September Challenge: Taming the Pantry!

Dear Prairie Ave,

Well, it’s been five weeks since we started this Clear The Pantry challenge. And I have to report, I’ve gone over….extended to a fifth week. Because that’s how bad things were. I know the photo can’t capture it, because I forgot to take the before pic (actually, my phone ran out of space and the photo was deleted. Look. You know how bad I am at technology). Here’s what I learned….

I also had a “save for later” (why?!) item. The bluegrass soy sauce that you got for me, what, a year ago? Two? Well it’s fantastic! And I’ve been gobbling it up in recipes like sprouted mung bean and fried tofu stir fry, tahini dressings, smashed cucumber salads, and many more. It’s deep, this one, and I love it. 

I remember you saying sometime long ago that I was “preternaturally averse” to carbs. Well I am. Unless I’m running tons of miles. So I had a lot of flours and other carbs to go through in my pantry. I made chickpea crepes, farro for salads, cornbread, and pasta. PASTA! Me! That was actually delightful. It’s high summer here in the south and so I made a special little pasta dish with an italian mushroom toast as a side. I’ve made this a bunch. You just have to figure out the proportions but it’s divine: 

What, dear friend, is our next challenge? We just did something global, so let’s do something specific. 


Ash Street South

Dear Ash Street South,

This challenge was so much fun!  I agree – week five was easy to complete as an add-on week because even now, there is still an entire shelf of untouched, unopened items.  And because I love lists and categories, I’ve distilled the process by which our pantry items accumulate into three separate categories:  1) As you mentioned, there are specialty items you buy for a dish or two but after making that dish, you have a surfeit of that particular item leftover and it takes a long while to use it.  For you, the carbs. For me (and also for you LOL), is the seven different vinegars all currently in various stages of completion.

2) The special “save for special occasion” category. That bluegrass soy sauce you mentioned finally using? I have TWO bottles of it waiting…untouched.  Why?  Because the bottles are so cute and small and only available for purchase in one, remote, out-of-the-way place that it got marked in my mind as “special” and therefore I keep saving it for a “special” occasion. Same with those tiny jars of goat milk caramel. It’s so tasty that we now have a stockpile of it that we can’t seem to open and consume because it’s so special. Even this past month those jars were not cracked! But that inclination leads me to category #3, which is the category I find difficult to combat.

3) Fear of deprivation and “running out.”  While I cognitively understand that I will not run out of food and I will not starve, my lizard brain fears both of those things.  And so the freezer stock ups and pantry fill-ups are a way to stave off the feeling that someday, at some point, I might run out of some thing that I want, and that is going to feel really shitty.  And so the extra bottles of mustard and ketchup, artichokes, canned tomatoes, oyster sauce. All that lives on the top shelf, unopened, waiting the day they get to take center stage in a meal. Because dammit, when I need more bbq sauce PRONTO, I can just reach up there, grab my spare molasses, ketchup, mustard, and apple cider vinegar and not miss a beat! Relief for future self not experiencing perceived deprivation of homemade bbq sauce!

But that fear of loss really bumps up against another really pleasing feeling, and that is of open space, minimalism, and order.  And so over the past month, as I finished items, consolidated others, and gradually watched as the space in my pantry gave way to clean, organized shelves, that feeling of aesthetic pleasure at its minimalism sat cheek-to-jowl with a latent internal doomsday clock.  And I had to sit with it and remind myself:  no one is going to starve.  I can have a pantry filled to the brim in less than an hour if I run to the store.  With all the abundance and choice and availability of things, the hardest thing to do is remind my lizard brain that there is abundance, choice, and availability and I don’t need to store things up like a squirrel ferreting its nut collection in spots in preparation for a hard winter.

Hmmm…so next monthly challenge.  Min wants to do a “No Restaurants October” which since you and I both rarely eat out anyways, I don’t think will be too hard to implement.  What if we each had to cook 3 new recipes from the Hettie Mackinnon cookbook in the month of October and write up a report of each?  I am very guilty of loving the reading of cookbooks but rarely cooking out of them so this might be a good push for me!

Prairie Ave North’s Pantry: Forgot to take a true before pic, so this is midway through and then the final week.

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