Emptying Out the Pantry

(Image credit: Dana Velden)

I’ll be moving house in a few months and thus have been refraining from stocking up too heavily on staples. Instead, I have vowed make my way through the miscellaneous packets and jars and cans in my cupboards, which is sometimes fun and sometimes an effort. A few of those items have been lingering on the shelf for good reason and it’s getting down to the worst of the bunch. Soon, I will have to get ‘creative’ with such uninspiring ingredients as canned corn and cut green beans (I hate canned vegetables — why are these on my shelf?) There’s also an alarmingly large stash of pasta to wade through.

As a modern American living in a city that affords me a vast array of food choices, I can usually have whatever I feel like eating at any given moment. I rarely have to adjust my palate to accommodate a lack of something. Worst case scenario is that it’s a cold, rainy night and I don’t feel like going out to pick up the kind of cheese that I would prefer to grate over my pasta, so I have to make do with what’s already in the fridge. But for the most part, I have the amazing privilege of eating pretty much anything I want to, when I want to.

Working with my cupboard challenge has shown me how accustomed I’ve become to this unlimited choice and how it has actually, strangely enough, narrowed my options by keeping me in the safe zone of my own predilections and cravings. It’s been challenging but I’m starting to appreciate how I am being pushed to explore beyond my limited appetite. I’m beginning to understand that being stretched to figure out what to do with something that has so-so appeal is actually a good thing. What can I do to this box of butternut squash soup to make it something I want to eat? Ah yes, maybe a plop of yogurt and a drizzle of truffle oil. Or some fresh minced cilantro and chili. Or even just a few springs of fresh thyme from the plant on the windowsill and a handful croutons for crunch.

Limits can feel restrictive, but they also present new opportunities and encourage creative thinking. Wendell Berry is often quoted as saying “The mind that is not baffled is not employed,” and it’s that bafflement, that very act of trying to solve a problem that adds a spark and new possibilities to my routine. So I’m actually grateful for my shrinking pantry and find I’m looking forward to what demands it will bring me next. But seriously, those green beans are going to be a tough one.

September 2014 update: I’m not moving house these days but I still appreciate this meditation for how it reminds me to dig deep into my pantry and get creative with what’s lingering there. Although I try very hard not to purchase things that don’t have an immediate appeal, still there are a few challenges lurking. So tonight, in the spirit of this post, I plan on discovering what I can make with a 1/4 packet of whole wheat orzo pasta, a can of chickpeas, and a handful of dried currants. Thank heavens there’s still some fresh basil and mint growing in the garden!

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I hope you enjoyed this encore Weekend Meditation, originally posted in February, 2011. I will be posting these vintage posts every Sunday (with the occasional new post, if I can manage!) for the next several months while I focus on writing my first book.