Saturday, June 27, 2020

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - The Importance of Knowledge and Experience

I'm not sure how the stores are stocked where you live but I noticed a significant increase in empty places on shelves when I was at the grocery store last week.  I'm wondering if the spike in COVID-19 cases in various parts of the country has people stocking up again?  It certainly sent the Stock Market plunging yesterday.

I honestly doubt there will be a return to normal for a very long time.  I mentioned in a Pantry Post that I had been considering ending these posts because there was nothing new to say but I felt a nudge by God in such a powerful way that I could not deny it... do not stop the Pantry Posts!  I knew they would become even more important but a worldwide pandemic was not on my radar.

While I could top off most of my pantry during the midst of the lock down, some items became unavailable.  Whether because the manufacturing became impossible, the shelves emptied because people were hoarding, or transportation was difficult... I don't think it matters.  We saw with our own eyes how quickly store shelves could empty and not be restocked.

Having gone through that experience, I learned a couple important lessons that I'll ponder at another time.  Perhaps next week?  I learned there were food and supply items I found to be most important.  I also learned were items I thought would be important but they weren't.  I admit there were far less of those since I've cooked out of the pantry before during two long term job losses.

However, what I was reminded of more than anything during this time was the importance of cooking skills and the ability to put food on the table during a time of limitations.  I cook most of my meals at home already and mostly "from scratch" and even I had to scramble for new ideas.

I came to realize that knowledge and experience are even more essential during a time of crisis.

Knowledge such as in a cookbook tells us how to put together a main dish.  Experience reminds us of substitutions we can make should we not be able to purchase an ingredient for a recipe.  Knowledge may give us skills to cut up a whole chicken into separate parts.  Experience reminds us how to stretch a whole chicken to feed a large crowd.

I loved the chapter in Edith Schaeffer's The Hidden Art of Homemaking when she wrote about what she did to stretch dinner ingredients when more people than were expected were at L'Abri to be fed.  I think it was in that same chapter where she talked about learning to take cooking/baking mistakes and turn them into something people would enjoy eating.  There was no throwing away anything in the L'Abri kitchen.

I've thought of her often during this lock down as I had to be creative when I had run out of an ingredient or it was not available.  For instance, I had seen on a cooking blog (show?) where the person had made pizza using naan bread as the crust.  Really?  Naan?  I love it but as a dip for hummus.

But the next time I was at Aldi, I bought a package of naan bread and used two of the pieces as the base for pizza that week.  Yum!  Because of the need to switch from my normal crust, I found a quick and easy way of making pizza we like even better.  Easy is good.

My mother worked full time so she didn't actually teach me to cook but I picked up a lot from watching her.  She did show me from time to time how to make a specific dish that was a favorite.  Very few of her "recipes" were written down.  I'm especially thankful now that I took the time to watch her make her Kentucky friend chicken and vegetable beef soup.

As my interest in cooking grew after I was married, I came to enjoy cooking shows and back then, they were more instructional than entertainment.  Even if I did find the original PBS French Chef shows with Julia Child very amusing, she had a natural wit that continued through the years.

Now there is so much information available about how to cook from magazines to food bloggers to PBS cooking shows to entire television networks to YouTube videos. The best television cooking shows are with cooks that are natural born teachers as well as comfortable in front of the camera.

Through the years, I learned simple tips that I didn't know as a younger cook.  Such things as always make certain you brown the meat you are cooking (brown... not burn!) because that is how you develop flavor.  If you make gravy after frying a chicken that is not brown enough, that is why there is not enough flavor.

I learned to never add cold milk to hot mashed potatoes (so that is what I was doing wrong), to use kosher salt instead of table salt, to grind peppercorns, to add spices early and herbs late in a recipe, and that many of the vegetables I used to steam are even better roasted (although my husband disagrees on that one).

Do you remember The Frugal Gourmet?  I learned from him the phrase "hot wok, cold oil"... which means you always want your pan to be warm before adding any oil to it.  I think he said it on every show.

I learned from a nutritionist that al dente pasta, that is pasta boiled just until it is firm, is far better for all people (but especially diabetics) than pasta allowed to cook until it is soggy.  No wonder Italians, who cook their pasta al dente, can eat so many carbs and stay thin.

I have learned that comfort food from other cultures and various places even in the U.S. is often inexpensive and highly nutritious because generations past did not have the option of supermarkets and debit cards.  Since then, I've looked more closely at "poor people's food" than fancy restaurant recipes.

Since each person learns differently, it is hard to recommend specific shows but I find more instruction on PBS shows than The Food Network.  Although the latter now has an app you can subscribe to that is suppose to have good instruction.  I'm too cheap frugal for that.  Although I am seriously considering subscribing to BritBox someday, if just to get Mary Berry's cooking shows!

I often take one of my cookbooks off the shelf to read for you never stop learning when it comes to cooking.  I use most Amazon credit for things like birthday gifts for family, my insulin needles, etc. but as a treat for myself... once in awhile I get a new cookbook. 

Most recently, I purchased a cookbook that I fell in love with immediately.  It has large, colorful photos of each dish and I like that in a cookbook.  It is called Hope's Table: Everyday Recipes from a Mennonite Kitchen by Hope Helmuth. 

She is a fairly young Mennonite wife and mother and her recipes are simple enough for new cooks but interesting for ummm... old experienced cooks. Her book now resides in the red wire basket in the Kitchen where I keep the cookbooks I am currently using the most. 

I will also add a reminder of how much I love the cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat for both beginner and more experienced cooks.  It is like having a cooking teacher in the book.  If you have access to Netflix, definitely watch the four part documentary by the same title!

As for old favorites, I think it is about time I took The Hidden Art of Homemaking off the shelf, dusted it off, and reread it again for perhaps the hundredth time.  Especially the chapter about cooking.

So what do I plan to do this week for the pantry?  I've been keeping an eye on what is beginning to disappear from shelves again so I plan to make a list of items that I need to make certain get restocked on my own shelves.   Now that I know how quickly everything can change.

Mentioned in this Blog Post
The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer... here.

Hope's Table: Everyday Recipes from a Mennonite Kitchen by Hope Helmuth... here.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat cookbook... here.

Disclaimer:  Most links to are Associate links.


Thickethouse.wordpress said...

Yes, knowledge is a great help for cooking! (And probably for more things, too.) Neither my mother nor my grandmother taught me how to cook, per se, but I watched both of them as I was growing up and I learned a lot. Then I married a man from a Hungarian background and learned from his relatives and cookbooks and from living in Hungary on Sabbatical years. I learned, for instance, that while lots of Americans are familiar with the term "chicken paprikash" they are not as aware that paprikas is a term for a type of cooking that begins with sauteing onions and when they are transparent adding a lot of sweet paprika and salt and the main ingredient and later sour cream. Andy meat can be cooked this way as well as potatoes and also mushrooms. My husband also wanted soup to begin each meal and simple but hearty vegetable soups can make us less hungry for the more expensive parts of a meal. I also leaned to make "palacsinta" the simple Hungarian crepe which can have any kind of filling from just jam to chicken paprikas or cottage cheese, sour cream and a little sweetener. It is good to have some inexpensive but versatile recipes or techniques in ones repertoire and be able to change parts of them depending on what is in the pantry.

Claudia said...

Love your posts! I also found that sour dough English muffins work well as pizza crust.

Vee said...

This week marked the first in many that there were no lines waiting around both sides of Wal*Mart. Since I also had meds to pick up at their pharmacy, I went shopping there for the first time since March 9. I was able to get my brand of tp, which some may consider fussy, but not when one is babying old pipes. There were many, many empty shelves, no zinc, and limited choices on all manner of products. One shakes the head as it is hard to believe that this is the 21st Century. Revelation becomes more real by the day. No, this is definitely not the time to give the Pantry posts up. They're more timely than ever before.

Anonymous said...

I find that at 73 I am still learning new things in the kitchen and I love that. Thanks for your lessons shared today. P. S. I sent you a picture in email that you will love. Please check it out. Blessings, Sharon D.

Deanna Rabe - Creekside Cottage Blog said...

Lots of things to think about. I haven’t seen too many empty shelves lately. I’ve read that the virus is less virulent now which is a very good thing.

I’ve been making sure to use up leftovers, and also not cook as much food with less people in the home. I’ve also been cooking much simpler meals.

I’ve been wanting to reread An Everlasting Meal again.

Mel said...

Yes, please keep up the Pantry posts! I use tortilla bread for pizza bases. This makes for a crispy base and less calories. I have a Turkish bread here which needs to be used, I think I'll try that as a base for tomorrow nights dinner!

Ouida said...

I used naan and pita bread for pizza crusts in Africa when I first moved there in 1997. I could stand in line for the pita coming fresh out of the brick oven. The fresh vegetable toppings harvested that morning made some of the best pizzas I have ever eaten.

cindy said...

I always look forward to reading your posts and have been following you for years. You have taught me how to go about realistically stocking a pantry. I have been meaning to read Edith Schaeffer's books. Back in 1977 when I worked in a small Christian Bookstore we sold her books, but I was 19, in college, so my interest lay elsewhere. I guess better late than never!

Margie from Toronto said...

I also use naan and pitas as pizza bases - it's just me so their size suits me better.
Here in toronto we have finally moved into stage 2 reopening along with the rest of the province so I have a haircut booked for the end of the week.
Shelves are usually ok here now - even hand sanitizer and wipes are back in stock, although you may be limited to 2. Last week I was finally able to get WW flour again - up until now it's been only All Purpose and yeast is no longer a problem. Many of the grocery stores are even selling masks now and often packs of 5 for $5 or 10 for $10 so this makes it easier for people who perhaps couldn't afford a $50 or $100 outlay all at once. This is especially important as masks are strongly encouraged here and are required in many stores and places like hair salons, medical appt. etc. and as of July 2nd they will be required on all public transit. I always wear one when leaving the house and money not spent on the usual monthly treats has been invested in PPE as I see this situation as ongoing, especially as we head into Cold & Flu season in the Fall.
I have started restocking as I go - no panic as I have a decent level of supplies - always had - but some things do need to be replenished and I am adding some sauces and chutneys and such in order to boost the flavour of pantry meals.
I find Lida Bastianich's cooking programs very good - she explains & demonstrates things at a good pace and she often uses very frugal ideas. Her programs can be found on many stations and on YouTube.
PS - just picked up "Everlasting Meal" from the library - via curb side pickup and I am really enjoying it.

Elizabeth said...

Your cooking observations are most interesting...thanks for sharing. I did not know that noodles prepared al dente are better for diabetics...I cannot have the usual ones needing also gluten free now, but it might also be true of the rice and other types. We like to eat at a Pho place...I noticed that when I get a big bowl of their noodle soup...well, it is what Pho is...but they also sell lots of other things...any rate, we also drank some of their tea with our meal...and my blood sugar numbers were not up the next day, as was generally true if I ate any pasta. So whenever I eat pasta now at home, I try to also have a small cup of tea with it. Seems to idea why.

mdoe37 said...

I grew up watching Julia Child.....I thought of her the other day when I was cutting up a cheap block of Velveeta I scored for the freezer.....

there is no reason to eat flabby cheese....

describes Velveeta to a Tee.

Anonymous said...

I just learned some cooking tips that I didn’t know, from reading your blog post! I’m pretty much a basic cook and not very creative in the kitchen. I didn’t learn much from my mother, mostly because I really wasn’t interested! I only cooked because I had to after I got married! But at least my hubby hasn’t starved or complained! LOL! I realize I may need to start getting more creative with the way things are going lately. So please do continue your pantry posts! They have been really helpful!
Laura C.(WA)