Monday, October 28, 2013

Operation Pantry Purge Part IV: The Muffin (Wo)Man

Since Matt was not looking forward to wheat bran meatloaf, I thought I'd better pick up some buttermilk to make bran muffins instead.

The recipe for enlightenment.

I have made these muffins before and brought them in to work to receive surprisingly good reviews for something so healthy. Plus I thought they might make a better gift for our weekend host than an oatmeal packet.

Even though this recipe dirties three bowls, 4 measuring cups, and two muffin tins (though by employing dirty-dishes-avoiding techniques, I reduced my mess by 1 bowl and 1 measuring cup each since I didn't have Yuri this time), the end result is worth it.

Happy little bran muffins.

However, if there is anything of which Matt should be afraid, it is not "wheatloaf". Rather, it is the raw bran muffin mixture. I can't help but be surprised each time I make these and they don't taste like the ground bologna salad they so uncannily resemble in their unbaked state.

Sometimes you have to bake with faith that it's all going to turn out okay.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


I can't take care of everyone (I can't even take care of myself), but I feel compelled to try. I feel called to give of myself as much as I can, that others might feel loved, might feel the Love, might see and understand that it is not my love or my will or my strength that is caring for them, but it is God's love/will/strength reflected. I am not my own and would not want to be. I take care of me so that I can take care of others.

I wonder if this is how women of child-bearing age feel when they want to have children. When the biological timer goes off and they want a baby more than anything in the world, does it feel like they are compelled to love another, despite their own flaws and inability to even really care for themselves?

If so, I am closer than I have ever been to wanting a baby--the only problem is the size. Babies are sort of cute, but they aren't very interesting. Their thoughts are limited. It is the adults who deeply feel, who have experienced much, and who are trying to take care of themselves and others who I find more interesting. Babies cry for food, comfort, and protection, but adults cry for forgiveness, passion, and purpose. Can I just adopt an adult or two or three or four who need loving and support (and food and comfort and protection)?

If you said yes, don't worry, I already have. I'm a crazy cat lady of adopting people into my circle of care. It might not look like it--I only have legal custody of one--but I can't stop myself from getting all heart-panged and melty whenever one wanders near enough to really get a good look at. I confess, sometimes I try not to look, because my heart feels so full and I don't know what more I could possibly do. Because sometimes you have to let someone else adopt the next stray cat.

I'm worried that you will believe me less if I show you my hand. That you will say I am not very good at loving you or the people you see around me. I will be the first to say that I am not and that I have a long way to go. That I could love more people more deeply. That I could be less selfish and more giving. That there are a million, nay a few billion, more people I could love and care for. Strangers, babies, sick people, poor people, people I don't agree with or don't like. It is true! It will always be true. That is why I can't rely on my own strength to get me by.

I can't take credit for any success I've had in connecting with you, or affecting your life, or being there for you in your time of need. It is but selfishness, chance, and misunderstanding apart from God. But it is important to me that I recognize my calling, know why I am crying when I see your beautiful heart broken, and forgive myself and try again when I fail to love you as completely and perfectly as the love of the creator I am trying to emulate. It is only when I give up my life that I am truly alive.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Operation Pantry Purge Part III: Be Our Guest

As the pantry purge continues, we invited our friends Nick and Yuri over for an adventurous dinner of whatever could be made from pantry ingredients.

This isn't much different from what I usually do for dinner, but when we have company, I try to plan ahead so it isn't as risky/random. This time, we not only didn't plan ahead, but we invited our guests to participate in the tv-cooking-competition-style experience.

When they arrived, they each took a turn sifting through the pantry items looking for options. Yuri selected a can of black beans, and left it to Nick to come up with the rest. He only made fun of a few of the items he encountered as he dug around and fished out a box of dried hashbrown potatoes, a bag of quinoa, and two cans of mushrooms. Matt and I surveyed the selections and found that the back of the quinoa bag had a recipe for black bean burgers that would work nicely with many of the ingredients in the house.

Black bean burger ingredients
As I set to work heating up the chicken broth for the quinoa, I invited Yuri to pick out a dessert from among the brownie and cake mix boxes still crowding the top shelf. She selected the“Chocolate Ugly Cake Mix” and spearheaded that effort, managing to bake the dessert and get it on the cooling rack long before the rest of us finished our parts of the main meal.

Understandably concerned about our protein options in the pantry but appropriately engaged with the spirit of the event, Nick had brought over 4 hotdogs, as well as some beer, Russian-style vinegar-less pickles, and sauerkraut that looked like coleslaw. Nick fried up the hashbrowns, mushrooms, and the hotdogs cut into thin strips while Matt and I fumbled through the slightly complicated black bean burger recipe.

Matt contemplates what he's done while Nick forges ahead with the skillet items.
“'Patty' is a loose term...” Yuri said as we tried to form the black bean slop into burger shaped patties for frying purposes, and 'loose' really was the best way to describe it. The recipe called for 3 cups of cooked quinoa, and while I only had 2 left in the bag, we had far more than the '7 to 8' patty yield suggested. But we persevered, and even if the texture didn't end up burger-like, it did taste pretty good.

Despite being almost 9pm when we finally sat down to eat, the meal was a success. In total, we removed 10 items from the pantry: 1 box of hashbrowns, 2 cans mushrooms, a bag of quinoa, a can of black beans, a carton of chicken broth, and a box of cake mix, as well as two boxes of pudding and 1 canister of protein drink mix that were well well beyond their suggested “best by” date.

Did I mention how amazingly wonderful Yuri is? She did all the dishes! I heart her!
So thanks for coming over, Yurolay! (Yurilay? Nickori? Can I call you the Ikhazas?) Our pantry is a better place because of you.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Operation Pantry Purge Part II: Cereal Killers

To wash down tonight's tastings, we have selected tea as our beverage of choice. There is no way we could thin the tea collection by 30% in the next two weeks, but we show spirit and dedication to the cause all the same.

Tonight, anything breakfast-y gets pulled from the closet. A much smaller pile than the “snacks”.

After condensing the unexpired oatmeal packets, we turn to a box of granola that seems to be leaking granola out the bottom corner. Not a good sign. “It's only moderately stale” Matt says as he chews. I give it the universal thumb over the shoulder sign for “pitch it”. Another granola gets the ax because it tastes ew. Not sure if that is due to age or intention by Bare Naked brand. Swig of tea.

I wonder how we are going to make a dent in this oatmeal/cereal in the next two weeks if we only eat it for breakfast on Saturdays and we're going away the next two weekends... You're supposed to bring your hosts a gift, right???

Belgian waffle mix. Status: less than a quarter cup. Um..... that's enough for like one pancake.

Unproccessed wheat bran, ~ ¾ cup. The back of the box has recipes so I look up what we can make with only that much. Meatloaf or bran dinner rolls. “Wheatloaf?” Matt says. “Yuck! You're going to have to sneak that in if you want me to eat it...”

Quaker oatmeal. Best before Jan 2008. Guess we haven't made oatmeal raisin cookies in a while. Hard to tell if it's really “bad”, but it's nearly 6 years old and opened, so I give it the boot. Matt wants to keep the container however, as it has re-usability potential. “It's a good quality item. If you don't mind my asking, how much did she set you back?” he quote-jokes.

“Look at all these other products Silver Palate makes!” Matt shows me the Silver Palate brand oatmeal box and points at a picture of a jelly jar: “Chutney is my horse's name.”
“You have a horse?” I inquire.
“Well, it would be my horse's name if I had one. Or my Southern daughter.”

So far we have reclaimed two chip clips.

This is how the 7 boxes of cereals (that we only eat on the weekends or for lazy dinners) fared:
  1. Frosted flakes: still crispy and don't expire until next month. “Non-nutritive cereal varnish. coats and seals the flake, keeps the milk from penetrating it.” (keep those National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation quotes rolling, Matt!) Kept.
  2. Spidey berry: Weren't good to begin with and expired. Thus, axed.
  3. Spartan crisp rice: several years past and still crispy! But pitched out of principle because the cute child on the front is probably in college by now.
  4. Corn Chex: not expired but not fresh...
  5. Barbara's shredded oats: expired this year but not bad.
  6. Honey Nut Cheerio: just expired but the flavor remains.
  7. Golden Grahams: unopened and unexpired.

I spot another box of wheat bran hiding amongst the brownies! Unopened and hardly expired. Unfortunately, we don't have any ingredients in the house to make any of the recipes besides the “wheatloaf” so Matt's still out of luck.

Brownie mix tower

Lastly, judging that oatmeal may not make the best hostess gifts after all, we jump ahead and take stock of the boxed dessert mixes: 7 brownie, 3 cake, 1 bread, and 1 tiramisu. Two are selected for immediate production. We clearly have more work to do in this area...

Operation Pantry Purge: Snack Attack

Matt and I are borderline dry good hoarders. Collectors of canned, boxed, and bottled foods. When we moved in, the obvious closet by the kitchen was deemed too small for a pantry, so we fixed up the larger closet in the dining room to suit our food storing needs. Truth be told, the dining room closet makes for a rather large pantry for two people, and our diverse collection of teas/cereals/soups grew accordingly.

The problem with hoarding is that it becomes unsafe. What used to be a walk-in pantry is now more of a lean-in-and-reach pantry. Cans regularly dive bomb toes from overpacked shelves. The peanut butter impaled itself on a beer bottle. The wound suffered by the leaping corn syrup was not immediately discovered, and, well, you can imagine the sticky mess that ensued.

Pantry before the Purge

Enter Operation Pantry Purge.
  • Goal: Make pantry useable again.
  • Definition of success: Floor space cleared by 90%, contents of shelves reduced by 50%, and tea tray can be extracted without contents toppling over. Pantry users can feel safe perusing cans.
  • Strategy: Reduce stock by pitching inedible food and eating/donating ~33% of good food. Organize and store food better.
  • Deadline: November 1.
  • Exempted: Liquor, reusable Meijer bags, and brooms on wall.
  • Not exempted: plastic bags and paper products.
Floor: Don't worry, the caps with stars are sparkling water.

We begin by getting rid of the inedible snack foods.

After pulling all the snack foods out, and deciding that granola bars are breakfast and not snacks, we each select a beer to wash down our samplings. The beer serves a double purpose, really, because opening space for two more beers in the fridge means two fewer beers in the pantry.

Surveying the lot of it, I can see that there are certainly some easy wins, such as cookies that I know are from last Christmas. We agree that we don't have to test-eat anything past its expiration without regret, but decide that unopened, expired items might be worth a nibble later on in the process. I pull the trash and recycle bin closer for easier disposal.

First up, Keebler Pecan Sandies. Status: mostly eaten. Date: Feb 2013. Number of bugs: 1. As Matthew goes to try a cookie, I tell him he definitely doesn't have to eat it if there are bugs. He shrugs, saying the bug was not in the same compartment as the cookies, and takes a bite. Verdict: stale, but not bad. “Do you want to try it?” he asks. I decline and he pitches the package.

Next, Walkers Short Bread Rounds. Date: Nov 2013. Status: 8 of 9 cookies remain. No bugs, at least. We each sample a cookie. Whoa, that's a strong butter flavor! Despite being open for who knows how long, we decide they are okay, but I feel like I should chase that with something salty and a swig of beer. Wow. Walkers makes a buttery cookie.

Matt turns to an unlabeled ziplock bag with 4 lady finger cookies in it. I recall these being leftover from a tiramisu we made months ago. Matt takes a bite and declares that it tastes like an old, dusty Christmas ornament. As I have never eaten a lady finger outside of a tiramisu, I'm not certain how Christmas ornament-y they usually taste, but I try a bite anyway. Edibility aside, we declare that we have no use for these and pitch the contents of the bag. Swig of beer.

Two mostly eaten packages of Pepperidge Farm cookies (Milanos and Genevas) were expired or nearly expired when we bought them from the Pepperidge Farm outlet store in the summer. These packages have been thoughtfully resealed after opening by our past selves with masking tape, which is better sealed than many other opened crackers and cookies currently in the pantry. I decline to try them, but Matt says the Milanos (exp. 9/13) are a little soft but still with good mint flavor. They are pitched. He decides to keep the 2 Genevas because of the chocolate, but tosses the bag and begins a little pile of cookies he intends to eat later. Again, I decline to taste.

Next comes a half-consumed package of Keebler Fudge Stripe Dark Chocolate cookies. We ate some of these last night and they were okay. They can stay.

Trader Joe's maple leaf cookies. So delicious in their prime. “Too good to eat” all of last fall, in fact, despite being “Best by April 2013”. Six cookies remain in a poorly folded plastic covering inside the box. Bug count: 1, but on outside of plastic. Eagerly anticipating their tasty maple cream filling, we dig in. Soft but yet somehow oddly crunchy. Smell good, but flavor is only a hint of its former self. After one bite each, we reluctantly pitch 'em.

TJ's dark chocolate stars, clearly from last Christmas. Best by March 2013. Opened plastic bag inside a box. Status: 2/3rds empty. Matt selects a star cookie for each of us, avoiding ones that have white spots on the chocolate. He reports that some stars have inseperably “hooked up”. After less than one bite each, they are quickly rejected due to cheap chocolate flavor and soggy shortbread cookie base. Swig of beer to wash it down.

Matt tears open a two-pack of Biscoff cookies I was pretty sure were going to be bad. He reports that it is crispy and delicious, so I make him give me the other cookie. He is right. Well, almost. They stick in your teeth in a way the fresh ones don't, but I am happy to eat a decent cookie so I keep it nearby for chasing the less-than-tasty cookies yet to come.

Mini-peanut butter cups from last christmas. Smells like aged peanut butter. Exp Date: Oct 2013. Hey, that's this month! And yet, ew, that isn't even peanut butter anymore. More like peanut dust in a crappy chocolate shell. Despite being mini, we each deposit at least half a cup into the trash. I take another bite of my chaser Biscoff cookie.

Recently purchased pretzel bites get a pass on tasting tonight. I didn't like the when I tried them, but Matt did, and so he is taking the box to work for snacking. A win for OPP in any case.

Granola Thins. Matt always enjoys these when I steal them from work, but when I purchase him a whole box of his own, he neglects to eat them. They expire in two weeks. I vow to hide them somewhere and then bring them out one at a time saying they're stolen from work to see what he does.

Keebler Grahams crackers. Status: mostly empty. Expiration date: April 2010. Ummmm, why is Matt sticking that in his mouth right now?? Facial expression and lack of words indicate that this was a bad idea. Best he can come up with is “Tastes like some sort of perfumed cleaning product. Or dryer sheet.” He takes a big swig of beer as he dumps the box.

Mostly eaten bag of Garden of Eatin' Sweet Potato corn chip. Best by Jan 2014. Yum. They have sugar on them, I think. Mmm.

Unopened bag of oyster crackers. Best by July 2013. We'll try these when we get to the soup on the other side of the pantry.

Snyder's honey mustard and onion pretzel pieces. Unopened. Best by Sept. 2013. Generally considered by Matt as “too good to eat”. As I find them rather gross, he's on his own for those, and usually finds himself on his own after he eats them because of his terrible breath. He sets them aside to continue not eating. As long as he has a bag in the pantry, I guess he won't buy another, so really, we're saving money the longer he holds onto each expired bag.

Half sleeve football Ritz crackers. We opened that sleeve on Sunday and have eaten on them twice this week already. Fortunately, they are the last of their kind as we know they are not from this football season...

One short stack of unopened saltine crackers, not yet expired. To remove the bulky box, we store them in the collector's edition Ritz tin and move on without opening to taste them.

Crunch black and white rice rolls from Trader Joe's. Status: 7 of 8 remain. I think I bought these before last Christmas. They are sort of sweet and like a rice cake, but it turns out I don't crave sweet rice cakes very frequently. Also, they were a weird shape and too large to bite. Matt says it looks like a stogie. Very chewy. Clearly not the right texture since the box says “crunch”. I return to my beer and Biscoff cookie to remove the after taste.

Bag of TJ's trek mix. Status: 80% uneaten. Best by May 2010. I encourage him to sniff before he eats. This convinces him to just pitch it, and I am relieved. The pineapple pieces look like petrified wood.

Part of the snack shelf pre-purge.

Onto the dried fruits.

Unopened bag of dried apricots are good. Mostly eaten bag of cranberries also get a pass. Mostly eaten bag of Craisins from 2012 must have slipped behind something else. Matt tries one and says “well, they're really dry now,” and pitches them.

Vacuum fried pineapple chips from Trader Joe's. Exp Nov 2012. Retain signature crunch and acidity which keep one from eating them very fast.

Bag of dried pineapple from my father. Matt thinks they taste smokey. He may be correct, but I've never had this kind of dried pineapple any other way, so the flavor tastes normal to me. *shrug*

We have uncovered a lot of plain popcorn. Will have to make some caramel corn or something to use that up.

Two bags of bacon popcorn. I popped and shared one bag at work and I have to admit, it was weird. Let's just eat bacon as real bacon, okay? If you want bacon with something else, just add slices of bacon to it, not bacon flavor. Eight bags of other misc microwave popcorn with misc. exp dates. Maybe I'll take some of these to work for afternoon snack. One is caramel corn. I wonder if that is any good?

Unopened chocolate cordial cups are left for another day. They might pair well with the mousse mix I spy on the other side of the pantry. Unopened packages of Triple Berry Newtons and Dark Chocolate Sandies as well as 5 unopened apple sauce cups (exp. 2014) also stay untested.

And that concludes night 1 of thinning the pantry! We tackled the most unruly section first to "secure early wins" (literally the only concept I learned in one of my grad school classes, so I like to repeat the advice frequently), so future OPP chronicles will likely be shorter. ;)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Let's Go Stand-Outside-In-The-Rain-All-Day Blue!

Over the years, I've sacrificed a lot of personal comfort in pursuit of one thing: Michigan Football. Whether it be cheering from the packed stands on an 85 degree day with high humidity, or watching the team nearly lose to an unranked small school that nobody has ever heard of, I have suffered my fair share of physical and mental discomforts. And for what? Entertainment! Camaraderie! Marching band! Worth it? Generally! ;)

Today I am attending the homecoming game as a member of the alumni band. And for the second year in a row, rain is predicted. Why am I doing this again? Oh right, because last year was ridiculously fun and I thought, "What are the odds it will rain two years in a row? I've been to so many football games where it hasn't rained. Surely, surely it will be even more fun when it's not raining!"

And so I got up (at weekday work time) this morning to the sounds of rain pouring down, voluntarily got wet for the first time today (by showering), and attempted to plan out (to the best of my abilities with what I own and what the weather could be like at any given moment) what I should wear and bring with me for the day. Wish me luck! But don't weep for me (unless Michigan loses)--I get to hang out with my best friends from college* playing our trumpets (after virtually no practice) in front of an audience of 110,000. It's going to be rad! GO BLUE!

The view from the sidelines on a rainy homecoming game day in Ann Arbor, 2012.

*Except for the one who accidentally punctured her foot this week and subsequently won't be here--miss you, friend!