The Duchess was inordinately fond of animals. Though her courtiers would never dare say so to her face, they imagined she ought to have been born a zookeeper, or at the very least a farmer. This idea was strengthened, especially, by the fact that it always fell to the housekeepers and servants to make the palace tidy enough for Her Ladyship’s dainty passage through life and to freshen the air when the royal menagerie had pranced, prowled or otherwise paraded through its rooms and left unseemly gifts along the way. The Duke, who was as allergic to all things animal as the Duchess was attracted, considered for some time whether he oughtn’t to have a team of expert taxidermists and artisans solve this problem once and for all, creating a large display of preserved zoological beauty that might be both lower maintenance and less powerfully scented than the living creatures populating his estate indoors and out, day and night.Unfortunately, the Duchess’s sisters who lived in the east wing of the palace did not support the Duke’s enthusiasm for the design, making noises of disapprobation at least as loud as the Duchess’s favorite dogs’ barking or donkeys’ braying. Perhaps, the Duke thought, he had been a little incautious in discussing this artistic concept with his secretary while within earshot of the sisterly ladies-in-waiting, for they both appeared quite ready to dash off squealing with rage to their unsuspecting sibling, or at the least, to imitate the household fauna in some other impolite fashion.As it fell out, the Duke, however incautious he may have been in heat of the moment, was not without the wit born of hard experience. Working swiftly with his retainers, was able to resolve the situation quickly and suitably merely by shifting the subject of the new art to a slightly different one featuring the Duchess and her sisters. As an added benison of this resolution, it was discovered that he wasn’t allergic to winged or four-legged pets after all. The palace staff found maintaining the menagerie surprisingly less onerous afterward as well, even with the added curatorial duties of dusting off the Duchess and polishing her sisters from time to time.
It’s possible that, given my genetic descent from a pair of neatnik parents, I keep a slightly fussier house than average. But I must emphasize the word ‘descent’, because the Czarina of Creative Chaos and the Lama of Laziness are my spiritual parents too and often win out in the balance between controlled environment and bombing aftermath. What this means in practice is simply that I often settle (and therefore, my housemate and our guests must, too) for ‘clean enough for safety’. I don’t like any sense of living in the bottom of a rubbish tip, let along canoeing a sewer [the kind with appalling effluents in it, not the kind that makes things out of fabric]. So I think I can fairly claim that I have never–barring being bedridden–let my environs fall into utter wrack and ruin, but there are times when I’d rather let sleeping heaps lie and be satisfied with relatively germ-free untidiness than spend all of my energies on a pristine home.
I can’t imagine wanting to have a ‘show house’ anyway. If I can’t slouch around a bit and put my feet up on the furniture (yes, dining surfaces excepted), it doesn’t feel comfortable enough for me to call Home. All the same, I enjoy those times when I’ve been in my cleaning-tornado mode enough to find whatever I need to find without pulling all of my remaining hair out by the roots, and to have the house all spiffed up and looking its prettiest beyond merely being generally non-toxic.
For that reason, deep cleaning is not saved exclusively for the Spring, and a few spates of active reorganization throughout the year are not only helpful but refreshing. When those bouts result not only in unearthing and offloading unused, excessively worn, dated, or redundant things from closets, cupboards and spaces that ought by rights to be airier or at least better used, that is exceedingly pleasant. When the result is more practical organization, it also means that not only are things pleasanter than before in the short term but they will be easier to maintain in that state and even to return to it when the busyness of the everyday has overridden good intentions and available time for a while. I may never have that DIY-goddess glory of everything in pretty and cute and magnificent containers, all labeled alphabetically with gorgeous calligraphy and stored so beautifully that the cabinets should remain forever open and on display, but I have what I want where I want it. At least for the time being. My putative parents of Chaos and Laziness do come calling, and they’re ever so much more trouble to have around the place than my biological ones. Ah, well; I’ve learned to live with them.
As I lean into the new year (or slouch, depending upon your perspective), I am past the holiday’s excesses just enough to recollect my determination to become leaner. In body, perhaps a bit–though fitter would be a better term for my desire there–but mainly in attitude. I am reminded by the delightful yet unnecessary overabundance in my life that I could and should aim for a slightly more streamlined existence.
I am no Spartan by any means, and have no particular desire or sense of need to become monkishly ascetic. But I know that when luxury is the norm I am less appreciative of it and run the risk of simply being misled, if not sickened, by it. So as is often the case at the start of a new year I will indulge in paring down rather than piling on my acquisitions, my Stuff, my lifestyle. I will focus as best I can on getting the most out of what I do have, telling myself less that I ‘need’ something that I don’t have, and sharing what I can with friends who are less over-indulged and better yet, the have-nots around me.
It may not improve my posture, but it will surely improve my attitude. I look forward to putting my shoulder to the wheel and leaning in to it for a bit.
The complication, if there is any, of having a household of two (or one) is that so many foods, dishes and meals are easier to prepare in larger quantities than are appropriate or even desirable for a single meal. It’s very easy, if planning isn’t finely tuned, to have things spoil and go to waste before we’ve plowed through them at our own pace. The upside of this very problem, though, is that if I do plan reasonably well (and have a little luck as a side dish) I can make several meals out of little more than one prep.
I do this, in part, via the method of complexification and conglomeration. The one or two elements remaining after one meal get combined with each other, with some new element or ingredient from the next meal’s intended menu, or both. Yes, it’s quite possible and even sometimes preferable to simply repeat a dish as-is, especially if it’s already its own elaborate concoction. But often, things seem a little less tired and tiresome if they appear in new guises each time so as to stimulate the palate, if not the imagination. So the small amounts of leftover vegetables from lunch and dinner the last couple of days may find themselves married in a new mixed-veg medley with a little sauce or seasoning that helps them play together as nicely as possible and suddenly, they’re not just two spoonfuls of This and a handful of That but an actual, sort of, recipe.
‘Mains’–the central or focal items on the meal’s menu–are seldom hard to incorporate into some new iteration of a main dish. Even when they have already been prepared with a hard-to-ignore or -disguise sauce or presentation, they can find new playmates on the plate next time they head to the table. Roasted chicken, for example, whether homemade or grabbed ready-roasted on a busy day as one flies through the grocery store, is a truly marvelous ingredient when it comes to flexibility. Once seasoned or sauced distinctively, it can pose a slightly more complicated puzzle for renewal, but even then, if the dish is well liked once it’s pretty likely to be popular on a second visit.
So the chicken, whether it was already dressed in the satay-like peanut sauce–I took a shortcut with a pre-made one this time–or not–we liked it well enough to use the same pre-made sauce at the second meal even though it was not already on the chicken–can be reincarnated as a different dinner altogether simply by changing its context. One day, it’s served with a very simple wedge salad dressed with citrusy vinaigrette and a tangle of Pad Thai style rice noodles seasoned lightly with rice vinegar, a squeeze of lime juice and a splash of soy sauce and sprinkled with black sesame seeds.
Next day’s ‘satay’ is served with butter-steamed green beans, fresh cold apple slices and fried rice made from–yes, you guessed it–the fridge stash of jasmine or Basmati rice previously cooked up in broth and now pan-toasted until almost crisping with Persian lime olive oil, soy sauce, a touch of raw honey and a handful of chopped sushi gari (pickled ginger, if you somehow haven’t yet noticed, is one of my favorite seasonings for practically everything!). A sprinkling of white sesame seeds, just for a little visual contrast with yesterday’s offering, and there’s Chicken Pseudo-Satay 2.0 ready to be eaten.
And while there’s certainly nothing that says dessert is a required part of every meal, some of us kind of think of it as a specific food group, so even for dessert it’s nice to have some fine ‘recyclable’ ingredients for whipping up something to finish the day’s eating nicely. One of the things that very regrettably can go to waste far too often in a small household is fresh produce, and when I’ve a beautiful batch of fresh fruit on hand I can’t bear to think it will spoil before we can reasonably eat it all. So a large ‘find’ of sweet fresh strawberries, though it was far too great a quantity for two people on the day it was at its peak, got cleaned, sliced and frozen until the other day when it beckoned to me, siren-like, and I blended it thoroughly with a little whole-milk yogurt, splashes of vanilla and rosewater, a tiny pinch of salt and a bit of honey, poured it into a flat sealable container and froze it until it became a brightly fruity semifreddo or granita of sorts for later consumption.
No matter what the small tidbit, most leftovers that are not on the edge of spoiling really do beg for a kindly reinterpretation before we give up on them. Once I get fully in my Friendly Frankenstein mode and think hard about how to zap new life into worthwhile remaindered ingredients, it’s only a matter of letting the locals trade their pitchforks for dinner forks and we can all remain good friends without fear of monstrosities. Good eating!
I’ve got this little problem, see. It’s about my name. No, I am really pleased with the one I was born with–Mom and Dad did a bang-up job with that, as far as I’m concerned. Parents have it easy with the baby-naming stuff; it’s not their fault if the kid doesn’t match up with the moniker, considering that they had no way of knowing the shrimp beforehand to fuss over pairing name and gnome perfectly.
My problem is with my blog title. I’ve winged it with my online place’s birth-name, a version of my own, since I started the gig a little over a year ago, but in truth, it was pretty much a place-holder since I had no inkling then that I’d not only stick with the process but have people beyond the borders of my immediate family visiting with me here. So the problem is, if there’s nothing in the name of my blog to tell anybody outside of the aforementioned familial borders what the heck this blog contains, or why on earth they would have the remotest reason to bother visiting here. If, indeed, they did.
Now, then, I’m having a good old identity crisis. ‘Cause I don’t know what the heck to tell anybody either. On Tuesdays, yeah, you’ll generally find food-related ramblings when you show up. Other days, though, swerve from one topic to another so loosely and with such unpredictable abandon that I don’t know when I sit down at the keyboard what direction I’m bound to take. New drawing? New photograph? Reminiscences about travel, DIY monkeying, garden plotting, commentary on freeway drivers or a freshly minted and wildly ridiculous poem–I just haven’t figured out any sort of way to describe in a couple of words what’s on the non-Tuesday menu around this blog.
I’m open to suggestions. Thanks to my obsessive dilettantism, my spouse suggests that the family nomenclature for me of Short Attention Span Artist might just do the trick, but as accurate as it is in describing me (and probably what I do, too), it still doesn’t seem to me likely to tell a total stranger what to expect on arrival. Tangential adventures like mine could possibly be described as, uh, Tangential Adventures, but of course that’s pretty cryptic too. Art, Poetry, Photography, Essays, and Ingenious Insights combines the pompous and the dully categorical in a way remarkable only for its long-windedness.
I guess I’ll just keep a-sittin’ here in my little corner twirling my ponytail for a while and see if some astounding inspiration happens to alight upon my bedazzled pate. Ooh, Bedazzled Pate! Nahhhh, sounds like some kind of yummy mousse studded with masses of rhinestones. The truly big question remains. Who am I? Doubt that can be answered in this or any other lifetime. But perhaps I’ll figure out my blog’s identity one of these days, at the least. Feel free to help!
Having Gotten some Stuff Done around the house is high on my list of everyday joys. It should be noted that I don’t say ‘getting some stuff done’–that, to be fair, would be slightly disingenuous, as I’m lazy enough at heart that I prefer the finished product to the process much of the time. Not always; I can get off of my haunches and get active, it’s just a rarer occurrence than that I’m pleased to perch on them surveying my handiwork as an end in and of itself. So I’ll just show off a few of those chores and projects that have given me that sort of pleasure, and perhaps inspire you as well: after all, some of the enjoyment, as you’ll see, comes from the knowledge that each of these items succeeds in making my daily work simpler, and thus, my laziness more tenable. Which, not to be too tautological about the whole thing, is the point of the Doing in the first place.
There’s nothing like sorting through one’s personal archives to stir up the notion that life’s short and memory shorter. Go through the files of family photos, yes, and there are ghosts staring back at me that I never even knew, let alone can name or place without my mother (perhaps my grandmother or great-) on hand as reference. How many thousands of stories have I ignored or forgotten among only the few handfuls of fading images I keep boxed up in storage, I wonder?
Delve into nothing more exotic than the household files, meaning only to rearrange what’s there more neatly and perhaps cull a few records that are far out of date, and I find I am plunged into a well of information that, even in those records and bills and receipts not older than a year, escape me like ephemeral puffs of ether as I try to grasp what they meant or why they were recorded in the first place. An atomic cloud of ideas and ideals sprays out of the folders that I thought would only hold a few needful numbers, a name or connection I must think I needed at tax time or on my next appointment with the named practitioner. Stories trail out in smoky wisps.
Reach back into the recesses of the cupboard or closet, hoping to simply rearrange my goods for daily use, and I always discover that my tidying has turned archeological, that items long forgotten lurk in the shadows and recall to mind grand plans since erased: a superb meal here, a skirt to hem there, a pint of paint bought specifically for a project that has lain neglected so long that the other parts were used eons ago for something else entirely. My life is a tale of constantly shifting shores, tangents taken and those unnoticed ones that might have led me in a completely different path to who-knows-where.
What is my legacy? I cannot know, other than that it is short and small. My life’s story will disappear in a hiccup about as soon as I shed my human shell. But in the meantime, what adventures can I take? How shall I flesh it out to my own satisfaction? That is the time of relevance to me, not history past or future but my own small window of experience. Shall I forget the stuff of my life long-shelved, my ancestors, the wide unfolding scenes of history and space? Oh, no, never by choice. But what will shape my happiness the most is none of that, is rather my living in this moment, possibly with a tidier cabinet here and there or a better sorted box of memories to visit from time to time, yet always with an eye toward the light, toward the rising and setting of the sun. Day in, day out, forever.
Life is astoundingly brief and runs away apace. But grasping the essence and ecstasy of any day need not be gigantic in its way, only enough to fill an undemanding heart with some small measure of contentment that might overflow, only enough in turn, to run out toward another heart or two.
We’ve moved on to more complicated things . . .
Specifically, to the bathroom improvements we have had on our wish list since buying a house with four stereotypical ’70s bathroom counters all made of one-piece slabs of olive green marbleized acrylic of extreme fakeyositude, with integrated shell shaped sinks that, no pun intended, made our hearts sink every time we saw them. Besides being hideous and worn, they showed every speck of dirt and dust that came within their vortices, and they made us infinitely sad.
Now, we did have a little practice on bathroom reno from our first bout during the move-in preparations. The guest bath was both too decrepit and untenably ugly to be offered to people we actually liked as any sort of relief from need. I couldn’t tear out all of the wallpaper in there, having found quite speedily that aside from the kitchen wallpaper this house had paper glued directly to its unprimed wallboard, so I applied a heavy coat of oil-based primer and evened out the seams as best I could with lightweight spackle, finished corners and edges with caulking and filling holes with both caulk and spackle, and primed yet again. Then I could at least paint much of the remaining wall surface in there. The tiny shower stall was sturdily tiled in yellow–thankfully, a light shade, since it would be hard to remove–so I painted the walls a paler yellow yet and called it good.
The majority of the house being paneled or wainscoted–again, thankfully, in better quality than the flimsy plastic-looking stuff popularized in the later 1970s–with dark-stained ash, I opted to play off of the coziness and old-fashioned qualities of the cabinets and trim in the two small bathrooms and leave them dark, collecting all of the bits of bronze-tinted hardware randomly installed around the house and finishing those rooms with that color of metalwork for face plates and towel bars and robe hooks and a few dark wood and gilt trimmings. In the guest bathroom, as we were making our move-in improvements, I played off of the idea that washrooms are often reading rooms and hung up a couple of vintage books on the walls along with the requisite magazine holder. We did ‘invest’ in replacing the counter and sink with a simple composite scrap our contractor had around and a plain porcelain bowl, and I bought a gilt picture frame at a discount store and trimmed the inside edge with gold braid, to mask the edges of the old unframed mirror.
Meanwhile, our home’s openness means that while genuinely private rooms like the baths and bedrooms could and perhaps should have distinctive features of their own, the adjoining spaces in the living areas being so open to each other means it’s best to at least be reasonably compatible, if not coordinated. I’d rather not get bored, so I hope to find a happy medium and not risk severe matchy-matchy disease sneaking up on me for having tried too hard. The main thing I want to have been truly through-designed in this place to make it home and happy is lots of light. Artificial and natural. And the openness of the floor plan should lend itself to that kind of flow. The trick is enhancing what is unfortunately innate in a dark-paneled house, especially one built in an era not best remembered as the era of intelligent room lighting.
The living room one of the darker spots in the house because of its position and direction and the big floofy flowering pear tree in front of its main window. My first line of defense was to install LED rope lights in the ceiling recess in there (giving us a low ambient light any time we wish) and add wall up-lights to the three corners other than the one where I keep my vintage 50s torchiere–that lamp my sisters and I called the Space Needle Light when we were little and it lived at our Grandma and Grandpa’s place. There was not a lot of window light in general, but of course the dark brown Venetian blinds that came with the place weren’t a big help. I’ve recently replaced the blinds on the small driveway-side window with a very simple accordion-pleated white translucent blind so a whole lot more light comes in steadily. I opened up the front window blind too, hung up pale golden-tan sheers, and will probably do the same in the dining room window that balances the living room one. I think having the sheers under the dining room’s carved valance (Gramps’s artistry from his youth in Norway) will hide the shaggy mounting hardware behind and underneath the valance anyway! Not least of all, having better light in the living and dining rooms will help to show off things like Gramps’s carved valance and picture frames in the dining room and the artwork and my exceedingly rustic faux cruel, I mean crewel, stitchery on the throw pillow in the living room.
And having fun stuff to look at in the house can do nearly as much toward house-warming as having a nicely built house itself can do. It’s another reason we keep moving forward with the renovations and projects over time. The biggest change here lately has to have been the bathroom renovations in the Jack and Jill bath and, most of all, in the master en suite.
(To be continued tomorrow . . . )
Some people love cars. Some are attracted to bling (you would think I’d be quite the blingy specimen, given my magpie eye, but I don’t at all like to wear it, generally) and others are collectors of shoes, antiques, sports memorabilia, whatever inspires them and warms the cockles of their hearts. Me, I’m a fool for tools. I try to restrain myself reasonably when it comes to actually buying them, since I haven’t the budget, storage space or skills to use many of them in reality, but there are some that do have a place in my pantheon of tool treasures. Some, also, in my pantry.
Simple is often best, to be sure. I do love my two cast iron skillets. And when it comes to kitchen tools, good knives are just about the pinnacle of both necessity and happiness for most cooks I know. I have a selection of knives (looking exceedingly dusty here after the granite was re-cut to fit our new cooktop properly), and I use all of them on occasion, but I pretty much devote my favored attentions to using one particular knife, a fairly modest Henckels 6″ stainless sweetheart that keeps its edge with very little sharpening and is just the right heft and balance for my ordinary purposes. I’ll bet there are plenty of others among you that are like me in this: no matter how many lovelies you collect of your most-used sort of tools, find you’re using the same one ninety percent of the time. When it’s right, it’s right. And knives, while they can’t make a chef out of anyone, can bring the average home cook closer to mastery than possible otherwise.
I’ve mentioned a few times before that I also luxuriate in the privilege of having some more specialized and, indeed, expensive kitchen tools. The sous vide immersion cooker that my husband kindly presented when we moved into this house isn’t used constantly by any means, but when I want fall-apart ribs or a beef roast as near to perfection as I can make, it’s absolutely the go-to favorite tool for those sorts of labors. The internal temperature monitoring version of my heavily used slow cooker, if you will, which gets a fairly constant workout cooking my various broths down to dense savory heaven, with the occasional chili or pot roast thrown in for good measure. The more high-tech tools in my kitchen arsenal include, of course, a good microwave; besides being so convenient for warming lunchtime leftovers, it’s great for steaming vegetables quickly, making a one-person egg souffle, or melting butter or chocolate for the current concoction.I like my hand tools, too, both the powered (I use my stick blender not just for pureeing things for soups and sauces but for whipping cream or eggwhites, too) and the old standbys of a small whisk, tongs–updated with nice gripping heat-proof silicone ends–or that lovely construction tool that has moved into the kitchen, the Microplane, which is a snap to use for zesting fruits or rasping nutmeg or finely shaving some nutty Reggiano. And that large strainer to the left is so very well-suited to my broth clarifying. I just wish it could work on my thoughts too. One present thought that is crystal-clear, however, is that the new cooktop–that smooth black glass on which the hand tools are resting–is going to be such a boon to this cook as has seldom been seen. While we’d love to have afforded the line plumbing and cooker for using gas, this functional and even topped electric will be such a stupendous improvement over the literally half-dead and wholly uneven old coil burner stove that I am elated just to have made scrambled eggs for breakfast. Such is the improvement in life of a new and improved tool.
The oldies are still goodies, as well. I am so fortunate as to have bought a house with (albeit thirty years old) a double oven. The pair shows its age visually, to be sure, but once I painted the two oven doors with a slightly glittery metallic black finish they don’t stick out of the updated kitchen decor too terribly, and they operate remarkably well in general. I’ve pulled together some meals for largish gatherings without much difficulty in finding enough space to roast, bake, broil and warm whatever was needed for the crowd. That’s when I pull out lots of my more specific and seldom-used other tools from my bag of kitchen tricks, too, to go with the less common ingredients I might use for special occasion eating events. Okay, the ice cream scoops and the wine bottle equipment aren’t all that rarely used around here, nor are a number of the other utensils here in these drawers. More often, it’s the pretty old silver and plated serve-ware–those sugar tongs with claws, and the beveled-bowl spoons and ladle, the pewter handled Norwegian forks and spoons–that makes me smile on mere sight.
Some of the tools I treasure most are, of course, sentimental for various reasons. Probably among the best of those in my kitchen are ones I don’t necessarily give constant notice precisely because they are so constantly in use and so well suited to their uses. My everyday stainless flatware is a perfect example. My paternal grandmother was a rather tender and sentimental lady (in her eighties, she still couldn’t hang up photos of her little daughter who had died at age two) but almost never showed it; she wasn’t much good at overt expressions of such emotion so it arose in subtler ways, like her declaring that it wasn’t right for young women of my generation (and my sisters’) to wait until we might-or-might-not get married to have well stocked home lives, so she told each of us when we entered high school to choose a flatware pattern, and she would give us Christmas and birthday gifts each year of a place setting of that pattern. The pattern I chose–Design 2 by Don Wallance–turned out to be singularly interesting in the event: first of all, I immediately found out that the company producing it was being bought by another and as it was produced in Europe and the new company favored an Asian manufacturer the pattern was likely to be discontinued (it wasn’t, as it happened, but the switch to a different mfr. changed some significant details, as well as the heft, of the pattern). Grandma, bless her, went off and bought a complete 12-place set of it and then just doled it out after. I, being forewarned, bought up serving pieces and extra teaspoons. And I have never once regretted my selection. I guess I’m not alone; at some point I discovered that it’s one of the few flatware patterns that was chosen for inclusion in the Museum of Modern Art‘s design collection in New York.
All things considered, it’s practicality that does win my heart most readily in my kitchen utensils as with my other tools. The true affection I have for my flatware is that it sits in the hand so very comfortably, the forks have strong, even tines and slight spoon-like bowls, the knives have no joint in them to collect food or get weak but do have a remarkably good edge, and both men and women seem to appreciate their balance and utility. They are in fact very attractive to my eye, yes, but if they didn’t do the job so well they wouldn’t have remained favorites for so very long (high school was an eon ago). It’s the same way I have come to be so pleased with my choice of kitchen sink when we renovated on moving in here a couple of years ago. I do enjoy it for its handsome looks and the way it neatly complements the granite counters, but more than that I love that its black composite surfaces are so incredibly easy to keep clean, are heat resistant when I stick in a hot pot to fill it with soaking water, and those deep and deeply useful double bowls could even, if some accident should demand it, be sanded back down to perfection. Now, if I could easily apply that sort of abuse and restoration to my body, that would be a welcome technique. But at least in this kitchen I have the tools to feed my body pretty well and–I hope–forestall any such extreme necessity.
Best way to have a head start on preparing a meal: keep lots of shelf-stable or frozen flourishes convenient–they don’t have to be artificial or toxic, you know–and be kind to the best of your leftovers. It’s important to have the usual dry goods in stock; flour or thickeners, if you use them; spices; rice or oats or that kind of thing, but small prepared items are just as crucial for time and taste’s sake. Yesterday it came in handy to have stashed a few servings of easy-to-serve chocolate dessert items like my homemade nut truffles and almond-flour brownies. Today it was an assortment of fresh fruits that rounded out the meal with no cooking and virtually no prep, unless you count washing and cutting just enough for two plates; I certainly don’t find that onerous compared to prepping and cooking actual side dishes. Tomorrow, who knows? If someone pops by unexpectedly and we sit to lunch or dinner, it’s just nice to know that there’s almost always something in the pantry that can be served up in a trice.
Or in a casserole, if one prefers.
You’ve no doubt noticed in any previous food posts, especially if I’ve referenced my pantry shelves, that I’m mighty fond of pickles and toppings and condiments of many kinds. I tend toward the salty, savory and sweet rather than extremely spicy ones, though I’ve been known to crave some good north Indian lime pickle with my Palak Paneer or pickled jalapeños with my Tex-Mex treats. Mostly, I like a fairly wide assortment of olives, vinegar-pickled vegetables like green beans and carrots and asparagus, preserved lemons, mild pickled okra or clove-scented beets; relish, chutney, sweet watermelon rind pickles also tickle my palate, as do pickled ginger and preserved sauces, and so forth ad mortem. Because I do concede that it’s just possible I could eat myself into a happy coma followed by cheery death, given constant proximity to such dainties. Nearly all of these delights, not to mention those aforementioned (okay, I did mention! deal with it) garnishes and toppings, like the ubiquitous southeast Asian fried shallots, salted and unsalted nuts, fried herbs, candied peel and ginger, shaved coconut, and so much more, can be nicely preserved to be either shelf-safe or freezer friendly without too much difficulty.
And yes, there are commercial preparations of those and other easy-to-keep foods and edible accoutrements that I willingly stock and use. Perhaps one of the most favored is tinned tuna, but I admit I don’t like many of the commercial brands, preferring those that can only the tuna itself, usually with a little salt, and simply let it be preserved in its pristine glory and its own juices. There are more and more good guys out there who are trying to do right by the tuna and our tastes, so it takes very little effort to find them out, and the boost in flavor and concomitant decrease in artificialities are well worth it. Canning fruits and vegetables does commonly act as a killjoy, destroying much of their texture and flavor and, not surprisingly, nutrients as well. Now, I know that much of the destructive character comes from mass production and that many people are able to home-preserve beautiful specimens of both fruits and veg, but frankly, that’s almost always too labor-intensive and plodding for my energies and attention span.
So I tend to lean toward decent quality fast frozen green-groceries if I’m keeping some around for quick use. These are often perfectly delish in soups, cooked dishes and quick pickling, where they take up the dressing and seasonings more readily than raw foods because of the slight cellular breakdown inherent in freezing. And there are, for that very reason, also a few commercially canned things besides jam or jelly or pickles that I will concede to stock on my shelves and eat. For example, I wanted a speedy picnic sort of salad the other day, so I took out tins of cut green and wax beans and baby carrots, all of which I admit would be strikingly unappealing to me for straight-from-the-can eating, and bathed them in a light dressing of plain rice vinegar, vegetable oil, orange juice, orange zest, salt, pepper and snipped dill, and had myself a tasty little salad that has fed me all week long, gaining in flavor as it sits but having been quite edible right from the ceremonial Opening of the Tins.
Salmon is something I generally prefer fresh or smoked over tinned as well, but having a couple of cans on hand does have its moments. If, as with the tuna, it’s prepared well enough to not taste of the tin rather than of the sea, why it too makes a very useful salad when mixed with good mayonnaise and seasonings and can sit lightly on crackers, in a sandwich or stuffed into hors-d’oeuvres plenty well. I’ve made mine up with Asian-grocery wasabi mayo (another good condiment to keep in the refrigerator, mind you), minced gari, and a splash each of ginger juice and soy sauce, and enjoyed it even more for those uses. When the salmon is not tinned but instead left over from yesterday’s dinner, it can do similar things. We’re not overly enamored of leftover seafood, my spouse and I, in its previously served form, always feeling a bit like it’s sure to have gone bad. But a little change-up can rescue that leftover fish too: the oven roasted salmon, smoked salmon, and a few cooked prawns from the other night’s dinner got mashed to a pate with the stick blender, using some mayonnaise, and then spread on a small Romaine leaf and topped with slivers of yellow capiscum, a curl of gari and a dab of that nice wasabi mayo–whose squeezable bottle charmingly arrives with its own built-in star tip for decorative application–and voilà! Snacks.
I’ll grant you that any amount of ‘trim’ kept in the kitchen guarantees nothing like conferring gourmet status on what I make of it. And it’s a virtual miracle when I bother to gussy up my food as much as even that last little snackable item, so presentation isn’t instantaneously improved either. But having the stuff right here at my beck and call is the only way either is likely to happen, even by accident. And who says I can’t eat all of this tastiness right out of the box, bottle, jar or tin, anyway?