Friday, February 22, 2008

Exodus to pantry freedom

First we eat, then we do everything else.
-MFK Fisher

Today is "cleaning out the refrigerator and restocking it" day. This day never fails to truly boggle my mind. You would think that after all these years of having to shop for food, stock my refrigerator and pantry, and eat that I would be accomplished at this feat by now, maybe even proficient at it, but I am not. My struggle is no longer in actually stocking the refrigerator but is now how to do it economically, and in an environmentally sustainable manner, which is a whole other blog.

There were, of course, the years when I did not worry too much about what I had to eat. This is a thing of great hilarity for my sisters who have all been just a little more practical and on top of this whole "life" thing than I. I am...just not that way...but I do provide lots of comic relief. One way my sisters have to amuse themselves is with this little game they created in which they call one another up, guess what is in my refrigerator, make appropriate bets, and then call me to confirm who will win. I think it could be actually defined as a sport in their collective minds.

This is how it would go: My phone rings on a weekend afternoon and I unsuspectingly answer, it is one of my sisters calling for our usual weekend roundup. I am met, however, by the sounds of gasping for air as one of my sisters tries to compose herself for actual speech. After much giggling, one of my sisters would finally speak: “Jo, we were just wondering if you could do us a favor and look in your refrigerator, Practical Sis and I were just kind of…err…wondering if you might have like maybe a package of blue cheese, some limp broccoli, and maybe half a bottle of wine in there?” I would dutifully go to my refrigerator and, by God! How in the hell did they know what was in my refrigerator! I would then, just to prove them wrong (although I am sure it just caused the other sis to win whatever bet they had going), I would finish the bottle of wine while eating last of the blue cheese. “Nope, just some limp broccoli” I would reply only to be drowned out again by wild giggling!

Yes, it was bad for a while. My few attempts at cooking consisted of reading a recipe, going to the store after work, painstakingly compiling the list of appropriate ingredients, coming home, and making the meal. Needless to say, on the nights I cooked, we usually ate dinner around 10 or 10:30pm. I did this for years. I had never thought of stocking my kitchen with food to make when I needed to cook. Are you speaking domestic or something?

At work, my very practical friend “T,” who knew how to stock her kitchen like nobodies business, and I started hanging out at each other’s homes more and more. She began to see that my empty cupboards and refrigerator were not just a passing phase, that it was actually...gasp!...the way I lived! She decided to fix me up post haste! For my 29th birthday she enlisted our close mututal friends and hatched a plan to get my kitchen stocked.

And when I say stocked, I mean STOCKED, like all-in-capitals-yodeling-from-mountaintops stocked! They supplied me with not only staples and spices but also with dishes and glassware! I had been relying on the three plates my mother-in-law had given us along with an assortment of glasses collected from various work-related wine tastings. I sat overwhelmed trying to keep my mouth from gaping open in wonder as I opened package after package of carefully wrapped…beans and rice and pasta and dried oregano and curry…and the list went on and on in quite amazing detail! After I had opened the last carefully wrapped package of foodstuffs, they kindly and slowly explained what to DO with all these new exotic items now lining my surprised and no longer bare cupboards.

And that is how I was finally turned around. Having a stocked kitchen for the first time in my life created the fertile ground needed to sprout an epiphany: that this stocking thing was not half bad, that although it pained me to do the shopping, it was much nicer to come home and have things with which to make dinner. Most importantly, it taught me how to be a better and more inventive cook, that creating a meal could be more of an improvisational art than a mundane following of directions. I became a culinary artist! I was inspired! I was in control! Now I was cooking!

So that is how I came to have a real, functioning kitchen. Now when my phone rings and all I can hear is wild giggling trying to control itself on the other line, I can say with authority, “This may take some time, I have quite a bit more around than half a package of blue cheese and some limp broccoli. You might want to pour yourself a glass of wine, or make a nice cup of Constant Comment with honey AND milk, or perhaps brew some coffee, or make yourself a G&T, or maybe a hot chocolate, if you have some, because I know I do!”


Mary Alice said...

Oh sissy this is your best blog post yet - maybe I just think that because it is about the fabulous sisterhood. By the way, when Katrina got here at Christmas the first thing she did was get a cup of coffee and play that game...she would guess what was in the fridge and The Middle Child would check.....then we called the Practical Sis to play it with her.

The best game evah

JCK said...

OH, you sisters have all the fun! This post makes me want to just hop on over to your house. I also relate quite well. I still do not have staples in my kitchen. I shop too frequently, 2-3X a week (usually at Trader Joe's) and never plan ahead. I prepare food every night, but I'm still spending too much money and not being as organized as I could be. *sigh* Thanks for letting me feel...not quite so alone. I've got some limp celery, brie and Jack Daniels. Does that work?

sophia katrina said...

Oh I LOVE that game!!! but its fun with ALL of us... because Mean Face usually has a lot of everything (I played w/ Practical Sis and made her guess Mean Face's when I was at her house... did you know she had 3 different kinds of milk and 6 Dozen EGGs! 4 lbs of butter and 2 different kinds of eggnog). Practical Sis is all cereal and pasta.. and you can bet that I have RICE and Buttermilk for jonas and ice cream for me!! It's the BEST game EVER!!!!!! Your refrigerator is the fanciest now but it makes it alllll the more fun!!!

Life As I Know It said...

This is so funny!
Contrary to some of my blog posts, I actually do like to cook (or I did before kids) and usually have a stocked kitchen/pantry.
I do not, however, do so well on the cleaning out part. I think we have a bag of curry in the spice cabinet that we bought in jamaica on our honeymoon...9 years ago.

Anonymous said...

I think you should start a kitchen stocking service for those of us who are ingredient- challenged! I've yet to master the grocery shopping so as actually to have things that go together on purpose with the intent of creating whole sit-down meals... sigh.

Melissa said...

You are too funny! That game--it shows how well they know you and how well you are loved;) Isn't learning how to manage a kitchen almost as much work and effort as learning how to parent a child??? I think so, tho I never thought about it until I read your post today.

Domestically Challenged said...

OOOOH - my kind of birthday prezzie - I love packets of food all lined up - l love the packaging especially if it's quirky.

But why did I buy white marzipan three Christmasses's still there in the pantry, looking acusingly at me!
Oh, and I must remember not to cook the things on the top shelf - things like the dog's worming tablets - they wouldn't go down well!

As for the game, I'm going to go and play it with Gordon now!
Best wishes

ps blogged your walk!!

Anonymous said...

I love the refrigerator game! I really want to play that with my friends and family now! Very cool.

I like to keep a good stocked pantry, too. There are certain things I feel culinarily (is that a word?) naked without. Garlic. Olive Oil. Canned tomatoes. Cheese. Butter. Onions. Olives. Wine. And a good loaf of bread. Anything else is just peripheral.

Anonymous said...

You know, I feel like we're passing this tradition down through the ages now, because before I did it for you, and as a matter of fact for my 28th or 29th b-day, my beloved Bonnie did it for me. I came home and found spice racks mounted and filled, basic cooking utensils, a few good pots and pans, and the pantry stocked.

Pass it on, sister!
love, T.

Cheri said...

"More practical and on top of this whole 'life' thing than I."

Funny stuff.