100 Ways to Stock a Kitchen

Over the last few months I’ve been slowly collecting a set of cookbooks I’ve never opened. I always think they look like a great and wonderful idea, until I get home and realize I already have the entire Internet and my own imagination. But over the summer, a friend was getting married and to go with the little mixing bowls she had on her registry I got her this really cute cookbook from Crate & Barrel:

I thought it was so cute (and relevant) that I bought a second one for myself. Then it went on the shelf with all the other rarely opened cookbooks. But the other day I was bored and noticed it, so I opened it up, and in the first chapter, the author goes through all of the ingredients she thinks are absolutely necessary. No respectable cook, she says, should live without these things.

Going through her list, I found some of her must-have ingredients were no brainers. Cumin, duh. Sea salt, duh. Garlic & ginger, double duh. But then other things went from duh to “huh?” They were things that would never occur to me to keep, nor did they seem so vital, useful in enough different ways to warrant having these things constantly on hand. Some examples of the huh items were anchovies, tapenade and seven different kinds of vinegar. That seemed extreme to me until I realized I have four or five already.

So this list of kitchen essentials got me thinking, what are my own kitchen essentials? Are my must-haves totally weird, too? What is my kitchen’s equivalent to “seriously? tapenade?” Once every month or two I will go on a big grocery spree to restock all of the things I use all the time (which inevitably always run out at the same time, right?) and I realized, I definitely have my own list of kitchen ingredients I wouldn’t want to go without. Some get more frequent action than others, but I would be annoyed if I discovered any of these were missing. If you’ve read more than two entries of this blog I seriously doubt the list will feature any surprises.

 Notes:

  • 100 seemed like a lot to me, but then I thought about it and with all the little things like spices and condiments, it’s not really that much.
  • Okay it’s actually more like 103…I forgot some essential essentials and added them in.
  • There are a few things I will always buy organic–spinach and other greens, soy & meat products–and some things I never will, like bananas and avocados, because the part we eat is protected by the thick outer layer and because conventional tastes just as good (or better). Generally I specified if something should be organic on this list, but that is a personal decision depending on how paranoid environmentally-conscious you are and how much money you want to spend.
  • I also included things like English muffins, which I probably haven’t included on the blog before, but I do use at least once a week.
  • There were a couple other things I wanted to include because I use them frequently but only seasonally, like peaches, or that can’t really be kept stocked because they’ll go bad, like salmon.
  • Obviously this list is designed to my particular tastes. If you like a lot of meat or hate spicy things, this will need some tweaking.

The most important thing to note about my list is that there are very few things that are processed, and what is processed is only marginally so. A lot of things I would have bought from a conventional vendor I’ve started trying to make myself (like hummus and salad dressing). I have observed so far in my journey that cooking from scratch and eating as many whole foods as possible is really the best thing to keep me feeling strong and healthy. With the exception of a few additional items: granola bars, one or two organic frozen meals in case of emergency, and an occasional box of crackers, this is pretty much all I keep around. If I keep other things, I’ll eat them. Having a very specific list like this helps curb temptation.

I don’t know if this will be helpful to other people. But even if it isn’t, I think it’s a good idea to take a catalogue of all of the things you use on a regular basis. Making sure they are always on hand will a) make meal preparation way easier b) enable spontaneity in your kitchen goings-on and c) hopefully allow you to avoid opting for takeout because, “we’re out of everything, ugh!” or snacking on unhealthy stuff because, “there’s seriously nothing to eat!”

Personally this has been an important lesson for me to learn, and an on-going challenge to really adhere to. But honestly, organization has been key to my success so far. If I make sure I have everything I’m going to need for the week, and plan ahead a lot of the things I intend to eat, I am a lot less likely to stray from my goals. I will stick to the plan, when there is one. When there isn’t one–anarchy! Chaos! Nobody wins (except maybe saturated fat and the pizza industry). So far, this particular list has been good to me. Sticking to these foods, most of which are fruits, vegetables and nuts & seeds, I feel better physically than I probably ever have before. Even within the list, I use bread crumbs and brown sugar a whole lot less frequently than I use apples and spring mix. The goal of a good grocery trip, a stocked kitchen, and this entire blog is just to enable a lifestyle that is as healthy and nutritious as possible, and to cut out as many possible deterrents as I can from getting where I want to be.

-lj

Compromising for the win.

Well, after nearly three full weeks of feeling unmotivated and lackadaisical about my healthy living goals, this week I finally have pulled it together.  I was planning to do another cleanse, as a sort of jumpstart to re-amp my routine. But life got in the way, and what I think I have instead is even better. I finally feel like I’ve found common ground. I’m not depriving myself absolutely, but at the same time I am being very cautious. I think this is the best technique because I don’t risk feeling like I can overindulge when a cleanse is over after a certain amount of time. This is a more lasting solution (hopefully!).

Since I laid out my formula several weeks ago, I haven’t changed what I am doing for my diet. I’m still avoiding sugar, gluten, dairy, meat, processed foods and alcohol as much as possible. That’s a long no-no list, and I realize it is crazy to think I can sustain like that for too long. But the difference between two months ago and now is that I am willing to compromise. Last night, a friend was in town unexpectedly and wanted to go to dinner. I was supposed to be cleansing this week, but rather than sit there and stare at the menu, feel sad, and end up cheating more than I intended, I got the healthiest salad on the menu that still sounded appetizing, and I put a piece of salmon on it, because I figured I might as well have the protein while it was around.

I’m compromising in other ways, too. A big cheat for me for the last two months has been through trail mix. Nuts, dried fruit, and something sugary. Not too bad. But the problem was portion control. I’d get a half a pound meaning for it to last half the week, but instead it would last a day and a half. Instead, I’ve been eating larabars. It’s so much easier to monitor portions because it’s a bar, a singular piece of snack. They are mostly made of dates, and then there are a variety of flavors. Currently, I am partial to chocolate chip cookie dough and chocolate chip peanut butter. But the thing about them is they contain neither cookie dough nor peanut butter. Just dates, a few chocolate chips and either cashews or peanuts, respectively. I have come to accept that a small handful of chocolate chips will not cause my entire demise, and it’s a lot better than a Snickers. FYI they look like this-

I’ve also found compromises in the other direction. Last week I talked about my guilt over eating my friend’s delicious pasta dinner. It really was so good though, so I got the recipe from her. However, instead of using wheat-based pasta, I used spaghetti squash. Even though it still tastes a little like squash, it is a fantastic substitute for noodles, because after it is cooked it breaks apart into noodle-shaped strands. I wasn’t too confident in this recipe because I didn’t know how the ripe, springy tomato-basil taste would mix with the more autumnal flavors of the spaghetti squash, but I was not disappointed. It was perfect. The original recipe calls for parmesan cheese, but in the spirit of compromise I left it out. I missed it a little bit but not enough to change my opinion on this meal’s success. Plus, the whole thing is crazy easy to make, and will be a lovely dinner when it starts getting really hot out in the summer.

Spaghetti Squash Pomodoro

Spaghetti Squash Pomodoro

Serves 2.

  • 1 Spaghetti Squash
  • 2 Cups OR 3/4 Carton Cherry Tomatoes (I used a whole tub but that was too many.)
  • 1 Tbsp Diced Onion
  • 2-3 Garlic Cloves (chopped)
  • 1/4 Cup Chopped Basil (you can use less, I just like basil)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp EVOO
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Preheat the oven for 375˚F. Grease a baking pan. Poke a few wholes in the squash. Bake the squash in the pan for about an hour. Cut the squash in half “on the equator” and let it cool for a few minutes. Then, scoop out the pulp and seeds. Once they are removed, use a fork to scrape down the sides of the squash. The fork will help get the noodle effect you want from the squash. Place in bowl, mix with 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and salt & pepper.

Chop all tomatoes in half. Mix with diced onions, garlic, and 1/3 of the basil. Top with salt (if desired). Then cover in 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and mix.

Finally, add the tomato mixture to the spaghetti. Drizzle with remainder of olive oil. Mix. Top with black pepper and the remainder of the basil. Enjoy!

I really like this recipe, and I like that it is different from what I normally eat. The flavors worked together surprisingly well. And even though the squash takes a while to bake, the prep time is not too extensive. Definitely recommend!

So, hopefully my new upswing will last a while. I expect ruts are a natural part of this process and I can deal with that. But I’m hopeful that if I keep finding nutritious ways to trick myself, like Larabars and spaghetti squash, the downswings will be fewer and farther between.

-lj