No flour? No yeast? Run out of milk? None of this is a challenge for me thanks to our family's "Pantry Project" a few years back.
Overwhelmed by the contents of my pantry, fridge and freezer, our family decided to see how long we could go without shopping. Five and a half weeks was the answer.
Last time it was an exercise. This time it's for real. I've taken to heart the Prime Minister's call to stay home and haven't been near the supermarket once. We can just create from our cupboards, which for the record, aren't even that packed.
It's natural for human beings to buy more food than they need. It's true that some Kiwis can't afford to buy more than they can eat that week. But someone has to be responsible for throwing away 157,389 tonnes food in this country per year, according to the Love Food Hate Waste campaign. So there are plenty of you out there who, like me, could eat without shopping for weeks.
That natural human urge to hoard food is really hard to fight against and it's one of the reasons my cupboards fill up when I'm not thinking. In the pre-pandemic days I would always buy up large when non-perishables were on sale.
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I'd half forgotten about the Pantry Project until we entered lockdown when friends who had followed my daily updates at the time started reminiscing The exercise had captured the imagination of many and they weighed in with their own advice and suggestions.
When I flung myself into my assignment I had no idea if it would succeed, or what ingredients foods I might miss when they ran out. It was really scary wondering how I would do without "the basics". Or even what basics are.
I didn't pre buy any extras in anticipation of the project, deciding to make do with whatever there was. I did set rules allowing myself to replenish fruit for school lunchboxes and milk for a son who would have melted down without it.
My notes from the first few days contemplated the issue of toilet paper running out and noted at least one occasion in my childhood when we had used newspaper instead. Perhaps my mother didn't want to go shopping.
I pondered at the time if 21st century primary age children would cope with newspaper for number twos. In our Covid-19 world we all have had to re imagine our relationship with toilet paper when we thought it might run out.
My current Covid-19 Pantry Project differs from the first one. I only have one teenager at home at the moment so fewer people to cook for than usual. Nor do I feel obliged to take it to the bitter end.
Part way through any Pantry Project you suddenly discover that you can't cook what you feel like eating that day without becoming creative.
This week I wanted to both bake scones, but save some of the butter-like stuff in my fridge in case I needed it. I wondered if scones could be baked with oil, of which I always have plenty. The answer was "yes" and the outcome tasted no different from normal.
The proverbial Kiwi "bring a plate" invitation threw me at one point all those years ago. I desperately wanted to make an iced chocolate cake, but had way less than the one cup of icing sugar I needed. My knee jerk reaction was to send a child over the road to beg or borrow some. I stopped, however, not wanting to break the rules.
Plan A was to put ordinary sugar into the food processor, but the outcome didn't quite do it for icing. Plan B was to open the pantry door and see what I found. Bingo, I extended the icing by adding Nutella. Plan C, had I needed it, was to make a peanut butter icing by adding sugar syrup and cocoa. It turned out that plenty such recipes existed on Google.
Necessity is the mother of invention and the internet is the second generation. As our stocks of food dwindled we had to become more and more imaginative and the internet was indispensable in the art of substitution for missing ingredients.
Thanks to the Pantry Project and subsequent experiments with vegetarian and vegan food I've come up with previously some very creative switches. No flour for baking, but you have stale bread, or even breadcrumbs? Whizz the bread up and Google a recipe for breadcrumb cake. They exist and are nice. Even banana skins and apple cores have their uses in the culinary arts.
A few years back when one of my children became a vegan I discovered many more substitutions such as aquafaba, the liquid from a chick pea can. It can be used in place of eggs in most recipes, (but not boiled or fried).
Nearly two weeks into our Covid-19 project (we started on the day Level 2 was announced) we have almost run out of cheese, which won't impress Mr 17. But I know from my many vegan substitute searches that the flavour can be replaced with a mixture of garlic, salt and nutritional yeast and he didn't notice when I did that with a lasagne this week.
When the then smaller and stroppier children refused to eat home-made mousse during the Pantry Project my increasingly imaginative culinary brain repurposed it as the liquid in cupcakes, that they wolfed down. When I didn't have sour cream I used some slightly past its best Greek yoghurt, and when I needed ricotta, I made it from milk.
I learned that if a recipe called for fish sauce, that we didn't have, I Googled "fish sauce substitute" and found to my surprise that miso can fill that need, and it did. You can also use anchovies, or soy sauce and either rice vinegar or anchovies.
And if you've run out of milk there are plenty of alternatives that can be used in everything from cereal to cakes. If it's for baking and you happen to have powdered milk, that's a start. Or a can of coconut milk, or even aquafaba, will suffice in some recipes.
If you have oats, soy beans, cashews, almonds or some other nuts you can very easily make your own alternative "milk". These are all child's play to make and can replace the milk from many recipes. They take a little longer to get used to in coffee, but I have succeeded with oat milk.
Google really was my friend during the Pantry Project. I would type in two or three ingredients and see what popped up. When that was prawns and peas, one day I ended up making risotto. Many of the recipes from that time ended up in my keep pile.
Budding food writer Virgil Evetts showed great interest in our Pantry Project and at one point came over and did a total inventory of our food stocks, posted it on a Foodlovers website, and sought suggestions.
At some point during the original Pantry Project Virgil called in unexpectedly and dropped off some home grown parsley and eggs, which sent me into a bit of an existential crisis over whether this was cheating. It was "foraging", he said, and I accepted these two items. Covid-19 isn't about sticking to a set of artificial "rules".
I finally managed to pay that kindness forward this week Covid-19 style when I realised that my perpetually well stocked baking cupboard had two packets of flour when I only needed one. I fought my primeval urges to stockpile that flour, took a few deep breaths before I offered it to the neighbourhood Messenger group, knowing someone's needs were greater than mine.
Virgil and his Foodlovers crowd came up with a recipe based on the depleted contents of my kitchen. "Baked bean cassoulet" subsequently became a family favourite. This was back in the day when we still ate meat and he'd spotted we had some scrappy bits of bacon, chorizo and hot dog-like things in the fridge, stock cubes, vinegar, and herbs, and four cans of baked beans.
We've eaten the recipe, which I share below, numerous times over the subsequent years, even turning it into baked bean cassoulet pie at one point, which was even better.
When the Pantry Project came to an end it was sad. It was fun, and a great way to learn to make food more imaginative and go further.
My daughter who was 10 at the time, and now in her teens, has often asked me to do it again. Never could I have imagined that the day would come when the learnings that experiment would come in so useful for a bubble in lockdown during a real pandemic.
• Sadly Virgil Evetts died in early 2016.
Virgil's baked bean cassoulet recipe
• 2 tins baked beans
• 4 cups hot stock (chicken/beef)
• Kransky-roughly chopped
• Chorizo- roughly chopped
• 1 onion-finely chopped
• 3 cloves garlic crushed
• 2 tablespoon butter/margarine
• ½ teaspoon dried thyme
• ¼ teaspoon dried sage Or 3 fresh sage leaves
• Vegetable oil
• A splash of vinegar
Preheat oven to 200c
Sauté the bacon and sausages in 1 tablespoon of the butter/margarine and a little oil until browned. Add onion garlic, vinegar, and herbs, sauté until soft and fragrant. Add beans and stir until simmering.
Now add the stock. Bring to the boil and reduce to a low simmer. Stir frequently until reduced and thickened. Use a wooden spoon or potato masher to crush some of the beans. This greatly improves the texture of the sauce.
Adjust seasoning to taste.
Transfer to a suitable oven dish, sprinkle liberally with breadcrumbs and stud with little knobs of butter/margarine. Bake until golden and sizzling or stir in crust and add more breadcrumbs and butter/margarine and bake again