Pantry Cooking

Our actual, not-made-for-photos pantry, obviously in need of organizing,
and brown lentil pancakes.

Perhaps this is indicative of articles being written far ahead of time, but recent food articles in newspapers don’t seem to reflect the reality that people aren’t going to the store as often, and that stores don’t have the selection they usually do.

My last grocery trip was over 3 weeks ago, and I don’t plan to return for another week or two.  I did not enjoy the stress of being at the store or coming home and washing everything.  I usually fill our fridge with fresh, colorful produce weekly, but now, aside from a pound of carrots and a half stalk of celery, our fresh produce is long gone.  However, I enjoy a good challenge, and we have ample frozen vegetables and a pantry with sufficient staples to produce some interesting meals.  We’re a very long way from subsisting on wheat kernels as was chronicled in The Long Winter, or from the limited food choices of many countries in present and past times of war.

Our pantry consists of an old shelving unit from my college days in a small basement closet; it always holds sufficient dried beans, pasta, rice, canned tomato products, and other staples to see us through a snowstorm. It is one of my favorite frugality tools, as it allows me to stock up when there’s a good sale, and saves trips to the store.

Without commuting, I’ve had more time and energy this week to look up some new recipes to try.  Here are some of the things that the pantry provided (all made without onions, because those were not available in the store):

Brown lentil pancakes, from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, made by soaking and pureeing lentils into a batter and adding shredded carrot and spices.  This is a good cookbook for pantry meals because there are so many options on every recipe, and he generally eliminates non-essential ingredients.  We tried these with various condiments that happened to be in our refrigerator and they were good enough to cook again, but we all agreed that we prefer potato pancakes (when stores have potatoes).

Salmon cakes from canned salmon, with barley and frozen green beans.  This provided an opportunity to use the barley that I bought some time ago and was the reason for the next meal, using the leftovers.  Frozen green beans are okay steamed, but delicious roasted.  We always have frozen green beans on hand – they’re a huge time saver and very versatile.

Tortellini soup with carrots and celery and some kale that I had cooked and frozen a couple months ago.  Aldi sells dried tortellini that we all enjoy.

Baked Italian arancini, with leftover barley instead of rice, dipped in marinara, and carrot and celery sticks on the side.  I used frozen spinach, omitted the Parmesan, and did not roll in breadcrumbs because that’s just too fussy for my kitchen.  Everyone liked these, but if I make them again I will add a healthy dose of garlic and oregano.

Black bean burritos, with frozen spinach and corn and a lot of spices… and no onions.  Luckily, there’s always salsa in the pantry.

Pasta with sauce and frozen peas, Mari’s standby dinner.  I asked her to cook on Friday night so I could take a long post-work walk on a beautiful sunny afternoon.  It’s as basic as it gets, but no one here ever complains about pasta for dinner.

I look forward to seeing what the pantry provides next week.

Has your cooking changed during the current situation?

 

 

Weekend Cooking – Rosemary-Raisin Buns

P1020223It’s going to snow tomorrow.  I’ve lived here long enough to expect one last round of snow shoveling in mid-April, and flurries for a few weeks after that.   My parents once considered moving here and visited in late April to look at houses.  As we were driving to a nearby town with snow blowing horizontally, I knew that Minnesota had lost out on that chance.

I’ve lived about 1800 miles distant from my family since I finished college, and therefore have created my own local “family” and holiday traditions in the places I’ve lived.  Our Easter is usually a celebration of spring with our fellowship – music, stories, conversation, laughter, and food.  Tomorrow we will meet online with some of theses folks who have watched Mari grow from 3 to 17.  Toddler Mari used to hunt eggs on the grounds of the old one-room schoolhouse where we meet, and older Mari used to hide eggs for the little ones.  Between the stay-home order and the snowstorm, it might be hard to make it feel festive, so I’m thinking that there will be a mandatory snowball fight in the afternoon.

I was leafing through a book that I was excited to find on the library discard shelf, Anissa Helou’s Savory Baking from the Mediterranean, and landed on Pan di Ramerino, Rosemary and Raisin Bread.  When I read that it was an Easter specialty of Tuscany, and saw that it required only ingredients that are available in our pandemic-depleted kitchen and pantry, I decided that it would be our Easter breakfast. Helou writes, “In ancient Greece and later in the Roman Empire, rosemary was used as a remedy for coughs and liver aches, whereas in medieval times, it was used to repel evil spirits.”  Sounds perfect all around.

Wishing you a joyful Sunday whether or not you’re observing a holiday, free of both coughs and evil spirits.

Shared with Weekend Cooking

 

 

Grief

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The weirdest month of my life, right here.  March 2020!  My father-in-law fell on February 27 and it turned out, broke a vertebra, and a week later, on March 5, he died.  The next Tuesday, my union went on strike and we were on the picket lines for 3 days.  With COVID19 closures looming we reached a contract settlement and the next Sunday we learned we’d be closed for the remainder of the month preparing for a massive scale distance teaching of children of all ages.  Said preparation was spent with my own two small children at home with me, competing with my husband for work time, and binging on faaaaar too much Facebook.  I let myself indulge in a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. I’ve been eating a lot.  Too much.  Trying to avoid feelings.  Needless to say, my stress levels have been somewhat elevated.

On week 3 of this, we are settling in, figuring it out.  My husband started actually distance teaching; we are officially on spring break so ours doesn’t start for another week.  I’m sleeping kind of better and kind of worse.  I’m walking every day.  Inspired by this post, I’ve been doing little projects that have just kind of sat around forever and it feels good to finish them, use them, put them away, be done.  I’m pushing myself to actually finish up things rather than get close and not see them to completion, and to avoid my old foe of spending time researching and ordering yet more supplies for projects and then not actually doing them.

*****

I left off writing that last night . . . just couldn’t feel out where this was going . . . but I’m back again today.  I have a vague feeling hanging about me, a constant unease.  Maybe, as this article suggests and much more aptly describes, it’s grief.  So many griefs this month, and it feels shallow to admit that the one that feels the biggest right now is this sense that I’ve spent 15 years in a career that I’m consciously choosing to be in said career at this time in my life, but is renowned for its degree of superfluous crap.  The paperwork.  The meetings.  The documentation.  The events.  The committees.  The TESTING.  The TIME.  All of that, in the snap of a finger, gone.  Done.  Don’t have to do it!  Now:  Do only the most important thing (teach) and in the simplest yet most effective way you can given the novelty of the format, etc. and take care of yourself while you do it.  So while my intellectual brain knows that it’s temporary, and because of a very unusual circumstance, I also wonder . . . will I actually be able to go back to that?

Embracing each day

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Silence and Clouds by x1klima, CC BY-ND 2.0

March 2020 – a month for which no one will ever be nostalgic.

After all the years it took me to learn to really slow down and not wish for the next, presumably better stage, my thoughts whisper that a year from now, there will be less uncertainty.  A year from now, we will know how we all come out of this pandemic. But each day is still precious.  Each day, though it brings tragedy and stresses of all kinds to many of our global community, also brings hope, creativity, and love to much of the world.

For me, it’s not the social distancing and staying home that has made this month feel like a year, but the combination of constant change and continuing threat.  The thoughts I try to avoid: will I see my parents again? how will we support our friends who sustain losses, when the best we can do is teleconference? how on earth can we support the health care workers, who are generally always overstretched? There are many painful questions.  I’m sure that you know them, too.

No one knows the answers to the big questions.  The entire world is experiencing the human and economic results of the pandemic.  These months will be in the history books.  Our children will tell their children and grandchildren about it.

I don’t think there was any time in my life prior to right now that it was an advantage to be a complete introvert.  My forever best friend is as extroverted as I am introverted.  To me, it always looked so easy for her to do so many things that were difficult to me, like speaking to anyone in a room full of people (now I usually give myself permission to not talk much if there are more than 6 people).  While the stay-home order gives me a time to recharge, she has that harried, unsettled feeling that I get after times without enough quiet space.

But that introversion also makes me prone to ruminating, particularly in the middle of the night.  To fight that, I keep busy and try to make myself too tired to wake up at 2AM.  Working at home is efficient in terms of time (no commute) but leads to a lot less walking during the day, so my evenings are devoted to moving.  I anticipate many projects being completed around the house in the coming weeks, possibly even the one I’ve been avoiding for nearly a year, which is painting the kitchen ceiling after patching up the damage from a pressure cooker incident.  I just finished a task I’ve long had on the back burner – assembling all important information in one place so that Thom and Mari could easily access it.

I call family and friends, email, and text, trying to focus on the positive and entertaining, like the crocus that are blooming in the front lawn, the beautiful, gigantic spring snowflakes that fell this morning, and how our dog tucked herself under a blanket yesterday to hide from the thunderstorm.  I’ve been writing real letters, on paper, hoping to give a distant loved one a smile. The daylight hours are expanding and warming, and soon evening biking, walking, and gardening will become routine.

How do you embrace the gift of each day during this difficult time?

Weekend Cooking: Friday Night Pizza

IMG_2287Friday night has been pizza night for a while.  It is a treat for everyone at the end of the week – including the cook (me), due to the fast prep time and lack of required decisions.  Although my favorite meal is a giant salad topped with delicious things, pizza is much easier to make – and no one ever complains.

I mix a yeast dough Thursday night or Friday morning; if the former, then it overnights in the fridge.  I like to add a generous amount of rosemary (it becomes much less like little sticks in the wet, long-fermenting dough) as well as some quick steel cut oats.

With the dough made, homemade pizza is done in about 30 minutes – much faster than delivery, takeout, or driving to and waiting in line at a store. And the cost can’t be beat – a very large pizza with an entire bag of fresh spinach comes to about $6.   Did I mention that between dough and cheese is one of the ways the rest of the house will eat leafy greens without complaining?