Saturday, December 31, 2011

How to spend less time in the kitchen; creativity allows time and opportunity to save money

My kitchen is in the center of my home, literally. Geometrically and figuratively speaking, it’s much the same, yet, a bit different in mine than it was in my parents home. It is the heart and soul that binds our family in special ways. Maybe it was a Minnesota thing—we didn’t consider “lunch” as a meal (it was a coffee break with a snack/dessert)—but if we had called it a meal, we usually had five per day:
  1. Breakfast
  2. Morning Lunch
  3. Dinner (not lunch)
  4. Afternoon Lunch
  5. Supper (not dinner)
As I reminisce, I see blessings of eating and gathering near the kitchen. Some of these traditions have been important to carry on to my home and into the future.
  • My mother and father utilized our home as the communication hub of the seed business they built together.
  • Business management required mental and physical energy derived from nutritious meals and “lunches”.
  • Mom was an excellent chef, baker, business woman and homemaker. As I remember, she was always preparing something delicious or teaching us how to bake a cake (and other goodies) and help with clean-up. Food is a blessing in itself, but it means so much more when it is served with love.
  • In the winter months, it was a great place to thaw out; and a comforting place to chill in the summer.
  • Back then, there was no competition with a computer for passing time.
  • Much of the food we ate including pork (until they stopped raising pigs), vegetables and fruit was a product my parent’s farm.
  • My family of eight required a lot of food, economically prepared.
  • No fast food restaurants existed in the area.
  • Eating at a restaurant was a luxury which was reserved for extremely rare occasions. The concept that luxuries are indeed not necessities makes me cherish the fact that we were so happy without them. Perhaps, that is the secret to a content life. We learned that if you can’t afford something, don’t think about getting it until you earn enough to afford it. We also learned that it was a sin to covet things others had which we did not. The amazing thing is that I didn’t realize that I was missing a thing!
  • My parents had learned a healthy work ethic and self sufficient ways from my grandparents; they carried out many traditions, yet, we also enjoyed modern conveniences such as frozen pizza [which has become a “staple” in our diet as my son jokes].
  • Meals were a family event, shared together around a table without distractions.
  • Meals started with the prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus be our guest and let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen”. After the meal we prayed together “Oh, Give Thanks unto the LORD for He is good and his mercy endures forever. Amen”. At some point it was decided to pray both prayers before the meal instead of one before and the other after. This often catches others off guard, because it is not a common practice.
  • It was customary that a meal was followed by scripture readings and a teaching story from a devotional titled Portals of Prayer. After this, we prayed The Lord’s Prayer together before moving on to the rest of the day.
Times change. It is easy to lose our way and forget about important traditions. We choose what becomes the heart and soul of life and it is easy to forget to keep God in the top of our priorities. Most people do not have the opportunity to live on a farm, earn a living by working the land, build and run a business from home. We are called to various vocations which, when adding the commute, occupy many hours of our day.

If the New Year is a good time to make resolutions, here are a couple that are worthy of the effort:
  1. Strive to be a careful steward of God-given resources and time.
  2. Strive to remember the Creator and the giver of all good things. 
Tips to make the most of time in/near the kitchen, as brief as it may be. Be creative!
  • When I shop, I choose, primarily, items that are on sale—advertised to draw people into the store. I don’t spend time reading ads. Sale items usually are displayed well enough to find. I don’t allow much time to shop—that way I leave the store before buying too many items that don’t have price reductions. I stock up on the “deals” that fall into the basic nutritious food groups. I plan to be spontaneous and experimental in using my purchases. At certain times of the year, I shop during my lunch break and leave everything in the car until I get off work later. Other times, my husband drops me off after church and I shop while he fills the car with gas and stops at the car wash.
  • When there is something in the fridge and I experience “chef’s block” (at a loss for how to make it into a meal), I Google the item (along with the word “recipe”) for inspiration. I don’t worry about following recipes exactly as they’re written. Improvisation is an ingredient of creativity. Occasionally I go and buy special ingredients that weren’t “on sale” or ask my husband to pick something up while he’s out and about.
  • I make more than is eaten in one meal, almost always. 
  • Unless it “calls me” right away, I skip a day before serving leftovers again, to break it up.
  • I explore new ways to serve leftovers, especially when I only have enough to half-fill one person or not quite enough for the whole family. For example on the first day: chop chicken breast to stir fry with frozen veggies and serve with steamed rice. The second day, open a can of cream of chicken soup. I have leftover cream that I used in quiche a few days ago—there’s more than I can use in coffee—and I don’t have time to use it for another recipe, so, I use the cream instead of milk or water with condensed soup. Mix it all up with chicken/veggie/rice leftovers.  Wha-la! Instant “cuisine” is what I call creative leftover dishes. Serve a little shredded cheese on top of the savory soup and some crackers. Or slice cheese and serve on top of crackers. Or, spread a bit of cream cheese on those crackers. I guess you realize that cheese is a staple in my diet. Rich in protein, calcium and comfort, too.
  • Frozen pizza is made extra special by adding seasonal veggies (such as zucchini) and other goodies.
  • No gender discrimination in my kitchen—men/boys are as welcome as women/girls to share in food prep and cleanup—big difference between my parent’s kitchen and mine.
  • Roast a big chunk of meat or make extra meatloaf. Slice leftovers for sandwiches, adding a little dijon mustard and fresh leaf lettuce to make it better.
  • Stock up on a variety fresh fruit that is “on sale” and add a couple pieces to brown bag with a sandwich for a  lunch.
  • Eat a brown-bag-lunch on the way to the post office, library or while reading a book in the park during lunch hour. Save the luxury of “going out” as a treat for very special occasions. Save the brown bag to use again tomorrow (unless my banana peel went into it).
  • I save money by brown-bagging and utilizing each and every scrap of left over food in creative recipes I invent. This justifies a weekly splurge on a fast food meal from a drive-through which I am fortunate to have in the neighborhood. This takes place on Sundays after picking up groceries, gas, and a car wash. We eat on the way home to make more time in the weekend for relaxation and enjoyment.
  • When considering options for entertainment, let the kitchen take center stage. It might be easier to invite friends to meet at a restaurant (sometimes that is best), but inviting friends into your home is a warm gesture and often is more enjoyable than going out. If time is short or if the list of guests is large, don’t hesitate to ask others to bring something to share. Often they will offer and feel good about contributing to a meal. Inviting friends to your home is great inspiration to take on house cleaning and offers the benefit of accomplishing that task.
  • Remember valuable lessons you learned from parents. Do things different than they did to fit your own lifestyle and schedule. If you weren’t nurtured in a Christian atmosphere—until the day you die—it is not to late to receive the blessings gained from getting involved with worship/education by attending church and reading devotions. Find ways to pass spiritual gems on to your children. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train a child in the way he should go: and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Happy New Year! 

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