Monday, January 12, 2009

Taking Stock

When I return home after traveling one of the first things I do, often even before unpacking, is head to the kitchen and take stock. I go through the fridge and toss anything that is past its prime – the most obvious candidates are the fresh herbs in the veggie drawer that have either turned brittle or slimy. I smell the milk and make sure we have peanut butter and eggs. Next I open the freezer to see how much butter, drip coffee, and espresso we have. Then I check out our stash of garlic at the top of the fridge and our onion levels in the cabinet across the way. Finally I open up the pantry and see where we are with our family’s staples: raisins, canned chickpeas, canned tomatoes, pasta, sugar, flour, and salt.

It goes without saying that we have the exact same amount of food in the kitchen that we did when we left (hopefully!), so my investigations rarely lead to a surprise. But there’s something about making my way back into the kitchen after being away that is the true signal that I’m “home”. Checking out “what’s what” grounds me and reintegrates me into the fabric of my everyday (cooking) life.

I start to think about what I can cook the next day with the ingredients we have on hand and make a mental shopping list for when we have food delivered the day after that. Once I've puttered around the kitchen I can go back to the more nuts and bolts parts of everyday life reentry.

Taking stock is a popular topic this time of year, and Mark Bittman wrote a great column (as usual) with practical tips for cleaning out your kitchen – what to toss and what to substitute. Examples:

OUT – Bottled lemon juice
IN – Lemons

OUT – Dried parsley and basil
IN – Fresh parsley

OUT – Bottled salad dressing
IN – Oil and vinegar

Click here for the full column.

It’s an inspiring list with a simple aim – to encourage people to eat better-tasting food that also happens to be fresher and, in the end, healthier. Personally, I will prepare more dried beans this winter instead of always relying on canned ones (which are a big part of our diet). Canned aren’t the end of the world, especially when rinsed and drained, but the flavor and texture of cooked dried beans are a hundred times better. For someone like me who wants to eat delicious food as often as humanly possible, it’s worth the (small) effort.

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