Making food (out of, and into nothing at all)

(Apologies to Air Supply)

Last year, oh no, two years ago when I visited T in Shanghai (has it really been that long?), he had one complaint about his a-yi (weekly housekeeper. I guess in London she’d be called a charlady).

He would have bananas lying around, completely brown in skin, and she would throw them out (or take them home with her.) I would have done the same, I said. “But I want to make banana bread,” he replied. This phenomenon would repeat itself, apparently. He’d buy more bananas, eat some and leave the rest out to turn brown, and then they’d escape from his clutches by his a-yi who probably thought she was doing him and the bananas a act of mercy.

In the Western kitchens, leftover bananas almost automatically get turned into banana bread. My friend Chris who shops at Costco, and therefore is stuck buying massive quantities of bananas at once, makes little loaves of banana bread pretty often, because she doesn’t like wasting food. Then she hands them out to all and sundry. (Chris also saves up the chicken neck/giblets from the whole chickens she buys, and gives them to me. She doesn’t like the stuff, but I do. The necks are ammo for stock. The giblets I fry, boil or roast for a snack.)

I rarely buy bananas, but when I got a coupon from Milk Pail for 2 free pounds of bananas with any $10 purchase I couldn’t resist. And not that we couldn’t finish eating bananas, but I did want to make something of them. Just not banana bread though, since I was finishing one of Chris’.

I’m actually not that crazy about banana bread. The texture is a bit too leaden, it’s just blah. I looked through my cookbook of Thai deserts. There was the standby kluay buat chee (literally bananas in nunhood – because the color of the dish is rather bland, like nuns in white, without any makeup), where you boil bananas in coconut cream and sugar, which is what Thais do when they’re stuck with leftover bananas that haven’t been diligent about putting on their SPF 100 and turn brown. (Thais didn’t make banana bread back then; almost no one had an oven.)

There was also a recipe for steamed banana/coconut desert so that you end up with the equivalent banana cream jello squares (minus the gelatin, it’s held together by flour.) I made that instead, and served it to my guests at Crab Feed # 3. People didn’t particularly care for it. (I resorted to ice cream for the kids.) Foe one thing, it was greyish putty color. The texture was a bit heavy and chewy. I also reduced the sugar called for, so it was not too sweet. I think they would have appreciated kluay buat chee more, even if it was also a boring greyish color. It’s just that coconut cream ‘gravy’ has a more appealing mouth feel.

Ironically enough, T made kluay buat chee recently.

At Crab Feed#3, one of my friends brought up a recent article in Sunset magazine about a family in Marin who are obsessive about minimizing waste and clutter. They cheat a little though: the strip of plasticky-backing for the adhesive of the Netflix envelope is not recyclable, so they stick it into the envelope along with the DVD they’re returning. That’s not minimizing waste, that’s just passing the buck.

Anyways, I thought of how our annual crab feeds have evolved to a routine menu with minimal waste.

Crab. Bread. Clam Chowder (from scratch). Steamed broccoli and carrots. Ham/cheese/onion quiche (from scratch) – for those who are allergic to crab. Dessert.

Crab shells – Compost: Marcella brings her sealed buckets to take them home for garden. They make her tomatoes quite happy.
Bread – Loaves come in paper bags. Recycle
Broccoli, carrots, potatoes, celery, onion, ginger, fruit – Compost: trimmings
Cream/Milk – Reuse: Strauss dairy glass bottles
Clams – Recycle: Cans
Clam juice – Recycle: Glass bottle
Store-bought pie crust – Recycle: aluminum pan
Eggshells – Compost
Cheese – Throw away: plastic wrapper
Ham – Throw away: plastic wrapper (Although it was a large hunk of ham, so it was bought ‘in bulk’ – low ratio of packaging to content)
Dessert – Depends. If it’s store-bought, the packaging is usually waste.
(I’m discounting staples like flour, salt, pepper, etc.)

I also happened to have bought two chickens on sale at Whole Paycheck. After chopping up for meaty parts, I save all the bony parts and fat for stock. I conducted an experiment this time, I rendered some of the skin and fat in the stockpot, and then ‘browned’ the bony parts before adding water. I wanted to see if the flavor would be different. It ended up tasting quite chickeny, although I don’t know if it might be from having more fat than usual in the stock boiling. (I do skim off the fat before freezing the stock.)

With two chickens’ worth of bony parts, there was quite lot of meat to pick off after the stock was done. In fact, 4 cups worth. Lo and be-hold, the March edition of Sunset magazine arrived with a recipe for a ‘simplified’ chicken pot pie. It called for a crouton topping instead of a pie crust lid. I had on hand leftover bread, celery, carrot, and broccoli stems from the crab feed. It’s turned out pretty good. (I reduced the milk for the sauce by a third, I think the original recipe would have made it to watery. Even in the photo of the dish looked, it looked watery.)

I still have some leftover chicken meat. Maybe I can make a reverse tonnato sauce, ha ha . . . .

I read someone where once that Native Americans/Alaskans threw the bones of the salmon they ate back into the rivers, to re-feed the salmon in the rivers, an act of gratitude of sorts. It’s satisfying to know that all I consumed all the edible parts of the chicken, and all I have to throw out are literally the chicken bones, and nothing but the chicken bones.


2 thoughts on “Making food (out of, and into nothing at all)

  1. To be really honest, I had wanted to pair mangoes with my sticky rice, but then all I could find at the market was green mangoes and I had bananas at home (and extra coconut cream).

    I think the unexpected thing about thai desserts is the little bit of savory in each one.

  2. Pingback: Recent baking « Fishface

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