I have a confession to make. I am over 40 years old, and I can’t dress myself. No, I’m serious. I would love to be the woman who grabs an outfit on the fly and looks like an issue of Vogue. But, it isn’t going to happen. Don’t misunderstand, I don’t go out looking like a reject from “People of Walmart”. But, the only things that save me are my absolute awareness that I am bad at fashion and my willingness to plead for help.
True Story: The last major event I attended was my high-school reunion. I did NOT want to look like a grown-up version of the kid Daddy dressed for church! So, I picked three women who are true fashionistas. I polled them for suggestions, then went dress hunting. I texted pictures until they agreed on The Dress. Next, I polled for accessory suggestions and repeated the process. I don’t know about the rest of me, but the outfit was fabulous!
Those ladies saved my self-esteem. I also learned an important lesson. Rushing around in search of a dress is the pits. It’s much better to have clothes ready for such occasions. (In my case, these should be pre-approved by those in the know!) This lesson holds true when it comes to pantries. Having things ready for special occasions makes life flow more smoothly. Occasions can be dinner guests, potlucks, or even not-so-special occasions. There are days that just fall apart. The unexpected, whether good or bad, can make dinner a challenge. At such times, a little preparedness makes the overwhelming manageable.
In the first post in this pantry series, we talked about why it’s important to purchase groceries for a week or two at a time. Then, we discussed the need to have extra food to give flexibility between shopping days. Now, it’s time to discuss building the special occasion layer of our pantries. Let’s look at a few ‘special’ occasions, and discuss how we can prepare for them.
Some days just take a left hand turn into uncharted territory. If I’m suddenly called into work, have to deal with a sick animal, or if ‘someone’ accidentally thaws soup bones instead of pork chops, I need a low-stress backup plan. I keep ingredients for quick simple meals on hand. These save the day when life drifts off course (or explodes). For our family, this includes things like boxed jambalaya, lentil soup, spaghetti, and grilled cheese sandwiches. These are thirty-minute (or less) meals my kids could make when they were young.
Recently, Liam’s horse decided jumping the fence would be his next great adventure. The jump was great; unfortunately, he didn’t stick the landing. Actually, he did stick a metal fence post into his hip. Jonah and I had to work with the vet. (Why do animals only get hurt, sick, or escape their fencing, when one of us is away?) Since we had backup meals on tap, the younger kids were able to have dinner waiting. The vet bill was big enough; we didn’t need to spring for fast-food. (Note: The horse made a full recovery, attitude and all.)
Another thing that throws a wrench in family operations is illness. When someone is ill, simple and nourishing food is key. Chicken soup is traditional fare for a cold or tummy bug sufferer. If you’re a tinned soup kind of cook, then have some in your pantry. If you’re handy with a pressure canner, there are many recipes available. I personally like to have ingredients rather than ready dishes. This lets me tailor the dish to the person’s taste and their illness. If they have a cold, I’ll add garlic and ginger to help fight it. If they have a tummy bug, I’ll make the soup as bland as possible. So, I keep canned broth with chicken, dried noodles and rice, and dried/fresh basic vegetables and herbs.
Four out of five members of my family can knock to together a comforting soup from our pantry. (The fifth would need the ingredients AND step-by-step instructions, but I knew that when I married him.) I keep hot cereal, bread for toast, eggs, and gelatin. It’s also important to have non-food items like cold medicine, anti-diarrhea medicine, and tissues. No one likes a feverish drugstore run, and germs rarely give advanced warning.
Welcoming unexpected guests is certainly an occasion! It can be fun and stressful to have surprise company. We often have guests at the farm. Most of our visitors are friends and family, who could see me looking like that reject from “People of Walmart” and would still love me. (I do try to ensure I’m decently covered and free of farm muck.) Close friends often receive impromptu supper invitations. I like being able to say, “Come over! Join us; we have plenty!”
Sometimes, I simply double my planned meal, but other times that isn’t the best choice. Because I enjoy entertaining, I keep fast, easy, low mess meals for unexpected guests. These meals don’t need to be fancy. Pause for a moment and imagine you have surprise visitors en route. What would you serve them? If you don’t have anything, what would you buy on your mad dash to the store?
At times like these, I often serve “breakfast for supper”. Because we have laying hens, I always have eggs. This means I can do omelets, fry ups, or quiche quickly. Bacon thaws super-fast and is easy to bake for a crowd. German pancakes are fast, simple, and a hit with most people. However, if you don’t have eggs, there are a ton of other options.
Spaghetti and meatballs can be made quickly and without destroying the kitchen. I keep meatballs in the freezer, so it’s a no-brainer to add them to simmering sauce and boil pasta. (I make meatballs in bulk and freeze them, but a bag of pre-made from the store could be a good option.) Tacos, burritos, or quesadillas are other easy options. With an electric griddle, quesadillas can be made four or five at a time. Stocking canned cooked chicken or precooked frozen ground beef makes these fast, easy, and low-mess options. Add a can of beans, tortillas, chips, salsa, and grated cheese and you’re all set. I enjoy company more when I’m not stressing about what to feed them or secretly hoping they leave before supper!
We recently had “new-friends” over for dinner. These are lovely people, but we don’t know them well enough double a work-day dinner and tell them to tuck in. The dinner was tacked onto some farm business we had together. Liam and I also had an animal emergency, which lasted several hours and ended badly just before they arrived. We could have canceled, but we needed to take care of the business. So, I punted.
Early in the afternoon, I pan seared some of our farm-raised chicken and added sauteed vegetables, red wine, and my canned marinara. I stuck this in the oven and let it simmer while we dealt with our horrible-awful-very-bad-day. Later, I made a salad, while the kids boiled pasta and heated some green beans. When we were ready to eat, I stirred cream and Parmesan into the sauce. Done! The hands-on time was about 30 minutes. My guests were served a home-cooked meal, but it was minimal stress for us. I didn’t have to panic about what to serve or rush to the store. Aren’t pantries great?!
Chicken cacciatore wasn’t the meal I’d have chosen if I’d had more time. I simply looked at my pantry and thought, “Yep, that’ll work.” Having things on hand made it easy. Thanks to my pantry, if Liam calls and mentions a friend who’s passing through and wants to see the farm, I can offer supper as well as a tour. Serving a pre-planned pantry dinner might give us time to get the chores done and sweep all the ‘this-is-a-working-farm’ mud clumps from the entryway…living room…kitchen…stairs…oh, who am I kidding? Those clumps are proof that the Theory of Spontaneous Generation has some basis in fact!
I encourage you to make a list of events that might arise in your life. Rushed evenings, illnesses, and unexpected visitors are good surprises to plan for. Being prepared makes the ‘good’ times actually fun and the ‘bad’ times bearable. Everyone will have different meals that suit their needs. What are your ‘go to’ meals for life’s little occasions? Please leave a comment below; we would love to swap ideas with you!