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A lifetime of thrift pays off in the kitchen

I was in my kitchen making bread crumbs, and that got me thinking about how I've been here before.

Like my 28-year-old food processor whirring stale heels of wheat into the makings for turkey meatballs, life is a cyclical venture. What goes around comes around.

I haven't made my own bread crumbs for a long time, but I know the drill. Homemade is better. Especially when you toss in dried basil, thyme, oregano and sea salt.

But the task is time consuming and inconvenient. The food processor is a real pain to clean.

The canned kind is fast and easy and I can afford to buy it that way.

Making my own is an old-fashioned habit, a throwback to the "we have-to-be-very-thrifty" years.

I grew up in the '60s as the middle kid in a family of seven, the offspring of Depression babies who really knew what it meant to go without. Dad was a union carpenter who got laid off like clockwork every year right after Christmas. New Year's was the start of our annual hunkering-down period. That's when I learned that stocking up on marked-down canned goods can be a valuable habit and an awful obsession. I still can't help but gag at the very thought of tomato soup and Veg-All. Dad bought so many cases, we were tossing rusty cans of the stuff when he moved out 20 years later.

You didn't toss things like stale bread when I grew up.

You put it to good use. Made toast for breakfast. Tore it into small pieces and added milk (the awful powdered kind), eggs, vanilla and sugar and baked it into bread pudding. Or you simply stored the ends in the freezer until you had enough to make turkey stuffing for Thanksgiving.

I still do that. Some things just don't leave you.

The habit of making bread crumbs came about in the '70s when the food processor came into vogue and my future husband and I were living paycheck to paycheck. Those crumbs stretched a meatloaf into two meals.

And in the lean years later on, for stretching one meal to feed five mouths; again, paycheck to paycheck.

We've come a way since then, rounded the corner you could say.

Even so, like a lot of folks out there faced with the rising cost of so many staples, we're cutting back now.

Once again it's time to hunker down. To waste not want not, to stretch stuff and make loud declarations to the ice cream fanciers in my house who have a habit of scarfing down a carton of Moosetracks in record time.

"Once it's all gone — TOUGH!" I told them in a frugal and somewhat hormone-induced fashion. "You'll have to do without till shopping day." From here on out, I said, there will only be one trip a week to the grocery store.

And except for one emergency fiber trip, I've kept that promise — even on the spaghetti and meatball night when I discovered I had run out of bread crumbs.

So once again I'm making my own. And last week I turned a very stale left-over baguette into bread pudding.

It was a hit — especially with the youngest ice cream fancier who now wants me to teach her how to make a batch.

I think that's a good idea and I'll get around to it as soon as we have enough stale bread stocked up. Life being cyclical and all, I think she's going to need that recipe.

Michele Miller can be reached at (727) 869-6251 or at

A lifetime of thrift pays off in the kitchen 05/24/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 27, 2008 5:39pm]
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