So…last week found me cleaning the basement not because I wanted to, but because water seemed to have found a way in during the Denver monsoon. Our weather has been so weird this year. Yesterday was so hot, today is cool and clearly Mother Nature has no clue what she wants to do. We also have flowers blooming that usually don’t bloom until August, and some that bloom over Memorial Day are just starting. Very weird.
In any case, going through boxes of 1990’s McDonald’s toys and old drawings of masterpieces from kindergarten, kept me quite busy. I now have a pile of things destined to be carried up the steps and thrown away, which makes me feel so good. As much as I hate cleaning, I really find it quite therapeutic. So now it is on to grocery lists.
How boring is that? Well, if you are a bit like me, I must admit that when I’m not pressed for time, I really do like going to the grocery. To me it is a bit of an adventure and what I find determines what I cook and eat. Let me explain. When the bambinos were young and living at home, I thought of dinner like a main course. Determining the main course was always my first step, then the rest of the meal came together.
Recently my FIL has found himself doing more of the grocery shopping because of circumstances beyond his control. He lives in Texas and since I’m not there, I asked him would a grocery list help and he replied that it would. I know that eating is his forte, but cooking and shopping are definitely not. I believe that’s true for a lot of us, so I decided to let you in on a few of my trade secrets. No, they really aren’t trade secrets, but they have managed to serve me well over the last 35 years of meal planning.
Basically it works like this:
Day One: Ground Meat of some sort
Day Two: Pasta
Day Three: Breakfast for Dinner
Day Four: Chicken
Day Five: Fish or other Seafood
Day Six: Pizza, Burgers, Leftovers, Main Course Salad, Giant Sandwich or Asian Stir Fry
Day Seven: Take me anywhere, but I’m not cooking!
Now you might think this is too general, but for me it worked. I will tell you that now that the kids are gone, OK-not living at home, I have eliminated pasta once a week. Manservant does like pasta, but not as much as Zoe or myself. He prefers a real protein, as he puts it. Grocery shopping for me involves making sure I have these main course staples on hand. As much as I like grocery shopping, I do not like shopping every day, therefore I keep myself well supplied. I always have some kind of ground meat in the freezer. Eggs are a necessity. Boneless chicken breasts and whole chickens, fish and shrimp are always in my freezer, too. But let’s set all this aside, because today we are talking pantry.
I’m lucky because I have a good sized pantry closet to store things in. I also have a cupboard in the garage for extras, that I don’t want to clutter my inside pantry with. For instance, if I go to Costco and buy a container with 10 cans of tuna fish, I only keep two cans inside. This may sound like common sense, but my mother kept everything on the shelf, and then was never able to find what she wanted because it was buried behind other large case items!
Well, on to the journey. When the kids were young and had friends over, I often found them buried in my pantry. No joke. I’ll never forget little Hannah telling me, “You have the best pantry ever.” Hannah now works in the restaurant business, as a manager in a highly rated New York restaurant, with a very well known chef at its helm. I have visions of her inspecting their pantry daily. I’ll bet that it doesn’t contain giant bins of red licorice or gummy bears or jelly bellies or tootsie pops though. But that is how the first shelf, “SHELF #1” of my pantry used to be. It has since evolved into a boring but efficient shelf that contains very expensive organic dehydrated dog food, various cocktail napkins, some aluminum pans for when I give food away, and a tortilla warmer. Oh, lest I forget there is also an ice cream maker, protein powder and a few baskets and serving pieces that don’t fit in a regular cupboard and grocery bags to return to the store. I liked it much better with candy.
But on to the real stuff. The stuff that makes meals. The stuff that keeps me from going shopping more than once a week. We will call it Shelf #2.
Shelf #2: Cereals such as Rice Chex, and Oatmeal. Protein Bars. Dried fruit such as raisins, apricots, dried pineapple and cherries, dates and prunes. Popcorn. Then I have junk stuff like potato chips, Fritos, pita chips, pretzel snacks and jerky. Manservant likes his jerky for a high protein snack. Licorice. Swedish licorice. You might want cookies. Graham crackers. Oreos for when I come to visit.
Shelf #3 Canned Goods: I love all varieties of canned beans except for kidney beans. I hate kidney beans. Tomato sauce. Tomato puree. Diced tomatoes. Corn. Creamed Corn. Extra Mayonnaise and mustard. Tuna and Canned salmon. Canned soup if you use it. I like chicken broth. Guava juice and pineapple juice for cocktails. Extra Jams and jellies. Capers. Pickles. Coconut Milk. Bottled curries for quick meals. Salsas.Artichoke Hearts and Hearts of Palm. Nutella and Peanut Butter. Peanuts and mixed nuts for snacking. Hot sauce. Mandarin oranges and applesauce.
Oils and Vinegars: I have olive oil and coconut oil and canola oil. I have various varieties of specialty oils that don’t need to be stored in the fridge. I have honey and agave. Rosewater. Balsamic vinegar and other varieties. White vinegar. Apple cider vinegar. Rice wine vinegar. Sherry vinegar. Soy sauce. Hoisin Sauce. Fish Sauce. Chili Sauce with garlic. Oyster Sauce.
Shelf #5: Teas. Too many teas. Hot Cocoa. Nestle’s Quik. I still drink it especially when I’m in a funk. Then begins my baking arena shelf. You may or may not want all of this. Flour, unbleached. Cake flour. Rye flour. Bread flour. Rice flour. Whole wheat flour I keep in the freezer. Sometimes I have masa. Baking powder and soda. Cornstarch. Varieties of chips such as semisweet, milk, cinnamon, white, dark, and toffee. Sprinkles. (I still have them from when the kids were little.) Sugar. Brown sugar. Powdered sugar. Raw sugar. Powdered milk for Momofuku recipes. Ditto for malted milk. Condensed milk. Marshmallow fluff that needs to be used. Kosher Salt. Graham cracker crumbs. Coconut.
Shelf #6: Grains: Rice such as white rice, brown rice, arborio, jasmine and black. Farro. Quinoa. Dried beans and peas such as black beans and pintos. Lentils and split peas. Couscous. Pastas. Spaghetti, macaroni and lasagna. Egg noodles. Rice noodles. Pad Thai noodles. Udon noodles. Corn meal. Grits. Polenta. Matzoh meal. Shrimp chips. Onion soup mix. Potatoes.Sweet potatoes. Onions, but sweet onions I keep in the fridge. Ramen. Dried chilies and dried mushrooms. Gelatin or jello. Crackers. But keep opened crackers in the freezer to prevent them from getting stale. Dried yeast.
Shelf #7 I have to climb on a stool to reach this one. Often it contains the chocolate chips, because I don’t want to reach them! It also has a very large paella pan that I’m not sure why I bought, my wok, and a bamboo steamer. It has a huge variety of supplements and vitamins that only Manservant knows how to use and three giant bags of old candy corn that I used in candle holders during Halloween and Thanksgiving. I threw the giant bags of candy hearts away.