tear and cleaned the mess totally filled my garbage can with muck. We had a decent amount of things I canned last season but it would have been very difficult to pull this off without the items in freezer to work from. Our upstairs fridge is small and wonky as well. By this time next yr we should be able to give this a go when I get new freezer and restock, but reading what you did was fun at any rate, congrats on catching the broken fridge before you had a bunch of goo to clean up!

  2. It seems like appliances have become less dependant than those of the 60′s and 70′s. I live alone and downzsized to a 3 room apartment and now have a 20″ electric stove and an apartment fridge. This year I am trying to decide how to fit a small fridge and freezer into my living room and am wondering what the noise level will be.
    This is my only option if I want more fridge and freezer space for pickles and room to freeze farmer market goodies. Decisions decisions!

  3. You’ve changed the way we look at food. We haven’t been diligent about not buying food this month (milk, yogurt, fresh veggies and a ham for Easter dinner all made their way into our house), but we have been inspired to really buckle down about planning and cooking from what we already have, and I haven’t been obsessive about replacing things as we use them up. I have pared down a lot just by planning to cook from what we have on hand, and I see no need to really build the store back up – it was ridiculous. We have an emergency food storage supply which we aren’t touching, too. This challenge has made me feel like a bit of a food hoarder!

  4. Refrigerator space strictly follows Parkinson’s Law, being promptly filled if more space becomes available – or, painfully, requires sacrifices if that space is involuntarily reduced. I know how crazy it is to grill up a dozen Pat LaFrieda steaks, too many pounds of their superb hamburger, and who knows what else, all because the garage reefer decided it was time to die. And yeah, the ice cream made great smoothies with the frozen fruit. Worse yet, all my pants shrank at the same time!

  5. Except getting a little hoard-ish from seeing the end in sight of some favorite foods, we’re doing great (as long as we still like artichokes – we’re going one every night for over a week). I also discovered quite a few greens growing in volunteer places from the chicken coop litter, so we’ve had a salad with up to nine leafy ingredients from the “yard”, since only some of the lettuce, chives, parsley and celery are in the veggie garden, proper.

    What I’ve done before I’m doing again, only more creatively and vigilantly, like saving the Guiness draught and brown sugar cooking liquid from the corned beef dinner, and making baked beans with it yesterday along with some bacon and a lone single hotdog from the freezer. I also thawed out a flattened baggie of lime juice whose date was not very clear, but I think it said 2010! I mixed it with sugar and some grated ginger root in hot water and made a great refreshing drink. I was also encouraged to try a refrigerated low cal cheesecake that got me to open the knox gelatin packets I’ve had on had for who knows how long. I had to make some adjustments to the recipe (no sour cream so I drained some yoghurt overnight), then found a whole slew of ideas on the internet of what to do with the whey (made flaky biscuits) and we had a very satisfying Resurrection Day dinner. I’m still loving the challenge, but we are taking a respite tomorrow and going out for dinner for our anniversary. :-)

    Thanks, Erica, for the inspiration. I was just thinking that my husband and I need to decide on a good cause to share our food savings with (I think some will go to your tip jar for your appliance or other needs). And yet, our cupboards are still full of ingredients to make more food with, so we’ll stick with this for awhile yet. I sure don’t miss going to the grocery store! I think it’s actually been less stressful for me to decide what to make with what we have on hand, rather than decide what we’d like to eat and then go shop for all those ingredients.

    • Addendum: later today I caught my husband sneaking a box of soy milk into the refrigerator which he picked up at the store while he was out. Hmmm, we had a big “discussion”. Not sure if it will remain in the frig or go back on the pantry shelves until May 1…

  6. This post is reminding me that I’ve got frozen puff pastry and filo pastry, too! I’ll have to make some samosas soon, while I still have some ground meat.

    I made a little pile of expired or nearly-expired food on the kitchen counter and we’re slowly working through that. We’ve both been sick, so I haven’t made as much progress on it as I wanted to, but we’ll get there. My honey went out and got us fast food on Saturday and made the mistake of stopping at the store for cream for the hot cross buns, so we’ve got plenty of chocolate bunnies to snack on now. On the other hand, being too sick to go on our planned weekend road trip probably meant we ate out less than we would have, so there’s that. Our Easter dinner was hot dogs and buns from the freezer, plus potato salad and green salad.

    I’m enjoying the creative and learning opportunities I’m encountering this month. We’re almost out of my favorite mustard, so I’m going to research how to make it. I’ve got some canned water chestnuts to use up, and Epicurious gave me some ideas for them that I hadn’t considered. And for tonight’s dinner, I’m going to find out if you can use corn tortillas for quesadillas.

    • Mustard is super easy to DIY (especially whole grain types) but it’s best if it sits for a week or so, so you might tackle that project sooner rather than later. We use corn tortillas for quesadillas all the time – totally doable!

    • Corn tortillas make the BEST quesadillas. So tasty.

  7. I successfully made our Easter candy! Not hard at all and biggest takeaway is that it doesn’t stay as fresh as commercial so should be made within a few days of Easter (after the kids get it, it will disappear fast enough) See at https://www.facebook.com/157129571013790/photos/pb.157129571013790.-2207520000.1398124368./682772121782863/?type=3&theater ) Also learned you shouldn’t hoard lettuce cause you can’t buy more–some of it may go bad on you :(

  8. I missed the start of this challenge, or I likely would have participated. Except for next Saturday, when I have to eat out for what might be termed work.

    Even so, I have been, accidentally, participating anyway to a degree. I suddenly am avoiding the grocery store as much as possible, and I desperately need to defrost the second freezer, so I’ve been trying to empty it. Not very successfully, as I’ve been adding compost to it for the community garden I just got accepted into. But I’m dropping that off tomorrow, so we’ll be able to see from there.

    I’ve also been working on emptying the other freezer, on the theory that freezer space is at least partially fungible. ;)

  9. Most refrigerators now operate via a computer board. Any power loss can fry the board. I had this happen and now have my frig on a surge protector, cost to fix was $135.00. If you get a new one make sure you take care and do this. I have on several occasions through out my life lived without a refrigerator, once for over a year. My daughter and I were vegetarian so this helped. I love having a frig but to this day I try not to be so dependent on it. I remember how my grand parents lived their lives and try to get more in line with that.

  10. Etta, in Michigan says:

    I loved the money saved by not running to the store every week and the time spent. I did began to miss the fresh salad greens. Our freezer contains several pounds of ground beef and the remains of the pig we butcher last Fall, but when my beloved ran out of ice cream, that was the breaking point of the Lager Challenge for him!
    Love your posts Erica, keep on keeping on!

  11. JG from Virginia says:

    Erica – Have you thought about eating the outer leaves from the cauliflower like collards (long braise + something cured)? Can you even do this with cauliflower?

    • Absolutely! Can’t let those greens go to waste. I added a bunch to my soup last week, but in general all the heading brassica leaves are edible and can be used like collards or kale. Cauli leaves are particularly nice, broccoli leaves a bit more powerful in flavor, I don’t usually bother with brussels sprouts leaves because I groom them from the plant as they yellow.

  12. Quite impressive! Your menu keeps getting more gourmet as the challenge goes on. I’m curious if there are any challenge-induced improvisations that you’ll add to your repertoire going forward?

    When I read earlier last week on Facebook that the fridge was out I wondered WWLID*?! Really, one of the thoughts on eating from the larder in the first place is figuring out what one might do in the event that there were life’s circumstances which would necessitate an urgency to do this exclusively. A tepid fridge certainly qualifies as urgent.

    Great lesson in delayed gratification this month for the little guy. Any thoughts on the challenge from HH … I mean, in addition to cursing the blasted fridge? Looking forward to any before / after pictures on the freezer, fridge, or larder!!

    *(What would Laura Ingalls do?)

  13. Chris B. says:

    Oooh, any chance you could post the recipe for your granola bars??

  14. Oh, man. I’m so sorry about your fridge (and glad you have a back-up). Does your second fridge spend a lot of time not in use? Like, is it usually unplugged except for a few months a year when it’s storing brew-in-progress or an over-abundance of kale or tomatoes for preserving? Or is it the kind of thing where maybe you invest in a bar-fridge (possibly cheaper + uses less energy) to be your “second fridge” and move the current Second Fridge into the kitchen?

    As far as week three has gone… I’m currently thankful for the half-a-jar of alfredo sauce I have left in the fridge. Alfredo covers a multitude of sins, or so it would appear. We used up our last three eggs on Sunday (and they were delicious) but I tell you what, I am craving both (a) quiche, and (b) yoghurt. Something fierce. I’m counting days until I can re-stock on those items. The stuff I would use my yoghurt-cheese (over-cooked it) in all involve eggs – stratta, fritata, quiche, that kind of thing – which I no-longer have. Aargh! O.O

    Beans and grains have been making regular appearances – I’ve been cooking the lentils in meat stock to bump up the umami and make them a little more palatable (I usually use lentils to bulk up the protein content in a curry/stew/sautee that needs to be stretched, rather than making lentil-specific dishes). My plan for this evening is to use donated-from-a-meeting cauliflower and cellery plus frozen chard (or whatever I pull out of the bag-o-mystery-greens) and reconstituted mushrooms in order to do a lentil-quinoa curry dish for three…

    If Week Two’s big hits were jam-intensive pancakes and a much-needed batch of breakfast/snack muffins, Week Three’s hit was fish tacos.
    I made “edamole” and rigged up a stove-top version of my tomato-peach salsa – of which I was already all out – using tinned tomatoes, frozen peaches, and an arbol chili, and served them on home-made crepes… A bit tricky in the prep (for me at least) but they did the trick and went over really well. I’ll be making these again (… once I can re-stock on eggs for the crepes, that is).

    What I’m learning: Making dinner isn’t the challenge. Making dinner *desireable* is the challenge. We eat a lot of stuff-on-pasta and stuff-with-grains (quinoa and rice being the favourites) so we’re not all that far outside our comfort zone, food-wise, but… ye gods… I am so tired of dry foods. I keep wanting to douse everything in coconut milk or cream sauce. I kind of want to eat an entire duck by myself, possibly with cranberry sauce (I could do the cranberry sauce, but I’m lacking the duck) and steamed butternut squash, but no plain-starches what-so-ever, and follow it up with something like a chocolate mousse (got the chocolate, lacking the cream and the eggs). Is this normal? It’s not like our diet is lacking in fats…

  15. Serious bummer about your fridge – although eerily perfect timing. I’ve been really enjoying your Larder Challenge posts, and they have inspired me to join in. Thank you! I actually made a New Year’s resolution in 2012 to start using up the food I have stored in my “vault” (two deep freezers and a walk-in pantry). I have been making decent headway so far, but the idea of a dedicated *month* of eating down the larder has been great for us, especially at this time of year.
    I wrote a blog post to share, if you want to check it out ever (it includes links to my previous resolution posts, too) http://www.chefheidifink.com/blog/seasonal/eating-down-the-freezer/

  16. Any way you could tell us the make and model of this awful fridge, to save readers from accidentally buying the thing?

    Your meals this week look delicious, as always.

  17. We totally snagged leftover fruit, ham, and a hambone from Easter dinner. Since I didn’t go to the store, I’m calling it good. :) This week it’s been a split pea soup using up frozen stock and Easter ham, homemade refried beans with rice, pork, and home-canned green tomato salsa, and a stirfry with leftover pork roast. I’ll make tortillas later this week for some skirt steak fajitas. This weekend, we are making pasta with friends (and using my great-grandma’s chitarra from Italy) and we’ll have that with Ina Garten’s bolognese sauce- I’ve got three more batches frozen. Luckily, someone else will be bringing the salad since I haven’t planted my garden yet.

    I keep telling my husband how awesome I feel to be doing this. I know I can cook good food, but it’s a whole different ball game to try and prepare meals based on knowledge and available ingredients, not just shopping for a specific recipe. This is fun!

  18. I’ve been enjoying this little “mini-series.” I hope that you’ll do a follow-up once the challenge is over–what it will be like once you go back to buying foods, etc. I imagine your son will want to go to the “muffin store” the minute you tell him the challenge is over. He sounds so adorable, BTW.

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