Saving What Is Useful

useful bags.jpg  When my mother and I went to Russia in 1991 among the places we visited was the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. It was very impressive. My favorite part was the room with six Rembrandts. Sitting among them was an extraordinary experience. As we left we bought some postcards and other souvenirs and when none seemed to be forthcoming, asked for a bag to put them in. The cashier gave us a sour look then finally dug out a used plastic bag– an obvious treasure from her hoard and placed our items in it. Recycled bags were more common there than new ones were then.

I certainly do save and either use or recycle lots of plastic bags, however I have a stash of various sizes of paper bags as well as small gift boxes that threatens to erupt from its container. Some are saved for when we give people gifts. The ones with decorations for Christmas or birthday, for instance come in very handy. Others with no decorations or simply printed with the name of a store can be used for any occasion, and also for carrying things. I only wish I knew just how many of these decorated bags I would need in the near future so I could pass some of them on to others.

I simply cannot bear to throw out anything that is ultimately useful. Take for instance the elastics that come on things. I haven’t bought any rubber elastics for years. They come in various sizes, shapes and colors, mostly on vegetables. The small bag I have stays full because what I use gets replaced. Twisty ties are something else I tend to save. They too come in various lengths and are useful for tying up many things as well as substituting for the difficult to reuse flat plastic closures most bread bags come with. The long ones are good for wrapping around electric cords and small tools.

I seldom use paper towels unless I want to clean up a mess, thus saving paper. I tear appeal letters and ads for insurance and so forth on 81/2 by 11 sheets with a blank side into thirds, pinch them together with a clip and use them to make my grocery and “to do” lists. Smaller scraps of paper become notes, though I have to be careful not to lose those. String of any length of course gets reused, as does ribbon, and of course wrapping paper. Unless it’s torn, I fold and save Christmas and birthday wrapping paper, as did my parents.

Being of a saving nature runs in my family. My father once told me he found an envelope among his mother’s things with bits of string in it labeled “pieces of string too small to use.” However I have since heard this story from other sources, so it may have been something he borrowed rather than experienced. My mother, my father, my grandmother and my other relatives all followed the Yankee thrift rule: recycle, reuse or do without, so it’s not surprising I developed this habit and needless to say as I have discovered, passed it on to my children.

Thoughts from a Thrifty Cook

Tasha's Fridge 1My mother felt strongly that food was precious and not to be wasted. She had been a young child during World War I in Germany, and the experience of scarcity had shaped her attitude. To her way of thinking, all food was to be used up one way or another. Then came World War II and rationing. I too was very young, yet this also gave me lessons in thrifty use of food. Fortunately I have been able to put my early lessons to good use in learning how to create meals from whatever I have left over even if I hadn’t already planned ahead.

A chicken, for instance normally provides two people at least three meals: hot, cold, and soup. That’s easy, but what about the bits and pieces of vegetables, meat, fish, or even pasta that might otherwise molder in the back of the ‘fridge. Why not make a soup, or combine them in a quick stirfry? If your family is fussy about food you probably can’t do that, however a retired couple like us, or even a single person may find it fun to experiment. One warning: it is important for the leftovers from the originals to make good combinations. A curry and a chili won’t mix well.

To use up most leftover vegetables, sauté half an onion until soft and then tip in whatever you have. This freshens the taste and makes them seem like a different dish. Add half a box of chicken or beef broth and serve this as a soup with a salad for supper. Throw in a handful of uncooked pasta of your choice and simmer or add leftover rice for a heartier dish. Or combine the vegetables and the rice or cooked pasta, sprinkle on curry powder, voila, another meal. Cook any leftover hamburger or some other chopped up cooked meat and add to the simple stirfry for a more filling lunch or supper. You can also cover it with leftover mashed potato, pop into the oven and have a shepherd’s pie.

I often use some of that convenient boxed coconut milk to season my leftover vegetables. Or in the summer I may add some salad dressing and toss them with lettuce, chopped sweet onion, and whatever else you like for a cold meal. Adding some canned salmon or tuna makes a more filling meal. The coconut milk is also very tasty with leftover chicken stirfry or soup. Simply chop up what you have, add whatever vegetables you like and warm them all up together with either leftover or freshly cooked rice. For soup, add chicken broth.

Whenever I make rice I make enough so I have some left over. I like to use it to make what I call Pudding As Rice: Per person use ½ cup rice, 1 Tbs butter, 1 Tbs brown sugar, about a half cup or so mixed dried fruit of your choice—brown and white raisins, dried cranberries, cherries, dried pineapple, or whatever else you fancy. Mix and cook together over low heat 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally until all is mingled into a tasty mix and serve with almond, coconut or dairy cream poured over it. Or instead, combine it with fresh or canned fruit. This simple dessert pleases almost everyone.

 

A Saving Nature

Woodenspoon1

As far as I remember my dad wasn’t one to save things, quite the contrary. He was much more inclined to throw things out. On the other hand, I have a tendency to save anything I think might be useful or could be helpful in time of need—like extra food. I believe I inherited my saving nature from my mother. Once when I visited her in their weekend cottage in Maine I helped her clear out a closet. In the process I found at least three irons, and several toasters she had bought at yard sales and stored against future need. I kidded her about it and she told me quite seriously that they might come in handy one day, and she was happy to have them.

Another time, when I visited her in South Carolina where she lived after my father passed on, I was rummaging in her kitchen when I saw she had a number of broken items in her kitchen drawers. I asked her about them and she assured me that they could be fixed one day and used again. There was something even more useful in her bathroom. My parents loved to travel and wherever they went, my mother collected the little bottles of shampoo, conditioner, lotion and whatever else that were provided by the places they stayed. They were all lined up in rows on her bathroom sink, filling the entire flat part around the basin.

Perhaps for her they were souvenirs of her trips with my father because she never did use them. She also had rows of empty toilet paper cardboard tubes stacked next to the toilet. I didn’t ask her why because I am sure she would have had a good reason for why she kept them. A while ago I noticed I had quite a collection of little bottles saved from trips myself, and I decided that rather than purchase shampoo and conditioner I would use them. I didn’t want to be like my mother, hoarding something in case of need and then never getting to make use of it. I have come to realize that as we get older we must be careful not to take on our parents’ habits.

There is nothing wrong in being of a saving nature; however, to save something indefinitely is counter productive. When we were moving to our current apartment I discovered I had quite a lot of canned and boxed food that was out of date on the shelves of my former pantry. Now I realize I need to go through things more often to make sure I use what I have in a timely manner.

My father used to kid my mother because she had kept some linen sheets exactly as she had received them as a wedding present. He would ask her if she was saving them for her next husband. I have been thinking more about my mother’s habit lately and resolving to make use of what I have. After all, what she might not have realized was that once something is gone it may often be replaced by what is even better.

Tasha Halpert