Eating for a living is a good way to pick up bad habits: When I develop recipes, for instance, I buy whatever perfection I need without ever looking at the price, and if a cake or a ragout or a gratin is not perfect, I have no qualms about scraping it straight into the trash and starting over. But like everyone these days, I've got to change my wasteful ways.
Not only have imported essentials like Dijon mustard and piquillo peppers gotten scarily pricey as the dollar has gone from weak to staggering. But even staples like flour and rice have edged up toward luxury level, and with the global food supply under siege right now, squandering anything edible feels increasingly hard to justify, either morally or environmentally.
But how hard will my old habits be to break? The first night I swore I was going into hyper-conservation mode happened to be one when I was cooking dinner for a forgiving friend last spring. I saved all the woody stalks snapped off the bottoms of two bunches of asparagus, the parts I would normally have just thrown away, figuring I might be able to make a vegetable stock or soup with them. I saved the white from the egg I beat into milk to bread the flounder I was about to fry; I used the last of the ghee in my cabinet to flavor some vintage basmati rice I scrounged up rather than buying fresh.
I was totally pleased with myself for cooking against type until my friend, fascinated alongside the stove, watched me reflexively dump the leftover panko from the breading into the garbage and yelped: "But I thought you were going to be frugal from now on."
It honestly never occurred to me to recycle something I am so used to pouring with abandon. You can't skimp with these amazingly flaky, crunchy Japanese bread crumbs. But I would feel worse about reusing anything with both egg yolk and fish juices dredged through it, even if I kept my leftover cache in the refrigerator.
So I'll pitch the tainted panko. And atone by frying my breaded fish not in $28 Sicilian olive oil but good old American peanut oil.
Regina Schrambling is best known for her acerbic Web site, gastropoda.com, and blog, gastriques.blogspot.com, but proudest of being a two-time refugee from The New York Times. She left the national desk in 1983 to enroll in the New York Restaurant School and was lured back as deputy editor of the Dining section, from which she resigned in 2002 to become a contract writer for the Los Angeles Times food section. She writes for magazines including Metropolitan Home, New York, Real Food, and Edible Brooklyn, as well as Slate and Salon.
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