That Cluttered Fridge and Leftover Buttermilk

Clean Fridge, 3

I’m 14 days into the #eatathome challenge and I’m so glad I jumped in with both feet. In the future, I need to do more of this “wading in blindly” business. I always say that I’m indecisive, but I’m more of an over-thinker. I analyze, project, and research until I understand every possible risk, if it can be avoided, and whether it’s worth the end result.

On paper, eating in every day of the month with only days to prepare sounded like a terrible idea. So did The William Morris Project two years ago–another project I jumped into blindly–but both have been amazing experiences.

I have five observations after 2 weeks. This means (1) I could notice more positive changes in the future and (2) I’m still in the hearts and flowers honeymoon phase.

  1. I waste less food. We get to the vegetables before they rot. Leftovers used to die in our fridge. Now I eat them the next day or re-purpose them into a new meal.
  2. I eat less. I don’t know what they put in the food we eat outside the home (Salt, Sugar, Fat–for starters) but it flips a switch in me. In most Americans, I bet.
  3. I’m more relaxed.Does that sound as crazy to you as it does to me? I cook more, I’m in the kitchen more, I now have to work at feeding my family more, and right now I’m alone a lot more than I have ever been. You would think I’d be sobbing gently into cupped hands, but aside from the usual frustrations that pop up, I’m far less agitated. Again, at the risk of sounding woo-woo, I think the food I ate outside the home affected me more than I thought. Yes, this observation can be all in my head or real but something unique to me. We’ve all heard of the people who smoked and ate McDonalds and then lived to 114 years of age.
  4. I’m less bloated; I feel lighter. I’m sure the loss of salt has a lot to do with this, but if you’re watching what I eat on Instagram, you know I’m not dieting. I don’t count calories, fat, carbs, or random nutrients. I eat, and try to eat mindfully. This, by the way, is a lot like saying I try to ride my Pegasus every weekend.
  5. I’m more organized. I kind of have to be. I need to think about what I’m making and how I can use it the rest of the week. Case in point, and the purpose of this post, buttermilk.
  6. I’ve tried countless pancake recipes over the years, and have played around with buttermilk pancake recipes since October started. I found and tweaked a keeper of a recipe, but it required 3 cups of buttermilk. The remaining cup of buttermilk spoiled the first week, which killed me. The second week, as I was making pancakes, I started thinking of all the things I could make with one cup of buttermilk. Ranch dressing seemed like the most obvious solution, and wouldn’t you know it, I found a recipe for homemade Ranch dressing I could easily double. So that’s what I did, and we had it on our salads for dinner the following night.

    Clean Fridge, 1

    What does this have to do with my Little Things project this month? I needed to cull all our condiments on the door shelves in order to fit the dressing in the fridge. I planned to limit myself to the doors, but it went so quickly that I went ahead and did the rest of the fridge.

    Clean Fridge, 2

    That’s another positive to eating at home. With the contents of your fridge constantly in rotation, it doesn’t get as messy–or at least it’s not as hard to clean when it does because you’re not tossing much out.

    Jules Kendall writes about books, family, and easygoing simplicity.


  1. says

    I’ve never bought buttermilk for recipes. There is a cheat that involves something like a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar (either is fine) in a cup of milk. My mom used to love to drink buttermilk but I always thought it was foul stuff.

    • says

      I used to never buy buttermilk (used the same trick)but now that I have, I can say there is no comparison. Real buttermilk, to me anyway, makes an incredible difference in baked goods. I think that as our milk products become for homogenized, that trick works less well. I’ll bet that cheat came about before homogenization made it almost impossible for milk to separate.

  2. Susan G says

    The refrigerator looks great! Mine needs to be done and now I’m motivated to do it. I think you can freeze buttermilk – it affects the texture but for making pancakes or dressing it doesn’t matter. And great observations about eating at home and how it affects you – they all make sense to me and not nearly over the woo-woo line.

  3. says

    I also find that when I cook at home more often, the fridge is cleaner and more organized. It’s my nature to want things to be at hand easily, and a messy fridge doesn’t help with that. I can’t count the number of times I’ve bought sour cream at the store, only to find a perfectly good, unopened tub of it behind the eggs.

    Glad to hear it’s going well, and that you are finding the solitude enjoyable. I find cooking to be relaxing, and having that time to myself is kinda nice. :-)

  4. Larissa says

    I’m always so impressed at how you make a goal and stick with it. How do you do that?! I failed the #eatathome within the first week. This weekend, though, I bought a lot of things to make freezer meals again, so here’s to a new week!

  5. hayley says

    As ever I enjoy your blog, but I am really intrigued as to why you – and so many Americans – (I am British but live here as a permanent resident) make such a big deal about home cooking. Why anyone – for cost, convenience and nutritional value – would ever think that eating out regularly is a good way to feed the family is seriously mystifying to me. In Europe, going out to dinner has been, historically, more of an occasion which I think is much better all round. Much less nasty fast food (or the cheap chains of “family” restaurant) so restaurants are of higher quality and families can actually enjoy taking time to share a special meal together. Of course this is all changing right now and I believe that McDonalds’ second largest market after the US is France, so go figure! Anyway, it needn’t be hard or take too much time to prepare daily meals at home – and surely much more convenient to be able to do so rather than heading off in a car to buy something that is handed through a window.

    • Anna M says

      My husband lived in Germany for a few years before we were married, and he misses the slow pace of the culture there, the availability of quality food, and the fact that when he went to a restaurant with friends it wasn’t a hurried affair but something to be savored.

      We lived a ways from town and so my mom had a repertoire of quick, easy recipes made with pantry staples that she would employ if she found herself short on time- things like eggs & toast, salmon patties, soups, spaghetti. They were always delicious and I never remember her slaving for hours in the kitchen.

  6. says

    I substitute the milk/lemon juice combo for real buttermilk quite often (using heavy cream if I have it on hand, which I usually do), but real buttermilk is far, far better. It just gives that just-right texture and flavor that the substitute can’t quite match. I’m also amazed at how little you have in your fridge. Mine is full to overflowing on a regular basis. How often do you shop?!? Maybe because my kids and I are home all day every day, we have more. Or maybe I’m just a food junkie and should buy less (things rarely go bad, but still). Anyway, yes, eating at home is far, far healthier. And you can control portion size!

  7. Michellejeanne says

    I think part of feeling less stressed is that if you add up the time it takes to think about needing to feed the family, trying to motivate yourself to cook, figuring out where to GO to get take out (this takes the most time at my house) and actually going to get the food, you are probably spending the same amount of time as you do cooking. Add to that the kids can do their own thing while you cook instead coming along in the car, and the lovely interaction time with your family, and knowing that you ar eating (and feeding) less fat, sugar, salt – it is very satisfying.

    My family is big on eating out. I, as a dietitian with high cholesterol, am not. Anyway. A couple of pointers:
    * With my family it really helps if I can have dinner going long before everyone gets home, no one complains about eating in, even on the busiest 16 activity days. Those are the days I try to have something that SOUNDS fancy and out of the ordinary, but easy, such as pork chops simmering all day in the crock pot smothered in apricot jam and some BBQ.
    * I also rarely purchase buttermilk. I almost always have lemons. Give half a lemon a good squeeze into a cup of milk, and let sit at room temperature while you gather the other ingredients. Technically 1 Tbsp acid to 1 cup milk is correct as mentioned above. I used this in muffins just yesterday morning.
    * I know you have a thing for roasted vegetables, so I thought this would appeal to you for those limp veggies, and you can have this going while working on one of your projects. For veggies going limp, or veggies left out too long (Think weekend veggies tray for afternoon snacking) I wash them and pop them in a gallon ziplock bag in the freezer. I also add the ends of onions, carrots, peelings, herbs (wilting but not gross or slimy) etc. When I have a full bag or two I dump them into my roaster or stock pot. I might add an onion, a few carrots, garlic or some fresh herbs if needed, then I toss with olive oil and pepper, and roast or saute. Then I add water, and simmer for an hour. Puree, strain, juice, use a food processor (pick one) and then strain and toss the bits. Voila! Vegetable broth, soup starter. Use it, can it, freeze it. So yummy, frugal, low salt, and much much much cheaper than store bought veggie broth. Which I still use when needed, mind you.

  8. Phaedra says

    Hurrah for eating at home! It really does make a difference in so many ways (financial, physical, mental). I honestly feel that people have been told so often that ‘cooking is hard & takes a long time’ in this country that they don’t realize what they’re missing out on. It’s not hard. Plus, I find that just like many other home tasks there is a peaceful quality to just working with my hands & being ‘in the moment’ during the preparation. That moment often includes some music or an audiobook on weekends & my child doing homework at the counter on weeknights, but it’s far more peaceful than eating with one hand in the car feeling rushed and then vaguely nauseated. Family chain restaurants? Not relaxing at all & I always feel slightly irritated about paying a lot for something I could’ve made better at home.
    *Buttermilk also can make wonderful base of marinades for chicken. I also use a splash when I make turkey burgers. Keeps them very moist

  9. HeatherL says

    You can also use buttermilk to bread things. The salt in restaurant food is crazy. My wedding ring is always tight after a restaurant meal especially in the summer. Interestingly, we splurged on a fancy restaurant for our anniversary and I noticed it was much less salty than what I was used to from restaurants, but it wasn’t bland. I think when you cook your own food for a while and then go out, you will notice things like too much salt and butter or microwaved chicken more. I know I have, and it makes me more selective about where I dine out.
    I’m not sure if you mentioned this already, but how often did you eat out before? Did you get a lot of take out and fast food?

    • Phaedra says

      I totally agree Heather! I never noticed the poor quality until I taught myself to cook & started eating at home regularly after my daughter was born. Once I got in the groove of cooking at home, I started to notice how salty everything was and how generally awful a lot of the food was. Places that used to be ‘favorites’ quickly fell off & we decided at home that we would rather just save up for a splurge at a high quality place and really enjoy it.

  10. says

    I love reading about your experience with this. My husband and I did this for a month last year and had a lot of the same realizations. One surprise for me was that we hardly spent any more on groceries during that month than we did when we were also eating out a couple nights a week! I guess we were probably wasting the rest? Awful to think. I also got much better about incorporating leftover bits of one meal into the next.

    I love seeing your food pics on instagram, by the way!

  11. Roseanne says

    I hate tossing out unused buttermilk too, so I put it into an ice cube tray and freeze it. After it’s frozen, I pop them out and put them into a freezer bag. This works great for me.

  12. says

    I’m loving this series :) I’ve mostly been following along with #eatathome and find that prepping some food for the week helps me in a crazy number of ways. If I chop our veggies, make a soup, some oatmeal, boil some quinoa before the week begins….all I have to do is toss it together at the when I am hungry. Of course, as much as I know this in my head, I’m not always successful in DOING it. But I’m trying. And that counts for a lot, right?

    Good call on the buttermilk ranch! Homemade salad dressings are the jam.

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