Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lessons Learned

Home. Sweet. Home. Now that we are back in our house and have full use of the kitchen and pantry, I have some perspective on cooking with both limited implements and a limited pantry. In our rental apartment, which, in an odd splash of symmetry, was an awful lot like Paul's and my first apartment in Los Angeles, we had only the very basic set of cooking utensils and pots provided by Marriott (adequate for a single working young adult who eats out nightly). Don't misunderstand - this was a nice apartment. When Paul and I first lived in one like it, we thought we were living huge. Now, however, with two teenagers and a cooking habit supported by an extremely well equipped home kitchen, I found similar amenities limited. I even had to purchase a large knife and wooden spoon as there were none. To further complicate cooking, we only had about two shelves for pantry items. And, because we knew we'd be there only about one month, we didn't want to buy too much.

All in all, I was cooking under conditions that are actually quite familiar to many people today. I found that we did carry out and eat out dinner more. Plus, my kids succumbed to the free donuts in the lobby way more often than I care to acknowledge. I was definitely reminded of the reality of preparing dinner when you're not prepared.

So now that we're home, and although busy, back to our overstocked kitchen, I have already begun the return to our usual manner of eating. The first morning back I went to the farm stand and loaded up on fruit (green plums, blueberries and the sweetest marble sized apricots), vegetables and herbs(chard, carrots, cauliflower, spring onions, corn and basil), tomatoes and eggs. I then did some staple shopping at Safeway and a quick trip to Balducci's for a few gourmet items. Our fridge is bursting and the pantry shelves are filled once again.

My system is not scientific. I don't sit down on Sunday evenings and write up menus for the week, although if that works for you, great. The bulk of my menu planning occurs while at the farm stand on Saturday morning when I see what looks good. In my head I balance the beautiful zucchini with Paul's' extreme dislike of all summer squash-like vegetables. I think about what else I would need to turn the farm stand bounty into several meals for my family. In summer, I always buy whatever berries are in season and I always buy tomatoes. I then fill in with grocery store items later that morning, or if possible, early Monday morning when the stores are still pretty empty. I usually have to fill in later in the week as we run out of lettuce, orange juice and bread. Many years ago, when I worked full time and had au pairs living with us, I made it a rule to grocery shop only once a week. "The list" lived on a magnetic pad on the side of the refrigerator and if it wasn't on there, we didn't get it. Apart from an occasional emergency trip for milk, we pretty much stuck to it.

While at the apartment, I thought about creating two lists for the blog. One would include kitchen implements that I think are essential and the other would be pantry items to keep on hand to help avoid the last minute carry out dinners. Please let me know if you think either or both of these would be helpful.

On a slightly unrelated note, I was delighted to see no salt added diced tomatoes at Trader Joe's the other day. As I was in a Virginia location, I was also tickled to be able to browse and purchase from their extensive wine section. Wish Montgomery County wasn't so bossy!