The Last Gasp of the Pantry Challenge

One last surviving stalk of celery greets some graying cabbage and a can of tomatoes. Last year it might have been garbage but this year it tomorrow’s vegetable soup.

Well, I made it over the finish line of the Pantry Challenge. We ate as much as possible from the stash in our freezer and pantry and only went out to eat once in early March. Ray took his coffee with him whenever he went out and we reached our contribution goal. Thank you to Jen Gunderson who contributed to the coffee challenge. If there are any others out there who saved their pennies during the last six weeks to donate to the Game Loft’s challenge please send a check with the line on the notes that says, “Pantry Challenge.” We currently have $650 in going for $1,000.

There were some challenges this week. I guess the biggest one was when I made spareribs in ginger beer in the pressure cooker and the heat must have been too high because instead of succulent spareribs we ended up with shreds of pork that I laboriously picked out of a volcanic blackened crust at the bottom of the pot. In other times we would have scrapped the whole dinner and gone out but since that isn’t a possibility we “ate around” the blackened pieces. I usually have great success with the pressure cooker but that night’s dinner could best be described as a “total failure” or more explicitly, “a revolting mess.” I had planned to make enough for leftovers but once was quite enough.

I had enough dried fruits and nuts in the pantry to make about a cup so I put them all together and made hot cross buns for Good Friday and Easter. Right after dawn we distributed them to friends in Northport and Frankfort and didn’t even get stopped by the police for unnecessary travel. I also made daisy cookies and Resurrection buns for the Game Loft’s Easter baskets. We had 16 kids take lunches that day.

All in all the Pantry Challenge encouraged me to be more careful in my purchasing. We had almost no food waste during this period and that is heartening for our budget and the environment. I am surprised to see that I even have some things left over in my freezer. In the weeks ahead we will whittle those things down as I shop more wisely. We have also learned how to eat at home on an everyday basis and that saves a lot of money as well. I hope to keep Ray brewing his own coffee as well. From now on I will make a monthly chart of the meals I plan to prepare and stick to it as much as possible. I proved that you can save $100 a week by careful planning and thinking ahead. Ray hopes to use our pantry savings on a vacation when we can travel again.

Pantry Challenge Update: Final Week

All is not lost when I still have lots of oatmeal, dried beans, and prunes

Well, I knew it would be a challenge but I certainly didn’t anticipate what Covid-19 would bring to cooking. I have been whittling down my pantry items but, to be truthful, not as diligently as I would have liked. When going to Hannaford is the only outside recreation for the week it is tempting to over-indulge. This last week will be the final push to see if I can save $100 a week and donate it to the Game Loft.

During this enforced stay-at-home period I have been doing some cleaning and reorganizing and some of that has been in my cookbook collection. This week I have decided to focus on a single cookbook and see what I can make using the ingredients on hand. It is complicated a bit by the fact this is the last week of Lent and I should be avoiding meat, sugar, butter, oil, dairy, and all the things that make food really taste good. I have decided to try a new recipe for the pressure cooker that involves lentils and butternut squash. My squash has been in the pantry for quite a long time and is looking a bit “squashy” but if I have learned anything during this period it is to use it up, don’t throw it out, so I am going forward.

I will admit to being overly enthusiastic about hot cross buns this Lent. They are my chief (but by no means only) indulgence. We have been eating Hannaford buns but this week I plan to make my own for Good Friday. Many years ago we went to a church in Canada that insisted on fasting on Good Friday followed by divine hot cross buns right out of the oven when the 3-hour service ended. Breaking a fast was never so sweet.

One final note: Please make an effort to reach out to Chris, Natasha, and Nikky and thank them for feeding kids seven days a week during the Covid-19 period. They are my heroes and I can’t thank them enough. Your words of encouragement are always treasured but never more than now. Send a note to The Game Loft, 78A Main Street, Belfast, ME 04915 or email to Chris Donley at

Pantry Challenge Update

I hadn’t planned that the challenge would be so challenging. I am in week 5 and it’s still going on, just not quite as planned. As you may know, I signed up for six week of Pantry Challenge and Ray signed up for six weeks of Home Brew Challenge. So far we have been able to donate about $100 a week to the Game Loft but I will admit that these days going to Hannaford is our weekly outing and when there I am persuaded to buy things that otherwise I would do without. Last week it was popcorn and throughout the month I have been buying hot cross buns. So much for good intentions!

I have been trying very hard to use things up, though. I made a double batch of tapioca pudding that didn’t turn out very well but I am glumly eating my way through it. I made two loaves of gingerbread yesterday and that makes Ray happy. I won’t have any help now on the remaining tapioca. I still have lots of rice so we are having fried rice with odds and ends tonight. I have always heard that fried rice is basically Chinese leftovers and so it will be for us.

Have you ever made homemade mango sorbet? Here’s an idea if you happen to be hoarding a bag of frozen mango, as I am. This is not a recipe but you can do it from these instructions. Put a cup or two of frozen mango in a blender. Add ½ cup of lemon juice and ½ cup sugar. Blend until smooth. It makes quite refreshing mango sorbet. You can adjust the sweetness or tartness to taste. I think you could also do this with other frozen fruit but I haven’t tried.

I’m looking forward to Easter. I had a loaf of stolen in my freezer leftover from Christmas. I have been doling out one slice each on Sundays during the Pantry Challenge and the loaf is almost done but then for Easter I can make a whole fresh loaf. In different times that might not have been a big deal but now we take our pleasure where we can.

Pantry Challenge Updates

Keep Calm and Carry On

When I designed the Pantry Challenge fundraiser for the Game Loft I didn’t realize that we will all be feeling challenged to empty our pantries and be more food aware than we could then imagine. So instead of showing you what you already know, that our supplies are going down, I offer a word of hope during this time that has stressed out many people.

My grandmother was born in 1888. She lived through the Russian Revolution, World War I, World War II and the Cold War. During the 1960’s when my mother was anxiously watching television for more news about some upcoming war my grandmother turned away from the set and said to me, “You know this whole Russian Communist thing? We always thought it was just a fad.” She died in 1988 and never got to see that her words came true, Russian communism faded away like an outdated fashion.

Right now it seems as though we will always be under the threat of the current pandemic and that life will never return to normal. That is particularly true for kids who have not experienced this kind of hysteria before. I remind them, and those of you who are old enough to remember, that global or national disasters happen on a regular basis and that we must “keep calm and carry on.”

I remember during the 1970’s we lived through a very significant gas crisis. My boss stated categorically that living in rural areas would soon be impossible because there would be no gasoline for our cars and no heating oil for our houses. He strongly advised all hospital employees to move to congregate housing within walking distance of the hospital as soon as possible but before I could pack my possessions the oil embargo ended. However, during the embargo there was a restriction on gasoline purchases on Sunday. I was travelling back to Aroostook County from a visit to Yarmouth when I realized outside of Lincoln, ME that I didn’t have enough gas to make it home. My son, Adam, was then about 2 years old and I realized that he and I would have to find a place to stay the night in Lincoln. I pulled into a shabby tourist hotel and signed the register while a sinister old woman looked over my shoulder. “Isn’t there anyone at home waiting for you dear?” she croaked. I shook my head. “Are you all alone with your little boy?” she asked pointing a crooked finger at my son. When I said I was okay she said, “Aren’t you brave!” I thought to myself, “If she offers, don’t drink the elderberry wine (a reference to Arsenic and Old Lace.) I survived then and we will all survive now. But somewhere in Lincoln, ME I would not be surprised if an old man named Teddy is digging the Panama Canal in his basement.

Keep smiling and send us postcards that we can distribute to kids.

From the Kitchen: Game Loft Pantry Challenge Updates

From our Director’s Kitchen a blog from Patricia Estabrook

Update March 15, 2020

Four years before I met Ray, at the tail end of a gray winter in Concord, NH 40 years ago I faced my first pantry challenge.  I had been the director of a guardianship program for elderly patients at New Hampshire Hospital and the funding ran out. My last paycheck hit a snafu in the bureaucracy delaying my eligibility for unemployment compensation. I called my mother and she agreed to send me a check for $100 but it was delayed in the mail. And so one Monday I faced the week with $12.47 and almost nothing in the pantry. Since I had two pounds of pasta on my shelf I spent my last cash to buy pasta sauce and hamburger, enough to last until one of the checks came in. I skipped breakfast and ate pasta and sauce for lunch on Monday. That was OK. The next day it was still OK. By Wednesday I was getting a little bored with the menu but I was sure that help was coming at any moment. On Thursday I was starting to get really bored and a little anxious. After nine straight meals of pasta with meat sauce I was frantic so I called a friend and begged for a dinner invitation. She was glad to oblige and when I arrived at her warm cottage in the woods I imagined lentil soup, Brussels sprouts, hot dogs, anything but pasta and sauce! She met me at the door smiling and invited me in to a heaping plate of macaroni with meat and red sauce.

Both checks arrived the next day and I gleefully threw out the last sullen mass of pasta and sauce. I tell you that story from long ago and far away because it prefaces a confession. Even though I am deep into my self-imposed Pantry Challenge 2020 I could not face the fourth meal of spaghetti squash Bolognese and threw out the leftovers this morning. There, I said it, and am guilty as charged. We are having roast pork tonight.

Friends, I would like to take one more minute of your time today to beg for food. Now in the midst of the Covid-19 panic I urge you to think about kids in our community. Local schools have closed and so the Game Loft will be closing as well, but we will still need to care for kids in our community who are food insecure. At this moment we are setting the wheels in progress to feed kids with grab-and-go meals even as regular programs have closed. This is the kind of support that we provide the community. Please help it continue by giving generously today to the Game Loft. Please consider any amount, even $12.47 to help kids in need. We are relying on you.