Musings on Well-Stocked Freezers and Pantries.

This is a photograph of my freezer from late October.

A very full freezer.

This is a photograph of my freezer from this morning.

Freezer - 18 Jan 2013

Not much has changed. It’s very full, in both photos. And it’s not my only freezer, though I have fewer freezers than I used to.

Yesterday morning, I’m not quite sure why1, I realized that while I have a very fully-stocked pantry and freezers, I don’t really have well-stocked anything. I don’t think I’ve given it much thought before, as usually I associate “well-stocked” with “full (and thus you won’t starve).”

But, in truth, starving is just not something I’m reasonably facing. Sure, there’s the possibility I’ll be stranded in my house for awhile, but I do wonder how likely it is that I’ll be stranded, but with electricity and gas…

I got to thinking. Given I’m unlikely to need to wait out the zombies while the government/militia/someone figures out how to get rid of them, what should “well-stocked” really mean?

I have gotten much better at following a recipe and adapting it to suit my needs, and a bit better at throwing things together, but I haven’t actually gotten very much better at thinking about what I currently own and devising a plan around it2. Nor have I got a pile of easy, tasty recipes in my brain for those nights when no one wants to cook much, but we still gotta eat3. They’re weaknesses in my cooking ability.

I think, honestly, that these weaknesses tie into the “full, but not well-stocked” situation I’m in. Largely because of the fact that I can’t just look at a bunch of stuff (of which I have plenty) and say, “You know, if I used X, Y & Z, I could make a souffle” or whatever. I can build a meal/menu around one item, occasionally two, that I already own, but it often results in having to purchase more things, sometimes for a single use, to make it happen. And on the nights when no one wants to cook? Not having a few things up my sleeve that are easy, and I’m sure I have the ingredients for, means I’m looking at delivery, and the leftovers thereof. Again.

I also don’t have (and don’t expect to have) a “set list” of some 5 – 15 meals that Bill and I eat fairly regularly. I don’t consider this a weakness, per se, but it contributes, I think, to the fact that my pantry isn’t “well-stocked”. If I did have a rotating menu of dishes that really regularly showed up on our table, I’d probably tend toward having the ingredients for at least some of those dishes on hand more regularly. This isn’t to say we don’t repeat meals. We certainly do, and I think that repetition has been valuable in my learning to cook. But so has the branching out and trying all sorts of weird things that this blog has driven.

Honestly, I’m not sure what all of this means for Bill and I. This post is mostly musings on the state of our kitchen and cooking. We talked about it last night, a little, and think we’ll probably use some of the fullness to drive some blogging challenges for ourselves.

But, I wonder if it just means I should strive to have less food in the house and, at the same time, work harder to figure out the magic of “throwing it all together.” I certainly don’t mind going to the farmers market or grocery store multiple times a week. And I do plan to have a CSA all year again this year. Those two together should, hopefully, lead to a little bit of growth in both goals.

Oh. And we’re moving in April. So I should probably have less stuff in the house by then. Yeeeeeaaaahhhh….

fn1. Probably because I was having broccoli-cheddar soup for breakfast, which made Bill and Angelique both question my sanity.

fn2. Though a desperate desire to reduce the number of freezers I am currently occupying has helped me out with both a bit. And, sure enough, I’m down a freezer these days. Working on a second.

fn3. As I told Bill last night, I used to. That “recipe” was on the side of a Kraft Dinner box. It worked well, until I largely stopped eating the stuff. Mostly.

6 thoughts on “Musings on Well-Stocked Freezers and Pantries.

  1. 1. I think the distinction between full and useful is a good one, not just about freezers and pantries, but throughout our homes. I’m thinking of bathrooms I’ve seen crammed full of beauty products or hotel-room leftovers as well as my own art studio here.

    2. Specific to pantries, like Potter Stewart, “I know it when I see it.” Which is to say, I
    don’t have an at-hand list of things a well-stocked pantry must include (and, honestly, I expect it should vary greatly depending on cooking style and cuisine), but I know when I feel like our pantry and foodstores are well stocked. I notice it when I make my weekly grocery list and truly am doing most of my shopping around the store’s borders (i.e., produce, meat, bakery and dairy). I appreciate it when some part of a dinner plan goes awry and my back-up plan can be something other than pasta and sauce.

    3. On the subject of repeat meals, Marty and I were talking at dinner last night how often over the course of a month we take the same ingredients and combine them in different ways. Yesterday’s dinner was vegetarian tostadas, but refried beans also serve in burritos and nachos. Or, if I exchange those pinto beans for black beans and mix in some chorizo, we have tortas a la Rick Bayless. If I’m feeling fussier, some of the same ingredients go into enchiladas. If we’re feeling the opposite of fussy, we can leave out a lot of ingredients and prep to make quesadillas (this is often my brother’s go-to meal when he has to feed himself).

    4. Broccoli soup for breakfast is weird.

    • 4) Not really. Especially since you say beans & rice can be breakfast. You just have strange breakfast standards, lady.

      3) This is another thing I haven’t much gotten the knack for, planning on using the same ingredient in several ways. Like the other things I lack knack in, I’ve gotten better over time, but it’s still not there. Which is part of why I have some very strange stuff in my freezers & pantry.

      2) That makes a lot of sense to me. Obviously, I don’t have that knack. Also, currently? Given our eating out habits, pasta and sauce is a great fallback plan. Over time, this may change.

      1) It absolutely applies across the home. I’ve been thinning out the fullness of our bathroom too, recently. I started prior to this realization, but it does parallel it in some ways. Some of it is just that I see something and think, “I am not moving that!” And some of it is just better recognition in my life of what Bill and I do and don’t use around the house.

  2. You’re right in drawing a difference between “well-stocked” and “full”. If you’ve got the basics, you’re well-stocked. It seems to me that the problem you’re having is that you can’t define your “basics”, because you aren’t the type of people to stick with the same foods. OR… maybe you are and haven’t figured that out yet. Sure, there are a million recipes out there that you want to try, and you keep buying bits and pieces to make them accurately, but many recipes are constructed on similar frames. Eggs plus stuff. Meat marinated or braised or sauced in stuff. Veggies sprinkled with stuff and sauteed or roasted. Soups. Grains. Greens. Find your patterns, and you’ll find your basics.
    I’m trying very hard to learn to work with what I have, because it saves money, reduces waste and forces me to get creative. Maybe it would be good to challenge yourself to go two weeks without grocery shopping at all, and see what sort of meals you can come up with, even if it’s just to make a little space in those full freezer(s) of yours!

    • As you noticed in the post after this one, I have a pseudo-challenge to make it to Saturday of this week without grocery shopping. Given I’ve now figured out my plan for Saturday’s dinner and one thing will be tastier if I make it the day before, I may have to shop and cook on Friday. But even that will help thin our stores dramatically.

      During the inventory (following post) I also discarded a few things. Not many, but a few. I also reorganized stuff a lot better than I used to be. Over time, I’m going to be more organized with food, at least. As for figuring out Bill and I’s “basics”? That may be harder to do. Right now, I don’t think we have any specific patterns. Maybe this year will be the year we see our patterns or set our patterns.

    • This is very true. I know when I started to branch out in my cooking, Marty and I were both frustrated by having so many one-off ingredients because I was following recipes to a T and unable to substitute. Even if they weren’t expensive, it would be disheartening to have a spice or ingredient I only knew how to use in one dish.

      Now, I’m much clearer on the food styles and groups I return to again and again (mainly, Things I Can Put In A Tortilla Or Wrap; also, during the right season(s), Soups) and so I’m willing to splurge on ingredients for those recipes because I know I’ll come back to them over and over. In other situations, I either decide on a substitute or ditch the recipe entirely and my pantry is happier for it.

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