While cleaning out some old files, I came across a column I had written a few years ago. As I reread it, I noticed from the looks of my cupboards and bank balance, except for the age of my daughter, it seems little has change over the years. So from deep in the two cents worth vault, I leave you with a little "Frugality"

With the current tough economic times, I thought it was time I tried to be a bit more frugal with my finances, and do a better job of tracking my expenses. I sat down at the computer, opened up my Quicken files, and took a long look at all my bills: rent, utilities, food, automobile, all the essential items. 

After creating many budgets, graphs and pie charts, I discovered the grocery budget was taking too big of a bite out of my recreational budget.

To remedy that injustice I decided it was time to take inventory of all of the items I had purchased throughout the years that looked good at the time, were part of some new fad or diet, or just came one too many to a pack.

Over time those forgotten items had all became relegated to the dark recesses of the fridge, cupboard or pantries. Used more now as building blocks to support the stacks of newer food, than as regular menu items.

I decided it was time to investigate these dark places and see if product expiration dates were carved-in-stone, or merely suggestions or guidelines.

The first thing I discovered is that snack items like chips, Cheez-its or pretzels have a fairly unlimited shelf life providing you don’t break the seal on the bag. Once you have broken the seal on them, after two or three weeks whether they started out as chips, Cheez-its or pretzels, they all kind of taste the same.

Easy Mac, most canned goods and microwavable popcorn have an incredible shelf life, but with the passage of time some of the cooking instructions are a bit hard to read, and labels on cans have a tendency to disappear. Sometimes, what was thought to be a meal of soup and green beans turns into one of creamed corn and tomato paste.

JELL-O, Kool-Aid, and pork and beans have a mystical ability to multiply in the shadows of my pantry. I think I’ve only purchased three packs of each in my entire life, but there were six boxes of JELL-O bracing up a pile of about 10 packs of Kool-Aid in one far corner of the cabinets.

I can remember eating a few cans of pork and beans over the past year, but I honestly cannot remember ever buying a can. I got a few in a care package from my church once when I broke my leg in a motorcycle crash in the early 80s, and this was a rental house when I moved in so I suppose there’s two possibilities for their origin.

Peanut butter blends in too well with the color of my cabinet’s contact paper, as evidenced in the three half-empty jars in one dark corner. Each was presumably a replacement for the previous jar I was unable to find when I needed it.

One had been used for baiting mousetraps, and I accidentally double-dipped the knife after wiping it on the used trap trigger, unfortunately I can’t remember which jar it was.

My daughter, Annie used to sell all sorts of food items for school fund-raisers during her grade school years. I always bought something from her, but rarely got around to baking the items. I found most of them in the artic back corners of my freezer.

After some serious defrosting time, the Cherry Braid dessert I bought during her fifth grade fund-raiser, and the Christmas salami I bought from her sixth, did not seem as appealing as I remember them looking on the brochure.

Annie graduated from high school last year.

I also discovered if you find something in your freezer that is so covered in frost you are not sure what it is, submerging it in hot grease is a little shortsighted.

Hot dog buns make better Sloppy Joes than you might think; there always seems to be more taco shells than taco filling; cereal loses its appeal right after you eat it down to the level of the prize; and large amounts of chocolate syrup will cover up the taste of freezer burn on most ice creams.

While going to these extremes may not be for everybody, you might be surprised what you can cook up from exploring the recesses of your food cabinets.

By the way, does anybody have a recipe that uses a half-full jar of peanut butter (as soon as I figure out which one is safe,) three taco shells and six boxes of Jell-O?

Terry Spradley is the editor of the St. John News. His e-mail address is sjnewseditor@embarqmail.com