blog

Pantry cooking (for those who may be doing that suddenly these days): part 1/???

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

So on March 15th, The Joy of Cooking started a twitter thread:

If you go through it, you’ll see that they end up talking about planning your meals holistically, rather than planning single meals at a time. Specifically, they talk about “tailor[ing] most of your day-to-day cooking to your lifestyle and means, rather than the other way around.” So I imagine that must mean that most of you must go around just picking up the food you need to cook one meal in particular (or a series of meals), and then… do that ad infinitum.

I grew up with not a lot of food security — sometimes there was food, and sometimes there wasn’t. What that means for me now is that sometimes I’m good about eating consistently, and sometimes I’m not so great at it. I live a life where I tailor my cooking to what I’m capable of that day, and I’m never certain what kind of day I’m going to have until I’m in it. On the upside, this means that I keep a wide variety of food around, which is proving itself useful (hey, it’s almost like everyone is food insecure at the moment! At last my time has come).

So here’s a breakdown of how I think about food, and then how I use that thinking to cook around my pantry — I hope they’re useful.

The Food Hierarchy

Sometimes I get into a spot where I can’t figure out what to eat, even though I rationally know that I have a fridge, several cupboards, and a pantry full of food. In those cases, I taught my Alexa bot to ask me a series of questions, which essentially just prioritizes the food I have at hand.

  1. Are there any leftovers? (If I have leftover, I try and eat them first, since they’ll likely go bad before everything else and I already spent time or money on them.)
  2. Is there any fresh or perishable food? (Things like fresh fruit/veg and fresh meat go in here, as well as fresh bread — I prioritize these foods over canned or dried goods, since these will spoil before the shelf-stable stuff.)
  3. If none of the above, check the recipe box. (And this brings me to the pantry items, or stuff that can be mixed/matched in a variety of ways and be good pretty much whenever.)

On any given day, I start with the leftovers, work my way through to fresh food, and then on to shelf-stable items. This way, I keep perishable foods circulating promptly out of my fridge, and my pantry stays pretty well stocked.

Pantry Cooking

Let’s say I get through steps one and two, though, and I’m on to step three. My recipe box is filled with both individual recipes and what I call ingredient indexes — basically cards with a single ingredient listed at the top, and then a list of the recipes I like that can be made with that ingredient underneath. Those recipes can then be referenced on their own individual cards, if necessary.

Here’s an example of one of mine:

This is my peanut butter card. I usually have peanut butter in my cupboard, but I rarely remember that I actually like it on a lot of things. This card allows me to look in my cupboard, see that I have peanut butter, and then figure out what I can do with it. Moreover, I can use my food hierarchy again: Do I have any leftovers that could get turned into one of the above recipes with the addition of peanut butter? If not, do I have any perishables that could be eaten with the addition of peanut butter? And if not, do I have any other shelf-stable foods that could be combined with the peanut butter to make something good?

It’s a small thing, but going through your pantry and writing up a collection of ingredient indexes will help you in the long run (with meal planning) and in the short run (with figuring out what your food situation actually is). And then you can start doing really wild stuff, like remembering the food hierarchy when it comes to whether you really should takeout (do you already have leftovers? do you have anything perishable? or do you have a can of beans and a deep aversion to doing anything with them?)…

blog

the writing life (and the lies we wish were true)

I’ve recently joined one of those movie theatre loyalty programs, where you get to watch multiple movies over the course of a week for the cost of essentially two movies a month (which I would do anyway, so this works well for me). Because of it, I end up seeing a lot of films I wouldn’t otherwise, which is useful to expand my basic collection of storylines.

Recently I saw both Knives Out (a cozy murder mystery comedy with attractive sweaters) and Ford v Ferrari (a historical bio-pic Fast and Furious with more engineering porn). I enjoyed both very much, though only Knives Out had really been on my radar. But getting the opportunity to see both let me make some connections I don’t think I would’ve otherwise– specifically, how the two movies frame owning one’s own business.

Without going into spoilers, Knives Out features the patriarch of a family that has become vastly wealthy because he is a best-selling mystery writer. His millions allow for a giant weird mansion and supporting two generations of wastrel children — all without (SOMEHOW) film, audio, or any other adaptations of his work. This is a depressingly popular trope — when I was a kid, I used to think very dark thoughts about anything that depicted writers as effete artists wandering around sipping martinis in their Manhattan penthouses while lushly dropping marabou feathers from under layer after layer of silk robes.

“Maryanne!” they’d faintly screech, staring at the distance, cradling their own elbow while sipping an artisanally cheap whiskey. “Fetch the typewriter.” They’d take a drag from their cigarette. (There’s a cigarette now.) “And call Mr. Spielberg.” Exhale. “I’m ready to talk.”

Blargh.

In contrast, Ford v Ferrari features not one but two small car-related businesses — one of which is even fairly successful, all things considered — and both are constantly cutting corners with sales, flirting with bankruptcy, and willing to put up with a considerable amount of bullshit to make ends meet. This I’m familiar with– talk to any working writer (or read Kameron Hurley’s breakdowns of what a successful writing life actually pays, or listen to piles of excellent Ditch Digger podcast episodes) and it’s basically the same scenario. There are very few (very few) authors who can survive without a regular day job and/or a support network that subsidizes their work. There are several terrible true-life stories of authors who try to have the marabou feather life and discover that it is wildly impossible.

And yet, Knives Out showcases that trope again, and the regular public nod sagely and take it as a given.

The closest I’ve come to figuring out the difference here is a double-punch of:

(1) Writing is still a Vast Mystery, unlike blue-collar and mundane car repair businesses. There are a sufficient number of people who either know or are blue-collar workers that it’s not a real question how and where money goes. Cash and accrual businesses, with hourly/shift work, are basically the options at play — as opposed to the labyrinthine nonsense of incremental portions of leased rights across multiple companies and languages, etc etc, that makes up a typical writing career.

(2) Writing produces Art, which is a luxury, and luxuries cost money, and therefore… artists are rich? (This goes back to the Mystery aspect of how money works in publishing.) Whereas cars are, for many, a basic life necessity. Someone’s getting rich, but it’s probably Companies run by rotund men in glass-windowed offices, laughing over stock reports while burning Kobe steaks to light their bespoke cigarillos. In fact, it would seem that the popular trope of the martini-drinking artist frames writers as essentially being on par with capitalist fat cats.

I don’t have a particular solution to this, aside from more writers accurately portraying themselves in fiction (which is also my solution for accurate robots, accurate children, and accurate dark gods of New Hampshire). But it’s still very fascinating to see the exact same lifestyle appear at the exact same time in the exact same media– and have those expressed in their stories and to their audiences completely differently.

blog

mirabilis in miniature

The first story my parents remember me writing (or starting, at any rate) was titled THE STORM. Its opening line? “It was a beautiful day at the beach.”

The first story I remember writing was in first or second grade, shortly after I’d had a teary tantrum over something, and I proceeded to write a story about a crying witch. My parents lent me their computer to do so, which was magnanimous considering the fuss I remember putting up just shortly beforehand. I can still remember the final scene, though — I don’t remember how I wrote it, but I remember imagining what I wanted, and the urge to get it down right.

I myself have children now, and they’ll sidle up next to me and ask if they can “work” on my laptop, writing their own stories. My youngest gets frustrated at how slow her typing is, but when she dictates to me, her story about the Power Sisters joining the Teen Titans is a charming and imaginative one.

My oldest, on the other hand, has crept from her bed at night and said, wide-eyed and excited, that she has a story she wants to write. On the one hand, I could send her back to bed– but I know what it’s like to feel the urge to create, and the sweeping joy of a finished work. So the night that this happened, I handed over my laptop, and let her peck out letters of a ghost story, one hand to her mouth as she smiled, delighted, at her own words.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, except– it can be rare, I think, to watch someone else’s muse strike, and watch their brains light up and their voice get excited and their hands move in rhythm to their minds. We should encourage it when it happens, and be respectful of the tiny miracle we’ve been allowed to witness.

blog

Writing without engagement (or: livejournal was really great, right?)

For the last several years, I’ve engaged in micro-blogging: Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr. All of these create an “active” online presence that doesn’t have to actually create anything new (though many do) — one can instead just like, or reblog, or provide a two-word comment, and be considered alive and well.

The other day I went trawling through my old and now very much defunct livejournal, looking for a particular essay I’d written describing the lead up to the “Sicilian Vespers“. And what with one thing and another, I ended up rereading huge swathes of posts, going back years. It was… strange. I had posts about my daily life; posts about my thoughts and feelings; posts with bad jokes; posts where I excitedly shared something I’d learned, or commented on the happenings of the world, or just trolled my friends at length. It was a very different sort of engagement than I have with my current apps and platforms — instead of sharing what’s clever, or attempting to dip into meme status, I just… wrote what I wanted to write. A diary with an acknowledged open audience.

So I might just go ahead and start writing like that again– because why not? It’ll either be read or it won’t, but I will have written it, and I will be able to read it in the future, and shouldn’t that be enough? The act of writing is an exponential exercise — every word becomes ten more at some near-distant point. And even if it didn’t… there’s value in writing for oneself. Of looking inside and writing what one sees without first transmogrifying it into fiction. Of writing something meant to be experienced separate from the “engagement” of social media.

(And also I want another venue to talk about the Sicilian Vespers without having to count my characters or use shitpost styling to go viral. It’s a wild bit of history. Fuck ~engaging~ my audience.)