Clotilde Dusoulier, author of the delightful blog Chocolate & Zucchini wrote in her book of the same title: " As a little exercise to flex your creative muscles, try this: open the fridge, look through your pantry and improvise a dish."
She makes this sound as if unplanned meals were a novel experience, but it's how I cook all the time. Hopeless at creating menus and coordinated shopping lists, I'm often faced with an odd assortment of food items and no specific dishes in mind. I'm pretty good at whipping up meals out of whatever is on hand. Of course, this works better when you actually have something in your pantry besides a few empty containers and paper goods.
International moves wreak havoc on the contents of a pantry. Most of the time, due to cost, or import and export regulations, you have to get rid of all the food. Tea is exempt (maybe the Boston Tea Party had something to do with this?), and depending on the shipper, or your destination, you might get away with dried spices (but not this time). I couldn't face cleaning out the spice cupboards, carefully accumulated from years of exploring the ethnic shops in London, the markets and shops of Europe, and frequent gifts from a Japanese friend. Turkish red pepper flakes, mushroom and truffle paste, furikake, saffron, Indian spices, honey from a friend's beehive. . . it was too painful for me to throw it out. Some we gave away, and while I was out at the British Library, D. discretely eliminated the rest, saving the glass jars.
|Our kitchen in London|
During a previous move, I sought expert advice on how to stock a pantry. You often find this in cook books of a certain type. In my case it was Delia Smith's How to Cook II. I methodically went through her list, and ordered it all to be delivered from one of the supermarkets. A couple years later when we moved again I still had unopened containers of things like redcurrant jelly, cornichons, golden syrup and half a bottle of cheap, formerly fizzy, cider. Obviously, I'm not your typical British cook.
For the past three months we've been managing with very basic kitchen equipment, so there wasn't much need for elaborate ingredients. Our first shopping trip included dijon mustard, olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt, pepper, oregano, butter, Old Bay, sugar, peanut butter, and Tabasco. It's amazing how much you can do with that. Gradually, we've been adding items, not always in a logical fashion, but generally not buying anything until we need it. I get a notion to make something and then spend the rest of the week accumulating ingredients and bringing them home in my bike bag. Hence the cupboard is still mostly full of empty containers.
After living in different countries, you end up with non-local tastes. We found ourselves importing Triscuits, Nestle's chocolate chips, vanilla, anise, and Old Bay (Tabasco seems to be an international condiment these days) in our luggage every time one of us made a trip back to the US. We couldn't bring ourselves to spend the extortionate prices the import shops charged for such exotic 'delicacies'.
Now that we're in the US, it's nice not to horde every last cracker till they go stale. We were surprised to find several familiar UK food items on the supermarket shelves here, such as PG Tips tea. I brought a small, precious canister of Marigold Vegetable Bouillon in my suitcase, which is nearly gone now. It was already on my mental shopping list for the next trip back to the UK, but luckily it is available online for a reasonable price. I was also thrilled to find a very well stocked Asian supermarket in the International district.
Seattle is an interesting mix of cultures, and we are looking forward to learning about the influence this has had on the local food. Meanwhile, I'm learning how to make my own muesli, because this European breakfast staple is nearly as expensive as gold dust around here.