A bitter sweet problem

We had a cooking mis-hap… Okay, I had a cooking mis-hap. A spectacular one that only I witnessed but is truly believable of my antics in the kitchen. And now we are eating our way through the consequences. Oh the delicious consequences.


Let me explain.

We hosted Christmas dinner just passed. A wonderful lunch for ten people with a week worth of free time to prepare. We took great care in our planning, counted our potatoes, communicated on who was bringing what, gradually opened the cheeses, followed all our tips from our Christmas tips post and ended up with enough leftovers of entree and main to feed the two of us for two days. #wastejarwinning But the sweets has been an issue, a definite Christmas calorie issue. This is mostly due to my mis-hap in the kitchen and the resulting 4 litres of caramel.


These were meant to be little wrapped up caramels for everyone to take home. The recipe said to put a litre of cream, a kilo of sugar, a stack of egg yolks and a block of butter into the large pot. The measurements of the ingredients were much more specific than this but the description of the pot was not and when everything fit into the pot I chose, I thought I was doing well. Turn on the heat and put in the thermometer and it begins to rise, and rise, and overflow. I grab a jug and scoop some out into a bowl. It still grows. I scoop some more. This won’t work. I grab a bigger pot and pour the boiling caramel mixture in. Gently, gently, no burns. I pour the scooped caramel in too. We’re all in. Literally. But in all the fuss the thermometer is covered in caramel. I can’t see the temperature. I don’t want to try to clean it from fear of cracking it. I battle on, scraping caramel down the slide of the thermometer, squinting to see the measure.  Eventually I take a punt and pour the mixture into the tin.


If you didn’t know, as I didn’t, getting the temperature to the prescribed height is critical to how the mixture will set. Turns out I got it to sauce level. Not quite chewy toffee level.


And so we have a bucket of caramel sauce.


In retrospect, I should have put it it no jars and given them away to our family on Christmas Day. We’ve had guests over since and forced them into dessert. We might do that again yet. But I think this will end up in some form of ice-cream, and a slice, and maybe some cookies, and then we might freeze the rest.


It’s a lot of caramel. A sweet lesson on an otherwise successfully waste-less Christmas.


Tips for a waste free christmas

The festive season is tough for any waste jar-ian. It’s during this time of the year that we become most aware of our waste related habits. Think about all the common phrases we say about food at this time…
“Better to have too much than too little.”
“It is the season of excess.”
“We had to have all three types of meat.”
“We have to stock up because the supermarket will be closed.”
“We ate ham for days and then had to throw the rest out.”
“Mum’s got like five trifles in the back fridge. It’s like a whole fridge dedicated just to trifle.”

… okay, maybe that last one is just my family. Maybe?

It is easy to get caught up and carried away in old habits at this time of year. So we’ve given you some tips below that may help to avoid this tradition this season.

1. Plan.
That old chestnut! (Well you wouldn’t have old chestnuts if you planned.)
This tip is about working towards having the right quantities of food in the first place – real waste jar thinking. It’s also about the fundamental methods of being waste conscious: seeing what’s already in the cupboard first, writing lists, doing more calculations and less guess work.

How many are coming? How many potatoes per person? Not everyone likes peas, so don’t get so many peas. (Who’s going to be upset they didn’t get peas anyway?) I’ve got ice cream from the weekly shop already so I won’t buy more.

2. Communicate.
How many Christmas’ have you been to where two people brought a ham? If you’re hosting and asking people to contribute, make sure they know what and how much of what they are to bring. In fact, go so far as to tell them what everyone else is bringing too. Send an email. Use the old family grapevine.

While everyone may get a little generous during the holiday season, that generosity is no good when a guest thinks they just might bring a Christmas cake, you know, just in case. Communicating who is bringing what stops these assumptions.

The flip side to this, if you’re a guest and you don’t know what to bring, ask your host. They can ensure you don’t look the fool when you rock up with yet another Christmas cake.

Or more importantly, if you’re the guest and you’ve read the email, or heard on the grape vine that Aunty Jo is bringing prawns, maybe make sure you let your partner know too, particularly if they’ve mentioned getting prawns in passing. That’s your opportunity to keep Christmas dinner waste free.

3. Open when you’re ready.
Some types of food keep for longer in their original packaging. Think red wine, cheeses, cream, dips, anything marked “must be consumed within X days of opening.”

If you have a cheese board out, don’t put all the cheese out at once. If you’re serving cream with your pudding, wait until the table has finished the first tub of cream before you open the next.

The host may be worried that they don’t appear hospitable, when on the contrary they are creating more interaction between guests. “Pass me the cream please” and “which cheese should we open next?” are conversation starters and reasons to get up and move about.

This tip is easy and if you can do any of these tips across the holiday period, it should be this one.

4. Don’t be a prepper.
This contradicts the old fashion notion that supermarkets aren’t open until January 2nd and we need to stock up. Sure, stock up on as much canned, frozen and packaged foods as you like. But if you’re concerned that you’ve not perfectly calculated all the potatoes, ham and carrots per person, don’t stress, take a breath, our supermarket giants will be ready for your purchases as soon as you’re ready to make them.

5. Stock up on freezer blocks and esky bags.
So guests can take a plate home! Share the responsibility of the leftovers. No one person or family should be challenged to eat all of the left over ham.

And if all else fails…

6. Eat trifle for breakfast.
Hey, you’re on holidays. There is food there to be eaten and, unless your diabetic or getting married next week, who cares if you’re eating dessert for breakfast.

Similarly, cheese can be dessert. Potato salad can be a meal on its own. Turkey is a snack. Who would of thought saving food waste could be so good?!



There was a time when I loved leftovers. Reliving the previous nights meal. Having something tasty for lunch at work while the girl next to me has a plain salada. Or that last slice of pizza the next morning on a weekend. No matter how they came, leftovers were a gift from the food gods, reward for a bountiful harvest.

Now they only give off the rotten stench of failure. Four days straight of coleslaw after too much cabbage being purchased. Too much cooked pasta becomes a toastie, whose ingredients in turn become a pasta dish.

Then there is the stir fry. The last refuge of leftover vegetables. How many times can we make a stir fry before one of us snaps and does something with the soy sauce or carrot we’ll regret.

But really, none of this is really leftovers, merely overs. We bought too much and must pay for it or suffer through it. Spinach was my first attempt to buy less, but no matter how much I tried, there was always too much. It was used in scrambled eggs, pasta salad, too many lunch bagels to count, not to mention the dreaded stir fry. Now, I just don’t buy spinach.

Carrots are almost on the no buy list as well. We’ve seen too many carrots go limp and almost break in half when the time came to peel them. Why did I buy three? I only needed one for the recipe, but I guess I thought they were cheap and I’d make a salad for lunch. Potatoes are a particularly evil piece of food overs. Those eyes staring at you from a dark corner of the cupboard. The longer you ignore them, the more eyes that end up staring at you.

I guess I never truly appreciated how much hard work and sustained effort it was going to take to get to zero food waste. Learning new recipes, finding alternatives to 1 kilogram minimums, resisting the temptation of in season fruit and veg, I never considered any of these when we started. I thought it would be easy, buy less, eat less, done. But here we are, surrounded by week old capsicum, half a lemon and some thyme who’s original purpose is from, well, another time!

But we are having some small wins changing our shopping habit. Buying half loaves of bread and smaller cartons of milk. Although if the milk gets any smaller, we’ll be buying from hotel suppliers! And in the meantime, hopefully all these small wins will keep us going in the bigger challenge towards zero food waste.


Our confession

We’re not real good at this non wasting business. We’re not. Over the last few months we’ve rode a roller-coaster of goods and bads and are coming up losers. Well that’s how it feels.

We are questioning ourselves, our belief in our ability. We feel we have lost our way on this project. G has begun asking “Are we really committed?” We have doubts. Our habits have not changed in the dramatic fashion we envisioned. The jar does not represent how bad we’ve been.

And then, parallel to this, we’ve become counsel on others food waste habits. It is clear that we have had an impact (albeit small) on others. We have become the rule makers. But we have also become rule breakers.

We’ve broken some pretty big rules. Rules we didn’t even think needed to be noted as rules. These rules were not listed on The Rules page, were never discussed during our design phases, should not have ever even been a thing. But now they are a big thing.

So, we feel that it is only right, that here today we ask for your forgiveness as we lay here our confession.

We are sorry for not putting money in the jar when we said we would. For all the times we did this, because it is easily (easily!) more than several. We are sorry we broke our promise that we would when we had cash on hand. We will be more diligent in noting and paying our debts. We will pay what we owe (or as best we can work out because we didn’t record it anywhere … with overs.)

We are sorry we went away on holiday and didn’t care because it was too much work and we were on holiday. Holidays, we’ve found, are serious food wasting opportunities. This should have been a good learning experience, we could have learnt so much, shared so much. But we didn’t.

Finally, and with the biggest, heaviest heart, we are sorry we took money from the jar and still haven’t paid it back even though we bring it up at least once a week and then don’t do anything about it. I can’t even remember what for but I’m sure it had something to do with eating out.

This week we are going to get cash out and repay our debt. We are going to think about some of the good things we’ve done to be more mindful about our waste these last few months. We’re going to put up a blog piece or two.

We’re going to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down, and get back to limiting our waste.

E & G


Saving chocolate sauce

Sometimes in life you’ve just got to make sacrifices. In this story we made two; one that was fairly upsetting and cost us money in the jar, and the other shall we say was a little bit sweeter.

It begins with a cooking calamity … as unfortunately some waste jar stories do.

I am not a baker. I try, but maybe because I can’t follow instructions, or perhaps my years of not eating wheat have put a great hole in my baking skill building and I sometimes think I have the same capability as 18 year old me.  She loved a packet mix too. But every now and then I’ll give it a try. On this particular day I “tried” to make chocolate puddings. Little cupcake shaped, cocoa powder tasting, polenta texture feeling puddings. Not a complete fail, but lets just say we weren’t rushing home to eat them.

The silver lining was the chocolate sauce. Oh the simply delicious chocolate sauce.

With the puddings not being as appetising as we’d hoped, we put them aside and within only a few days (I will say sooner than we expected) little white mouldy cobwebs stretched out inside the container.

Puddings went into the bin. Money went into the jar. Baking fail.

But the sauce was still good, although it wouldn’t live much longer, and with the sounds of the remaining puddings hitting the bottom of the bin still haunting, I wasn’t ready to get my bake back on.

Fortunately in times of trouble, there is always one good friend that will be there: ice-cream.

Oh ice-cream, how I love thee. You never go to waste and you’re always there to help us eat whatever crazy dessert or sauce we have left over. You’re good for frozen and fresh fruit, and near stale sweet biscuits.  We put you in the freezer and there you stay, free of mould, far from used by dates. You are the waste jar project’s friend indeed.


…oh wait, that other sacrifice … we actually didn’t have any ice-cream at the time. So in order to save putting money into the waste jar, we gave money to the supermarket. But we didn’t waste. A small sacrifice for a good win … mostly because it involved ice-cream. mmmm….


The buffet

They say you have to do something 17 times for it to become habit. During my university years, making the most of the local restaurant  $5 all you can eat buffets was definitely habit forming, hitting the 17 mark sometime in the first month I’m sure. Not only was it a cheap meal, it became a competition for who could stack their plate the most or who could eat the most pieces of garlic bread, or pizza slices or soft serve ice cream.

Recently we visited my grandfather for lunch at the local sporting club, where their main draw, other than the Ghostbusters pokie machine, is their buffet. Grandpa says he likes bringing people there as it allows everyone to choose what they want to eat without any fuss. It was the first time we had been back to Grandpas buffet since starting this project and I was about to learn that old habits are hard to break.

There is something about the buffet that taps in to the Australian culture of celebrating the effort as much as the achievement, the old “ah well, he gave it a red hot go”. For me it also taps in to the indecisive part of my mind, “should I have the pork or beef? Why not a bit of both! Oh I didn’t see the calamari rings, best get some of those as well.” The plate starts to pile up, the flavours start blending in to each other but I don’t really notice how much food is there until I sit back down at my seat, and struggle to see anything else at the table past the big pile of fried rice I built my stack around.

It starts off well, the roast beef and vegies go down easy enough, the seafood hardly touch the sides, then I see it, the slab of lasagne that  smelt so good under the heat lamps. What was I thinking? I look over at E’s plate and she has definitely approached this differently. Part of it is the gluten free diet avoiding all the pasta and pastry themed items, which cuts out about 30% of this buffet. But if I was honest, I think she was just more mindful of this project than I am.

I look back down at my plate at the roast pork, pasta salad and call defeat.  The bargain buffet just got more expensive, like a lot of things along this journey. I’m definitely getting better at what to look out for and in the process I added another count to my mindfulness habit, hopefully.


Our first time

Our first time wasn’t romantic, there was no candle lit dinner and it certainly had nothing to do with roses. It was depressing and expensive for what it was. It felt like failure and stank like sulphur.

G claims he doesn’t remember our first time. I think he’s suppressed it. But what I remember is this …

It was a quarter of a cabbage, half wrapped in the cling wrap we bought it in, sitting in the bottom of our crisper.

We had invited friends over for lunch and instead of using the perfectly fine cabbage already in our fridge we chose to make our coleslaw from something more fresh. So we bought some more.

Aren’t we good to our friends?

But not using all of the cabbage for the lunch resulted in two separate quarters remaining. One more fresh than the other.

Of course, we ate the remains of the fresher one first.  And as we did, we were inevitably left us with a fairly wilted and certainly in edible quarter of cabbage.

Now, at this point it’s important to remember that cabbage is in essence a base level, cheap vegetable. Ruffage G would call it. Even a whole one at a fancy pants grocery store will not quite cost our penalty price of five dollars.

But a quarter of a cabbage did. What a rookie error!

When you ask people seriously, most will say their first time was clumsy, uncomfortable and a little bit messy. This experience was all those, but as with all good affairs, we were ready to give it another crack.



Mandarin in the fruit bowl

There is a mandarin in the fruit bowl. I have been watching it for the last four days. I know it is going to become money in the waste jar. Deep down I know this.

The mandarin was bought by G because I asked him to. I had been suffering for a cold for a few days and began craving foods that were orange. Then on a tram trip into the city to meet my mum, I sat across from a man eating a mandarin. The smell was so delicious and comforting. I began to feel my sniffle dry up instantly. So what else to do but send G a text “Not that I’m asking you to, but if you happen to go to the market today, can you get me some mandarins?”

Now, if I was truly conscious of my waste habits I would have 1) asked G if he wanted any, 2) calculated an exact amount of how many we might eat before they went bad, 3) already had mandarins on a shopping list, 4) not asked G at all and just picked up a mandarin for a street vendor in the city … if I really wanted a mandarin that desperately.

Turns out G doesn’t even like mandarins. Something I think I knew but didn’t really consider.

He bought ten. I have now eaten them all but one.

This one, this last one, started to get a little brown patch around the top a couple of days ago. And instead of eating it when the spot first appeared, I chose a different, better looking mandarin from my little collection. And again the next day, and the next until I have only the ugly one left.

A few days ago I realised this is like a micro version of supermarket shelves. Everyone picking the beautiful fruit first until only the ugly spotted and perhaps (but not always) inedible fruits are left. I also speculated that this process happens more than once in the lifetime of the fruit; on the farm, in the storage, in the supermarket and yes, in our homes.

But I still continued to put the poor sucker back, and now the once little brown patch is about a fifth of the total skin surface.

Obviously, I am only at the comprehension and not quite the application phase of this journey. But that’s okay. There is much to learn.


My shopping weaknesses

Hi, my name is G and I’m a food-bargain-a-holic. This week was a real struggle for me. I’ve been doing really well, I am now able to walk past the 2 for 1 bread loaf signs and not stop to wonder about all the toasties that I could make with that bread. But this week I came across a “buy 3, get them for x price” deal on my yoghurt.

Before starting this project of ours, without hesitation I would have loaded up the cart with those delicious berry or vanilla flavoured fermented milk tubs. My reasoning in the past was simple, I’m buying 3 for the price of 2, so even if I only eat 2.5 tubs before they expire, I’m still ahead. Till now. If you’ve never seen a man standing in the middle of the fridge section of Woolworths, looking for the longest expiry date and trying to calculate in his head how many days, how many breakfasts it is, it’s a bit like this.

It’s now an instinct, I knew there would be a price for not finishing all 3 tubs and it made me stop and consider my purchase. What is the expiry date, sure we look at this in dairy most times, but sometimes we know we will get through a litre of milk in a week so we don’t need to check. When it’s going to cost you more than the bargain price of the item to throw it out, you check the expiry date, believe me.

But it’s not just the basics like bakery and dairy, those sneaky net wearers at the deli get me as well. If I see a triple smoked ham at 25 or 30% off, E can look forward to toasties and rolls for at least 5 meals over the coming week. Then there is the salami, which in my mind is so cured that it never goes off, so if that’s on special, load up! And now that I’ve got the ham and salami, I better swing back by the bread isle and get those 2 for 1 loaves. Wait, E needs GF bread as well, does she have any frozen? I can’t remember, maybe, but fresh is nicer, so I’ll get her some. Better get some more cheese as well, YES, my favourite tasty cheese is on special. Oh, only for a 1kg block…. well I’ve already got the bread and ham.

In for a penny, in for a $5 donation to the jar.


The wrong bok choy

If you’ve ever had a hectic calendar, you will appreciate the need to stay on top of your health and eat right. It may take until that moment when you realise you’ve had wine for dinner every night that week, or the guy at the noodle shop knows your order, or your skin gets a little flakey and your inner  … well … let’s not go there but it’ll happen … that time of full appreciation will come and you will wish you had something normal in the fridge.

Your planning, shopping, cooking routine is an easy casualty in these frantic times.

So when our comfy city office jobs turn into ugly 60 plus hour weeks, we are more than happy to sit at home in our trackies, take a break from our spreadsheets and reports, and do an online grocery shop.  The scary thoughts of big business collecting our data aside, they’re a pretty good service. But one time, we got into a whole heap of waste jar trouble.

Now, don’t get me wrong, what we did is easy to do if you’re not paying attention, which is also easy to do if you’re tired and stressed, and a wine or two into your next client pitch presentation and “fire my assistant” is now an item on your gantt chart. But like all things we do with the waste jar, being mindful will pay off.

Particularly when buying bok choy apparently.

When the man came to our door with our online order in hand, we signed the receipt, and began to put our groceries away, noticing as we did a half supermarket bag full of very large bok choy.

Turns out there are two sizes of bok choy. Furthermore, turns out you should look closely at the item description when ordering your online groceries. Each item is very clearly described we’ve admitted in retrospect. In another shop we also bought a very small single can of corn, fortunately the life time of it was longer than a bag of fresh not-so-baby bok choy.

Like the stress of pending work deadlines wasn’t enough, urgh, we’re now faced with a waste jar dilemma of an unplanned item haunting us from our crisper. The plan had been a quick stir fry with some other greens. Surely it’ll work the same  so in it went. I was cooking so there was no recipe involved, it’s all the same, it’s all the same…

It’s not all the same. The stir fry was watery and horrible. We should have cut it smaller, down to baby size one might suggest. It tasted more boil than fry. No amount of chilli and soy was bringing this not-a-baby back.

We ate half the total cooked and stared at the rest in plastic container for a few days more before finally conceding defeat.

In our effort to be more mindful of our health, we neglected to be more mindful of what we were purchasing. We were so worried about the details in our spreadsheets and reports, and were not so worried about our attention to detail in our shopping receipts.

We are still all for an online shop in hectic times, but we’re adding this to a lesson learnt and will be more careful about our online grocery orders in the future.