Cunning in the kitchen

by Heather

Right now the world outside is frozen, and just beginning to thaw. Here, we have no snow tires or chains, snow plows, or salt, and very little sanding. Everyone says that people here don’t know how to drive in the ice and snow, but the reality is that without the normal tools people use in places with an actual winter, it is really darn difficult, not to say impossible, depending on what kind of vehicle you have. My car is only two-wheel drive.

A few years ago when it iced and I got bored with the food in the house, I decided to venture out to the grocery store. I never got there, but I did have an interesting adventure that yielded no actual food. I got stuck on the hill across the street from the grocery store, and several nice people helped me. Someone came running out from the vet next door with a pan of kitty litter, and a couple guys pushed me. I was smart enough to drive back down the hill and go home.

Thursday night on my way home from work, the rain started to freeze on my windshield while I was still waiting for the engine to warm up. I was losing visibility as I worked to stay in my lane while defrosting the windshield. I live only a couple miles from the office, but by the time I got home, a substantial crust of ice had formed on the back windshield. And here I’ve been ever since.

The larder is a bit bare, as I typically go grocery shopping on the weekend. I’ve eaten the last of the frozen fish, the last of the ham, the last of the green onions and grapefruit. I’ve begun pulling assorted oddments out of the deep freeze, and finding them lacking.

I typically bake an egg for breakfast, but since I had only one egg left yesterday morning, and it looked like I was going to be eating at least one more breakfast before going to the store, I decided to make pancake batter instead. I diluted some leftover heavy whipping cream with water to approximate whole milk–and I must say, the pancakes were excellent. (Thanks, Stonewall Kitchens. I do know how to make pancakes from scratch, of course, but this mix is quite good.)

However, the lean blueberry sausage I pulled from the freezer and fried up didn’t quite make the grade, and ended up in the dogs’ scrambled eggs. A bit of Parmesan cheese also missed the mark, and I decided to eat my spaghetti without it. (It will go in the next batch of eggs for the dogs, which will definitely require a trip to the grocery store, as I’ve now used every last egg in the house.)

The only tomato product in the house, not counting ketchup and chili sauce, was leftover frozen tomato paste. (While I realize some people do dress spaghetti with ketchup-derived sauces, believe me when I say I will risk life and limb prior to taking that step.) The flavor of the thawed tomato paste was less than vibrant, so I had to pull out all my improvisational tricks to end up with a satisfying pantry spaghetti sauce. Along with the fresh onion and garlic I had on hand, and the usual Italian herbs, I threw in Chardonnay, juice from the jalapeno jar, cayenne pepper, molasses, brown sugar, celery salt–and finally ended up with something quite good.

Never give up! The key to success in the kitchen–and no doubt elsewhere as well. Skill and cunning can trump raw materials!

Now I’ve reached that stage of cabin fever where I’m starting to have food fantasies. As I walked through the kitchen just now on my way back from the freezing laundry room where I’d just put a load of laundry in the dryer, without conscious intention I suddenly vividly conjured a steaming dish of lovely Thai curry. Mmmm … that would be fabulous. (This is something I go out for rather than cooking it myself, so I have only a small fraction of the necessary ingredients on hand.) Something else to do when the ice melts …

I’ve been thinking how best to prepare for the next hard freeze. I could, and should, have left work early and gone to the grocery store–and that’s what I’m going to do next time. This freeze has been harder than predicted (whereas the last predicted winter weather episode panned out to exactly nothing).

I really enjoy the flavor of absolutely fresh ingredients, so I’m struggling to think how I can have the variety of ingredients I’d like on hand without compromising freshness or flavor. Right now I don’t have as many canned goods on hand as I usually do, so bumping those up makes all kinds of sense. Since I was disappointed in the quality of the meat and cheese I pulled from the freezer this weekend, I’m feeling a bit reluctant to stockpile there.

How do you stock your pantry and cook from it when you don’t have access to any ingredients other than what you have on hand?

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