by Tracy Grossmann
On Thursday we ran out of half and half.
Because I am allergic to creamer, this is my morning coffee essential. In essence, it was kitchen Armageddon. I had to get to a grocery store.
There are those kind of items in every kitchen- essential items that, when they become depleted, warrant a trip to the store- true emergency or not.
In my kitchen, it’s when I run out of flour, or milk, or – because I apparently love calories – butter. They are the staples that keep my kitchen engine humming along.
But often we shop out of habit rather than necessity. Too often we view staples – like pasta – as essentials when really, they are one of many starch options available. Even if my pantry is full of rice and potatoes and cous cous and flour for bread…I may find myself making a trip to the store because I thought I needed noodles.
There are seasons in my life where I get into cooking ruts. I find myself with a full pantry and a desire to grocery shop anyway. I may be on a stroganoff kick, for instance, and can think of very few meals that do not involve sour cream or ground beef or noodles…and those items become my trip triggers.
I don’t know about you, but every time I go to the store, I can’t help but come home with quite a bit more than I originally planned to buy.
In fact, if I am running in for “just a few things” this phenomenon is even more apparent. “Just noodles and milk? Shouldn’t we also get ________ and Oh! ________ is on sale!” Soon enough we are headed out with a full cart, and wonder how in the world we are going to fit it all in the fridge!
Or maybe we are coming up with a meal plan out of thin air, or off of Pinterest, and it takes some random ingredients that we don’t normally have on hand. Or we really want to make blueberry muffins this week, but need the blueberries. All of this is delightful if we are actually in need of a trip to the store. But when it is the blueberries alone sending us to the store? That’s when our grocery budgets will get out of hand quickly. At least, it’s like that for me.
The greatest weapon I have in this battle is substitute cooking.
If I can make raspberry lemon muffins instead of blueberry muffins when my freezer is full of raspberries, then that small shift saved me not just the cost of blueberries, but also travel time, extra purchases, and grocery store kid-wrangling! It’s a win on so many levels!
If I really am in the mood for stroganoff, and I am out of mushrooms, I can instead create an alfredo pasta dish with the ingredients I have on hand. Most of us have full pantries, but we get stuck when it comes to inspiration.
That’s where the Simplified Pantry books come in SO handy. When I am stuck on ideas, they help me get my creative juices flowing. I am out of pumpkin, but I have peaches, and so I can make a yummy baked oatmeal casserole for tomorrow morning even if I thought I was going to make pumpkin scones. This is substituting in a major way- not just coming up with how to substitute baking powder in a pinch, but how to create a meal with what’s on hand.
Since all of the Simplified Pantry meals are created using the same set of pantry ingredients, you are bound to find many creative solutions with just what you have on hand already.
This morning, I was planning on going to the grocery store. I don’t love shopping on Saturdays, mostly because the rest of the world happens to be shopping that day, too. But I am out of noodles and cheese, I am low on flour and sugar, and I’m nearly out of milk. It seemed like this was a no-brainer, necessary trip.
But then I decided to just look at what I had on hand, really, and come up with as many meals as I could. Unbelievably, I listed an entire week’s worth of meals – breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and had a few meals left over. I will need a gallon or two of milk, and undoubtedly some more half and half, but my “must have” list has dwindled considerably, just by taking a few minutes to take stock and think in alternatives.
Of course, the beauty in this type of thinking and cooking goes beyond avoiding extra trips to the store.
It helps with sales, with using up your frozen foods and canned goods, and keeps you from getting tired of the same old same old – and heading out to a restaurant out of exhaustion from it all!
I love the quote from G.K. Chesterton that says
“The essence of the picture is the frame.”
It is the limits with which we have that make what we do art. With the myriad of options at our fingertips whenever we enter the store, it is a novel experience to stay away for a few days and try to create something (art?) within the limits of your own pantry/freezer/garden.