Over a decade of city living has made me seriously blasé about meal planning. With multiple markets and butchers within blocks of my home, what did it matter if I needed some last-minute celery and pancetta to complete a recipe? The answer to “Honey, what’s for dinner?” was more a function of daily whims or what produce looked loveliest at the market than what was actually stocked in my kitchen. (I also sucked at leftovers.)
This changed surprisingly little when my daughter was born. If anything, popping her into the Ergo for a leisurely stroll to the market was the perfect activity to fill the dreary post-nap/pre-dinnertime lull. (That time of day is just the WORST.) Surveying colorful produce together, encouraging her to smell spices, and explaining why cows say “moo” and are also delicious proved ideal opportunities for informal education.
But the challenge of managing two children at a market has effectively sucked the joy out of my once-favorite errand. My infant son is not nearly as content to be worn as his sister. (At seven months old, he planks his way out of Ergos, carseats, and strollers like a professional.) My toddler has fallen under the misapprehension that the market is a buffet, so she has to be constantly reminded not to take bites from unwashed apples and that she doesn’t really want to eat uncooked pasta. (She has also mastered the kid skill of suckering me into buying all sorts of crap I KNOW she isn’t going to like.)
All of which means that my pantry has to work overtime these days. Until I get with the program and start meal planning like a proper grown-up, these pantry staples (and GrubHub) are what keep my family from starving:
- Bob’s Red Mill “Golden Spurtle” Organic Steel Cut Oats. Preparing a healthy breakfast when your kid refuses to eat eggs is a real hassle. And while steel cut oatmeal isn’t a quick dish to prepare, it requires little active time so I can put a pot on when I wake up with the baby and it’s ready by the time the rest of the household awakens. The “Golden Spurtle” variety from Bob’s Red Mill cooks up with a perfect amount of nuttiness and chew, and is delicious served either sweet or (my daughter’s favorite) savory with butter and a touch of Maldon sea salt. To note, Priss & Vinegar tried an overnight soak method and doesn’t recommend it.
- Bella Terra Organic Tomatoes. Until I can fill my pantry with gleaming rows of home-canned tomatoes (my canning fantasy), Bella Terra’s Organic Tomatoes will have to suffice. I get compliments on my tomato sauce often, and trust me, it’s not the recipe: it’s the tomatoes. You can do so much with whole peeled tomatoes, like make turkey chili, Italian vegetable soup, and any number of pasta sauces. Our house favorite is pasta puttanesca which can be whipped up along with a handful of other pantry staples like dried spaghetti, capers, oil-cured olives, and anchovies.
- Brianna’s Real French Vinaigrette. I’m a real snob about salad dressing, and while I prefer to make my own, Briana’s Real French Vinaigrette is the one exception to this rule that I allow. It’s extremely basic with no sweetness (my biggest beef with commercially prepared dressings) and nice pepperiness. It’s also completely versatile: whisk in lemon juice or a dollop of harissa for custom variations, or pour over chicken for a simple marinade before grilling.
- Guittard Semisweet Chocolate Chips. My husband and I lack the requisite self-control to keep junk food around. (Our pantry is a teenage babysitter’s worst nightmare.) The closest anyone is going to come to candy in our home is a handful of Guittard semisweet chocolate chips, which I always keep on hand for making Gigi’s Granola Bars and homemade trail mix.
- Hatch Enchilada Sauce. Combined with two of our refrigerator staples (tortillas and grated monterey jack cheese to make toddler-approved quesadillas in 60 seconds or less), a good-quality enchilada sauce like Hatch means dinner is served. Try mixing a can each of the red and green sauces (thanks for that gourmet tip, Jessica Alba) for extra flavor and to make it feel like you actually tried.