Mike showed up, and tells me he's reorganizing and rebuilding our pantry, so it is more user friendly and has more available room to put it, so in the meantime, all the food that had been in our pantry was spread out throughout the entire upstairs of our house, which is what was stopping me from being able to come inside. (Don't worry, just as soon as he finished building, he put it all back.)
I cleared off the table so I can put all my groceries on display, and then slowly my husband and I managed to transport the groceries through the very confined space.
The table was packed and photographed, and then I tried to put it all away.
The fridge was too full.
Or was it?
No, it just was disorganized.
I went through the fridge, shelf by shelf, removing things that have spoiled due to neglect, combining like with like, and tossing bulky mostly empty plastic containers that used to be filled with fruit.
Eventually, there was room in the fridge.
Bit by bit, I filled the fridge with the food from the table. And then I reached an impasse. Because despite having sorted and organized and emptied out the fridge from extraneous things... there wasn't room for that last box of fruit to go in the fridge.
Too much food and not enough space to keep it all.
Blessed first world problems.
Meanwhile, Mike, who finished building the new shelving for our pantry called down to me "Penny, do you have any idea how much food we actually have here? There is an insane amount of food. When will you ever get around to using most of these stuff?"
So I need to figure out what to do with it all.
Because I still had all that fruit and the large amount of chicken parts that I got free that had to be dealt with. With no room in the fridge.
I think it's at that point that I decided that a pantry challenge needs to be done.
People do pantry challenges for all sorts of reasons. Often it is for financial reasons (like if money is short, so people just use what is in their pantry instead of buying new). But my reason for doing one now? Because I have just so much stuff that I never get around to using, because I keep on buying new things, using them, and buying new of the same items again, instead of using what is sitting on my shelf, picking up dust. I have no business buying any more food when I have no room to store it, when my husband needs to make more shelving units to store food that has been remaining and would still remain uneaten if I don't do this pantry challenge.
How long can I go without buying any new groceries?
I may make a slight exception for milk (for cereal) and tomato paste (if I run out, since I use it so much to add flavor to foods my family may not be so keen on eating otherwise).
But in short- my goal is to use up those items that are currently just clutter but were bought with the purpose of being used for nutrition.
A friend pointed out that, if we're moving in a few months, it may be a good idea to try to use up all those things in our pantry before the move, so we don't have to move all that food with us. I'm not sure if I want to use it all up and have to buy everything from scratch right when we have all the other expenses of moving... but there's so much food that I don't even know if I can use it up before we move (which may be November, but who knows).
A difficult aspect of this pantry challenge is that my family eats a lot of rice. White rice in particular. And I don't have white rice anymore. I do have lots of other pseudograins, like buckwheat, both toasted and untoasted, brown rice, quinoa, and corn (not to mention lots of instant mashed potatoes). I think I'll just have to get creative and find ways to replace the standard rice with these other foods.
So, what am I doing with all this food?
Well, yesterday I rendered a huge amount of chicken skin and fat. Took all the skin and fat that were in the bag, washed it well, then filled an entire dutch oven with it. Added some water and set it to boil away and melt the fat.
I bagged 5 separate large freezer bags of chicken frames to use for soup, and put them in the freezer, save for one, which I boiled until cooked, then removed the meat to use for meals.
Supper needed to be made, so, pantry challenge in mind, I took some buckwheat and lentils and decided to cook them up with some fried onions in my pressure cooker. Since the huge dutch oven of boiling water and chicken skins was threatening to bubble over, I used some of the liquid in there to cook my buckwheat and lentils, as well as some of the broth from the chicken frames. Tasted yummy. I enjoyed the few bites I had (unfortunately, more than that and my sensitive stomach would protest) and the kids enjoyed it enough, or at least tolerated it (who knows- they ate it, that's what matters, yea?) with ketchup and a salad.
When the chicken skins released most of their fat, I strained it out, and set aside most of the chicken skins, leaving only some in the pan. I wanted the skins to crisp up, and couldn't imagine it happening in a pot packed to the brim with the skins. I added a little of the rendered fat and the skin in the pan crisped up and turned into delicious crackings, rendering more fat and filling the pan with more delicious shmaltz. Then I strained that, set it aside, added more chicken skin and repeated that (three batches total).
I strained the shmaltz and now have two large and one small jar filled with that liquid gold.
Somehow, I found room in the fridge for all that.
My goal with all the food in my house right now is, firstly, to appreciate it, and realize that many wish they were in my position. Secondly, it is to not waste what I have. That means repurposing leftovers so they don't sit in the fridge uneaten. It also means keeping an eye on what I have, and use up the produce that has a shorter shelf life first, and only then use the things with a longer shelf life.
Thirdly, it's to get creative. I may take inventory of everything in my pantry and lay it out for you, so you can give some suggestions for what to make with it...
Wish me luck!
Have you ever done a pantry challenge? Why did you do it? Ever do it because, like myself, you simply don't have any more room to store food?