Seven weeks without food shopping? Too easy, let’s keep going

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Still plenty in the pantry!
Still plenty in the pantry!

Priscilla returned this weekend, making it a full seven weeks without food shopping. How did it go, you ask? Was I down to thin gruel by the end? Hardly.

In fact, the seven weeks have been super-easy, and I’ve hardly made a dent on our pantry supplies. There’s even meat still in the freezer!

It’s proven to be a worthwhile exercise, for a number of reasons:

  • I uncovered a number of items well past their best, including a tin of malted milk powder with an expiry date of 2005. (The usual story, happens to everyone.)
  • There were bugs in a number of the stored items, including a whole civilisation of crawling things which had made half-opened packets of pasta their home.
  • Some of these dead items went to the chickens (pasta, yum!), the rest to the worms.
  • As a result, I spent some time getting most things into sealed jars, with good labels. That should keep things longer, keep out the bugs, and make them easier to find stuff.
  • It’s also uncovered some hidden treasures: bottles of vegetable oil, lost at the back of shelves; a lifetime supply of tinned chickpeas and lentils; plenty of tinned tomatoes.

So far Priscilla has dinners such as roast lamb (frozen left-overs) risotto with kale, and sausages with mashed potato and steamed home-grown cauliflower. So we’re not starving!

We’re going to keep going, to see how long we can last. Nine weeks? Perhaps ten? Or even twelve?

I’ve bought some breakfast cereal for Priscilla (she’s not keen on porridge), plus some milk. On the flipside, with plenty of oranges and grapefruit in the garden, no need to buy orange juice.

I’m looking forward the challenge of still cooking delicious meals, as our supplies drop and the options narrow. 🙂

For seven weeks, I’m not shopping for food

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No shortage of food here!
No shortage of food here!

It’s easy to hoard food, particularly with a pantry the size of ours. Jars, tins and bags of ingredients lie dormant at the back of shelves, unearthed a decade later, long past their best.

Since Priscilla is away for a seven-week work trip, I’ve decided to do something about this.

I’ve set myself a challenge: I’m not going to shop for food for seven weeks. Instead, I’m going to eat entirely out of what’s in the garden, pantry, and freezer.

There are a few reasons for this:

  • I want to deliberately run down my stored food stocks, to make sure everything gets used before it goes off.
  • It’s a challenge as a cook I’ve wanted to do for a while: work with what I’ve got, rather than running to the supermarket for specialty ingredients, just because a recipe asks for them.
  • Explore what eating frugally turns out as, and whether it’s easy or a burden.

I’m a bit behind on my blogging, and Priscilla has already been away for four weeks, with three weeks to go.

So far it’s been pretty easy, and I’m actually starting to worry that I won’t make enough of a dent in my supplies before Priscilla returns!

A few practicalities

In the spirit of full disclosure, and to show that I haven’t become a hippie fanatic:

  • I am doing a small amount of shopping ($20/week), for three items: milk (no cow at home), tonic water (hey, a man needs some pleasures!) and cat food.
  • I had a number of work trips in the first few weeks, and then our big work conference, so that cut down on the number of home-cooked meals.
  • When the guys come around each Monday night, we order take-away food.
  • I’m still buying lunch each day at work, because life is busy.
  • I bought a bag of sugar, to make some marmalade.

All that being said, I didn’t do any stocking up before I started, other than buying one bag of potatoes

What have I been eating?

For dinners, I’ve been eating well, including:

  • stir-fried Chinese cabbage and purple beans
  • chickpea curry with home-made flatbreads
  • lamb chops with celeric and potato gratin
  • vegetarian fried rice
  • Indian lentil curry and pan-fried cabbage
  • vegetable soups (from stocks in the freezer)
  • (to name just a small selection)

For breakfast, the Weetbix in the cupboard won’t last long, so I’ve also been having fermented porridge or eggs on toast.

Every weekend, I bake sourdough bread, including white, spelt and rye loaves.

I’ve had guests around at various points, and I’ve cooked:

  • five-element Japanese meal for two, featuring pumpkin simmered in sweet sake
  • Sunday lunch for three, including home-baked sourdough bread, roast beetroot salad and home-made pickles
  • home-made pasta for two, with basil pesto
  • potato and lentil dal for two, with rice and cucumber pickles

In short, so far so good! I’m enjoying the challenge, and may even stretch it out by a few more weeks…

Pantry and cool cupboard in action

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Our new walk-in pantry, with hand-made kauri shelves

No kitchen should be without a walk-in pantry. We had a temporary pantry in our old extension, and this proved the benefits of storing stuff in shelves, rather than lost in the back of kitchen cupboards.

So a pantry was a key element of the new house design. It ended up behind the rammed earth wall, conveniently off the entrance to the kitchen. We asked Ian Thomson to make the shelves, which are a simple construction out of kauri (the same as the kitchen benches and floors).

The cool cupboard, with doors open

A key element of the pantry is the cool cupboard. This is an idea that I stole from somewhere, but I forget where now.

As shown in the diagram below, the cool cupboard works as follows:

  • cool air is drawn up from under the floor
  • this cools the cupboard, making it suitable for storing potatoes, eggs, drying herbs, etc
  • the air is then expelled out a chimney through the roof
  • the system is driven by the heat of the fridge, which is vented into the upper part of the cupboard
How the cool cupboard works

This is a win-win solution: the cupboard is much cooler without any active cooling or fans. And the fridge runs up to 30% more efficiently, due to the extra ventilation.

Inside the cool cupboard, showing the wire shelves with plenty of space for a big harvest

How much cooler is the cool cupboard? The results speak for themselves:

  • Kitchen –> 23°C
  • Pantry –> 21°C
  • Cool cupboard –> 12°C

That’s cooler than the ambient temperature outside, which is 18°C at the moment in our mild Sydney winter. Not bad!

Details on our eco-kitchen

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Key elements of our eco-kitchen (click to see larger version)

Our kitchen has ended up a little out of the ordinary. Starting from a clear focus on low chemical use and simple materials, we’ve made a few decisions that might be interesting.

The key points on our eco-kitchen:

  • We’ve completely avoided using melamine-covered particleboard (“whiteboard“), as this  emits huge amounts of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), is considered industrial waste when the kitchen is taken apart, and can’t be recycled. This is truly nasty stuff.
  • Instead, we used an E0 FSC-certified birch eco-ply from Finland (of all places!). “E0” indicates the lowest level of VOC emissions, and this ply has every certification going. It’s also a truly beautiful material.
  • The inside of the cupboards are protected with shellac, a lot friendlier than many of the artificial sealants.
  • The benchtops are unsealed solid kauri, with experience in other kitchens showing that while they wear and mark over time, ongoing gentle cleaning keeps them looking beautiful.
  • The cupboard fronts are solid kauri, painted with low-VOC Haymes paints (no two-pac polyurethane coatings here!). In addition to being much better for the environment, the semi-gloss paint gives a much softer and warmer feel to the kitchen.
  • The walls and ceilings are also painted with low-VOC Haymes paints.
  • The floors are solid kauri floorboards, with a tung oil finish (no polyurethane finishes again).
  • LED lights are used throughout, including the downlights in the ceiling and the strip lighting under the upper cupboards.
  • The large servery window (which can be opened onto the deck) and the upper window behind the cooktop both bring in lots of natural light, reducing the need for artificial lighting.
  • The moving glass is double-glazed, while the fixed glass is triple glazed.
  • The fridge (brought from our old house) was purchased as the only 5-star efficient fridge at the time, slashing our electricity bills.
  • There is an under-floor vent beneath the fridge to draw in cool air (increasing efficiency by up to 20%), with a wall vent that goes into the pantry cool cupboard (more on this in a future post).
  • We chose a water and energy efficient Miele dishwasher, installed new as part of the fitout.
  • We have an on-bench compost bin, collecting scraps for the big compost bins and worm farms outside. There is also a recycling bin inside one of the cupboards.
  • There’s a walk-in pantry beside the kitchen, which is cool and dark (also to be covered in a future post).

We love the kitchen, and it’s both practical and beautiful (we think).

As it turned out, commercial kitchen companies couldn’t cope at all with our requirements. So we had it made by a local craftsman, Ian Thomson (see his website for more on this work).

While it isn’t a cheap option by any means, we’d highly recommend going down the route of a bespoke kitchen, as it gives the time and opportunity to really refine what will be delivered.