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Monday, September 21, 2015

Pantry Attacked! Oh, The Horror!

That summer cold knocked me flat for a solid week. Worse, was that sinking feeling when you find yourself throwing back Nyquil cocktails just to keep going. Deep down I knew a quick recovery was futile. I was doomed.

This is the first sickness in 15 years that I didn't have to manage alone. Husbands, I've discovered are very handy.  The dogs were sweet too. It's funny how they know when you're not feeling well. 

There's something about getting sick that:
1. Makes me think of all the things I have on my to-do list.
2. Drives me into purging mode as soon as I feel better.

On Sunday, I attacked my pantry. I have a wonderful, big pantry, but it was time to whip it back into shape. It had begun to look like a catch-all for every little thing, and I was having a hard time keeping track of my staples. 

Because it's a long drive into town, I try to keep my pantry and fridge stocked. Most of my grocery runs are for fresh vegetables and anything that goes on clearance. If I wanted, I could go for weeks without hitting the stores, but I'd miss fresh veggies. My summer garden is all but spent.

I've started the fall garden which is looking great. I'll share some of the details on the next State of the Homestead report.

Back to the pantry. Even a small pantry can increase your ability to save money on food. In the early days, I started small, buying a few extra cans of whatever went on sale. I'm fastidious about checking expiration dates. And while I sometimes "try" something new, I generally stick to the things I know we'll use regularly. 

Loyalty cards: In the US, many grocery stores offer loyalty cards. Kroger, my local chain, regularly sends me coupons and freebies. I may not always use the coupons but I always grab the freebies. Even if I don't use it, it can be donated to a food pantry.

Double down on holidays: In the US, you are guaranteed some great food prices right before major holidays. Set aside a little extra cash to use in November when grocery stores have their biggest sales on baking supplies, turkeys, roasts, and frozen foods.

Freeze it: Every box of baking mix, flour, rice, or pasta goes straight to the freezer for two weeks. I don't take chances with weevils which you'll find in almost every package if you don't use it up quickly. Food distributors can't help it. For the record, weevils aren't harmful, but I still don't want to see them.

Use Glass: I retired nearly all my plastic containers years ago. Although glass is heavier, I find it easier to clean and disinfect. Plastic tends to absorb the smell of whatever was in it last.

Go in with a friend: Those big warehouse stores are great for large buys. If you can't use up a whole bag of flour or sugar, divvy it up with a friend that way you both save.

When I lived in an apartment, I dedicated one bank of cabinets to food. I stored my pots and pans in the dishwasher because I never used it. Big Reveal: This is the first year (in 40) I've used a dishwasher regularly. 

I know most people can't live without a dishwasher but it was only me and Greg and I felt it unnecessary to use the extra energy. Now I'm just busy. Easier to load the dishwasher and go on to another chore than do them by hand.

So how about you? Do you store food for more than a couple of weeks? Are you lucky enough to have a pantry? Do you use a dishwasher, or ever use it as extra storage?

What tips do you use when buying in bulk?

Because Melissa McClone reminded me...

If you want more tips on grocery shopping, try this book: smart grocery shopping


B.E. Sanderson said...

Alas, no pantry here. I buy meat in bulk when I can - and by bulk I mean the large package of chicken or burger. Then I repackage it into 'one meal' size baggies and freeze it. It's just the two of us and we only have the freezer on the fridge to work with. In the cold months, I make soups or stew or chili, and freeze the leftovers. I don't have much of a problem with plastic containers, but I stick to the Ziploc (or offbrand) reusable ones. When they get old, I throw them out and buy more. (Or reuse them in the garage for bits and things.)

I love my dishwasher. If it's a light night, I rinse everything and leave it until the next day. I rinse everything anyway, but it's not like actually washing the dishes so I don't have to worry about drying or having everything in the drainer.

My only tip for buying in bulk is to look for sales on large meat purchases - roasts, whole turkeys, big hams. The roasts I cut down into smaller roasts or into stew meat, and then freeze. The turkeys and hams, we cook and then freeze the leftovers. I use the bones for soup. (Always bone-in hams.)

Maria Zannini said...

BE: How weird! i was just at your blog, but my comment notifier didn't tell me anyone was here. Kismet!

Re: meats
Normally I cut my own meat, but on occasion, I sometimes ask the butcher to cut steaks or chops from one of those cryovacced packages. They can slice it any thickness and repackage it, all for free.

Yay for another bone saver! There's nothing better than soup made from fresh stock.

Sarah Ahiers said...

I would kill for a big pantry. We have a tiny one, that has more shelving that swings out, but most of the shelves aren't tall enough for tall bottles of, say oil. We actually built another slide-in shelving system for the gap between our fridge and the wall and that helped some, but we still end up with oils and other things sitting on the counter until they're either used or space frees up in the "fancy" pantry.

Jackie Burris said...

Maria we have a large pantry and I love, love, love it as it stores lots of things we use consistently and have a bank of cabinets that use for our roll towels, smaller food items like bottled sauces and spices and flour and such.

I do not buy bone-in meat often but do buy roasts, steaks, pork chops and chicken in large packages to repackage into smaller portions before freezing sand then cooking.

My dishwasher is brand new (well over a year and a half or so old anyway) but never used as we hand wash, it works well for overflow that needs a place to store until dry or can be put in the tiny dish drain we use once it is empty enough.

I am glad you are feeling better, I hope. :-)

Maria Zannini said...

Sarah: I remember you talking about your side pull out cabinet. I love that idea. Great use of otherwise wasted space.

The big/tall items are the tricky ones to store. Mine are almost always on the floor where I have the most room.

Maria Zannini said...

Jackie: Still coughing, but at least I'm functional.

Re: dishwasher
And here I thought I was the only one who didn't use her dishwasher. My family thought I was nuts--but that could be a separate issue. :)

betty said...

I like to use the dishwasher, maybe lazy, LOL, but I do find now that it is just hubby and me again at home that I only do 2 cycles a week so that's not too bad. I like your pantry! We don't have one quite that size but are working our way up to have a supply of food around just in case of things. I usually don't buy in bulk because I'm not sure I'm going to use it all while it still might be fresh, however, that might change in the future :)

Glad to hear you are feeling a bit better!


Mike Keyton said...

No pantry just cupboards. But we do have a dishwasher which we use once a week after the Sunday dinner. The dishwasher came with the house and I'd never used one before. I opened it and, to untutored Liverpudlian eyes, it looked like the dashboard from Star Trek. So I left it in peace...until the Korean wife of an Australian cousin came to visit us. She was astounded no one was using the dishwasher. Even more astounded when I confess I didn't know how. Bear in mind English was not her first language. She unearthed the manual. Poked and prodded various buttons and had us repeat the process under her stern gaze. When they left she left us a wrapped present - dishwasher tablets - and we haven't looked back : )

Stacy McKitrick said...

Never thought about getting the freebies at Kroger and donating them. Good idea!! I also never thought about freezing flour and pasta. If I ever get back into cooking (and I am thinking about it--honest!), I'll certainly keep that in mind. I hate bugs.

I've kind of cleaned out my pantry by using up all the old stuff. You don't realize how quickly time flies until you pull out a can of soup and notice the exp date was two years ago. Ooops. Right now I try to stick with buying what I will use in the next week. At least until I figure out what I want to do. I'm so flip-floppy at the moment. :)

Diane Carlisle said...

I had my pantry all organized about 4 months ago, now it looks like a tornado blasted through it. :(

You inspire me! I'll have this thing whipped into shape by this weekend. I promise you. haha

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I bought some things in bulk when I had four kids at home but not so much anymore. Like you, I go to the store mostly for fresh stuff. I do use a dishwasher but again, without all the kiddies around, we only run it once per day or every other day.

Susan Says

Anne Gallagher said...

Ah yes, the dishwasher as cabinet. I'm guilty there, although not so much anymore. And your pantry looks a lot like the one we had at the restaurant. I loved that pantry, so spacious, so bright. Mine is now a dark closet I'm tearing out when I do the kitchen remodel. I used to prepare for the zombie apocalypse with food stuffs, but not so much now. I find I'm not using it and then it expires. No use wasting good food.

Maria Zannini said...

Betty: Ever since Hurricane Rita, I've been a believer in having a stocked larder. I thought we were ready for emergencies back then, but after living 21 days without power or water, we came to realize how wrong we were. It was a valuable lesson I'll never forget.

I think the most critical part about stocking up is being organized. I try to keep all my foods sorted by type. It's not so easy when someone else helps you put stuff away. That's how the pantry got so messy in the first place. Greg is slowly starting to learn where I keep everything. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Mike: I love that story! I did regret not using my dishwasher all those years (mostly because it took up space) so using it as storage made up for it.

Welcome to the 21st century!

Maria Zannini said...

Stacy: You travel so much it makes it an extra burden to make food plans.

Re: freezer
Oh, yes. Please do. Chances are there are bug eggs in all our foods, but freezing them will keep them from hatching.

Maria Zannini said...

Diane: It doesn't take long, does it? Part of my problem is that I had to incorporate the food Greg had in his house and put it into the rotation. He had a lot of ready-made food that I just don't use as I prefer to make it from scratch. So now I have to make a conscious effort to use up his stuff first.

Throw some pictures up of your cleaned out pantry when you're done. I almost always see your updates on Facebook.

Maria Zannini said...

Susan: When I was a kid, my mom used to make all four of her daughters take turns washing dishes. We each had a day.

Sadly, the boys in the family were exempt. (pre-women's lib!)

Kids make the most dishes. It only seems right to make them clean up. LOL.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I rarely use the dishwasher. Either my husband or I wash the dishes by hand. I actually find washing dishes to be therapeutic in a weird way.

Maria Zannini said...

Anne: I have to thank Greg for the new improved lighting in the pantry. I was grumbling once that my eyesight was failing because I couldn't find anything in there.

He pulled out a ladder and put in two new LED lights that made it nice and bright. It's a pleasure to go in there now.

Maria Zannini said...

Madeleine: True! I get some of my best ideas washing dishes by hand!

Melissa McClone said...

I have a pantry, but it's in disarray at the moment. We could get buy for awhile if we needed to. Hmmmm. Why are you not linking to that great book of yours that helped me get mine in order?

Maria Zannini said...

Melissa: LOL. A smart person should link her book, wouldn't she?

You got me. When I get home I'll update the post. Thanks for reminding me.

My next victim will be the big freezer. It won't take as long, but I hate getting cold. :)

Lynn Viehl said...

I'm glad to know you're feeling better, too. :)

I generally stock enough canned and nonperishable food in the house to keep us going for about three or four months and, during hurricane season, enough drinking water to drink, bathe and use the bathrooms for at least a month. We have the well and a generator to run it if the power goes, but after the nightmare season of 2004 I take nothing for granted.

I like to handwash dishes when I can, because it helps to soak my hands, but I'll run the dishwasher when we have guests so I can spend time with them instead of the sink.

I don't like to freeze too much because we're plagued with power outtages here, particular during the summers, and I had to lose three freezers full of meat before I learned not to store too much perishable food at one time. But when buying in bulk I always try to go for variety versus a big quantity of any one thing. Canned peas are great, but after a week of eating just peas you never want to see one again. :)

Angela Brown said...

Glad you're feeling better :-)

Since it's just me and the kiddo, we don't use the dishwasher either. Our pantry isn't large but I try to purchase staple foods that can last for a few weeks then go for the fresh fruits and veggies on the weekend.

Thanks for the tips. Will have to make use of them.

Maria Zannini said...

Lynn: We no longer live in hurricane country, but I know the drill. Most of the natural disasters where we live now are tornadoes and wildfires.

I am woefully neglectful of storing water. We've been discussing having a well built, but we're not sure where to start drilling. Our area is kind of dry so a well would be a godsend.

Re: variety
Good point! When we got hit with Hurricane Rita we got tired of canned foods fast. It was 90 miles to the nearest operating grocery store so you ate what you had or went without.

Variety and a few sweet foods would've helped a lot.

Maria Zannini said...

Angela: I'm glad I'm not the only one who ignores the dishwasher. :)

I wait all year for the pre-Thanksgiving sales. I'm making room in my freezer right now in anticipation.

Jenny Schwartz said...

I hadn't thought of freezing flour to deal with weevils. Great tip! I've found that a bay lead taped to the inside of the lid of the jar (and I agree - glass every time!) helps prevent them getting into the flour.

I love pantries :)

PS Glad you're back on your feet

Barbara Ann Wright said...

We have a hard time storing food because we both hate to cook. We do buy a lot of chili and tuna, though, anything that's really easy.

Years ago, we bought in bulk and split it with friends. We don't have anyone nowadays to split with, though, but I remember it being very handy.

Maria Zannini said...

Jenny: I do it with anything edible (by weevil standards). Those suckers won't stop eating until they run out of food.

Maria Zannini said...

Barbara: Splitting costs helps a lot. I've often considered raising a calf and split the animal between friends. It's not necessarily cheaper than buying meat in the stores, but at least I'd know it was humanely raised with no chemicals or hormones.

Rebekah Loper said...

I have a few staples I keep on hand - flour, salt, butter, rice, wheat berries (for freshly ground whole wheat flour!), sugar, lentils (because we eat a fair amount of Indian food now), etc. I don't keep my white flour in the freezer unless I (rarely) am able to buy more than 2 bags, because I will go through 2 bags in a few weeks.

One of the downsize decisions we made when we transitioned from the rented condo to the house was giving up a dishwasher and a garbage disposal. I haven't really missed the garbage disposal that much, but the lack of a dishwasher is something I notice from time to time. Especially post-dinner when there's a stack of dishes to be done.

Lynn Viehl said...

Maria, if you get a decent amount of rainfall it might be worth it to invest in a covered rainwater cistern versus a well -- we're thinking about it as we get deluged here during the late spring and summer. I'm doing research into the ones with filtration systems so we can convert the rain we catch into drinking water and possibly pump it into the house. This is mainly because our groundwater is iron-heavy and we have to keep testing it for nitrates from the neighboring farms.

At present we keep about a dozen 25 gal. plastic containers to store water (we keep them empty and only fill them when we get a hurricane warning), but they're getting old and eventually we'll have to replace them.

Maria Zannini said...

Rebekah: When you're used to a dishwasher (or any appliance) it's hard to go without.

I don't mind doing dishes, but it is disheartening to see a pile of them and no volunteers to help me. ;)

Maria Zannini said...

Lynn: I was pricing those plastic containers the other day and they're terribly expensive. You can't take the chance reusing just any container either, but I'd like to find something for short term use.

We have several 300 gallon cisterns Greg acquired from his company before he retired. They'll do for the animals and garden, but they're too far away from the house. I'm really hoping we can drill a well for home use as our rainfall is limited. We'll have to check its potability though. I'm hoping since the neighbors' wells are potable, ours will be too.

Lynn Viehl said...

On short-term storage containers -- a cheap way is to save half gallon or fallon milk containers over time (assuming you buy the plastic kind.) Wash them out really well and store unlidded in a big garbage bag. Then if you need them they're clean and ready to go. Before every storm I fill about five, freeze them and then use them in our big cooler to keep milk and perishables cold (they melt slower than bagged ice.)

When me and my guy first got together we began buying one or two new 25 gal. water storage containers every hurricane season, which is why we ended up having so many. The problem with them is actually storing them somewhere. We kept them in the attic until we realized the heat was making the plastic brittle. Now we keep them stowed in a little room under the staircase that is cooler. They're still getting old, though, and there's no way to permanently patch them if they crack.

Maria Zannini said...

Lynn: I'm slowly accumulating gallon sized tea containers (we don't drink milk). I bleach them then let them air dry. It's a slow process though.

I think I might bite the bullet and do what you did, every spring buy at least one large water storage container a year. The plastic cisterns are good for animals and flushing toilets, but I'd like a more portable and potable container for drinking water.