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Making thrifty work

By Staff | Oct 7, 2011

I’m a thrifty girl.

When we were first married and my husband was a graduate student, he joked that I could make a casserole of a bread heel. We had nothing to waste, so I wasted nothing.

But I didn’t learn thrift to accommodate our genteel poverty. It’s the way I’ve always been. Let’s just say that I was born ahead of my time, anticipating the recycling movement long before it became the zeitgeist.

These days, I have more to spend at the supermarket. So when we planned a trip to the Shenandoah Summer Music Festival to hear Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, as a foodie I was put in charge of our tailgate buffet.

Nothing fancy. Some fried chicken tenders, to eat cold with dipping sauces; some fresh strawberries; and a nice spread of fresh, raw veggies that I could elevate by calling them crudits.

It was just me and three guys: my husband and a couple of buddies. I really didn’t need to elevate the meal at all. They ate with their hands and completely overlooked the coordinated plates, napkins and cutlery that was provided. And they didn’t touch the veggies.

So I was left with more raw produce than two normal people can consume before it goes bad. Fortunately, the early September weather offered a week of dreary rain. I made the biggest, baddest pot of vegetable soup you’ve ever seen.

It was a Sunday, and I planned to spend the whole day in my jammies, indoors, reading multiple hefty newspapers. With soup simmering in the kitchen, it would be a perfectly scented, cozy scene.

But I had no pork fat. This may seem a small matter. But you can not start a pot of anything good without a little of the pig.

So I got dressed, went to the store and got my side meat. I diced it, rendered it on low heat for almost an hour and when the meat was crisped and the fat liquefied, I dropped in diced onions and caramelized them for awhile. After that, came the crudits: carrots, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, celery – each first given a quick whiz in the food processor. Some chicken stock made it soup, some fresh tortellini made it hearty and a long simmer made the house smell good.

But sometimes thrift goes the other direction. From party food I made soup. From leftover bananas, I made party food.

We just don’t eat bananas fast enough in my house. Invariably, the sweet, dark banana-skin freckles that signal ripening evolve into blackening fruit on my kitchen counter, with a few fruit flies flitting above to signal produce past its prime.

That means it’s banana-bread time. Eggs go into a bowl and are whipped with sugar, then combined with mashed bananas and dry ingredients. And just to make sure it’s all good, I throw in some pecans and chocolate chips. I keep those things in the cupboard all the time. I mean, why not?

But an entire pan of chocolate-chip banana-nut bread is too much for just the hubby and me. Fortunately, one of the guys from our Bela Fleck excursion was hosting Bocce. That meant plenty of guys slinging Bocce balls and looking for sustenance on the sidelines. I sliced the bread, settled a napkin in a basket and arranged the slices.

It’s nice to bring a little something tasty to a casual party. Besides, I knew the bread would be consumed while fresh. And I didn’t want to waste a crumb of that bread.

It wouldn’t be thrifty.