Before we had a dining table, or even pots and pans, in our new apartment, we had an assortment of dried goods, snacks and even produce. I saw a well-stocked pantry as an absolute necessity.
Now, I'm not so sure.
In my family, most bulk goods are kept at an equilibrium supply. My parents have a decent sense of what and how much they use of any given pantry item; it is restocked before supplies reach critical levels. For example, they always have enough pasta on hand to last until their next trip to Costco.
This allows them to buy in appropriate quantities and take advantage of bulk purchase deals as appropriate. It also means ingredients are always on hand for a quick dinner or impromptu baking session.
This works for most of the ingredients they have in the house, but things change. For example, when my mom stopped eating gluten, the store of flour was suddenly useless. Or, when my dad went on a risotto kick, the equilibrium store of arborio rice increased; when the kick ended, we were left with a lot of arborio.
Dan's family is on a different end of the spectrum. Items are purchased on an as-needed basis. Most items in the pantry are fortuitous leftovers from previous cooking adventures.
Because of the damp climate on the Oregon coast, dry goods don't last as long--so this style is as much practical as necessary. It does also allow for more creative cooking: menus are planned freely, instead of around pantry items.
There are a few downsides, though. Trips to the grocery store are frequent--a difficult task with no car. There are also often leftover ingredients, in quantities challenging to use up. Impromptu cooking is also made more difficult, and I'm no good with creativity when I'm hungry.
Dan and I are working our way towards a middle ground. There are a few things that are challenging to get (white whole wheat flour, nutritional yeast, or good cheese, for example) that we like to keep stocked at all times. We try to replace these before we finish them off.
Most other things, we are trying to replace after we've used them up completely. For example, we are working our way through our supply of wheat bran--purchased for a this muffin recipe--and don't plan on replacing it until we want to make bran muffins again.
We're hoping that as we eat down our pantry a bit, we can also get a better grasp on what our food budget really is. Since we'll be replacing items as we use them, we're hoping for a bit more consistency in our spending.
How do you stock your pantry? Any new ideas?
Let me know what you think by leaving a comment or emailing me at piquantprose [at] gmail [dot] com.
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