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Quarantine Tips: Staying frugal, creative, mindful, and self-sufficient

Written by: Simone Leon

Simone Leon, at home in Maine

No matter who you are or where you live, you are likely looking for ways to reduce your time shopping

in public spaces, practice frugality, conserve your resources at home, stave off boredom, and care for your well-being in times of uncertainty.

Here are some of our tips and tricks to help get you through (as of now) an uncertain amount of time at home.


If your local grocery store isn’t out of basic baking supplies and pantry staples, or you are already stocked up, use this as an opportunity to try your hand at some new recipes. I know tons of you all over the country may not be able to buy bread (or would like to reduce your trips to the store). A large bag of flour can last you awhile, and allow you to have fresh bread (and baked goods) at any time. While a fresh loaf can stay out for a few days to up to a week, flour can stay good for months. Bread-making and baking doesn’t have to be intimidating, and in fact is one of the ways I have been able to stay calm, and centered throughout all of this. There is something about getting your hands a little messy, and focusing on a basic physical task at hand with delicious rewards that works as a sort of meditation.

I’ve chosen some of my favorite easy recipes that require as few ingredients and steps as possible, and are flexible with their ingredients (this is the time to get creative!). If you are someone who feels intimidated by baking, but is being forced to out of necessity - whether it be frugality, preference, or requirement to stay indoors - here are some of my favorite recipes.

(Make a loaf of bread, dinner, rolls, cinnamon rolls, pizza crust, and more if you’re creative!)

If you have a wheat allergy, or want to try an alternative healthy grain (without bothering with mostly processed and multi-ingredient GF flour mixes, or complicated recipes, try buckwheat. It is also delicious in pancakes! This is the easiest bread recipe I have ever made. It only requires mixing together all the ingredients, one quick rise.

If you have been keeping around (and feeding) a sourdough starter…do not throw away your excess starter! You can make loads of super delicious and adaptable recipes with your leftover starter. If you save your starter in an airtight container in the fridge, it stays good for a really long time (indefinitely in my experience). Here are two of my favorite, easiest, and most flexible recipes I recommend.

When I have a full container of leftover starter, I make a batch of these, and freeze them.

The key to this meal is that you can use whatever fresh/frozen meat, beans, and/or veggies that you have lying around, and minimize or eliminate food waste.

These master recipes can be used as a basis for whatever extra ingredients you have lying around to create interesting and unexpected food combinations.


If you still feel like a novice in the kitchen and at recipe reading, check out this helpful list of common kitchen substitutions to give you a little confidence and ease when it comes to making recipes work for you. Mark Bittman’s Master List of Interchangeable Ingredients


Prevent Food Waste and Simplify Cooking

In the best of times, food waste is something we would all like to avoid as much as possible. Now, when people are buying in bulk to minimize trips to stores and other public places, while also keeping costs low amidst income uncertainty, while also trying to stay as healthy as possible and keep your immune system up (so many things to think of!), it is imperative to minimize your food waste, and strategically use/preserve your veggies for further use.

Here are some of my tips for preventing food waste, and making your life a little bit simpler in the kitchen. No new gadgets needed.

1. Use your freezer to save everything!

If you don’t already, freeze your bread that’s about to go stale, freeze baked goods, sliced fruit, and blanched vegetables, and cooked beans and grains.

Here is a great reference on how to freeze everything from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

2. Batch cook dry beans

You may have already bought cans of beans, or stocked up on dried beans. Dried beans are more economical, healthier, and tastier than canned beans. Here is my super simple no frills method of cooking and saving them for later use.

-Pour a bag of beans in a big pot, fill with water, and let soak for at least 8 hours on the counter.

-Put pot of beans to boil for at least an hour (bigger beans tend to take longer)

-When they cool, transfer to empty jars or containers. Stick containers in the freezer that you don’t plan to eat in the next 2-3 days.

3. Wrap your greens

You don’t need to buy a special charcoal device to keep your greens fresh for longer. Simply wash your greens, and wrap them in a damp kitchen towel before storing in the fridge. In my experience, they will stay fresh and crisp for 3x longer than normal.

4. Source from local farms and shops

If possible, get your fresh produce and greens from a local farmer/farm stand. For those of you who are able to (and may be even helpful or possible for some of you in certain cities), give yourself some piece of mind by searching out the local farms and farmers in your area. Since this whole crisis, I have been so grateful for all the local farmers near me who have been banding together to either open up their farm stands/stores earlier than their normal season, and working with other small farms to make sure they can provide customers with as many grocery substitutions as possible. Small farm stores and farm stands provide low population shopping opportunities, and are more likely to work with you to meet all of your concerns. Now more than ever it is vitally important to support our local farmers, and

be aware of where you can get food near you (where it is produced). I would suggest using this as an opportunity to follow all of your local farms to stay up to date on their practices and goods that are currently available. A farm near me has started instituting order pick up in outdoor coolers, and touch-free payments using Venmo.


No toilet paper?

It’s almost laughable (but not if you’ve run out) how hard it is to get toilet paper these days. Maybe use this as an opportunity to save, money, water, and trees and buy a bidet attachment. Most bidet attachments can be hooked up to any existing toilet (and are safe for rentals). Most are ubiquitous in countries in Europe and Asia, and not only are more hygienic, but also comfortable and easy to use. If you are able to pitch in for an initial investment, over time, a bidet can actually save you money, by reducing or eliminating your need for toilet paper. Though be quick, most are selling out online!

Can’t find paper towels?

You likely have at least one (or twenty) old t-shirts or clothes lying around. Cut them up into smaller pieces, and use as you would paper towels to wipe down or clean surfaces. Hygiene is more important now more than ever, and for many this has meant that many eco-friendly and reusable practices have gone on the back burner. However, you can take additional precautions when using reusable materials to clean your home, by make sure to wash and dry on the highest setting, and use bleach as an extra precaution.

No Antibacterial Soap or hand sanitizer?

Not to worry, any plain old soap will do the trick just as effectively. Here’s a great visual on how effective soap is on viruses.

Soap + Toiletries

A great zero-waste company that I love to support is Plaine Products. I was first inspired to try them because of their zero-waste practices, but have stuck with them because I have never had a shampoo/conditioner combo work so well to clean and condition my hair without leaving any weird residue. It has been especially hard to find a brand that is so effective with only using completely natural ingredients. They make it easy to reduce plastic (and time at the store). They ship their products in reusable aluminum containers (using only paper and cardboard packaging). When you are running low, you can place a new order, and when it arrives, they will include with it prepaid postage to send back your empty bottles to be sanitized and refilled in the same box. Also, unlike many other stores, all of their soaps are currently still in stock!


Digital Minimalism

Lastly, this tip might feel nearly impossible when you and your family are stuck at home, but it also seems like a more important time than ever to be mindful of your technology use and screen time. I read this amazing book this year called Digital Minimalism (which I would highly recommend as great quarantine reading). The author suggests that we find high quality leisure activities to fill our down time, and limit leisure technology use (ie mindless scrolling and panic news binging) to set blocks of time during the day.

I am guilty just as much as anybody of getting in an endless spiral of news and facebook scrolling - especially in these past few weeks. But that is more of a reason to take care of yourself and well-being when anxieties are high, and in-person socialization is low. The temptation of using mindless viewing and scrolling can make feelings of uncertainty and anxiety worse in the long run. This is the time to invest in all types of “analog” activities that give you a sense of accomplishment, joy, and much needed distraction. Give yourself a trick or something to reach to whenever you have the urge to grab your phone. For me, whenever I get the urge, I try to instead take out my journal, and write about why in that moment I wanted to distract myself - it might be simple boredom, but it might be something else to that writing could help you work through.

Even taking a walk (in a low population area), or drawing, coloring, picking up an instrument. Anything you can do to connect you to the physical world of the here and now, rather than the uncontrollable, the future, and the maybes, can help you feel more centered in a drastic way.


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