When I was a kid milk was a big deal in our house. “Three glasses a day!” my father would bark, determined not to have hump-backed kids with brittle bones and terrible teeth. Every night at the end of dinner one of my siblings or I would be responsible for exchanging our glasses of water for glasses of milk. Whenever the task fell to my brother my sister and I knew we were in for it. It became a running joke that he’d fill the drinking glass literally to the brim with whole milk, carefully walking from the kitchen to the dining room hoping not to slosh it onto the floor. I don’t know about you but after a large meal, drinking 10 ounces of whole milk is truly painful. I also think I have a swallowing problem because I’ve always gotten incredibly full whenever I drink a big glass of anything. And my parents being my parents insisted that every drop was drained from the glass before we could clear the table and start the dishes.
At the time I found it so annoying and one of the many reasons I preferred to dine with my friends and their more laid-back parents. However, now I see why they were so focused on complete consumption—sure it had something to do with nutrition but it also was a lesson in ‘waste not, want not.’ Although they never played the children-in-Africa-are-starving card they did insist that we finish everything on our plates; we did not waste food.
By now I’ve been paying for my own food for the same number of years my parents were responsible for feeding me and I value the lesson I was taught. And because I live alone it is easy for me not to waste anything—even if I don’t finish everything on my plate I can wrap up my half-eaten dinner to throw in a salad the next day. And yes, I’ve been known to pour a few remaining ounces of OJ from my breakfast back into the Tropicana container. Okay, that sounds a little gross but what does it matter if I’m the only one drinking it? The point is I’m not pouring the juice (and the $3.69 price tag) down the drain.
Of course the commitment to saving food can cross over into truly disgusting. Many years ago I was on a fake-date with a rising film/TV writer-producer-director.
What’s a fake-date you ask? A fake-date is when you think you’ve been asked on a date by a very funny, charming single guy only to learn after the fake-date that he has a girlfriend living in California and just wanted someone to talk at, I mean talk to, over a meal in New York. This guy was fond of Shopsin’s, a much discussed restaurant then located in the West Village. (Note—Calvin Trillin wrote a great piece about it in the New Yorker on the eve of the closing of its original location. Click here to enjoy.) Chef-owner/author Kenny Shopsin is quite a character and was prone to kitchen rantings and outbursts that were easily overheard by his customers sitting in the general store-like cafe. Much like the Soup Nazi, Shopsin’s had a whole set of undisclosed rules that, if broken, got you banned from the place for life. I may be over stating but the evil eye would accompany you if you tried to dine with a party larger than four. I have to say the charm of the place eluded me; I don’t usually choose fear and anxiety as a side dish to my main course.
Kenny's wife Eve worked the front and in fact their whole family lived in the apartment above the restaurant. When I entered with said fake-date Eve began to fawn all over him. Apparently, he was such an appreciative and frequent customer that a sandwich had been named after him. Anyway, after my fake-date told me, sorry, recommended to me, what I had to order I found myself confronted with enough food to feed me for two days: a big bowl of some kind of tomato-y soup and a huge sandwich on a baguette. I knew I had to pace myself so, in order to have room for the sandwich, I abandoned the soup half-way through the bowl.
“Don’t like your soup?” Eve asked pointedly.
“No, no. It’s delicious! I just want to save room for this fantastic looking sandwich!” I hoped that would be enough and she’d walk away.
“No problem,” she said. “I’ll just bring the rest up to my kids.”
And with that she brought over one of those coated, round cardboard take-out boxes, picked up my half eaten bowl of soup, poured it into the container, smiled and strolled off with it to feed it to her children.
Needless to say while fake-date was laughing I lost my appetite and barely made it through the sandwich, comfortably resigned to the fact that I’d never be eating at Shopsin’s again.
So it was with wasting food on my mind that I was haunted by the leftover buttermilk and pumpkin puree twiddling their thumbs in my fridge only after being half used for my Halloween whoopie pies. What to do? A quick-bread came to mind and I whipped up this sweet tea cake in no time. There’s some whole-wheat flour to add a little wholesomeness, some walnuts for your omega-3’s and crunch, and the sour-sweet of the chewy cranberries. This bread keeps well and freezes even better. Make some now and have it on Thanksgiving with a cup of tea (or a big glass of milk). Just don’t let it go to waste.
Waste Not Want Not Pumpkin Cranberry-Walnut
Adapted from Bon Appétit, October 2003
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1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup canned pure pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup dried sweetened cranberries
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 9 1/4x5 1/4x3-inch loaf pan. Line bottom and 2 long sides with waxed paper. Whisk flours, spices, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually add 1 cup sugar, beating until blended. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in pumpkin, then vanilla. Beat in dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk in 2 additions each.
Fold in cranberries and nuts. Transfer batter to pan. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.Bake bread until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Cool bread in pan on rack 15 minutes. Cut around bread at short ends to loosen from pan. Turn bread out onto rack; peel off waxed paper. Cool bread completely.