I would not peg myself as a disorganized person. Sure I'm fine with keeping the mail in piles and I don't fold my underwear, but I do like the laundry put away and dishes seldom sit in my sink.
My husband, however, is what I'll call hyper-organized. And I'm being nice. He comes by his OCD tendencies naturally. From his sock drawer to desktop, everything has a place. When my things invade our common spaces such as the closet, the bathroom cabinet or, heaven forbid, the garage, he gets a bit cranky. To his credit, he has left the kitchen alone, letting me organize the way I want. It is considered my territory, and he knows that if he gets too involved, I might expect him to cook. So he stays clear, and I stay happy.
But just the other day as I opened the pantry a thin plastic sack filled with farina cereal fell out of the pantry and whopped me on the head. I looked up at a shelf stuffed with bags of other bulk-bin goodies: dried beans, oatmeal, brown sugar, couscous, quinoa and rice. "It looks like someone with dementia lives here and can't remember we already have oatmeal in the pantry," I said aloud. Seth laughed, his smirk revealing an unsaid I-told-you-so.
I'm not big on New Year's resolutions. I sometimes have trouble finishing somethings I start. Case in point: The scarf I began knitting about four years ago still sits on a shelf, needles the in yarn. Every time Seth comes across it, he threatens to throw it away, while I expel some verbal vomit about how I'll finish it some day.
So, here's my non-resolution goal. As my family tries a bit harder to stick to a budget, I am trying to be a more resourceful cook, making sure I make the best of everything in my pantry. Instead of sharing a recipe right now, I'm going to share a couple of tips for keeping your pantry in order. It's nothing revolutionary, but if you're like me any reminders about how to organize might just come in handy. And just like I say I'm going to finish that scarf, in all honesty, my pantry will not stay organized for the entire year. We're hoping to make it through Friday. Nobody's perfect.
- Keep pantry items in see-through containers. I like to use glass canning jars. They are cheaper than Tupperware, are dishwasher safe and will come in handy for a zillion other uses (leftovers, craft supplies, vases, candle holders, etc.). Leftover glass jars from jams, applesauce or red sauce work, too.
- Labeling items isn't a bad idea, especially if you don't cook often and may have some dried beans around from a pre-Obama era. Labels should include the name of the item and the date it was purchased.
- A major piece of keeping a commercial kitchen in order and on budget is inventory. It makes sense that we'd do that with our home kitchens, too. I'm not suggesting you work up a spread sheet -- unless that's your thing -- but do come up with a way to ensure you're not buying new items when you've already got them in your pantry. A simple check of your pantry before you shop is good, or you could create a place to keep track when you use the last of a certain item.
- I used to buy canned beans and tomatoes on every trip to the grocery store. Then, should I have a week when I didn't make a chili, I began to look like I was stocking up for the Apocalypse. Don't do this. Follow that inventory tip from above.
- I love a pantry filled with single ingredients such as dried beans, rices, cereals, sugars, canned tuna, tomatoes, dried fruits and nuts. My theory is that building a pantry around those single items gives you so many more choices when it comes to cooking. After all, the Rice-A-Roni will yield you only Rice-A-Roni, but a pantry full of rices could mean risotto, jambalaya, casserole or a stir fry on any given night.
- If letting go of a package with cooking instructions gives you a slight panic attack, simply cut out the instructions and tape them to the container or store them right inside with the ingredient. I always forget the water-to-rice ratio and cooking times for different rices, so I keep a chart handy.
- And finally, if you know a great way to organize your freezer, let me know. Maybe I'll tackle that in 2012!