Culinary Surprises

In an effort to waste as little as possible, I’ve been focusing on eating the food we have. It doesn’t mean we don’t ever go to the grocery store, but when we have food in the freezer and pantry – why not eat that first?

In the beginning of this commitment, it was rather easy. I had frozen spaghetti sauce or lasagna to fall back on. Being that we had 3 kids, I only ever learned to cook in large portions, so we’ve always had left overs, even though they’re all off to school. Over time,  this decision has gotten more challenging.

I’ve made smoothies, from small remnants of frozen fruits, that even I had a hard time choking down. And Pasta ‘surprises’ that included some small portions of frozen vegetables and multiple types of pasta. I’ll concede it was a dish that was visually challenging. Then Pancakes for dinner – to use up some aging pancake mix. Jeff has eaten it all and rarely complained. Although, he’s cagey in his critiques.

‘Interesting pasta.’ he said, after one particularly creative dinner. ‘Are we having that tomorrow night too?’

‘Why? Did you like it?’

‘It was unusual.’

‘Unusual bad or unusual good?’

‘Neither – just different.’

”Different’ in Jeff speak is the kiss of death. If I bring home new shoes and he says ‘Hmmm. They’re different’ those shoes are going back to the store. Unfortunately, there is more ‘Different’ in Jeff’s near term culinary future – as we get down to the wire.

Tonight, he’s enjoying ‘Potato Surprise’, and later this week I’m making a multi-bean soup with mystery spices from packets, where I’m not quite sure of the contents. That should be fun!

In this process, I’ve discovered that we had stocked up on stupid things – things I don’t remember buying and never eat.  I’ve got so much chocolate pudding in the pantry, I’ve started freezing it in the Popsicle forms I had from my kids when they were little. Jeff has dubbed them ‘Poop Pops’ because he says they look like frozen poo. But he eats them for desert. What choice does he have, really?

By my calculations, we should be able to eat through our pantry, with very little left, by mid-January. Then we’ll only purchase food that we’ll immediately consume, but that’s a ways out. We did invite Jeff’s Mom over for Christmas dinner.

‘No ‘Surprise’ dinner that day, right?’ he asked. ‘I don’t think my Mom would care if you made lasagna or something like that – but don’t add in old random pasta or dried squash or something. Let’s just make it a regular food day, like normal people.’

I was a little offended that he would think I wouldn’t make our Christmas dinner special. I did have my eye on two old boxes of Rice-A-Roni and was wondering if I could conjure up something festive with the two cans Cream of Chicken soup I have left. But I’ll hold off on that. Rice-A-Roni Surprise will have to wait for another day.

It’s a Date!

This move is starting to require math. Soooo many calculations. How many more rolls of toilet paper will we need until March 1st? Laundry and dishwasher soap pods? Shampoo? Which means purchasing anything from Costco is pretty much out of the question. We have a new rule in our house – We only purchase what we can consume before we fly away. Seems straight forward, but it’s not.

We are only 80 days from D-day (or maybe V-day in honor of Valencia). If I had been more proactive, I would have been charting our usage of consumables, in detail, for the last 80 days and then I wouldn’t be in this conundrum. Oh wait! Yeah, now I remember why I didn’t do that. Because it would be insane! But I sure would like that information now.

We went to the grocery store today and purchased food for the week, including cat food and milk. The milk had a date on it and I realized that Jeff has begun to adopt moving milestones as points of reference in our purchasing decisions.milk

‘That milk is going to go bad on February 2nd. That’s after our visa appointment. We might actually have our residence visa by the time this goes sour.’

I laughed. ‘Uh, no. This milk will be drunk before the end of next week.’

‘That’s not what I mean. Its just that soon we’ll be buying things that could conceivably have a date after we don’t live here anymore.’

He’s right, of course.

‘Well, I hope we’re not purchasing things like spoiled meat and cheese because we find the date less intimidating. But I understand what you’re saying. The time is coming up fast. We need to be smart about what we’re buying and why. We can’t take it with us.’

We came home and unpacked the groceries. As I was putting them away, I passed our wine rack. !t’s filled with wine and booze. We can’t move any of it in our luggage or on the container ship – they’re very strict. And unless I’m going to become an alcoholic in short order, we can’t drink all that. But then it hit me!

Right at the end. Right before we fly out, we’ll have a party for friends and neighbors. It will be a ‘Come and Get and Drink all you Want’ party. Kind of like Adult Halloween. They can bring a pillow case and take any left over rolls of toilet paper, or laundry pods (those are expensive). And they can drink all they want while picking through the dregs of what’s left of our lives.

Sure, they’ll have nothing to sit on, or even drink out of, but it’s free. And it will go fast. Whew! It makes the math more palatable as I stand in the aisle at Walmart counting sheets on paper towel rolls and tissues in Kleenex boxes for the next 2 months.

Celebrating small wins

In my experience, people want to be helpful. At least that is what I’m finding in all my interactions with Spanish administrators, bankers, and the girl at the mailbox place in Valencia. And today I learned that I am a proud owner (renter) of a shiny new mailbox. I have never been so happy at 4:30am – the time I usually check my phone for emails from Spain.

My husband sleepily asked me why I was cheering – fist in the air –  and I proudly, and loudly, announced my little success.  Unimpressed, he promptly rolled over and went back to sleep. He’s insisted its foolish for me to try to live on Spanish time, and perhaps he’s right. But if doing business in the middle of the night means you can open a bottle of wine at 7am pacific time – I’m struggling to find the downside.

This little project of moving to Spain has fallen mostly to me and has become a little more than part time job. Its like a puzzle without the sharp, well defined edges that I’m determined to put together. And it’s not cheap. To get a mailbox in Spain, I had to wire transfer 85 euros – with my bank fee of $50 US – to their bank in Madrid. And that’s just the start. But I think it will all work out.

Every day in the mail, I get documents and it’s like Christmas holding up birth certificates, marriage certificates and notarized whoozy-whatsits. We are piled high with paper, and somehow I feel a deep sense of accomplishment at my archeological skills, digging through the file boxes of our life and coming up with something we will need to prove we’re upstanding citizens, or just that we’re who we say we are.

The bank person in Valencia is being very helpful and will also help me obtain insurance once I get the account open. Then I can travel to Valencia before Christmas and find a flat for us. By the time we get there in early March, I believe I will sleep for a week! And if I’m lucky – past 4:30am. It also means I’ll have to wait until 4pm to open a bottle of rose’. Ah, I found the downside.

More is, well…More

They say the first step is admitting you have a problem. Mostly this is applied to addictions like booze. In my case it applies to addictions like shoes.  Yes, it rhymes, but its not the same thing at all.

Today is inventory day. This is the day where I get honest with myself about what I have, what I need, and what I’m actually going to take with us when we move from Phoenix to Spain. And about 15 minutes ago was the moment when I admitted I had a problem. A BIG Costco sized problem. A BIG Nordstrom sized problem.

Our children are grown, or nearly grown. The big house was sold last year. The one with the extra refrigerator and freezer. I used to go to Costco and fill up the extra freezer with stuff ‘we might need’, ‘just in case’ the grocery store ever ran out of food – or the entire University of Washington football team dropped by.  Neither of these things ever happened.

I used to buy 100 rolls of toilet paper at a time, because, well – I could. And I would just put them in the storage room and replenish as needed. I was a hoarder but one that American society applauds because when you buy in bulk, you save money. Never mind the fact that you have $200 tied up in toilet paper for 2 years. I would have been better off investing it in the stock market.

In the US, I was raised that more is better. When we moved to our current house, I was proud of myself. I got rid of a ton, literally, a ton of stuff, and donated it all to charity. But half of ‘way, way too much stuff’ is still ‘way too much stuff’. It’s simple math, and I can’t take all this with us to Valencia.

My husband, Jeff has now officially banned the phrase ‘But what if I ever need…?’ from my lexicon. Different weights of wool black pants, 5 different heel heights of a patent black pump, and his favorite – a rainbow of colors in Converse sneakers. Don’t get him started on my wedges.

Heading into the kitchen brought me no joy. I have – no kidding – 12 frying pans. TWELVE. Jeff held them up.

‘We only have 4 burners on the stove.’

I am incensed.

‘They’re clearly different sizes and the sides are uniquely curved. See, some are graduated and some are straight up and down.’ Duh.

He looked at me like I was speaking in another language.

‘Can the spaghetti sauce or the bacon tell the difference?’ he asked.

‘No – but I can.’ I assured him – frowning.

‘You get 4. Four pans of varying sizes. And that’s assuming you use them all at the same time to cook a meal. The rest are going.’ He waved goodbye.

Next came the kitchen utensils. OK. I know I’m a little specialized in this area. I have an antique nut chopper. But hey, I use that at Christmas to make Russian tea cookies with pecans. Jeff reached in the drawer and held up something green.

‘If you can tell me what this is, I’ll let you take it with us.’ he offered charitably.

Oh the pressure. I hated pop quizzes in school. It was egg shaped and it had a scraper thing on the outside. So I knew it would scrap things, but I had never used it. I remember buying it on sale at Sur La Table in Scottsdale last year after a croissant making class (Note: I haven’t made croissants since then – who knew it was so involved?). But with the label gone, I had no idea what this thing was supposed to do for me.

‘I need to go to the bathroom! I’ll be right back.’ I declared.

He couldn’t protest this. I grabbed my phone and ran to the bathroom and shut the door. Pro tip: Googling ‘green kitchen utensil with scraper thingy’ doesn’t return results that are at all helpful. And the pictures were nothing like what my husband was holding up. I waited 5 minutes and then returned to the kitchen, hoping he would have lost interest. But he was too cagey for me. He was still standing there with the green unknowable clasp in his hand.

‘So? Did Google help you figure out what this is?’ He smirked.

‘What? I don’t have to Google it.’ I assured him – rolling my eyes.

‘So what is it?’

I squinted and concentrated like a carnival fortune teller – but nothing came to me. It was green. I looked around the kitchen and my gaze landed on an avocado in the bowl on the counter.

‘Its an avocado scraper!! Duh? I can’t believe you didn’t know that.’ I said with bravado I didn’t feel.

‘You can’t use a spoon like the rest of the civilized world?’ He looks at me with the contempt I deserve.

‘Not if you want your guacamole to be bruise-free.’ I say confidently.
It’s a good thing we have 4 months to go before the movers come. We’ve only gotten through one utensil drawer and the pressure is killing me.