The Gleeful Gourmand: Big City, Small Pantry

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Big City, Small Pantry




In my next installment for poking around in people's cupboards, I asked one of my oldest and dearest friends, Elizabeth, to take us through her miniscule cupboards and give me a sense of what she keeps in them. I have to say - I actually saw her kitchen in person this weekend, and I was really impressed at how good she and her roommate were at utilizing the space they have in an efficient manner, and still manage to make some tasty food. I hope you all enjoy Elizabeth's take on what it's like having a Small Pantry in a Big City:


A year ago my roommate and I moved into a wonderful apartment right in the heart of a recently gentrified neighborhood of Washington, DC. The apartment building was built in the early 20th century and thus the bedrooms are huge (12’ x 17’ each!) and the living room is even bigger. However, the cabinet space in the kitchen is sorely lacking. We have just one cupboard for our food. The top of our refrigerator is lined with our cereal boxes, and the baking goods (their use mainly executed by my roommate and consequently consumed by yours truly) are stored on the bottom shelf of a small yet extremely useful kitchen cart I inherited from my grandmother out of my mother’s attic. And that’s it! Here’s a list of the food staples that we grant the honor of occupying the cupboard:

• Three Elephant Brand, Jasmine rice
• Store brand mac and cheese
• Pasta: farfalle, spaghetti, and/or angel hair,
• Peanuts
• Granola bars
• Peanut butter
• Canned goods: baked beans, tomato soup, chicken noodle, vegetable soup, tuna fish, tomatoes, changing variety of beans
• Coffee
• Bisquick
• Lentils

The fridge gets loaded with bread, eggs, yogurt, milk, applesauce, cottage cheese, vegetables (though whether these are eaten in a timely manner is a different story – same goes with the fruit out on the counter), occasionally sandwich meat, cheese, cheese, and more cheese. The door is lined with dressings, sauces, jelly, and the other necessary condiments as well as open bottles of white wine that are finished within a few days and flat soda that is purchased for the occasional treat and never finished. The freezer currently has four cartons of ice cream (all open), frozen vegetarian microwavable food, and bags of frozen vegetables and fruit. Sometimes there is a bag of chicken breasts or fish fillet, either tilapia, salmon, or scallops. There’s also a bag of ice that I insisted on purchasing for a party, yet absolutely was not needed.

So what do we do with all of this wonderful food? I’ll start with the freezer. The frozen fruit we use to make smoothies in the summer. Frozen vegetables are best for stir frying, or just as a basic side (nothing original here). The frozen microwavable meals are mainly for lunches or when we return home starving and exhausted at the end of a long day. The ice cream we eat in every conceivable situation, including as the occasional main entrée for dinner (I’ll be hearing about this from my mother soon). We’ve also been making root beer floats with them recently too.

So what do we actually make for dinner you ask? You mean cook? It does happen. Sometimes. So this is how the typical day goes as far as eating and food prep: get up, eat a bowl of cereal, make coffee to take to work, throw a lunch together usually including yogurt, applesauce, granola, cookies if we have them and also some leftovers either from a restaurant or from a recently prepared meal. I’ll also sometimes buy salad makings and add tuna and cottage cheese to the vegetables and enjoy that. I’ve been meaning to add sunflower seeds to perfect this meal.

We are usually pretty busy in the evenings with classes, exercising of some sort, gatherings with friends, errands, and of course just the lazy evening after work. So there are not many occasions to come home straight from work, have all of the necessary ingredients and energy to prepare a full meal. There is also little motivation to prepare a full meal since it is usually cooking for one. When the perfect storm of time, energy, ingredients, and staving off hunger for an hour does come together, the following is the magic that occurs:

We’ve made basic stir fry in my handy dandy wok. If I’m eating with my vegetarian roommate, we have tofu stir fry, but I’ve also made it with chicken. Either soy sauce or hoisin, protein, and then frozen veges over rice. One time I managed to pull off Scallops Florentine, which was pretty tasty. I also found this great bean soup with vegetables recipe in the paper with which I fed myself for a week. There have been many a meal made from eggs, usually for breakfast on the weekends, but also during the week. I think we can all agree that breakfast for dinner is the best. There has been lasagna as well as vegetarian cheese casseroles that feed us for a number of days. Tacos are pretty easy and always are tasty. You can’t really go wrong with Mexican food. Make a big mix with beans and salsa, stuff inside tortillas, throw more stuff on top and bake. Eat like queen for a week. A good friend of mine recently told me about throwing a chicken breast in a slow cooker with a jar of salsa and while I am at work, the magic will happen. I will admit that I am a little wary of leaving the slow cooker on while I’m away from home, so perhaps I’ll do this over the weekend sometime. My brother and sister-in- law just gave me a rice cooker that doubles as a slow cooker, so I hope to put this to good use soon with success of perfectly cooked rice and easy meals.

Though I haven’t quite fully embraced cooking, I hope to one day have an opportunity to have the time and the mouths to feed. There are dreams of having a house full of fresh ingredients, hours on end to research a recipe, grocery shop to my heart’s content, and carefully slave away on a meal of multiple dishes which blend beautifully together be it either buttery rich French meals or completely healthy organic low fat meals. Until then I will continue to enjoy my small yet fruitful cupboard cornucopia.

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