Cooking from the Pantry

January 5, 2016

Would you like to know about my craziness – well, some of it.

My new year’s resolution is not to lose weight; that’s a year-long, lifelong resolution. Nor is to be a better person; that’s unachievable. My resolution this year is to bring greater order to my home.

That may seem to you so simple as to be unworthy of a new year.  But it’s not.

I am focusing right now on the kitchen and have a bossy friend helping me.

Clearing space there required me to take from the cupboards all of their contents.

IMG_2085            In my defense, I point out that I am a professional and so sometimes I buy ingredients with which I can experiment. They accumulate.



And in my defense, sometimes people bring to the bakery foods they want us to sell and friends bring to my home gifts of foods they think I will enjoy.




Those foods pile up a bit but this does not explains some foods that only I could have brought in.


I will learn what this is only by opening it. (I hope it isn’t durian.)

I suffer from a peculiar pathology, culinary hoarding.

I go to a store to shop for a particular recipe I have in mind, one that requires, say, unsweetened coconut milk and I stand before the store shelf on which it reposes and say to myself, “Do I have any coconut milk at home?”

Well, I say again to myself, “I don’t want to make a special trip if I don’t have it, so I’ll buy a can just in case. Oh, I might as well buy two so I don’t have to wonder the next time.”   But when the next time comes I repeat that litany and the result is:


I do not want simply to put back into the cabinets what I have removed and so right now I am sleeping each night with dreams of food combinations.

I try to imagine foods composed exclusively of what I have on hand. But how could I combine one of Joyce Goldstein’s superb jams with another ingredient also in the pantry. I stand before the counter and try to imagine combinations. But do hearts of palm really go well with lingonberry?



So I altered this unrealistic aspiration and tried to think of recipes that might combine an ingredient I have on hand with fresh ingredients I buy. That was easy but I fear the weeding out will take too long.


My helpful friend had a better suggestion. Meals composed of several courses each of which uses one jar on hand:

Martinis with pickled corn served with toasts with caper flowers and anchovy paste.

Followed by room temperature pork roast with with mango chutney and a salad of avocado and hearts of palm

And a dessert of shortbread cookies with assorted jams.

I can do this. I can have a series of dinners here with friends who are adventurous eaters. I have a lot of such friends. But with foods like these, how long will I keep them? How many dinner parties must I hold? How long will it take?

Frankly I am praying for a couple of blizzards.





  1. Marion Nestle says:

    This is hilarious. Fodder for the new book! Happy new year.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This made me laugh out loud!! Good luck with the process.

  3. Bob Craft says:


  4. Frances Kissling says:

    Throw the stuff away. It will be fun to start again.

  5. Mark, in the 4th photo, you have a can of caviar. It could be roe; it could be vegetable. If it is a small can, it is probably roe caviar.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I can relate. My pantry is as bad as yours. Maybe even worse. ( Plius there is the preserving cellar) .But maybe with El Nino I will be forced to stay home and make inroads in the accumlation of jars, boxes, cans and bottles.

  7. Marjorie Share says:

    Very sweet. I can relate. It’s good that you do this with food products only, and that they carry expiration dates! You are a highly creative person so of course, you can always find a way to use whatever whenever.

    It sounds like your friend is a Marie Kondo follower.

  8. steven jenkins says:

    hysterical. our larder, too, was ridiculous. i’m a food importer and retailer. i bring home so much stuff our pantry and refrigerator audibly groan and heave. until lately. we discovered we were victims of a hatch. tiny moths throughout the apartment. even the freezer couldn’t kill ’em. we threw out everything. such a purge, so satisfying. better even than getting rid of natl geos, new yorkers, vanity fairs. good-bye, so long. innumerable stale grains and gassy beans and rice and pasta and polenta, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, vinegars, oils. be gone ye.

  9. Nancy Krcek Allen says:

    The can of Russian stuff is caviar or fish eggs. IKPA or e-kra. That looks pretty funky! I dump much of the edible stuff in my compost pile. The deer browse it or raccoons and squirrels carry it away.

  10. Nancy Krcek Allen says:

    Great post by the way. I thought I was alone in this secret habit. Maybe we need a twelve step program…..

  11. Deborah Sidlin says:

    I have 11 cans of hominy which I bought for a recipe I used to make for large groups in Aspen. I had so much trouble finding it in DC that when I did find it, I stocked up. This was five years ago and I have made the recipe once since. Somehow food that works in Aspen doesn’t appeal here.

  12. Zachary Golper says:

    Mark are you on Instagram?

    Sent from my iPhone


  13. Well my friend… I LOVE to cook from the pantry and I would LOVE even miser to help you host a series of such dinners. Time to traverse the country???

    Sent from my iPhone


  14. Judith Hedgpeth says:

    Reading this was like looking in MY cupboards sans the culinary creds! I am inspired to add to my NY’s resolutions and clean cabinets and refrigerator!

  15. Carol says:

    Mark, I think you should throw a potluck dinner party for six; assign each attendee one item from your parlor with which to make a dish. A few parties later, you will all have had a lot of fun, made up new recipes, and your cupboards will be nearly bare. Take pics. Publish a cookbook with the results.

  16. What a wonderful idea.

  17. Marsha says:

    Great post, I surely understand, much to my husband’s dismay!

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