Essential Pantry Stock

Kay Baumhefner

To market.

Imagine starting fresh in new circumstances. Sometimes the only way to do that is to leave town. Other times it can be as simple as cleaning out your fridge. Or pantry. Deciding what goes. What stays. What needs to be gotten. Figuring out how to clear the way to set yourself up for at least a week of ready possibilities. Your baseline staples plus a few new things for inspiration—that sometimes elusive but essential ingredient for good cooking…

… Sometimes it helps to close your eyes and imagine arriving at your fantasy getaway place. You’re tired and hungry and hopelessly grinning. You stopped at the market on your way. Storage and refrigeration are limited, but that doesn’t matter. It’s clean and light and it’s yours! At least for right now. No more same old thing stale stuck in a rut here. You can’t wait to unpack. You also realize that even in paradise, the first question walking in the door is “What’s for dinner?” So besides your sense of adventure, what did you bring along to get started?

I love this kind of exercise. It refreshes my outlook. Only this time I’m doing it for real. We’re about to leave for Paris, and I’m so jealous of myself I can hardly believe it. I’m a list maker (love color coded highlighting), and so the stacks of them keep being made and made again. To help convince me that I might actually get it all done in time. Income taxes, dentist appointment, bills paid, work commitments, new watch battery, house sitter instructions, copies of everything to everyone, mend jacket, buy moleskin, waterproof boots. The business of living. But on the back of these lists I find myself jotting down random notes about what I will absolutely need to feel at home with a reasonably stocked pantry once we’re there. In our French nest.

What would be the same as on my list for here? Assume onions, garlic, carrots, fennel, parsley, thyme, potatoes. Bananas, berries and a lemon. Butter, definitely French butter. Milk, yogurt and eggs. Olive oil, mustard, sherry and balsamic vinegars. Sea salt and black pepper. Pasta, beans, rice and couscous. Some olives and almonds. A jar of lavender honey. And then all the fresh greens. I know we’ll be eating out much more than usual. But after hours of walking each day, it will also feel great to put our feet up and eat settled in. So I want to have enough but not too much on hand. To support and elaborate on whatever finds we bring home from the farmers’ markets and market street shops all over Paris. To keep it simple but exciting.

What will be different there? Certainly an overwhelming selection of French regional cheeses and amazing pastries. Better get some muesli to balance all the croissants we’ll be starting each day with. Then there’s their classic baguette and other specialty breads. Artisan chocolates. I know we’ll splurge on duck confit and foie gras. Blessed crème fraîche. Perhaps a truffle or two. Better keep walking.

Ah, the nesting instinct. No wonder it follows spring cleaning. We have to take time to make space for the new. To keep everything fresh and alive. To make us feel at home wherever we are. So imagine your pantry is bare and you get to start fresh. Right now. Most everything on my French dream list can be found here in Sonoma County. If we just stop to notice. What’s on your own list of essentials? Add in some seasonal treats and things you’ve never tried before but long to. Good heavens. What are we waiting for?

Bon Appetit! Kay

Kay pont neuf.

Originally published March 2, 2011 on Come Home to Cooking.

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