Waste not Want Not

This fortnight has been a less manic than the one before. We haven’t been near any museums – more’s the pity, but did go on a hike with the Pennine Wayfarers rambling club. We started from the exotic location of the Asda supermarket carpark in Radcliffe, north-east of Manchester and hiked along the Irwell valley. The scary bit was coming across a few patches of Giant Hogweed, which is toxic if you rub up against it and the sap can cause burns or blisters. It certainly looked virulent and threatening, towering above us, with leaves like fingers and blotchy thick stems. Even the flowers were ugly, like shaggy white shower heads.

Giant Hogweed
Giant Hogweed

Marvin Steals Lunch

The highlight of the walk was when we sat down, close to the Clifton reservoir for our picnic. A pitbull-like terrier, apparently named Marvin and bearing a striking resemblance to Muttley from Wacky Races, ran up and pinched our leader Vincent’s sandwiches, biting through the clingfilm. The owner was only vaguely bothered. He tried to call him back, to reproach him, but by the time that Marvin ambled back, the moment was over and it was too late for discipline. Vincent didn’t think so!

It reminded me of my favourite story about my friends Brenda and Glen’s dog, Bobby. (Sadly, he is no longer with us.) On this day, Brenda was walking in the Prestwich Clough, with her beloved dog. He was off his lead, because the Clough is usually very safe for this.

Bobby at the scene of the crime
Bobby at the Scene of the Crime

However, they came across a young couple having a very posh picnic, including half of a roasted chicken. It must have been a special occasion. The inevitable happened: Bobby ran up in excitement and snatched most of the chicken (maybe not kosher) and swallowed it, while running off. To make matters worse, he promptly vomited it back! Brenda was mortified but had no money on her to pay for chicken replacement. All she could do was to repeatedly say “I’m so sorry!”  RIP Bobby. You may be gone, but most certainly not forgotten.

Bobby
Not the Same Chicken

Returning to this week’s theme: wasted sandwiches and chicken by random dog-chewing, is quite unavoidable. However, there is much that we can do to avoid food waste. Judi is much better than me at this. I have learned some good tips from her to cut down on what goes into my recycling bin. I am a bit squeamish when foods look past their best. (My sister-in-law, Sue, once saw me throwing away an old packet of tomatoes and shrieked. She pulled the packet out of the bin and proceeded to eat the better ones while I looked on in awe.)

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When I was 18, I spent my Summer holiday volunteering at Kibbutz Beit Hashita. I was given work in the pickled cucumber factory. My job was to pick out bad cucumbers from the conveyor belt. It was soul-destroying work, made worse because down the line was an elderly Israeli lady who routinely put most of my cucumbers back onto the belt, to go into the pickling jars.

food vegetables cucumbers gherkins

Judi loves adding leftover vegetable and trimmings to her stocks. So, she uses the stalks of vine tomatoes, schmatty celery stalks, squishy tomatoes and dried ends of ginger etc. She says that ‘squishy and shrivelled’ are fine, as long as foods smell ok, there’s no visible mould and the stock is boiled up. I recently read that onion and fish skins are particularly healthy, having more antioxidants than the flesh. Onion skins are rich in quercetin, which is anti-inflammatory. Although the skins cannot be digested, by boiling them in a stock, the nutrients can dissolve into the water. All the loose ‘bits and bobs’ will be strained off afterwards anyway.

Judi doesn’t throw away the bones after a roast dinner but seals them into a zippy plastic bag and pops them into the freezer, for later use in stock or soup. Bone broth is rich in minerals and collagen and good for your immune system. That is one of the reasons why chicken soup is often called Jewish penicillin.

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Click here to read Judi’s recipe for Chicken Soup.  It is the perfect base for a risotto or stew. And of course, Chicken Soup!

Another way to avoid food waste is to only get what you need and not be too tempted by impulse buys. My son Daniel plans a week’s meals in advance and lists all the ingredients and sticks to this. This saves him a lot of money. I think you are more likely to be focussed on necessities when ordering food online, but I personally like to be able to handle, squeeze and sniff my fruit and veg.

Sticking properly to recipes when baking (which is, after all, a form of chemistry) is another good idea. I learned this the hard way when I attempted a gluten-free lemon cake and the shop assistant had told me that psyllium husks might make a good replacement for the rice flour, which wasn’t in stock. Disaster. I also tried using almond milk in place of regular milk, as my step-daughter is gluten-free/dairy-free. The end- result was truly disgusting and went straight in the bin. The only thing worse than throwing away a cookery flop is serving it!

left overs
Only Fit For the Bin

On a more serious note: some foods should be thrown away at the ‘use by’ date (which is not the same as the ‘best before date’) and especially if they smell ‘wrong.’ These include flour and other grains and nuts, because of the risk of mycotoxins. Also cooked rice should be chucked within 2 days. And it goes without saying that highly perishable foods like chicken and dairy products shouldn’t be kept after their ‘use by date’.  We just freeze things like that on the day we buy them if there’s a chance we won’t be cooking them before the ‘use by’ date.

KEEPING IT FRESH

I find that salad leaves stay much fresher if a piece of kitchen paper goes into the packet and it is then sealed with a clip. It seems to help to absorb moisture. I’ve been amazed how this can prevent spinach from going slimy. Judi prolongs the life of fresh herbs by putting them in a jar with a little water in the bottom and storing them in the door of the fridge with a plastic bag on top.

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Soft fruit, like strawberries, can be briefly soaked in water with a few drops of cider vinegar and then patted dry. This seems to extend the time before they become mouldy as the vinegar inhibits fungal and microbial growth.

Some foods are best not stored together as they require different humidity to prevent spoiling, so avocados and tomatoes should not ideally go into the same vegetable drawer in your fridge as the salad greens. On the other hand, if you have some rock-solid avocados that need ripening, store them with bananas – they release ethylene which helps ripen the avos. Incidentally, left over avocado salad will keep for a day without going brown if liberally sprinkled with lemon juice.

vegetable salad with wheat bread on the side

Last but not least, remember FIFO. Older foods should be pushed to the front of the fridge when you buy more, so as not to be forgotten and used up first. (First In-First Out.).

What are you favourite waste not want not tips and tricks?

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