The amount of plastic the world consumes has increased
dramatically since 1980 and 40% of it is used just once. (National
Geographic, June 2018) The majority of this plastic comes from food
packaging. The next time you are in a grocery store, take a look. Notice all
the single use packaging then envision it ending up in the landfill. It’s
actually somewhat horrific when you step back and really see the stark truth of
The Plenty Method can help you reduce your plastic footprint
and food packaging in general. How does it do this? First, food is made from “scratch”
ingredients that are bought in bulk
whenever possible. You learn that it’s actually quite easy to make something simple
and delicious out of scratch ingredients so you purchase less and less packaged
food. And when you buy food in bulk, more of your money goes to buy the food,
and not the packaging, so you’ll be able to buy higher quality food. Your
pantry will be full of nutrient dense, whole foods that are usually organic. I
call this “superstar food”. It stands on its own and doesn’t need much “do” to
prepare so putting food on the table is quick and simple.
Each of these scratch ingredients has its own airtight container or other permanent location. This makes working with food so much more pleasurable. The airtight containers replace all the food stored in single use, mismatched packages that don’t seal properly, which may invite staleness and attract bugs, moths, mold, mites, and rodents. It’s much nicer to handle a substantial glass jar that opens easily than flimsy single-use packages that usually don’t close properly. You can see the food through glass jars which is visually more pleasing than a collection of opaque food packages. Your food will be clearly visible and labeled. No more “UFO”s – Unidentified Food Objects! You can say goodbye to random food clutter. The kitchen stays clean, organized, and fresh.
Together, we can stop this crazy overuse of plastic. Every little bit helps and small steps can add up to radical change. Transformation starts with awareness. Just say “no” to single use packaging, one buying decision at a time. This will make a world of difference and a different world.
One of The Joy of Plenty’s goals is to help reduce the amount of food the world wastes. Every day America wastes enough food to fill the Rose Bowl. Yes, that Rose Bowl—the ninety-thousand-seat football stadium in Pasadena, California.You read that right; that’s every day, not every year. The Natural Resources Defense Council claims Americans lose up to 40 percent of our food from farm to fork to landfill. Reducing the amount of food waste (or, waste as food) will dramatically help create planetary health since agriculture leaves a huge footprint on our planet.
While The Plenty Method can’t do anything about the food that rots in a farmer’s field or deteriorates in a warehouse, it can help you trim your household food waste. How does The Plenty Method do this? By helping you learn how to:
Make a focused Master Ingredients List that encourages you to purchase fewer but more versatile kinds of food. Less variety leads to less waste. Creatively transform the ingredients you already have on hand instead of buying a new single-use item that could end up as half-eaten food waste.
Buy food close to the source so it is fresh and lasts longer.
Buy longer-lasting foods instead of those that rapidly spoil.
Learn how to store food properly to prevent premature spoilage.
Store and preserve food properly, then retrieve it from storage as
needed. This is a flip-flop from buying food, thinking that you will use it,
but then your plans change. You forget the food; it spoils and gets tossed.
Store staple ingredients in clear, airtight glass containers so
they are visible; no out-of-sight, out-of-mind food left to rot.
Learn to extend the life of food by removing oxygen by using a
vacuum-packing machine and other methods.
View manufacturer’s expiration dates as suggestions only; tune
into your senses to determine if a food is safe to eat.
Understand the shelf life of foods to know when to watch for
subtle changes in flavor, texture, and smell that tell you to use it soon.
Experience more connection with your food by learning to
appreciate and respect it. This awareness encourages you to tune into your food
to prevent spoilage.
Share or exchange food with others before it spoils.
Use or preserve avoidable waste, such as peelings, meat bones, and
overripe fruits. For example, freeze cream in ice cube trays. Use old bread for
breadcrumbs, croutons, French toast, or bread pudding. Transform carrot tops
into carrot-pesto. Use Parmesan cheese rinds to flavor soups, and so on.
Redefine what fresh
means, and resurrect foods that are thought of as “bad.” For example, a
cauliflower with brown spots is usually perfectly edible when you trim them
off. A mealy apple is delicious when you bake it. Try putting a soggy banana in
a smoothie or banana fritter.
Please consider learning The Plenty Method to reduce your
household food waste. Every little bit helps! Or, as I like to say “Big is
just a whole bunch of little”. One small step, one small footprint can add
up to huge progress down the road. One person can make a difference and that
person is you!
Jonathan Bloom, American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of its Food (and What You Can Do About It)
(Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2010), xi
I am so thankful
for the bees ‒ the fragile agents ‒ who work tirelessly on our behalf. Much of
our food chain depends on pollinators, yet many people are unaware of the
essential role they play in creating our food supply. Part of The Joy of
Plenty’s mission is to educate people about the role pollinators play in food
production and to sound the alarm about the enormous pressure all pollinators
are under from overuse of agricultural pesticides.
Last week, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a report on the current state of the biosphere (please see previous post). The report estimates that up to US$577 billion of the crops the world produces are at risk without bees to pollinate them. Bees are the linchpin of our food system and overuse of agricultural pesticides are one of the reasons they are weakening.
In a perfect world, if everyone ate organic food, the need for toxic agricultural chemicals would diminish and this would greatly help the bees. The Plenty Method gives people the tools they need to increase their purchases of organic food, so they can eat well and support the pollinators, too. Over time, this will help foster a robust food chain and vibrant ecosystems, and we can do this now. In a landmark decision in May of 2018, the European Commission banned three neonicotinoid insecticides linked to bee death. This is an encouraging sign that vast numbers of people are becoming aware of the need to protect our pollinators and it’s a huge win for the bees. We can join the crescendo of voices that created that legislation and add to the momentum. Our collective buying power can create massive transformation, one buying decision at a time.
Please consider using The Plenty Method to spend your food dollars wisely and well and to help protect our food supply for future generations. As I conclude writing this, the Beatles song “With a Little Help From My Friends” repeats in my inner ears. But I’ve added a word! “I get by with a little help from my little friends.” Dear bees, what true friends you are. You are our unsung heroes! Let’s join together to give them all the help they need.
I heard shocking and urgent news recently, back to back. Five days later I am still trying to figure out how to respond to this unfolding story. Even though much of the news makes me feel as if I just got sucked into a dangerous abyss, there are still robust moves we can all make. All is not lost, if we work together to help one another.
The first news was the summary of a soon to be released 1,500 page report authored by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES). It’s official! We are now facing our planet’s sixth wave of extinction with over one million species of plants, animals and insects potentially on the block, and soon. Sounds like a holocaust to me.
The next news arrived in the
May/June issue of the MIT Technology Review. The cover says “Welcome to Climate
Change”. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this publication, MIT is
one of the world’s premiere scientific think tanks. Whatever topic they discuss
is validated by credible research and fact-based evidence so the publication is
reliable and trustworthy. They discuss science and technology in the context of
its sociological, cultural, economic and political context. Much of the discussion
of climate change currently centers on how we can avoid it. We remain hopeful and
comforted about technology’s romantic and futuristic ideas about how to avoid
climate change but it’s no longer possible. We entertain ideas about mitigation
measures such as engineering the atmosphere and carbon capture. But the
magazine says it’s time to “get real” because the momentum of climate change is
too swift, even if we were to slam the brakes on it now. Truth is, global
temperatures and emissions are rising, not falling. A big chunk of the Arctic’s
oldest and most stable sea ice recently broke off. We’ve made no dent in the
use of fossil fuels. And on and on the list goes. So, time to shift the
dialogue to understanding how this new, catastrophically altered world will
look and how we will adapt.
Why do they suggest shifting the
focus more towards adaptation? Because efforts to transform this situation will
not likely be successful fast enough. The first world countries are too busy
and distracted to notice or care and they hyper-consume. The populations in third
world countries are exploding so that will be a huge drain on planetary
resources. Repeated attempts have been made internationally to create a cohesive,
long-term global vision and plan of action. Yet commitment among most countries
is notably absent. I add to this, that many powerful multi-national corporations
have deeply vested interests in maintaining the status quo. Unfortunately, the
tragedy is that by the time climate change is obvious to everyone, it will be far
What to do, or not do, then? How
do we still enjoy the life that is before us and keep our optimism alive? While
the United Nation’s report was dreary and startling, they say “Nature can be conserved, restored and used
sustainably while simultaneously meeting other global societal goals through
urgent and concerted efforts fostering transformative societal goals –
including those for food, water, energy.” Those of us who see what is coming
can show up, stand up and hold together with heart, courage and commitment. Those who are uncertain can gradually join in.
Amid all this uncertainty, one thing is for certain: this situation will be far
easier if we take a joint approach rather than a divisive one. This holds true
whether we avert the crisis or adapt to it. Think of it this way: we have an
opportunity to witness breathtaking transformation here, regardless of the
As I write this, I look out my
window and see drooping tulips whose early spring time vigor has waned yet
their beautiful deep red is still extraordinary. A blue jay rests on a nearby
fence, iridescent in the evening light. These, along with the yellow pepper on
my plate create a palate of primary color that is indescribable to behold. In
this moment, embraced by the beauty of Mother Nature, I am nourished and at
peace. No matter how ominous the long term picture may look, it’s always easy to
find something to appreciate. We don’t need to sit in the bottom of an utterly
dark abyss. If we do that, we can’t see,
appreciate or protect the cornucopia of gifts our beautiful planet constantly gives
not visualizethe sudden enlightenment of the world
If you’d like to know how The Joy of Plenty can help you make a contribution to the creation of planetary health and relieve your anxiety about its current state, stay tuned for the next series of blog posts. Look below for a link to the summary of the United Nation’s IPBES report.
Here’s another example of an un-recipe. In case you haven’t read any of the prior posts, an un-recipe gives you enormous freedom in the kitchen. You can break free from having to use exact ingredients and exact measurements, too (baking is an exception, there is some leeway but not much). You learn to switch out and switch up ingredients in recipes and use what you have on hand. This makes the whole topic of food easier and more pleasurable. Over time, you learn which flavors go together and you will discover unique combinations you didn’t even know existed. If you want information about which flavors compliment each other, check out “The Flavor Bible” by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page.
The following un-recipe is for my favorite quick bread. I love eating this in the morning, toasted with a lot of butter. Eating something this delicious —and nourishing —makes me happy to be alive. The quality of one’s life can be measured in the number of simple little pleasures that occur throughout the day. You don’t even need a mixer to make this – just a mixing bowl, spoon, and some elbow grease.
The Very Best Quick Bread or Muffins
2 cups unsifted flour (I’ve tried this with gluten-free flour, it works as long as you add some xanthan gum) 1 tsp baking soda ½ tsp baking powder ¾ tsp salt Sweetener: 1 cup date, coconut or cane sugar. I like to use date sugar. If you use coconut sugar, keep an eye on it because it will brown fast. Cover with foil about 15 minutes into the baking. This recipe may work with honey or agave syrup, but I have not tried it. You might need to add a bit more flour. Spices: ½ tsp each cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger or 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie or chai spices or other combination of warm spices. 2 eggs ½ cup vegetable oil (I like to use rice bran oil) OR substitute ¾ cup mayonnaise and ¼ cup water for the oil and eggs 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla or other flavoring (I like maple, almond and hazelnut) 1 cup pumpkin or winter squash, or mashed ripe bananas, applesauce, zucchini, or other pureed fruit. Chopped nuts and/or dates, candied ginger, chocolate chips, etc.
Combine the dry ingredients. Combine the moist ingredients then thoroughly mix the dry with the moist. Pour into greased loaf or muffin pans. You can vary the size of the loaf or muffin pans– just make sure they are filled about half way. Bake in a 350⁰ oven for 35-40 minutes or until the mixture starts to pull away from the edges of the pan and cracks appear on the surface. Cool in pan. This bread freezes well, too.
I like to make this via the “assembly line” method. You can make multiple batches of the dry ingredients and store each batch in one quart mason jars. Then all you have to do is round up the moist ingredients and whip a loaf together in just a matter of minutes. So there you go – another un-recipe recipe.
When you do The Plenty Method, you discover new freedom in
the kitchen via “un-recipe recipes”. You’ll have a pantry packed full of scratch
ingredients, called Master Ingredients, and a nice assortment of “flavor bursts”
– concentrated flavorings that up-level your cooking from good to great. The variety
of foods you keep on hand is dialed back – less is more in the case of your
pantry – and immense creativity and ease arises out of this simplicity.
Most recipes call for exact ingredients and measurements.
This can be quite restrictive and following recipes exactly is time consuming,
too. They can also lead to excessive food clutter. Recipes often call for ingredients
that you may never use again, so they tend to end up as food clutter then food
waste. Using un-recipes avoids this. When you read recipes that call for ingredients
you don’t have on hand, you learn to make substitutions with what you do have. If
you are using “The Plenty Method”, your well thought out pantry gives you many
options. A simplified yet plentiful pantry
takes much of the complication out of putting food on the table.
Here is an example of an “un-recipe recipe” – my favorite
salad dressing. Why is this an un-recipe? Because you can mix and match the ingredients
and create many versions. Over the years many friends have asked me for this
recipe and I am happy to share it with you now.
The Very Best Salad Dressing
½ cup vinegar (l like aged-sherry, champagne, white and red balsamic) 1 tablespoon sugar (I use raw cane and demerara) I tablespoon mustard (favorites are stone ground, Dijon and spicy brown) Pinch of salt (any kind but iodized. It tastes terrible!) 1 shallot (if you don’t have one, use about ¼ cup diced any kind of onion) 1 clove garlic 1 ½ cups oil (my favorites are olive, walnut, rice bran)
Puree the first six ingredients in a blender. Then slowly
add the oil and blend some more. Store in a glass bottle. Keeps for up to two
Lately my favorite version of this is made with sherry
vinegar and half olive/half walnut oil and stone ground mustard. In the past I’ve
used blood orange champagne vinegar. White wine vinegars are better with neutral
oils, like rice bran (please see previous post) and dark vinegars are better with
So look at what you have on hand and whip up a batch. Once you taste this, pre-made dressings you buy at the grocery store will utterly pale in comparison. I use the money I save by NOT buying pre-made salad dressing to buy high-quality vinegar and oils. It takes just a few minutes to whip this up and the extraordinary sensory pleasure you’ll get makes the time spent so worthwhile. So there you have it – a real “un-recipe recipe”.
One of my favorite retail versus wholesale price comparisons is rice bran oil. You have probably never seen this, as it’s not commonly available at grocery stores. But most restaurant supply wholesalers do sell it because its high smoke point makes it ideal for frying. It’s quite versatile, being especially excellent for salad dressings and baking. Olive oil, coconut or nut oils are healthier choices, but sometimes a neutral vegetable oil is just what you need. I have yet to see this available in an organic version, however.
A one gallon jug sells for $10.47 or 8.5 cents per ounce at the restaurant supply store where anyone can shop. At the grocery store I saw this bottle selling for $6.99 for 12.7 ounces, or .55 per ounce. That means I can multiply my food dollars 6.5 times by buying it from a wholesale source.
I can hear you wondering how you’d store that much oil and then worrying it will go to waste. Here is the solution: divide it into quarts and pour it into sterilized glass bottles (you can do this by running them through the dishwasher or filling them with boiling water then letting them dry). I use recycled juice bottles and those with swing-top-bale tops. Glass is better than plastic for long-term storage of foods. The chemicals in plastic leaches into food, particularly oily foods. You can use recycled bottles as long as the lids are in good condition (I have been known to retrieve glass containers out of my neighbor’s recycling bins).
Once you’ve divided the oil into manageable portions, then what do you do? When stored in the refrigerator, oils will stay fresh for about a year. If you estimate you’d use a gallon in a year and you have extra fridge space, you can keep it all for yourself. If you won’t use that much or don’t have extra fridge space, you can trade or exchange the extra with a friend (I intentionally don’t use the words “buy or sell” as it may be illegal in some states to open containers and sell portions of them). Here’s what I usually do: I keep one quart in my kitchen cupboard, mindful to use it in a couple of months before it goes rancid. Two go in the backup fridge. Then I trade a bottle with my friend who grows fresh catnip. I store the oil I keep for myself in bottles with swing-top-bale caps, and the oil exchanged goes in a recycled bottle. I label and date them.
Over the years I’ve developed a few “un-recipe recipes” that
use this oil. Rice bran oil is extraordinary in baking as it makes the crumb of
baked goods remarkably moist. I gave my friend Michelle my salad dressing
recipe for her fiftieth birthday after she begged me for it for years. Stay
tuned for the next two episodes!
As mentioned in my previous post, The
Plenty Method helps you whip up sumptuous meals on a moment’s notice. I call
these “quick plates”. The idea is to stock a pantry with a plentiful yet simple
collection of scratch ingredients called “Master Ingredients.” Then, develop a
repertoire of “un-recipe recipes” that reduce the time it takes to get food on
the table. This way, you’ll always have great food on hand and you’ll know what
to do with it. Which makes the question “what to eat” much easier to answer and
the statement “there’s nothing to eat” non-existent.
Over the years I’ve developed some
short cuts to expedite time spent in the kitchen. The curry described in the
previous post is more flavorful with a little garlic and ginger added. But
peeling and chopping those takes precious time, time you may not want to spend.
Plus, you may not always have those ingredients on hand. What to do about this
dilemma? Freeze it! Here’s how:
Start by buying a couple of pounds each
of garlic and/or ginger. Then, peel and coarsely chop it and drop it in a
blender or a food-processor. Blend until it becomes a smooth paste then add a
little vegetable oil so that it binds together
and becomes spreadable. Using a spatula, put the mixture into ice cube trays and freeze
for a day or two. Then, thaw until the cubes are loose enough to be scooped out
with a small knife (I find a butter knife with a rounded edge works best). Place
them on a cookie sheet and re-freeze. Then place in a plastic container with an
airtight lid. I cut the cubes in half and put waxed or parchment paper in
between the layers. You don’t have to thaw these out before using. Just chop
them up a bit and use them as if they were fresh.
You can do this with lemon juice,
whipping cream or fresh herbs. Having these “flavor cubes” on hand gives you
the ability to up-level your cooking from good to great with minimal effort. Easy
“un-recipes” make cooking a lot more pleasurable, too!
Now that you can buy coconut milk for a third or half of retail cost, (please see previous post), you might consider keeping an extra supply in your pantry. A plentifully stocked larder encourages you to get in the kitchen and experiment a little. So, what can you do with all that coconut milk?
Whip up a curry using The Plenty Method! While recipes are useful for ideas and inspiration, their requirements for exact measurements and ingredients can often be quite restrictive and time consuming. The “Y” in Plenty means “Yum: the un-recipe recipe.” Break loose of cooking rules, formulas, shoulds and musts and experience new freedom in the kitchen!
So here is how to make a simple curry sauce using an “un-recipe recipe”. You can mix this sauce with lentils, roasted or sautéed vegetables, pineapple, noodles, rice, tofu, tempeh, beans, shrimp. Or, cooked chicken, beef, pork or lamb (which I purchase from a local farmer). The combinations are endless. And it is surprisingly easy to make this sauce.
To start, find a large skillet, sauce pan or Dutch oven. Dice an onion and sauté it in butter, vegetable, or coconut oil that has started to bubble. Sauté the onion for a few minutes until it’s translucent. Then add about a tablespoon of curry powder or paste and some seasoning salt (my favorite are those made by Maggi). To that, add a can of undiluted, unsweetened coconut milk and stir until it bubbles.
If you have some tamarind paste or concentrate, add slightly less than a tablespoon. In The Plenty Method, tamarind is what we call a “flavor burst”. It’s a concentrated flavoring that kicks the flavor up a notch and makes humble ingredients more interesting. If you don’t happen to have any tamarind on hand, don’t worry. But next time you are at an international food market or Asian grocery store, consider picking some up. It adds a lovely tart and tangy complexity to many dishes. Another flavor burst you might like to add is a splash of aged sherry vinegar. Just a touch adds yet another layer of lovely flavor. Add a touch of hot sauce if you like your food spicy (my go-to is Sriracha). Some people like the flavor of fish sauce. If you do, add that if you have some.
If the sauce seems too thick, add some water. If it’s too thin continue to cook it down or stir in some corn or tapioca starch diluted in a small amount of water. Then voila! There’s your curry sauce, ready to use as suggested above. Along the way, listen to your senses; they will tell you what to do. If it tastes a bit flat, add more curry powder, tamarind or salt. And if you are in a hurry, you can forgo the onion and start with the coconut milk. My favorite way to eat this sauce is over roasted cauliflower served on a bed of brown rice and topped with roasted cashews. Nourishing and delicious fast food!
One of my goals is to help people learn how to whip up
something easy and delicious in the time it would take to get take-out or go to
a drive through. Having a plentiful supply of food on hand and a few “un-recipe
recipes” makes it much easier to cook on the fly. Try it, you’ll like it!
Let’s say that you multiplied your food dollars three times by buying a 98 ounce can of coconut milk at a wholesale price (please see previous post). But what do you do with all that coconut milk once it’s opened? Naturally, you may worry that it will go to waste. And since grocery store shoppers are conditioned to buying small amounts of food frequently, buying a large amount of food less frequently might feel uncomfortable at first. But don’t worry – The Plenty Method will help you learn how to store the extra. That’s what the “N” in “Plenty” means: “New containers and making space”.
Opened coconut milk keeps in the refrigerator for about a
week or two, depending on how cold your fridge is. Store it in the main body of
the refrigerator where it is coldest. Since the coconut cream separates from
the coconut water, you’ll need to mix it first. The easiest way to do this is
to put it in a large pan and gently heat it. That melts the oil and makes it
easier to blend. To minimize the number of things to wash, consider whipping up
a quick curry (see next post). Then wash the pan!
Estimate the amount you will use before it spoils then
freeze the extra. I freeze it in pints. You can freeze the portions in zip-lock
bags because they lay flat (wait until the coconut milk is at room temperature
before pouring it into the bag). When you finish with the Ziploc bag, you can
keep it in the freezer. Then you won’t have to wash or throw the bag away every
time you divide coconut milk. If you don’t want to use plastic, try a
straight-sided canning jar. These prevent the milk from cracking the glass as
the liquid expands.
After the milk thaws out, it curdles a bit. To restore its creamy consistency, blend it for about thirty seconds. If you are interested in the food science around this, check out this Cook’s Illustrated article: https://www.cooksillustrated.com/how_tos/9034-storing-leftover-coconut-milk. To minimize containers to wash, blend it right in the bag with an immersion blender if you have one. Then dilute to desired consistency and pour the mixture into a glass bottle. Always give it a good shake before using as it does separate.
If all this seems too complicated, you can buy the coconut milk in 13 ounce cans at the restaurant supply store. You can still multiply your food dollars by about twice. But once you know how, it’s really not too much trouble to store a big can. Or, freeze just some of it. Children enjoy helping with this project, especially if they get to drink a hot-cocoa or fruit smoothie afterward. I find that children tend to be motivated by good things to eat, most adults, too!