July 16, 2011
We’ve all heard the phrase but I can’t really tell you that I’ve ever sat down to truly ponder what it meant. I haven’t had to truly want something since I was a kid; in fact, I’ve lived quite comfortably within my means for years with a well-paying job, few obligations and no debt. It’s not necessarily that all that has changed now, but some significant changes have gotten me thinking about what it means to really tighten our proverbial belt.
First, we got married. With both of our families in, shall we say ‘transitional’ stages, if we wanted a wedding we were going to have to cover it ourselves. We did want one and we did pay for it. As if the wedding weren’t enough, I had amassed a sizable collection of hotel points and airline miles, thanks to the travel heavy job, that were begging to be used so of course we had to spend two weeks in Italy.
You would think that having free airline tickets and most of our hotels covered would make a very affordable vacation but a terribly unfavorable exchange rate blew that idea to shreds. Twenty Euro antipasti plates become $30 in the blink of an eye. It all would have been fine had our lovely hotel in Positano, one of the few we paid for out of pocket, accepted credit cards. Imagine our surprise on the final day of our vacation to find that we needed an emergency stash of cash pronto on a Sunday!
None of this is to make you feel sorry for us; let’s face it – so many people could hope to have these problems, but rather to frame the situation. We were feeling awfully broke upon the return from our honeymoon. Cash reserves spent, credit card debt for the first time in a very long time and no more lavish gifts arriving by mail.
While we certainly weren’t feeling rich in cash, if there were one thing we were flush with it was eggs! Jared’s father who was caring for the farm couldn’t come close to eating the number of eggs our ducks and chickens produce and instead of sharing them with friends and neighbors like we normally do, he collected dozens of them in the crisper at the bottom of our fridge.
Two weeks worth of eggs amounted to nearly 70 altogether! I set to work putting them in cartons for friends and mastering the art of angel food cake. Three hours, two angel food cakes, zero visits to the grocery store and 24 egg whites later and our ‘egg crisper’ was looking a little tidier.
Luckily some friends were coming over during the weekend to make homemade pizza (free meal – woohoo!). Since they were supplying the pizza ingredients I decided the dessert I had to offer along with leftover wedding wine and beer would make a good trade, keeping us out of the store. Now, what to do with all those leftover yolks?
A couple of months ago I was at an urban homesteader potluck party thrown by Rachel of Dog Island Farm and met one of her regular guest bloggers, Jessa, the Sunday Recipe Gal. She had brought lemon curd to the party and was joking that she needed to find something to do with 24 egg whites. I laughed as I had brought an angel food cake to the party and needed to figure out what to do with all my leftover yolks. This chance visit inspired me to turn my post-honeymoon yolks into lemon curd.
Because I’d never made it before, I began researching lemon curd like I do most things before I make them. I look at some of my favorite food blogs and recipe websites, try to find articles about preserving the food, etc. Many of the recipes I found called for the whole egg, though I finally found a few, including the Food in Jars one I used that use just the yolks. There also seems to be a lot of confusion about whether it’s safe to can curd because of the eggs and butter. I finally found this article by a Food Safety Specialist claiming you can in fact process curd, though it doesn’t have the normal twelve-month shelf like you can expect from other items, more like two months. This all jived with what our friends at Food in Jars claimed so I decided to go for it.
Then there was this little issue of lemons. I had all the egg yolks I could ever need but the Food in Jars recipe, which I planned on quadrupling, called for three lemons. Not a problem in California right? Citrus hangs on trees year-round in nearly every backyard in our neighborhood; heck, in our own backyard, we have 16 fruiting trees and vines. Not a lemon to be found though. Safeway had them for $1 a pop but I was not about to spend $12 in the aftermath of our pricey honeymoon just to keep from tossing my leftover yolks in the compost.
Someone had to have lemons. I started out into the neighborhood to find someone who could help. I ran into two neighbors who were able to contribute six lemons – only six more to go! Another 15 minutes found another neighbor who generously climbed into his garden to rustle up the remaining fruits. I skipped away promising delicious lemon curd over my shoulder.
The curd was really a breeze to make if you disregard the knuckles I nearly lost on the microplane grating the peel from the pith. Even easier if you ignore the fact that I juiced the lemons after grating them wincing as the acid founds it’s way into my injured hands.
I quickly canned the curd (yes, quickly – it turns out I’m getting quite proficient at this preservation business!) and ran out the door to deliver a finished jar to the neighbors who had volunteered lemons. There was enough left to serve atop the angel food cake for dessert that night, send a jar home with my friend and have a few left in our canning cabinet.
Nothing was wasted and even the leftover lemon rinds found a home in our compost pile, helping to heat it up.
After the stress of knowing our credit cards were nearly maximum capacity, it felt really great to know I could make use of what we had on hand and turn it into food and trade. Our friends were blown away by both the angel food cake and the curd and a side bonus is that ever since I gave one of the neighbors a jar of lemon curd, she’s been stopping by a couple of times a week to leave her overdue produce for our chickens and ducks. She also thinks I’m a master of the kitchen, noting that my lemon curd was better than Trader Joe’s, which I take as a compliment. All in all I think we win. Again.
What ways have you found to use what you have on hand to make something delicous and avoid a pricey trip the store? I’d love to hear your ideas?