Applying the Lessons Learned from our Mothers

By Meredith Mani

These days, everyone is trying to stretch the supplies they have on hand. People are baking their own bread, looking online for recipes that use canned goods, and finding hacks to get around missing ingredients like yeast. The Greatest Generation — the one of our mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers — pioneered these skills during the Depression and in periods of shortages during WWI and WWII.

What can we learn from these wise women and apply to our life now? When resources are scarce and time is plentiful, there is actually a wide variety of things you can do. Here is a short list. What can you add to help out our members?

  1. Regrow your grocery scraps. Seriously, this is easy and is much faster than starting from seed. There are two types of scraps you can regrow: tops and bottoms. Bottoms include celery, bok choy, romaine, spring onions, fennel, leeks and garlic. Tops include beets, carrots, radish and turnips. The principal for both is the same: Cut or leave the veggie with 1-3 inches intact, fill a small jar or bowl with 1 inch of water and place the top or bottom in it, and put in a sunny space, like a windowsill. Then all you need to do is change the water every day. You are now growing your own food and reducing food waste.
  2. Get creative. No yeast to be found? Sourdough to the rescue. It takes a week to start but then you have all the rise you need to bake everything from English muffins to baguettes. You can also make bread with beer or bake a cake with Coca Cola. If you do have some yeast, stretch your supply by making a Poolish (also called pouliche, a bread starter) from 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, ¾ cup room temp water and ¼ teaspoon yeast. Mix in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap and wait 12 hours. the mixture will then have the lift of a full package of yeast. Remember to subtract the flour used in the Poolish from the recipe you’re using it in.
  3. Start a Corona victory garden. Many veggies are easy to grow in pots on a balcony or rooftop. Cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini and peppers are the easiest. Save your old egg cartons and either sow directly in soil in each cup of the carton or put soil in an empty and clean eggshell half and then put in the carton. Water as needed until your sprout is a few inches high. Then you can easily replant in a pot in the garden by either cutting around the carton and planting each cup or by delicately transferring the individual eggshell halves, cracking the shell lightly as you plant. Eggshells provide the added bonus of feeding the roots as the plant grows. More start-a-garden tips from NPR!
  4. Waste not, want not. Grab a big zip top bag and start slowly filling it up with vegetable scraps and peels and herbs to make your own broth. Throw in onion skins and tops, carrots and celery that’s wilted, thyme that has gone off-color, those itty-bitty cloves of garlic in the middle of the bulb that are impossible to peel, and even chicken bones. Keep it in the freezer until the bag is almost full and then toss it all in a medium-sized pot along with water and a splash of apple cider vinegar if you have bones in the broth; simmer for several hours. Let cool and then strain. Freeze in pint size bags and/or ice cubes trays. Ice cube size broth is perfect to throw into rice or add to a recipe that just calls for a little. If, for some crazy reason, you have leftover bits of wine, these also freeze nicely in ice cube trays and are great for adding to a recipe that needs a splash of wine.
  5. Repurpose glass jars. Glass jars can be used as containers, drinking glasses, pretty votive holders on the porch, or storage containers for nails. I like to use them to make quick jars of pickles or small batches of jams. Save your orange and citrus peels and you can make an easy marmalade to store and use in the refrigerator — no pectin required.
  6. Extend, extend, extend. Make the most of your meat by extending it. Add diced potatoes or a can of black beans to taco meat. Lentils or oatmeal can easily be added to meatloaf or meatballs to stretch a meal. Give new life to old food by bringing back Sunday Soup. To make this soup, put all your leftovers and odds-and-ends veggies into a pot, add a can of tomatoes and some spices, maybe even some rice and noodles, and you have a delicious dinner and a clean refrigerator. Remember: THE MOST EXPENSIVE FOOD IS THE FOOD YOU THROW AWAY.
  7. Make it at home. Sure, this is true for food but there are also lots of personal care items you can whip up in your kitchen. You can make dry shampoo, hand sanitizer, room spray and multi-purpose counter spray at home using simple ingredients like corn starch, essential oils and white vinegar. While you’re at it, stretch your soaps by adding a little water to the bottle when they are 1/3 of the way down. Today’s products are highly concentrated, so you won’t lose effectiveness but you’ll gain many more uses.
  8. Wear an apron. You realize you have now officially become your mother, right? I know, I know, but wearing an apron while you are cooking or doing messy tasks will keep your clothing from getting stained.

We all need to be creative throughout the home and in our kitchen to help family members adjust to being quarantined. Thankfully, as expats, we have had to learn to adjust before and are all the stronger for it. There are no tricks or hacks for the mental fortitude it takes to get through an event like we are currently living though. Reach out to friends and family through FaceTime or Zoom to stay connected. Ask for help when you need it and know you are not in this alone. AWCA women have always taken inspiration from the women who went before us. They have handled wars and crises and upheaval we can’t even imagine. But they stayed strong and relied on each other to get through while they were far from home. You got this.