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Down To The Chinese Food Packets

As we prepare to move to Texas and try to
whittle down the sheer volume of gear we’re taking with us,
I’ve been trying to eat down what’s in our pantry
rather than hit the grocery stores every week, and I think
I’m becoming a bit too successful.

My natural inclination is to over-shop and have a very deep pantry;
call it part organizational freak and part insatiable desire to be
able to whip up some exotic recipe without needing to run to the
store. So we’ve always had our second freezer packed to the
gills with extra casseroles, multiple bags of frozen chicken/ground
turkey/exotic sausages, dark chocolates of varying percentages (for
when the difference between “bittersweet” and
“semi-sweet” makes all the difference in that recipe),
and various bags of flour. Doesn’t everyone have whole wheat,
self-rising, cake, self-rising cake, and pastry flour in their
freezers? Is it just me?

Combine my thirst for a full pantry with
the thrill of bargain-hunting, and I’m dangerous with a
Costco card in my hand. This habit stood us in good stead during
our eight lean months of unemployment, when I actually caught a
glimpse of the back of our freezer for the first time in years.
Indeed, Brian told me that since I do the finances in the
household, the grimness of our situation didn’t really hit
home to him until he saw that our basement freezer was nearly

I realize, though, that “nearly empty” isn’t the
same as “completely empty”, and I’m guessing the
movers won’t plug the freezer in for the cross-country trek
to make sure my chocolates don’t develop bloom on them, so
I’m committed to trying to eat our way through all the odd
stores I’ve got laid in, even if it’s not exactly what
I feel like cooking that night. I’m still working on it and
trying not to panic when I realize it’s 5:30 p.m., I’m
miles away from being able to get dinner started, and I’ve
got no “backup” casseroles lurking comfortingly in the
fridge. As Maddie put it the other day when she peered into our
refrigerator-top freezer, “When did it get so big

These attempts to make due make me feel virtuous – I’m
a pioneer woman! I can use table salt after I’ve run out of
kosher salt! I can substitute fine sugar for sanding sugar!
I’m roughing it and being a good steward, all at the same

It should be noted, too, that with less than two weeks to go before
our hopeful move date, I’m still steadfastly refusing to pack
up my mixer. I’ve packed most of my baking gear, keeping out
a lone cookie sheet and single muffin tin (and NO cake tins –
I know, how can I function?) but I’ve realized that
it’s really time to pack it all up, and here’s why

I ran out of vanilla.

Listen, I’m one of those snobs who really doesn’t like
to cook with imitation vanilla. In fact, I buy the fancy vanilla by
the gallon from Baker’s Catalog for the same price as a small
bottle of it from Williams Sonoma, and use it all year long. When
the last drop poured out into what’s apparently my last
baking here in New York (orange-cranberry muffins, gotta use those
frozen cranberries up), I almost cried. Sure, I’ve got that
I’m-desperate-and-have-to-finish-that-recipe bottle of
imitation vanilla in the back, but I can’t bring myself to
use it.

Maddie realized it was time to pack it in the same day, when her
spoon struck the bottom of the canister as she measured out sugar.
Peering into it, she said, “Where’s more sugar? Time to
fill it up, Mommy!” I explained that the sugar was waiting
for us in Texas and we wouldn’t be filling it up again. At
which point she wondered aloud how much longer until we move.

Obviously, we can survive (somehow! The deprivation! I say
sarcastically) without the kosher salts and sherry vinegars for a
couple weeks. And if you came over to my house and peered in my
cupboards you’d see we could continue to eat for a good few
weeks yet if we’re happy existing on black beans and canned
pineapple. Don’t get me wrong- we still hit the produce stand
a few times a week for that bottomless-fruit-pit who is Maddie, and
I stop in at our local grocer’s for milk and bread. But I am
trying to use up what I can and not replace it if I can help it,
which means we’re rapidly running out of those staples like
rice and noodles.

And tonight I hit a new low in my cooking life. We’ve been
using those fast-food ketchup packets for a bit now when I make
barbeque sauce or whatever, but tonight I was making fried rice out
of some Basmati rice remnants and some frozen diced chicken when I
realized I didn’t have any soy sauce. I was reduced to
scrambling through the drawers, frantically searching for those
Chinese food packets as my sesame oil started smoking, then having
to cut the corners off of, like, ten of them to get enough to cook

So note to self – no more Asian cooking, unless it’s
with leftover duck sauce.

I’m gonna have to do something soon; last night I hit 6 p.m.
and realized I had already used the last of my Costco-sized packet
of Kraft mac n cheese, I had no frozen casseroles available, I had
plain macaroni but no cheese, and absolutely no idea what to do.

Can you say McDonalds?

And can they make sure to include a lot of sweet and sour sauce? I
know I can make a meal out of that – I think I saw some
canned chicken lurking on a shelf somewhere.


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