Making do: Trying to live with what’s on hand

Do you ever try to do something just because it sounds like a good idea?

When federal employees were furloughed in January, I talked to one of them about her situation. She said she always had plenty of food on hand. Except for a few perishables she thought she was doing quite well.

I too have a lot of food stashed away. With the exception of one sister, it’s a family characteristic. We don’t seem to do well unless we have cans of this, jars of that and boxes of something else.

A trip to the grocery store seldom results in just picking up what’s needed. I manage to snag a few things that are on sale —soup for instance is always a sale item that captures my attention. And then there are the things that sound good and the little treats for the grandson or something to make my husband happy. Of course I don’t ignore my own cravings.

In the case of my sister, brother and other relatives in Idaho, this need to stock up and keep things full not only extends to the shelves of the pantries and the cupboards not crammed with dishes, bowls and baking dishes, but to freezers as well. I only have the freezer that came with my refrigerator. My sister, who lives alone, has two refrigerators and a small freezer — just in case. She’s prepared for whatever — unexpected guests, expected guests, power outages and winter storms. She might get bored, but I think she could survive for weeks on end.

Her daughter, sons and grandchildren have all inherited this deep need of squirreling away lots of food.

My sister’s family includes hunters, so they have to have plenty of room for that deer or elk or whatever else they get that season.

But just the other day, I decided to see how long my little family could go without a major shopping trip — bread, milk and fresh fruit not included.

I took stock of the cupboards and we’re set. Lots of different kinds of Rice-A-Roni, varieties of pasta, cans of veggies, sauces, cans and cans of soup, tuna, etc. I just stocked up on flour and sugar so if a rare baking mood occurs I’m OK as long as I don’t need something special in it — say for instance fresh blueberries.

I did use up one of two cake mixes I had in the cupboard. I thought I had frosting, but we went without. I know how to make a simple frosting and have dozens of cookbooks with a lot of suggestions and how-to information, but I just didn’t want to bother with it. The cake was good anyway. Who can find fault with double or triple chocolate?

We do have a few things in the freezer — yogurt treats, grandma’s chicken and rice, a few burritos, a few frozen veggies except for peas; they went in the fried rice. We have dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets — they’re not mine of course — frozen fish, a very small prime rib, a few pot stickers and probably a few things at the bottom I won’t be able to identify.

Friday evening was great. I made spaghetti. Near the end I remembered I had meatballs in the freezer. Those are some of my grandson’s favorites, so he ate plenty. We did miss the good garlic bread we like to get, but did have a great salad and a good dinner without the extra carbs.

Saturday night was veggie fried rice and stir-fried veggies. No egg rolls, but there again we did great.

By Sunday we had to go to the store. Besides light bulbs, paper napkins and garbage bags, fresh asparagus just couldn’t be resisted. It tasted very good.

That night it was time for a frittata. I cut up fresh mushrooms and mini bell peppers we still had on hand, part of an onion and then added seasonings and eggs. Although I prepared everything in kind of a hurry, I have to admit it was one of the better frittatas I’ve ever created.

Then it was time for left over spaghetti, followed by left over Chinese food. Well, that was the intent. It was Valentine’s Day and instead of the ribeyes my husband thought of buying we ordered out for Chinese food.

This past weekend, I just had to go to the store to stock up on the kind of no sugar added apple juice we give our grandson. But then I just had to buy carrots for the beef stew I was planning for dinner. Potatoes and onions might have worked in someone else’s life, but I just had to get them … and a cake mix and a can of pineapple for an upside down cake that I still haven’t made.

Then I decided to make cookies for birthday gifts. My sister in South Dakota likes oatmeal cookies. I didn’t have enough oatmeal on hand for the original recipe, but I did find an oatmeal and banana recipe that is very good and moist. Next is pumpkin bread and who knows what else.

Despite having spent nearly two weeks trying to get by with what we have, I really haven’t made a dent. We’re out of onions, but I have a big jar of dehydrated onions that I guess will have to work. Or we could have more soup or Rice-A-Roni for dinner and pretend that the grocery store is a day’s drive away.