I was visiting my dentist the other day. As in almost any situation I’m in, we were talking about food.
Jan, the dental assistant, knows I write a food column and asked me if I was a chef. She’s not the first person to ask me that question.
Nope. I’m an endlessly curious home cook with very generous teachers; friends, family, food folk I meet in the course of my writing, kind strangers, and of course, my culinary school-educated child, The Kid.
I thought for a long time that culinary school and working in a professional kitchen was the road for me. But it’s crazy hard work—and I’m old.
So, I am less wannabe and more dilletante. But an extremely grateful dilletante.
One great thing about not being a chef, is that I have nothing to prove and no one to impress with the contents of my pantry. Some of those items might be embarrassing. And some are a little out of the norm.
Here’s a tiny glimpse. And no matter what, I have no shame in my pantry game.
Goober Grape. It’s that striped peanut butter and jelly product from kindergarten. I don’t think I’ve ever had it on bread. It is my martini, my cigarette, and my valium. A spoon of this stuff is just what I need after a bad day. The first scoop from a brand-new unsullied jar probably brings me way more joy than it should.Toasted sesame seeds. I buy them at the Asian market where they’re cheaper, and because of high turnover, much fresher. I put it in tuna, sprinkle it on my oatmeal, add it to breading. It adds flavor, texture, vitamins and minerals.Campbell’s chicken and stars soup. I haven’t bought or used a can of cream soup since the (First) Bush administration. But when you have a cold and sore throat, or are just feeling sorry for yourself, nothing goes down easier, or makes you feel so loved. But there’s so much sodium in it, the next day I blow up like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade float.
A tube of tomato paste. Many dishes I make need tomato paste. But almost none need an entire can of it. With a tube I can use a squidge, cap it, and next time I need some, I won’t have a dried out, furry part of a can. It’ll be fresh and ready to go.Espresso powder. I use a bit of this whenever I cook with chocolate. A little just enhances the cocoa flavor. Some more gives you a mocha taste. And there’s nothing wrong with coffee with a slight choco-kick. You can also stir it into things like peanut butter, mascarpone, and whipped cream. The espresso is ground super fine so there’s no grit.And for the last item: Kraft macaroni and cheese. In thirty-five years of marriage I have never not had this in my pantry. The are many nights that without Kraft dinner, as the Canadians call it, I may not have made it to morning (Honestly, it has gotten me through some very tough, very dark places). But I use cream instead of milk; it’s comfort food, Gentle Reader, you might as well go all in.If there are any foods in my pantry you’ve never tried, give it a whirl.
But my bigger point is to celebrate what makes you and your pantry unique. If you have a jar of pig’s feet pickled in Kool-aid, or ranch dressing soda, or even Pop Tarts, you do you.Honey, you let that food-stained freak flag fly.Thanks for your time.