empty shelfI went shopping right before the pandemic. Things looked good. There was bread and milk. Less than a week later, lines wrapped around the store and shelves were empty.

People rushed the fork lift guy for water. They cleaned out the toilet paper aisle–then bought junk food.  It didn’t make sense.

“They’re not buying food,” I said.

“They are here,” said my friends in other parts of the country.  People were looking for flour, yeast, anything with a disinfectant. Meat plants closed down. Panic buying began. Who’d have thought the new 1% would be measured in bags of flour or toilet paper?

“Mom, what are we going to do when we run out of food?” my kid asked.

“We’re not running out of food,” I said. My pantry is stocked. I have every grain, bean, spice, and ingredient because I hate shopping.

“I mean…stuff I like, like Oreos. And we’re out of bread!”  While I cannot recreate an Oreo, I do bake bread.  With a well-stocked pantry and a few cooking skills, you’re all set. Whether you’re preparing for a quarantine or just hate shopping, like I do, you can do this.

Most people today have the food thing backwards.  They say, “I want chicken for dinner.” Then, you go by chicken along with twenty other things you “forgot” or saw on sale. Or worse–you order takeout because you don’t know what you want.

Instead, try this: Buy stuff when you see it on sale, then go down into your pantry, freezer, and shelf and cook that–no store trip required.  Bonus points if you plan out a few days or a week and save yourself all the germs and lines running out for “one thing.”

We’re used to on-demand food half-prepped in bags, boxes clamshells and cans.  Cooking from scratch might be weird at first, but I promise you, the food is better.  I’m a person who burned a grilled cheese shape in a frying pan.  If I can master cooking a lot of better-than-fast-food cuisines, so can you.

This is year three of pandemic supply chain issues.  Prices are up and stores are cutting back on brands they carry.  There’s never been a better time to learn pantry inventory and cooking than tonight’s dinner. This is when your poser homestead skills will shine!

This has happened before—just (maybe) not to you.

Every older person remembers rationing or supply chain issues.  The 1970’s inflation. Gas lines. Wartime rationing. Victory gardens. The Depression.  My grandma always told me to, “Have some tea with my sugar,” as I dumped sugar in.  She remembered going without and was frugal using ingredients. My friend’s great aunt stole them–she had sugar and condiment packages from every restaurant on the planet.

Who knows–maybe we’ll be the generation that swipes toilet paper from public bathrooms?

The point is, American’s aren’t used to glitches in supply chains.  Poser Homesteading will help you be free of “my ice cream brand’s out of stock.” As you start to cook in season, shop less, and learn to cook your favorites from scratch, you’ll you’ll be eating five-star meals.

Think like an Iron Chef…

Instead of thinking about what’s not in stock or what you’re out of, think like an Iron Chef.  In Iron Chef food battles, two chefs get an ingredient and have to make as many dishes as possible before time runs out. They can take any ingredient and make ten menu worthy dishes. Learn to do that, and you’ll have a five-star kitchen soon.

I lived in Moscow for a short while when Russia wasn’t famous for its full shelves. Getting a loaf of bread meant waiting in two lines at the bakery. If they closed for lunch or a break while people were waiting, everyone waited again. Empty shelves were common. Because of this, people cooked what they got.  Meals usually had that Iron Chef feel– several little dishes. It looks like a table full of tapas, prepared simply.

Pantry cooking reminds me of this. I see I’ve got, and I craft some food. This tastes great, but also reduces food waste, lets me eat in season often, and saves a ton of cash avoiding “just one thing” trips to the store.

Stock up when you can

Read my “pantry raid” post.  Take a quick inventory of your ingredients, and get extras when they’re available, in season, or on sale.  Keep “The Basics” with enough extra to the next season or sale.

I keep flours, grains, sugars, and baking ingredients at all times. I did so well with this that I didn’t have to shop during the intense pandemic quarantine period. I ran out of arborio rice and almost complained. But, I have seven other rices (Basmati, sushi, brown basmati, white rice, Jasmine rice, black rice, and sweet rice). I survived.

I also have a full freezer with meats packaged in meal sized food saver bags, and fruit frozen in season. When I cook, I’ll double or triple it up if it’s a meal that freezes well.   Once you start to pay attention to your pantry, you’ll never stress over an empty shelf in a store again.

Why I love this

We’ve gotten too far away from our food sources. There’s an entire section in the produce aisle filled with pre-chopped veggies for double the price, sold in clamshells.  That’s terrible for the environment, but kind of silly for the wallet, too.  It’s like paying someone an extra ten bucks to chop a few onions and a cantelope and put it in an (expensive, non-biodegradable) container that’ll sit in a landfill forever.

Get into your kitchen. Have fun!

I once had someone ask me how to make mashed potatoes. Another person asked how to boil an egg correctly. I also got a question about reheating food when the microwave was broken. That’s okay–if that’s your starting place, start watching some serious YouTube and TikTok cooking videos and try one favorite dish at a time until you master this.

Our grandparents could cook, preserve, forage, and make without thinking.  I want to get all those skills back. If you do, you can inflation bust like a pro. Your supply chain will never be broken.

I’m not saying you need to eat healthy, either.  Author Michael Pollan’s rule was to limit junk food to “only what you can make from scratch.” He never met me. I can make all that stuff.  I ran out of candy the other day so I dove into my pantry and came out with a chocolate bar made from scratch, and kaju katli (cashew fudge). Problem solved.

I have a friend who said, “I live in New York City, no need to cook, ever.” At the time, he was right. For him, it was nearly as expensive to go shopping than to get takeout, and the chef cooked much better. During quarantines, that Chef went away. No restaurants… just people stuck in very small apartments.  That was a true time for reflection.

Even a couple years later, supply chains are still fragile. Things come from around the globe and aren’t always easy to get. But with a little knowledge of ingredients and a well-stocked pantry, you won’t care. And you will never, ever get a pre-cut onion again.

Learn to fix, build, cook, substitute, create, and enjoy. Whether you start sprouting microgreens, bake some bread, or ferment your own kombucha or beer, have fun! Enjoy the ride.

Here are a few recipes you can probably make right now:

Blueberry Corn Muffins: I pick and freeze berries once a year. I also can a few when my freezer space runs out.  Any berry will do. You can also use apple chunks, or no fruit. It’ll still be a great muffin–better than your coffee shop ones!

Banana bread. I make this from dying bananas. They’re the sweetest. If you have way too many bananas, peel and freeze them. Thaw them when you need them. This is coffee shop good.

Pesto. This costs a billion dollars in the store, but I make it by the quart in the summer and freeze it.

Tomato soup.  You definitely have these ingredients on hand. Except for the tomatoes, it’s easy to swap out things. You can swap out the cream–or dairy for milk or non dairy. Swap fresh garlic, onions, and thyme for dried and powders. Soup is one of the best pantry cleanouts there is.

Bread pudding.  Got stale bread and the bread aisle’s empty? Turn it into croutons or bread pudding.

Bread.  You can make this. It’s easy.  Make the dough at night, let it rise, and bake it in the AM while you’re getting ready for work or your day. If you’ve got a mixer with a dough hook, the active time here is about three minutes of measuring and dumping and a few seconds to heat up your oven and plop the dough on a stone or baking sheet.  Never worry if the bread and milk aisle are picked clean again!

Rice and grains. They store well, and you should always have them on hand. See my pantry article if you need to.  Here’s my recipe for stir-fried rice. There are better ones out there–I’ve recently been working hard to up my Chinese cuisine game.  You can also make sushi, risotto, rice-based casserole,

Pancakes and waffles. If you’ve still got flour, you have breakfast. If not, see “eggs.”

Black bean burgers. You should definitely have some dry or canned black beans on hand. If not, sub pinto beans or something else.  Veggie burgers are not just for vegetarians. The meat people here ask for them, too.

I’ll build out this list:). Check back.