Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Gift That Actually Gives

There has been a lot written about the gifts given when someone gets engaged and married. Most people agree that the gift giving has gotten out of hand. Satmar had one idea for limiting the gifts. I have another. Other than perhaps an engagement ring and a wedding ring let's get our minds out of the jewelry rut. The ideal gift for a newly engaged couple? A large freezer. I can hear the whispers of "she's finally flipped out" but hear me out please.

Shopping takes up an awful lot of time when you have a home to run, whether it's for two people or for a larger family unit. People lead very busy lives and they say that they would love to be a smart shopper but they just don't have the time. And when you don't have the time to shop smart you spend way more than is necessary. And you end up eating out far more than is healthy or is financially wise. A freezer is an ideal help in all these areas.

For one thing, a freezer allows you to take advantage of good sales on products you use. It gives you room where to stock up. For another, it allows you to adopt a different style of cooking, one that saves you time and money while having the benefit of being home cooked. I'm talking here about cook aheads.

You're reading a book or talking to your husband or on the computer. Meanwhile, on your stove top, two large pots are cooking broth for soup. Either freeze the broth plain and then add in whatever other ingredients you want later--a real time saver--or prepare the complete soup, and put into containers in whatever portion sizes you need--the best time saver. It takes the same time to cook one meal's worth of soup as it does to cook two pots worth. Like baked ziti or macaroni but you just don't have time to cook from scratch for every meal? Put up a large pot, add in two or three boxes of pasta and freeze away individual portions or family-sized portions. Blintzes a big patchke? Ditto lasagna? Spend a couple of hours preparing triple and quadruple portions for the freezer. This also eliminates the constant having to kasher the oven between milchigs and fleishigs once or twice a week.

Mostly I never make a meal unless I am making double--one for now and one for the freezer. Left over meat that is not enough for a full meal now? Into the freezer with it. When you have enough collected make a stew or a paprikash or just serve the meat as is. Love to use fresh onion and garlic but it's a pain to have to chop up for each meal? Spend a half hour with a large bag of onions and a food processor. Chop the entire bag, divide into small containers or ziploc bags, add in a teaspoon of water to each bag and stick in the freezer. Trying to cut down on the fat but still like the taste of beef? Buy two pounds of extra lean ground meat and two pounds of ground white meat turkey. Knead the two together until well incorporated. Now put them in the freezer in the way you are going to use them: patties if you like or pre-formed meat balls: 4-8 meals ready to cook.

Baking cakes or cookies? Double the recipe, cut into meal-sized portions and freeze away. Like to make your own challah? Quadruple the recipe and either freeze the unbaked dough to bake fresh later when you need it or bake it all and freeze. One advantage is that you get challahs that are the size you need.

My family lived out of town for years and a freezer was a necessity. But when we moved to New York the freezer idea came with us. We got used to the tremendous convenience. For working women--and which Jewish woman is not a "working" woman?--a freezer should be her best friend.

But where am I going to put it in a small apartment? you ask. My friend's daughter has hers in a corner of the living room covered with a pretty sheet. A tad unusual as living room decor goes but she wasn't going to set up housekeeping without the freezer. A different friend keeps her freezer in her bedroom where there was an empty corner.

So yes, I think that a freezer would make a great wedding present instead of yet another jewelry bauble. With the money you save by using the freezer you just might be able to afford something else you want/need. Once you have one you'll wonder how you ever managed without it. I bet even Satmar would approve.


Orthonomics said...

I approve. I LOVE my full size freezer. Cost savings, time savings. . . what more could I want! Plus, it allows me to exercise more control over inventory.

Anonymous said...

When my aunt moved she gave us her big freezer. I wasn't sure I was going to use it much but I was very wrong. During my first pregnancy I spent time cooking extras for the freezer. When I had the baby I didn't have to worry about most shopping and the cooking and we still had home cookd food. The convenience of shopping in my own freezer is terrific. Remember the Friday that it snowed? I didn't have to go out and shop because I had everything I needed in the freezer. And my neighbors came to borrow from me!

Anonymous said...

Find me a daughter in law who will take a freezer instead of a piece of jewelry and she can take her pick of any of my sons. My kind of person.

Anonymous said...

I don't get the freeze the soup bit. In my house even a large pot of soup (i.e. as largeas will fit on an oversize burner) gets eaten in a week.

ProfK said...

I'm using 12 and 16 quart pots. I don't figure soup for a whole week, only for Friday night and one or possibly two meals during the week. Those two pots give me 8 shabbosim worth of soup. I also cook them extra thick so they can be slightly thinned when defrosted. I also don't make a "traditional" chicken soup except for Pesach. My various shabbos soups have a thick vegetable puree base, either winter squash or split peas, and lots of either barley or orzo noodles or brown rice. Also tons of veggies. You can't eat as much because it is so rich. Even if you freeze pure broth, 3 quarts of broth yields 6 quarts of ready soup.

mother in israel said...

I didn't buy a stand-alone freezer until I had six kids. Except for my refrigerator, it uses more electricity than anything else, and it's not frost-free either. When it gets half empty I pack up the freezer over the fridge and unplug the stand-alone for months at a time. I can't imagine what I would have done with one for all of those years--it's not like I ever lived so far from a store. If I find a bargain I can always rearrange the freezer, defrost a few things, etc. Same with bulk cooking--I always managed to find the room. Most people's freezers are filled with junk, like four different kinds of ice cream. Newlyweds today hardly cook and go to their parents for Shabbat and Yom Tov.

ProfK said...


First about the cost of running a freezer.

"Based on U.S. Dept. of Energy figures the electricity used to operate a self-defrost 20 cubic foot freezer will run roughly $85 per year. You can calculate the number for your freezer, but an estimate is probably close enough to make a decision.

There are a couple of ways of reducing the cost of using a freezer. One way is to choose an energy efficient freezer. Newer freezers are much more efficient than older models. Top loading "chest" freezers are better because they lose less cold air when they're opened. A chest-type will use about 15 percent less energy than an upright model.

It's also possible that you don't need a full-sized freezer. A compact freezer has a capacity of less than 10-cubic-feet. It could provide sufficient storage at a lower cost.

If you're buying a new freezer, consider a manual defrost model. They consume about 35 percent less energy than the automatic-defrost models. And, unlike refrigerators, manual defrost models are readily available."

I save considerably more than the $85 dollars it would cost at maximum to run my freezer a year. I can save that $85 on just one purchase of chicken that has gone on a real sale here in my area.

Young marrieds here in the states all tend to be working/going to school. This does not stop for many when they have children. Women my age are all out in the work force, a few exceptions noted. Saving on shopping time means more time to spend on other things.

Re the going away for every shabbos and yom tov, only for some newly married couples, who live near their parents. It gets old really fast to have to pack up and move out for every shabbos. The young couples I know, both family and "strangers," spend most shabbosim if not all at home. They begin to invite company and make friends in their community. They invite their single friends for shabbos.

Ice cream in the freezer? Perhaps. And also breads and vegetables and meat and fish and prepared dishes they have cooked ahead.

I don't have 6 young children, only 3 older ones. I have a large extended family. We have a large circle of friends as do our children. We have company regularly. I work as well as being a wife, mother, daughter, sister etc. $85 a year is a miracle to pay for the convenience and the savings on food.

Anonymous said...

A 15 quart pot gives our family soup (about 10 quarts of broth) for Shabbos dinner, melaveh malka and Sunday. The rest gets eaten or used in cooking over the couple of meat dinners we have during the week. One of the milk meals will often include mushroom barley soup, but that doesn't reheat very well, because it becomes barley mush with mushrooms after a while. Food allergies preclude split pea, unless my oldest is out of the house for the week, or squash.

ProfK said...

Allergies sure do make cooking a challenge sometimes. My nephew has a problem with the peas but doesn't with lentils. There are also tomato based soups and carrot puree based soups. Also, the dried bean family works really well in soups. This is also where the freezer can come in handy. If you want to serve split pea to the rest of your family and your oldest can't eat it you can have individual portions of a soup he can eat frozen so that he gets what he can eat and the rest of you can have a change of pace.

By my reckoning you are getting 5 meals from that 15 quart pot. Put up two pots and freeze one and you still have a benefit. Put up three pots and you have two weeks worth of meals available. Plus there is this. If each pot is a different soup, then you have available three kinds of soups for those five meals, avoiding any kind of boredom in eating.

Anonymous said...

motherinisrael, if newly weds today hardly ever cook then that is a big problem. That means they are eating out or bringing in. It's bad economics and bad for health. It also means that someone didn't teach them these facts. ProfK recently posted on this and I think she was right.

I live in the heart of Flatbush Brooklyn with stores on every corner and I still own and use a large freezer. I also have a large family and work outside of my home. I guess learning how to use a freezer for benefit is also something people don't get on their own and need to be taught.

Anonymous said...

Baking my own challah more then pays for the cost of running the freezer for the year. Everything else I put in it goes in for "free" then. A large challah goes for $2.69 in our local store and it's more in other places. I bake once a month and freeze for the month. Even with my expenses I still pay for the freezer use.

Anonymous said...

Are we really arguing about the usefulness of a large freezer? Even if I only plugged it in for yom tov preparations it would pay for itself. My married children come home for yom tov along with the grandchildren. By preparing ahead and freezing I don't have to spend every minute in the kitchen and have time to spend with the family. I'm a lot less grumpy that way too.

Anonymous said...

I think the key here is knowing how to use the freezer for best advantage and keeping track of what is in it. An awful lot of people just shove things in and erev pesach end up throwing out a lot of stuff they didn't remember they had in there. We keep a typed list on the freezer door and check off what we take out and enter what we put in and when. No more guessing what those weird packages are or when the expiration date is.

Anonymous said...

Kayla - I would have accepted a freezer over jewlery, and I know that my daughters are just as practical. My oldest is considering (when she finds the right guy) of skipping a whole big wedding thing and opting for a down payment for a house. More practical and houses appreciate in volue much better than gems or wedding presents.

That was the whole idea behind Jewelery in the old world, in case of dire need a woman could always pawn it for cash, but now days, she would not get a whole volue for these boubles, so why treasure them? Why spend hard earned money on something that is not a good investment.

Anonymous said...

I think you hit on what may bother people mlevin. ProfK wrote about a freezer instead of jewelry. If you want that jewelry then you are going to have to argue against the freezer. Or argue that both should be there.

Orthonomics said...

My kids LOVE the big freezer. I'm sure if I gift them a package of quality appliances for their wedding gift, they would be thrilled!

Smart shopping means running around to various stores. The extra electricty costs $69 per year. Gas is over $3 a gallon now. The time and money saved from now having to always be on the run is well worth it. We buy meat in bulk when it goes on sale. I buy cheese in bulk because it is $2 less expensive a pound. Another store offers the best price on three products I use and can freeze regularly. I'd rather go there as little as possible. Not long ago I bought a ton of frozen vegetables for something like 30 cents a bag after my rainchecks and double coupons. Unfortunately water challah doesn't freeze as nicely as egg challah. But, that alone would pay for most family's extra freezer costs!

ProfK-I love the idea so much.

mother in israel said...

That's one of my points--why give a freezer to people who don't know how to use it properly?

ProfK--I've been thinking about why I responded so negatively to this post and the one about the sewing. After all, we're not discussing anything earth-shattering.

Families are different. Even Jewish, Orthodox, frugal, traditional families with multiple children have different styles and philosophies of housekeeping, cooking, employment, childrearing, shopping, and a multitude of other things. Just because you didn't find sewing economical or enjoyable doesn't mean there is no point in children learning it (that's the impression your post left with me). Just because you found a freezer essential doesn't mean that every newlywed couple needs one.
If you're going to buy an appliance , why not a refrigerator or washing machine, that will surely come in handy?

If a stand-alone freezer pays for itself, why not buy two or three? You could stock up on chicken for several years. More is not always better. To use a freezer efficiently, even the one on your fridge, you have to plan well. You and I and Sephardi Lady are all experienced at meal planning and bulk cooking and shopping, but newlyweds aren't, by definition. How many newlyweds do you know who cook for the whole week on Sunday? Not many, I reckon. Even if they did, they still could manage without an extra freezer. Look at the once-a-month cooking sites for advice on how to pack your freezer with a month of meals for a family of six. For example you can stack filled ziploc bags (that you reuse later, of course), one of top of the other.

I recently bought a new refrigerator, and the freezer compartments in newer models are much larger than in the old ones. Still, I managed with my old one for 17 years of marriage until I bought a standalone, which I use mostly to store fresh wholewheat flour. I make Pesach every single year, I have six kids, I've had 20 people for Yom Tov, I made Shabbat sheva brachot after being married for 10 months, and I always had enough freezer space. Could I have saved money with a big freezer? Maybe, but I don't buy appliances only to save money. I buy them because I need them and because they are worth the space to me.

And the link you provided gave another reason not to buy freezers for every newlywed--the newer models are more efficient. Hopefully the next generation of freezers will be even more so. The quote you gave doesn't mention the fact that the newer models also keep the food fresher. Quality jewelry lasts forever, and it's portable too.

Finally, I think a freezer is another example of a luxury that people, especially Orthodox Jewish people, think of as a necessity. When we made aliyah everyone told us we would regret it if we didn't use our rights to buy a freezer. Needless to say, we didn't regret it.

Commenter Abbi said...

The other anti-freezer issue: Cooking culture in the home growing up. My mother, despite working full time, hated frozen food, even homemade. Freezers were storing raw meat and chicken and the odd box of hot dogs, but that was it. My grandmother (her MIL) was the big freezer user, and to be honest, we hated the food. Not sure if it was her cooking or the freezing, but it was just yuck (frozen cooked shoulder roast? What could be yuckier?).

It also depends on your eating habits. My mom is a big roasted animal flesh/roasted veggie/salad person. She likes soups too, but, tends to do what mike does and make a pot per week. Could she save some time by freezing a pot? Possibly, but I don't think oodles.

Except for soups, stews, lasagnas, kugels, I think most food taste better fresh. You can freeze roasted/breaded chicken, but it just tastes... frozen.

Anonymous said...

prof k, could you post some of your favorite soup recipes?

ProfK said...

Two posted. B'tayavon.

ProfK said...

If the mushroom barley soup gets too mushy on reheating try this. Cook the barley separately from the soup, rinse with cool water, drain well and refrigerate. Before each reheating add in the amount of barley needed. Will be less mushy.

Anonymous said...

"Finally, I think a freezer is another example of a luxury that people, especially Orthodox Jewish people, think of as a necessity." It's only a luxury if you don't see it as a necessity and have one just to have one. We don't live in NY. There are no kosher restaurants but the butcher shop also makes some take home food stuff. Ready prepared food is not here in great abundance. Every type of baked goods including challah is imported in. Our town is not all that different from what you find across America outside of the big cities. A freezer is a necessity for us not a luxury. And it is a necessity exactly because we are Orthodox jews.

mother in israel said...

In general there are few things that I believe are true necessities. I would be hesitant to take your comment to its logical conclusion i.e. that one can't keep kosher out of town without a second freezer. Our grandmothers managed without.

That being said I do not begrudge you or your neighbors your freezers!

Anonymous said...

You are entitled to decide for yourself what is a necessity or is a luxury, just as the rest of us are. Where I disagree with you is the "Our grandmothers managed without" comment. The definition of a necessity didn't come down with Moshe Rabeinu--jit changes as the times change. Given my age, my grandmother managed without the freezer. She also managed without a refrigerator, an electric or gas stove, a washing machine or dryer, a vacuum cleaner, a microwave and central heating. She also managed without flush toilets and indoor plumbing. She and her family also managed without vaccines and without antibiotics and without all aspects of modern medicine. She also buried 7 children at birth and up to 4 years of age. Saying our grandmothers managed is not proof or support in the time period we live in.
I'd be quite willing to bet that if she were living she would have been first in line for the labor saving things her granddaughters call necessities.

mother in israel said...

Allen--You read too much into my comment.

Commenter Abbi said...

Ok, moving away from flush toilets and back to the kitchen: It really boils down to what you use your freezer for, no matter if you live out of town or down the block from five kosher supermarkets.

I grew up "out of town" (an hour, but it was still not in the heart of kosher meat land). My parents would stock the freezer every 3-4 months, not including yom tovim. We had no kosher butcher in town, no prepared foods available at all, no restaurants in our town, though a few within reasonable driving distance. But, again, we managed fine with just the freezer compartment of our fridge. (with enough room to freeze the occasional challah that went uneaten).

Hate to repeat myself, but I really think it has more to do with how much you love to freeze prepared food and how much your family likes to eat that way, and less about absolute necessity on the level of washing machine/ fridge (it's certainly not essential to keeping a kosher home or feeding your family healthy meals).

I think it's essential to have if that's how you like to run your kitchen, but if my future daughters in law would prefer to just make simple fresh food rather than freezing, I'll love them all the same!

Anonymous said...

I'm reading the thread on this post and scratching my head. I could swear that the post was making the point that instead of jewelry why not give something of a practical nature, such as a freezer. It had nothing to do with is a freezer a necessity or a luxury for frum Jews or about loving a daughter in law more or less.

If a freezer is a choice then it's a good one. The economic benefits are well documented in terms of savings on food purchased. The convenience benefits should be obvious, particularly for those who work full time and also for those who live in climates with bad weather. I also live out of town and much further then one hour from the conveniences of full kosher shopping. A large freezer compartment in a refrigerator is about 5-6 cubic feet. In no way could my frig freezer hold 3 to 4 months of meat for my family of 6, never mind anything else.

Could we maybe agree to disagree on how valuable a freezer is to us as individuals and leave it at that?

Orthonomics said...

I have to concur with Mom in Israel that most newly weds don't have the frugal shopping and cooking down to a science. I know that I certainly didn't. My habits were never bad. . . .but the amount I spent on grocery and drug store purchases remained fairly steady while our family started growing. It took a while to figure out menu planning, the science behind using coupons/circulars, etc. Once I found my way in the world of homemaking, I started to feel the need for a stand up freezer.

When we moved into a home further away from the small shopping center that I used to run to with the stroller last minute(necessitating a car ride for every trip out), I told my husband I was going to buy a full size freezer. He was thrilled when I found a floor model and a cash back rebate combined, saving us something like $250. We are very happy with the purchase and make plenty of use of it. Today I was able to get 10 bags of frozen veggies for about a quarter of the price. They were on sale, half off, and I had extra coupons. I'm glad I have the space and I'm glad I have enough for a while.

Speaking of appliances, the front loading washers are incredible. I can do twice the laundry in half the time and the water, electricity, and gas saved should make them pay for themselves. I estimated our water bill was cut by $40 in the first three months. I'm glad we got much of our furniture used, because I was able to budget for an appliance that will cut some costs of the massive utility bills.

Anonymous said...

SL - you forgot to mention that with front loaders you also save on detergents, chlorine and fabric softeners because they require half the amount of the top loader.

Also, washing is gentler and extends cloth's life span.

Additionally, you can wash pillows and blankets in fron loaders, where as it is not allowed with the top loaders.