From Away Special Report: What’s in Our Pantry?

A well-stocked pantry means you can whip up dinner without having to leave the house, which is great on a lazy Sunday when all you’ve done is lounge on the couch and watch all three (THREE.) Indiana Jones movies and you still don’t feel like putting on pants, or when you get home from the market and realize you’ve bought bubble bath, white wine, brie, and and an Us Weekly, but nothing to actually cook, or when the baby’s been crying and an icy wind is blowing, and you need to feed your family something other than popcorn and cucumbers, again. We’ll go shelf by shelf, disclosing the contents of our cupboard and talking about how to put together a few satisfying meals with canned goods and other shelf stable foodstuffs.

The top shelf is for breakfast items and snacks: Peanut butter. Sliced bread. Scottish oatmeal. Snacking nuts (current favorites include wasabi soy almonds and plain old dry roasted peanuts). Thin Mints (thank goodness they only come out once a year). Assorted herbal teas. Green Tea Kit Kat a friend brought back from Japan. Carr’s entertaining crackers. Three month old candy canes. I can’t go a single day without a spoonful of Skippy Natural. It gives me hope. Eveything else is pretty self-explanatory, including those lingering Christmas canes, in a seemingly neverending supply.

Second from the top, left to right: Flax seeds. Grains, including quinoa and barley. What the heck do you do with barley? Anyway, we’ve got it. Pastas in various shapes and sizes, including soba and egg noodles. Three kinds of rice: Jasmine, brown, and Arborio. Polenta. Stuffing. Panko and regular bread crumbs. Chick peas. Diced tomatoes. Tomato paste. Coconut milk. A can of cream of celery soup no one will admit to having bought and which we’ve had since our last apartment, if not the dawn of time. Chunky beef stew. Tahini. Solid white Albacore tuna in water.

The baking essentials: All purpose flour. Cake flour. White wheat flour. Whole wheat flour. Rye flour. White sugar. Brown sugar. Almonds. Walnut pieces. Baking soda. Baking powder. Baking cocoa. Semolina. Corn starch. Masa. Molasses. Coconut flakes. Yeast. Quick oats. Craisins. Shortening. Vanilla. Nonfat dry milk. Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and sprinkles. Funnel cake mix. Dried white peaches. Applesauce.

Then there’s all the oils, vinegars, condiments and spices. Honey. Dried chiles. Potatoes. A bag of green dust that might be pumpkin seeds. Dog food. Yellow onions. Garlic. That’s basically it. Malcolm feels twitchy if we don’t have at least four cans of man soup. As for me, you should know by now that Kraft macaroni and cheese is my trashy-food weakness. It’s taken many years to figure out what we need to have on hand and what we’ll never eat. Looking at you again, Kashi heart health cereal.

We’ve been house-bound more than ever since the baby, and have mined our pantry ingredients for dinner inspiration quite a lot lately. We use coconut milk to make a chicken curry soup with rice noodles and mushrooms. Tuna pasta salad has been our go-to Saturday lunch since our first off-campus apartment. With white beans or chick peas I can prepare a hummus or spread with herbs, olive oil, and a few nuts, perfect for an impromptu party. Since I started baking I’ve discovered that I almost always can put together a quick bread or simple cake with the dry ingredients I keep stocked.

It’s a rather small pantry, just a few shelves. We’re not preparing for the end-of-times, a natural disaster or zombie distopia (is there a zombie utopia I don’t know about?). But it got us through eleven weeks of late winter with a newborn and various stages of cabin fever, ranging from “I’ve seen every episode of House Hunters and I’m mildly bored” to “James Caan better not crash his car in the vicinity.” With the assistance of one or two of our favorite condiments, a bag of frozen vegetables, and something dried, canned, or vacuum packed from the cupboard, we’ve been able to concoct relatively healthy, simple meals in between crazy cooking projects and sampling everything on the Amato’s menu. Spaghetti calzone, FTW!

What’s in your pantry?