My sister, who is a very creative cook, cleaned out her pantry. Mind you, this is no ordinary pantry. Nine out of ten times when I call her, she is checking out in a grocery line and must call me back ( she is polite that way, never likes to be talking on her cell phone when she is doing business). Name the store, she is usually there; Costco, Safeway, Berkeley Bowl, novelty grocery stores, Middle Eastern, Mexican Bakery's, and the list goes on. You have to wonder why she has to shop at all when she has a mega box of baking soda, a millennium's worth of Krusteaz Waffle mix and a dozen boxes of little birthday candles that would make any 50-year old cry because we could never live that long to see all these candles lit. But, she also has an eclectic collection of spices, herbs, oils, syrups and vinegars, mostly homemade and homegrown. These little homemade potions are most likely the secrets to her dishes, which make them impossible to reproduce. If you ask how to make them, you have to listen to an exhausting re-enactment of how she infused her syrup with fresh lavender and an assortment of spices. So you want her recipe? Sure, she'll give it to you, but always with a smirk that stretches half way up the side of face. She knows, you won't be able to reproduce her little secrets that transform her dishes in taste, color, texture and yes, sound. Some of her dishes make sounds. When I bite into a biscotti, the crunch sets off a thunderstorm between my ears, only to be mellowed by a sip of her coffee, also unusually scented.
Back to the pantry. Suffering from "empty nest syndrome", as her daughters have recently moved to New York City and Los Angeles, she finds herself staring at the pantry swearing up and down the hall, wondering why does she still shop for bulk? Why do I know this? Read on. She enjoys cooking, especially for her daughters and their friends (who are not around as much anymore). Her husband enjoys her cooking too, but seriously, does she need a flock of chickens in her freezer? I am guessing one day she asked herself that because she calls me up and puts me on the speaker phone. Not even a hello after I pick up the phone, I hear...
"Do your kids like waffles?"
"Do your kids like whole wheat pasta?"
"How about almond butter?
"No, but I'll try, OK?"( She is beginning to bug me)
"How about quinoa?"
"How about a case of stewed tomatoes ?"
"What is going on here sister, why all the questions?"
Finally she reply's, "I am cleaning my pantry!"
Within 48 hours she is at my doorstep with nearly 7 over-sized bags filled with food that would even send a good and conscientious Mormon running to Costco to fill their shelves.
We manage to transfer the food from the bags to my shelves while I am secretly wondering when is the next 'Scouting for Food' drive. I know her intentions are good and I gladly accept the food knowing it is helping her to adopt a "smaller" lifestyle, and perhaps, just maybe, she will buy cute little jars of capers instead of the gallon size ones that would fit better in pathology lab somewhere.
That same evening while sitting around my home, I suggest we cook dinner. Without even a sigh, a grunt or thinking she was going to get the night off from cooking, she jumped up and started rummaging through my pantry. With so much enthusiasm and zeal she is off at a dizzy speed. Here we go! With no recipe in hand, she whipped out a tasty dinner that was to the delight of all. Simple roasted russet potatoes and yellow bell peppers with savory sausages, sauted in a cast iron pan with olive oil, sea salt and pepper. She also prepared creamy lemon pasta sauce with basil and garlic served over garganelli pasta. Lastly, she prepared thin beans with crimini mushrooms, olive oil, sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. To round out the meal and appeal to a different part of our palate, she prepared a side of fresh peaches with a hint of vanilla and raw sugar and fresh mint. Our taste buds were screaming with joy. Simple as it sounds, the food was delicious. Do you want the recipe? Unfortunately, even I can't reproduce all the flavors because, once again, she prepared the meal and there is something about the way she cuts, flavors and adjusts the heat under the food that draws out flavors that a recipe just can't get into words.
Cleaning a pantry isn't so bad when you are on the receiving end. And, it's just a good thing I had cleaned out mine a month before (I must have seen this one coming). I did notice, however, she did NOT bring over the homespun spices, vinegars, oils and syrups. More gratefully, the gallon jar of capers did not show up either!