For years I preferred discovering new foods and exploring culinary subtleties over simplicity. But, if you, like me, after years of an overstuffed fridge and crowded cabinets, decide to shift gears, using “the source” may be helpful.
Quick survey: How many condiments are in your fridge right now?
I counted 14 in mine.
I used to have 3 times that many. Half the fridge was condiments. Dozens of jams, salad dressings, hot sauces, BBQ sauces, mustards, tons of pickled and fermented things, maple syrup, chocolate syrup, soy sauce, sweet and sour sauce, plum sauce, ketchup, mayo….
Using the power of “the source” I’ve learned the joy of one kind of jam, one kind of mustard, or one kind of salad dressing at a time. Variety is a slower moving force now. New items are bought and opened only when old items are gone. Less food goes to waste, because I can more easily see the what is in the fridge.
If you haven’t read my “Derivative Theory”, I’ll sum it up here:
There are things we need, or “Sources”, and there are things we don’t need but do a job better, faster, or more stylishly. I call these “Derivatives”. Do you have a special tool that only slices apples? A knife could slice the apple too, and hundreds of other things.
Sticking to “the source” for kitchen tools and household items has all kinds of benefits: it simplifies, creates space, saves money, and promotes problem solving skills.
And it totally applies to food.
Both nature and humans have created endless derivatives. Wikipedia lists 33 cooking oils and 22 vinegars commonly in use, and claims 7500 varieties of apples and 40,000 varieties of rice in the world.
This infinite variety makes following a recipe potentially hazardous to your simplicity goals.
Once upon a time, if a recipe said rice vinegar, I would buy exactly that. If it said peanut oil, done, bought, in the house. Basmati rice and Jasmine rice are two different things are they not? I better get both. Cooking was an adventure, a window to a larger world. When the world is in your kitchen, however, it gets crowded.
But now that I use “the source”, I see the connection that runs through all vinegars, all grains of rice, all fats, sweets, or apples varieties.
I may make stickier versions of fried rice or tarter versions of apple pie than my culinary guides intended, but these are prices I pay for serenity, space and simplicity in the kitchen.
Our year in Nicaragua honed this skill.
- Ingredients I was used to weren’t available.
- Groceries were hand carried from the market, whether 1 block or 12 blocks away.
- I knew I would abandon anything remaining when we came back to the US.
I became bold with substitutions and choosing lighter weight alternatives. I learned:
- Acids are acids. Lemons, limes and all vinegars.
- Fats are fats. All oils, butter, margarine, shortening, lard.
- Sweets are sweets. Sugar, maple syrup, corn syrup, agave nectar, honey.
- And water weight is just plain heavy. Worth it for fresh fruits and vegetables, not worth it for anything else.
Foodies may baulk. Clearly there are not subtle differences between the flavor of say, balsamic vinegar and limes. But generic white vinegar will be a fine substitute for whatever “acid” a recipe is calling for. Canola oil will substitute for nearly any other fat, and plain old sugar works universally to sweeten something up.
The life source of earth. The original source. We have an unlimited supply 24/7 in our kitchens and baths with a touch of the finger. No need to store it or haul it. How lucky we are!!
And yet, we haul copious amounts of it up and down stairs, in and out of cars, and fill our precious storage space with it.
Sure, there is the madness of bottled water. Trends show bottled water will be the number one packaged drink by 2016. But I’m talking about anything with water as a main ingredient. Sodas, milks, juices, energy drinks, ready made ice teas or coffees – it’s all 99% water.
Water is heavy, and voluminous. Finding ways to use the water stored in your plumbing pipes will do your simplicity efforts wonders.
Drink water. It’s what our species evolved on. Any other beverage suggestion is someone trying to sell something. At meal times I never ask, “What do you want to drink – milk, juice, water?” Nope. Everyone gets water automatically.
If we are “sold” on a beverage, which happens, it comes in concentrate, dried, or powdered form. Nothing comes ready to drink. The more you “just add water” at home, the fewer grocery bags you’ll have to haul and the more space you’ll have in the cabinets.
It’s a curious fact that worldwide tea is the most common drink. Dried leaves. No bulk or water weight to carry home. No refrigeration needed. The required hot water kills impurities. Genius.
My favorite drink is water with fresh lime. My favorite cocktail is the same thing with vodka. I’ll haul limes to our apartment all day long. I won’t haul the water. (Liquor, by the way, is to beer the way concentrate is to juice – a more compact way to haul and store your booze.)
I can’t not mention milk. It’s the beverage everyone thinks they need and busts their budgets to buy. If you enjoy it, fine. If you want it, fine. But it is ridiculously laborious and hardly necessary. Ignoring the inefficiencies of getting it to the store in the first place, once you have it, it has to be refrigerated, it goes bad quickly, it’s heavy and bulky. The health benefits have been challenged and the undeniable existence of calcium ignores the many other ways to get it. Stop drinking milk for time – compare how you feel, compare how much room you have in the fridge, and compare how many fewer trips are made to and from the store, in and out of the car. Life without milk is better and easier on so many levels.
Lastly, dried or dehydrated foods will maximize your kitchen space too. Oatmeal, rice, dried beans and grains, unpopped popcorn, dried noodles, dried fruits. If you believe there isn’t time to make food from scratch, look up the wonders of a pressure cooker. It changed my life, and yes I had one in Nicaragua.
First there was butter. Then mom learned it was bad, so she switched to Promise margarine. As an adult, I learned margarine was even worse, so switched to Earth Balance’s cold-pressed or expeller pressed oil blends. Then I moved to Nicaragua. Even had I learned the Spanish word for “expeller pressed oils” I wouldn’t have found it in stores. Too fancy, foreign, too derivative.
What could I spread on bread? Think Kati think. Then it hit me. In fancy Italian restaurants they dip bread in oil, why couldn’t I do that? Oils are 100% fat, same as margarine, butter, shortening, lard. They all are capable of delivering the greasy goodness and texture we are used to in our food. Because I was trained and ingrained “to spread” on bread and “to melt” for popcorn I couldn’t see other options. Oils can be poured, dipped or squirted on food. And you know what? It is much easier than it’s solid counterparts.
- It’s shelf stable. It stores in a cabinet instead of the fridge. Saving energy and space for more important things.
- It’s ready to go – always. Never too hard or too soft. Never needs melting.
- With a basic “squirter” kids can use it without messes.
Every oil has slightly different properties – flavors, smoking points, nutritional profile. Sunflower oil is great for popping popcorn, coconut oil for body care or making cookies, sesame oil for Chinese food, olive oil for Italian, vegetable oil for deep frying, flax oil for salads and health. I used to have all of these, but now canola oil usurped all the other oils including the majestic olive oil.
I don’t care what the recipe says. If it calls for something with 100% fat – I use the 100% fat I have in the house: canola oil.
Why canola oil is awesome:
- Neutral flavor. With kids, this is a must. For substitutions it’s important too – no one wants their mashed potatoes to taste like coconuts.
- All purpose. Great on salads, frying foods, or baking cakes.
- Higher smoke point. The oil won’t burn or turn carcinogenic at a high temperatures.
- Inexpensive and available everywhere. Nothing fancy about it.
- It’s not soy. Nothing wrong with soy, but like gluten, many are sensitive to it. Most oils labeled “vegetable oil” are soybean oils.
Oils are typically more dense than solid fats. So using a bit less is a good idea. Here’s a substitution chart from an olive oil company, but any oil could be substituted or converted from butter or margarine in a recipe. When solid fats are absolutely required, like for cake frosting or pie crusts, a fresh avocado or coconut oil are my backups.
Back to those condiments. Do you know what almost all have in common? Salt and Vinegar. Some have heat, sweet or fatty goodness, but nearly all have salt and vinegar as the main ingredients. I’ve begun adding a wee bit more salt and a lot more vinegar directly into my dishes and I must say I’m quite pleased with the result. Not enough to get rid of condiments, but my dependence on Sriracha has decreased dramatically.
Are the ways of “the source” for you?
- Secret #1 Toss your garbage before you use it
- Secret #2 Eat like “back in the day”
- The Danger of Derivatives
photo credit: Condiments At Louie M’s via photopin (license), photo credit: Frijoles via photopin (license), photo credit: Nice Jugs (212 / 365) via photopin (license), photo credit: Food Argentinean Restaurant2 via photopin (license)