Eating from the Larder | Civil Eats

Eating from the Larder


The fact that the cabinet door to my “pantry” is suddenly busted has made ignoring its contents difficult. For example: two cans of tuna packed in oil, and I cannot remember the last time I ate canned tuna. My concerns about seafood (un)sustainability have made me shy away from eating fish lately. When did I even buy those cans, and why?

Then there’s that half bag of quinoa. Um, how long until quinoa goes bad? Half bags, too, of pearl barley, lovely little green lentils, couscous, risotto….the list goes on.

Also, there’s the matter of my freezer, which given other freezers I’ve seen (like the one at my Mom’s house—sorry, Mom) isn’t so bad. But it’s got two big bags of corn kernels I froze in late August, and if I don’t eat them soon, they’ll be losing a competition against fresh summer corn at the market. Also, a plastic liter seltzer bottle full of whey, and about a dozen bagel halves from my nephew’s bris (n.b. he was born September 20th).

Eating what you have on hand has been a much-discussed topic these days for the food obsessed. For example, I’ve just discovered that our editor here at Civil Eats is also participating, via the Washington Post’s “A Mighty Appetite” blog, in what Kim O’Donnel is calling “Eating Down the Fridge,” a title I like.

I discovered the idea on the New York Times Diner’s Journal blog, which alerted me to a contest brewing on eGullet: “National Eat the Stuff in our Freezers and Pantry Week.” I don’t have the stocks to participate in this contest full on (I love eGullet because it’s hard core—these people have boxes of Parmalat, powdered milk even, for crying out loud); but I decided to read about the contest, and shadow, as best as I could.

First, there are rules, as explained by the staff at eGullet:

1 – No stockpiling.

2 – No endangering your children.

3 – No making yourself miserable.

4 – If you decide to participate in this experiment, you’re making a commitment to chronicle a week’s worth of meals starting on whatever day you normally shop.

We’ll bring the news to you.

Get the weekly Civil Eats newsletter, delivered to your inbox.

5 – Have fun, and keep everyone posted on your progress!

SobaAddict70 shares a list of everything he had, and whoah—this dude must live in the suburbs, because where would I put all that? Steven Shaw (aka “Fat Guy”) discusses the merits of freezing milk and I feel like I am back in the scary wilds of my mom’s freezer; I may have a dozen bagels from 2008, but darnit, I have my limits.

OK, so first things first, I decide to use the quinoa. I cook up a half box and it makes an insanely large bowl of quinoa, more than I can imagine eating this year, let alone this week. I douse it with sesame oil from the pantry, and toss in some peanuts from my freezer (I keep a lot of nuts in the freezer: pecans, pignoli, hazelnuts, walnuts). It was pretty dull. The prospect of eating 85 servings of this makes me very sad indeed. So I go out and buy out-of-season-but-organic scallions and red bell pepper, and a small bottle of sake in which to sautee some onions from my fridge drawer. The first assignment and I have already broken the rules! In fact, these past few days, I keep learning this sad lesson again and again. I try to use the things in my larder, and to make anything halfway decent, I need to buy more things. And then to use those things, I need to buy even more things. It’s a vicious (if often delicious) cycle.

I take comfort in the loosey goosey goings-on over at eGullet. Plus, the photos are riveting. I cannot believe all the cool (and, well, strange) things people have kicking around. It kind of makes me want to live with some of them, or at least you know, hang out together at mealtime. One person harvested dandelion greens from their backyard in Texas! Also worth mentioning there seems to be a deep love of Costco over there on the boards.

OK, next dish. With the corn, a peak-of-summer corn chowder with a fridge drawer potato, some fridge drawer onions and celery, and the remainder of the red pepper. Then I buy some fresh basil—doh! I am really very bad at this indeed. (But, but, but, remember how Mark Bittman said dried basil is bad? I had agreed with him, but now I wish I had some so I didn’t have to transgress like this….)

But all is not lost; tonight I will defrost the pork chops from Bradley Farm, and with the rest of the frozen corn, a little of the precious remaining milk I’ve got, as well as the half bag of Wild Hive Farm stone ground cornmeal from my freezer (ohhh yeah, cornmeal and flour go in the freezer at my house) I will make a corn pudding.

I may not have much of a larder, and I may be buying a lot of supplements, but I am a) having a blast following the contest and b) doing a fine job of clearing out my stores, and c) spending less money as I do it.

Thank you for being a loyal reader.

We rely on you. Become a member today to read unlimited stories.

This week I have made egg salad (very tasty on ancient toasted bagel); I have used those frozen overripe bananas to make a banana bread for my new parent friends; I have eaten down my fridge. I have looked it in the eye and shown it who’s boss.

Photo: Housetohome

Jerusha Klemperer lives in New York City where she is a co-founder and the communications director at FoodCorps. She blogs for Huffington Post, WellandGoodNYC and her personal blog Eat Here 2. She also cooks up food and fun with Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant. Read more >

Like the story?
Join the conversation.

  1. Jerusha, do you still have quinoa? I spotted this recipe (Orange Soy Quinoa) @recipeplay:
  2. Heh - I love that you've "eaten down" your fridge. It's like gastronomic spring cleaning!
  3. I like to think of this a bit like a Scrabble game… using all your last letters perfectly so you hit a double word score (tuna salad on a bagel). I play this game weekly with my heaping crisper drawer in my fridge… I’ve got to use it all before the next round of the Saturday morning farmers’ market. I confess to making lots of mixed veggie soup and composed salads on Thursday and Friday nights this time year. Press on! You can do it!
  4. I'm eating down my fridge and pantry all the time. Occasionally I get into a fit of trying to get it emptied, but why? The trick is the spice and condiments section, which can make even the most boring things interesting. Chili paste; fish sauce; soy sauce; sesame oil; vinegars of various sorts; tabasco or other hot sauce. A base of some interesting grain, whatever veggies are in need of eating, something interesting from last fall in the freezer. It all works.
  5. Oh, this is a battle I deal with all the time. In my case, I just prefer the taste of the fresh stuff all the time, but feel some innate need to have a constant stash of canned beans, tuna, rice and the like in my house! I sadly end up throwing away freezer burned homemade brownies, waffles and such every few months. But then I will suddenly have a week where I use ONLY pantry items. I am living in a world of extremes.
  6. Adrien-Alice
    Every so often, we'll institute a Condiments Week, which is the time to use up the last quarter-inch of horseradish or preserves or odd pickled something. It's kind of thrilling, actually, to remember all the awesome little ways to push our saucing thoughts beyond our habits.
  7. Natacha
    My big problem is all the leftover jams and jellies. I make lots of different ones and I want to try them all so I don't always wait to the end of the pot. And then I forget the opened one at the back of the fridge.
  8. Judith
    I guess I have to face the goat loin chops in the freezer which were bought in the spirit of adventurous eating but have terrified me ever since they arrived.

More from




In Brazil, a Powerful Law Protects Biodiversity and Blocks Corporate Piracy

An overhead shot of the Atlantic Forest in Brazil. (Photo credit: FG Trade, Getty Images)

Bringing Back Local Milk, Ice Cream, and Cheese

Foggy Bottoms Boys co-owner Cody Nicholson-Stratton pictured with his son. (Photo courtesy of Foggy Bottoms Boys)

Can Cooking in Community Slow Dementia and Diabetes?

The Promise and Possible Pitfalls of American Kelp Farming

an illustration by nhatt nichols showing a hand pulling a kelp line out of the sea