|Images via Apartment Therapy/The Kitchn (1, 2, 3)|
I am a sucker for a beautiful pantry, with rainbow-colored collections of beans and grains and variously-shaped pastas arrayed in matching jars. Wouldn't it be nice to be not only so organized, but so prepared to cook so many different dishes?
But as nice as images like the ones above are to look at, I've realized that taking a similar approach to my own pantry is a recipe for food waste.
The truth is, I don't cook "so many different dishes," at least not very often. Mostly I cook the same things over and over.
Keeping things on hand because they are "pantry staples" even though I don't actually have recipes that I make with them is sort of the kitchen equivalent of buying khaki pants and black blazers because they are "wardrobe basics" even though I never feel like myself in khaki pants and I hate blazers. (I've totally done that, though, in the past.)
This is part of how my pantry cupboard that I showed you before-and-after shots of recently got so out of hand.
When I cleaned it out I tossed any cans and jars that were expired*, anything so old that were it a child it would already know its ABCs, and anything that, let's be honest, was not going to get eaten because no one in the house actually liked it.
*(I realize that "expired" when it comes to most canned goods is more of a suggestion than a hard-and-fast eat-by date, but there was a lot of stuff that was so old or out of date that when I considered cooking with it I thought: "Well, that's so old though..." and didn't use it. I wasn't going to become more likely to use these things as they got even longer in the tooth so there was no point in keeping them.)
This process resulted in a much sparser cupboard, and I'm calling that a good thing.
I expect it will get even leaner in the future, as I use up a few items that were fresh enough to keep but that I don't cook with all that often. When we polish them off I won't replenish their stocks.
Going forward, my aim is to keep on hand only ingredients that we go through in large volumes (I'd be nuts not to keep a backup jar of peanut butter on hand); frequently eaten snacks (Kind bars, crackers, salted peanuts); a few quick meals (boxed mac & cheese, tomato soup -- sometimes you just gotta); and the ingredients for a handful of tried-and-true recipes that are part of our regular rotation. That's it.
I still want to try new recipes, and experiment with all sorts of different beans and grains and pastas. It's just that when I have a specific plan to do that, I'll go to the grocery store and buy only the amount I need of that ingredient. Isn't 21st Century life grand?
So I guess when I say that I'm no longer keeping a well-stocked pantry, it depends on what's meant by well-stocked. Well-stocked as in copiously and with great variety? That wasn't working for me. Well-stocked as in thoughtfully, and a bit minimally, is more what I'm after.
I love the clothing analogy, Sarah, and it's so fitting --- even I (!!!) once bought a pair of khakis based on the belief that it was a staple I "ought to have", and then the one or two times I wore them felt so uncomfortably "not-me" that I never ever wore them again.ReplyDelete
So I have to admit I'm drooling over the three pantries you have pictured above ... because my gosh they're gorgeous ... but no, my pantry doesn't (and will never) look like them either, for exactly the reasons you've stated. I keep a fairly sparse fridge too, and just last week, my husband opened the fridge and said, "You know, it's really nice to have a half-empty fridge...to be able to reach in and pull out exactly what you need, but to have only what you need, instead of having a fridge cluttered with a bunch of jars and containers that you hardly ever use." (cough*his parents' fridge*cough). I think the problem with a "well-stocked" (as in, over-stocked) pantry or fridge is two-fold: the visual clutter is nervous-making all on its own (crowded and/or messy spaces are hard to deal with), but I think the mental clutter which comes with the over-abundance of choice (I could make XYZ, I should make use of ABC; decision fatigue, in other words) is probably equally problematic.
I'm glad I'm not the only one susceptible to inappropriate khakis!Delete
I still need to do the baking cupboard, freezer, and fridge but I'll have the same goals with those, too. I was managing to keep a fairly sparse fridge for a while and I always got some sort of perverse enjoyment from seeing it empty out towards the end of the week. Have back-slid a bit in that respect I have to admit.
I agree about the visual clutter and the paradox of choice. I think too, when you have a crammed-full fridge/cabinet/whatever, something inevitably migrates to the back and goes funky.
Oh, wow, when you mention the fridge instead of the pantry... My partner's parents have a very large refrigerator that is always PACKED, yet when we are visiting them and seek a midnight snack, it's hard to find anything to eat! Most of the stuff in there turns out to be condiments, some of which are spoiled. It's kind of creepy. He says it wasn't like that when he was a kid, but over time his parents have started eating in restaurants more, and they have a fondness for trying new and different condiments.Delete
I definitely have a bit of condiment creep going on in my refrigerator, too. Though I don't think it's nearly as bad as your in-laws' fridge, thankfully! That's a good point to keep aware of how our eating habits may be changing, and our buying/stocking habits may need to shift as well. (I think it's inevitably hard to identify those shifts as they happen, though.)Delete
I've been culling and culling in the various stashes of my home -- it's all too obvious how much we stock in the anticipation of future needs that don't end up materialising. At some level, I think it's fear-based thinking rather than a thinking that recognises the truth of living in (relative, at least) abundance. Trying to cure this by projects similar to your pantry-clearing (yarn might be a target/culprit as well!), but the habits of a lifetime might take serious work to change. . .ReplyDelete
Yeah, I am working up to going through my fabric stash. I predict I will not blog about it though because the shame will be too great....Delete
What you say about "habits of a lifetime" is interesting. I wonder if these are really "habits of a previous lifetime." I don't think that what motivated me to fill my pantry with "staples" that it turned out I didn't really need was a fear of scarcity, really. I think I thought it was just what you did. And, having an extensive pantry was probably very useful in previous generations...was really the only option, if you were putting up food from the garden in the summer to last the winter, and so on. So there's a certain model in our heads of what a pantry is supposed to look like, despite the fact that it no longer really applies to many of us with our current lifestyles. But we never really learn otherwise (or maybe even bother to think it through).
Cue musings about gender and home economics as an actual academic discipline...
Ack, I'm being called for dinner, hope this makes sense!
Sometimes those pretty pantry pictures bug me. Yeah, your flour looks so great in that jar, now where is the other 16 cups left in the paper bag? Really, you only keep 2 cups of brown sugar on hand and you are a baking blogger? I've been trying to keep a lean pantry, but am susceptible to pantry creep, where I will buy a special rice or grain or legume and never actually get around to cooking with it (*cough* farro *cough*). But I do try to keep other things simple - I keep one type of rice on hand, not 5 for example.ReplyDelete
I don't care much about how things look and rarely post pictures, but I do keep some baking ingredients in 2-cup jars: brown sugar, cornmeal, wheat bran, stuff like that which we tend to use <2 cups in a single batch of food. There's one small jar of each in the kitchen cabinet. The spare jars are in the basement pantry. That way, the kitchen isn't cluttered with a large volume of ingredients, but I can reach everything quickly while baking. Whatever I use up, I stick the empty jar on the dining table, and then while food's in the oven I go to the basement and bring up more of that. I like the jars because weevils can't get in (unless they were in the food before you put it in the jar) and I try not to store any weevil-appreciated food in a bag.Delete
Ha, anotheryarn, I have some farro to use up, too! I keep meaning to make one of those salads with nuts, dried cranberries, and a little curry powder (like you can get at Whole Foods) but it keeps getting pushed off.Delete
Becca, it sounds like you have found a system that works for the way you actually cook, which is exactly what I'm aiming for myself!
I do keep a large and well-stocked pantry (set of metal storage shelves in the basement, typically about 70% full) but we actually use the stuff. I stock up on non-perishable things when they're on sale, and I buy rice and pasta 5-10 pounds at a time, and we gradually deplete them. The only time I've regretted my approach is when I stocked up the rice and pasta just weeks before the Horrific Mouse Invasion of 2012--those big, strong mice could chew through the hard plastic containers in which we usually keep that stuff (pretzel jars and similar) and what they didn't eat upon breaching the containers was contaminated with shards of plastic, so we lost half of the food before we stashed the rest in our top closet shelf, one of the few parts of the house the mice proved unable to access. We thought about storing everything in glass after that, but it's so hard to get big glass jars (and they're heavy!) that we did go back to plastic after we vanquished the mice. So far, so good!ReplyDelete
Yikes, mice! We had a very minor weevil situation here a while back and that was plenty gross enough for me. I'm glad you vanquished the critters though I have to respect their resourcefulness at getting into the pretzel jars.Delete
I suspect the best stocking strategies may also depend on our individual storage situations. We don't have a basement -- we have an attic accessed with a pull-down ladder (i.e., inconveniently) and a shed out back -- and relatively little storage in the climate-controlled portion of the house. I suspect that if I had a basement at my disposal the practicalities might be different.
I've been meaning to write a response to this for days, and now all my thoughts are gone. I much admire the idea of having only what you really use. I'm always so pleased to fill the fridge up with good food, and I'm equally pleased when, a week later, it's almost empty. That means I haven't wasted anything. Pantry is the same way. Mine isn't Pinterest-worthy at all. No cute chalkboard labels in my world. It currently has some things that really should go. But for the most part, it's just what we really use. Your after picture would make me feel really good if it were mine.ReplyDelete
Ah, I think I've had that thoughts-fluttering-away experience many a time, including in relation to your own thought-provoking blog posts! Thanks for your comment. Your last sentence in particular was so kind. And yeah, I'm letting go of Pinterest-worthy aspirations, at least in some realms. I like things to look nice but function comes first. Sometimes making things look "nice" actually gets in the way of function and sometimes it's just superfluous...at a certain point, all those chalkboard labels are just stating the obvious (like those big kitchen signs that say EAT).Delete
Yes! (This is why I like you.) I hate those EAT signs, and then I feel like such a petty, mean-spirited person for feeling judgmental about those who have them. It's no skin off my nose; why does it matter? So I probably AM a petty, mean-spirited person (at least when it comes to home decor). I suppose because it bugs me that such things as beautiful pantries make people feel bad and divert their attention from other things I wish we'd all pay more attention to.Delete
I just knew there was a reason we three get on so well together ;) . I dislike those EAT signs too, as well as the manufactured "family rules" signs. (But I do confess to really enjoying the three word definition pictures I made for my laundry room, which look like dictionary entries). And I also really, really agree with your last statement, Rita --- gorgeous images of perfect decor often DO make people feel bad about their own homes, and they DO distract from the more important things. I would argue it's much better to spend one's finite time actually cooking healthy food vs. spending that time making a pantry pinterest-worthy.Delete
There is an "Emperor's New Clothes" aspect to some of this stuff, isn't there? When I first see some of these organizational things and chalkboard labels out the wazoo I think: "Oh, that looks nice." But then eventually I go, "Wait...but why?"Delete
On the other hand I do think that it's worth taking the time to make the areas that we use and interact with every day look nice. That adds to the pleasure of our everyday chores and maybe even inspires us to do them (I'd much rather cook in a well-organized kitchen and from a well-organized pantry). I also find that making over or organizing an area makes me more inspired to keep it tidy! But something that I experience as well-organized, tidy, nice looking, etc. isn't necessarily Pinterest-able.
I completely agree with your last paragraph, Sarah, on all points. I do still struggle sometimes with how far to take things in order to make them look "nice" when the appearance doesn't at all affect functionality. The minimalist in me will want bare bones, but that then wars with the side of me that's swayed by aesthetics ...Delete