And so did my pantry. Or, rather, I moved out of the professional kitchen spaces that are filled to the brim with food. There’s nothing quite like having rooms full of produce, canned goods, and frozen items that you can just walk into and browse. But most homes don’t have the space (or electricity budget) for walk-in freezers and mine is no exception. What I do have are two small shelves, not excluding the space that is spoken for by the ice cube trays. This has been a bit of a wrench in the works when bringing my work habits home.
There’s also the lack of food deliveries to contend with. While I’ve never been unaware of the life span of foods – it’s important in every kitchen – the rate of turnover and alternate uses for foods have decreased at a steep rate. I can still buy two bags of shrimp in order to take advantage of a sale, but then I’ve tied up 50% of my freezer space for the next 2 to 4 weeks. I know broccoli holds better than green beans, but there’s no way to run a special when I realize that the beans are on the downside of their life span. Cooking at home doesn’t have to turn a profit, naturally, but it has its own kind of all-or-nothing constraints.
So here’s what I’m doing to work with my shrunken pantry and narrowed scope of focus:
Rotate stock – my grocery trips are set as bi-monthly events, so if I have one set of veggies for the first trip and one set for the second we get plenty of variety and I don’t lose track of what needs to be used in a jungle of produce.
Don’t worry about running out – sure, I’m the one doing the ordering now and I may have rolled my eyes a few times when kitchens I worked in ran out of onions (they’re part of the holy trinity of mire poix!) but I know how to substitute and work around missing items. I don’t have to have the stock to make every item in my repertoire on any given day. Which leads me to point three:
Substitute and/or eliminate ingredients – it used to frustrate me that every recipe review online seemed to list three to five modifications the maker had ad-libbed onto the original instructions. I still don’t think it’s fair to grade someone’s work based on your own interpretation, but I appreciate the people who do record what they tried to do and whether or not it came together. A bit of quick investigation into an ingredient can help me determine if I absolutely need to include it or not. Sure, you might not produce food that exactly matches the recipe book photo spread, but my kitchen doesn’t really have the lighting for that anyway.
Admit I’m not a restaurant – or maintain a more restaurant-like perspective, depending on which workplace I’m reflecting on. Most restaurants don’t change their inventory and menu daily, instead they build their menu on inter-connecting ingredients and cook those dishes for a few months, a couple of seasons, or years on end. While my personality urges me to always cook something new, my pantry is quietly cuing me to build off of the basics. Menus with overlapping ingredients are hugely useful, but also time consuming to create, so it makes sense to utilize them more than once.
Leave room for ice cream – or that sleeve of Oreo’s, or perhaps a Pyrex of frozen cake. Not only is it nice to have a few fun specialty items on hand, it’s easier to navigate the pantry when it’s not stuffed to the brim. If I Tetris the containers together, I can fit a few more ingredients in but it isn’t worth needing twelve moves in order to reach the balsamic vinegar.
My pantry won’t be a minimalist’s daydream anytime soon, but I’m happy to be experimenting with solutions that will work for me in the long run.