Taking Stock of the Situation

If your community is like mine, this time of year, your WhatsApp chats are filling up with offers of various chometzdik foods, most of them from the freezer. That, along with the note in my BulletJournal calendar that said “Six weeks until Pesach,” kicked me into action. Time to start making room in the house for Pesach food to be brought in! As I’ve blogged about before (here and here), reducing food waste is a big part of making a difference toward a healthier planet. Did you know that around 21 percent of our freshwater goes toward growing and processing food that will wind up in the trash and, from there, most likely a landfill? And with all of the expenditures involved in making Purim and Pesach, making the most of what’s already in the house helps me keep my food budget for the next five weeks (kind of) in check. 

Step One: Know What You Have

I started by making an inventory of everything I have in the house. I use a simple Google Sheet with three categories: item, category, location. So, it might say “waffles (6), weekday, upstairs freezer” or “frozen peaches (1 bag), Shabbos dessert or weeknight dinner, upstairs freezer” or “matzoh ball mix, Shabbos meal, pantry.” My goal is to use at least 60% of the food we have in the house between now and when we turn the house over for Pesach. Reducing the amount of food that has to be moved also makes turning the kitchen over before and after Pesach that much simpler. 

I make the job of inventorying the house a bit easier by enlisting a kid to help; I let them choose between typing and going through the food, and I’m not above bribing them with extra screen time or treats to increase their enthusiasm for the project. I find it’s also helpful to break the project up. We did the upstairs freezer and pantry one day and the downstairs freezer another day.

Step Two: Get Creative! 

While some things will never be forgotten in the freezer (I’m looking at you, chicken tenders and french fries!), plenty of things get shoved to the back of a shelf and lost track of. It takes a little bit of creativity to bring those items to the table in a way that will make sure they get eaten. 

Early last week, my husband and I went to the fundraising dinner for Cleveland’s amazing Bikur Cholim organization. Bringing the incredible level of creativity they apply to all their efforts to help the Cleveland community and Jews who come here for the world-leading treatment options at the Cleveland Clinic, they put together a drive-through dinner. Delicious catered meals were boxed up for each car (or van, or truck, or limo), you picked up your food as you drove into a parking lot and then ate in the car while you listened over your vehicle’s sound system to an evening of entertainment on the stage at the front of the parking lot. I was very impressed by the fact that they used virtually no single-use plastic to package up the meals.

While we were having our delicious meal, my kids were having dinner at home. I found two meals worth of cheese blintzes in the freezer during our inventory. Inexplicably, my very picky kids do not like cheese blintzes. But, served with scrambled eggs, veggie sausage, and sliced fruit, they were willing to make them part of their meal. 

More freezer finds made their way onto the Shabbos table (or will in the next week or two). I made an insanely easy dessert using puff pastry squares and frozen strawberries. After leaving the items out to defrost, I just spread orange marmalade on the puff pastry and spooned the strawberries, after draining off any syrup, in the middle of the square. Popped in the oven at 350 degrees, the pastry browned and puffed up while the orange marmalade caramelized under the strawberries. 

In the past, this is a dish I would have made in a single-use aluminum pan, but I baked them on baking sheets with a silicone baking mat. The key is to clean the mats up while they are warm and any jam or syrup that made it onto the mats is still gooey and easy to remove. 

This is a forgiving recipe; you can pair up any number of jams and fruits. Orange marmalade is the favorite in my house, but I also had good reviews from blueberry jam with peaches, and I’m keen to try strawberry and raspberry jams. So far, I’ve only made these with peaches and strawberries, but I’m sure they’d be delicious with apples, pears, and blueberries. 

Step Three: Get More Creative

My next freezer-cleanout concoctions took a little more effort. Still, considering I used ingredients that would have wound up in the composter and made food for two Shabbos meals, it was a worthwhile investment. I started with vegetables—onion, carrots, celery—that I overbought for Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos. When I realized I wasn’t going to use them up back in the fall, I peeled the carrots and onions, sliced up the celery, and dumped it all into two freezer bags. 

(Of course, the bags had been used before, marked as fleishig, and washed. Plastic literally lasts forever, so there’s no reason not to reuse them. I do not use them to store uncooked meat because I worry about getting them clean enough to reuse safely. For freezing chicken, I use glass, freezer-safe containers with lids that snap shut.)

Those frozen vegetables, covered in water with salt, pepper, and spices added, and allowed to simmer overnight, made three glass jars full of vegetable stock I’ll use to make matzoh ball soup for the next two Shabbosim. And as an added bonus, I used the carrots and onions from the soup to make a side dish. I combined them with eggs, flour, brown sugar, and some cinnamon and nutmeg. I mixed everything together with an immersion blender until it had a smooth, creamy texture, then baked the mixture in muffin tins to make 18 delicious mini-kugels. That’s a side dish for two Shabbos meals, and the novelty of the muffin shape means all three of my kids might even try them.  

Step Four: Rehome

In addition to “reduce, reuse, recycle,” there are other ways to cut waste, including “refuse” and “rehome.” We’re developing more of a sense of what we—despite good intentions—just aren’t going to eat before it goes bad and refusing to buy those items. Since I got serious about cutting our food waste, I’m also more proactive about making sure I use things that used to go to waste. I’ve become a huge fan of turning browning bananas into delicious breakfast smoothies with the addition of cocoa, sweetener, and whatever milk or yogurt we have on hand. This has proved more reliable than my old method of freezing them to use “later” to make banana bread or banana cake. “Later” didn’t always happen.

I have donated nonperishable food to our local kosher food bank in past years, which has collection boxes around the community. To rehome perishable items, I offer them on WhatsApp groups and to non-Jewish neighbors and friends. So on Friday, my non-Jewish coworker was the happy recipient of two loaves of rye bread from my freezer. 

Step Five: Don’t Forget Purim

Now it’s back to getting ready for Purim! My first blog post, “Cleaning Up the Messiest Holiday,” was about Purim. Take a look back to find helpful hints for reusing at least some of the mishloach manot packaging and an explanation of what went in last year’s low-waste MM packages.   

I didn’t come up with a doable low-waste Purim theme for this year until two days ago, so it’s going to be a hustle to get ready by Friday. The idea I’m going with was actually my third one. The two great ideas that won’t work this year—because I would have needed to start saving packaging materials several months before I thought of the ideas—are noted in my BulletJournal for future years, with reminder notes on what I need to save and when I need to start saving it. Bli neder, I’ll have time to post more about our mishloach manot before the holiday!

Click here to see the full list of changes I’ve blogged about, and their impact.

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