I get a ridiculous amount of satisfaction out of a well-stocked kitchen.
I like being able to open cupboard doors and see shelves stocked high, to not be able to find space in the fridge without rearranging things. I’ve lived alone pretty much all of my adult life so I reach this divine state of being generally when I’m expecting guests, and only very rarely when I’m not.
But every so often, usually in the early summer, when the farmer’s market comes to life, I’ll go on the kind of grocery-buying binge that takes up every nook and cranny.
Now I don’t tend to admit this joy much; I’m a woman of a certain heft and to admit to finding joy in a well-stocked pantry is to open oneself up to knowing nods and jabs of elbows. And I’m not denying that there is a likely link between the comfort I find in the presence of food and my weight. But there are other factors as well — for instance, I have a horror of being hungry. Too many starvation diets, likely, robbed me of my equanimity about hunger along with my metabolism, if not my avoirdupois. That said, the one time I actually fasted, confronting that fear head-on, I lasted for 39.75 hours and would likely have made it longer if the caffeine-deprivation headache hadn’t done me in. I should have just had the damned tea and carried on.
My mother would laugh if I told her that the food I fantasized about while fasting was steamed vegetables. She’s of the “boil it until it’s dead and then mash it with butter” school of vegetable cookery and when I was growing up the only cooked vegetables I would eat without coercion were potatoes (eventually) and corn. I liked most vegetables raw but they were not cheap and therefore not on the table once summer was over. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s, when a friend showed me that vegetables could retain their integrity when cooked, that I started enjoying them hot.
So, an inexplicable fear of hunger. And also a really, really tight budget when I was first on my own. I used to grocery shop with a calculator, not a list, in my hand. Between my limited budget and my dislike of all foods cheap and nutritious (beans, canned vegetables, for example) my fridge rarely had much to say for itself. I’d go home to my parents’, when four people, two of whom were teenage boys, lived there, and open the fridge door and stare. There wasn’t much in there that I wanted — they were big on condiments, pickles, and I never have been — but I wanted that feeling of satiety.
Twenty-odd years and untold restrictive diets later (including one in which all food except fresh vegetables and milk came in little boxes, astronaut food, heat and serve, which did nothing for my cupboards but dug a huge hole in my credit card) I find myself still overweight, but with much different eating habits on a much better budget.
Where once I ate a potage of rice, hamburger, celery and corn, bound together with a creamy canned soup, for lunch and dinner most days of the week, nowadays I’ll have grilled salmon, whole wheat pasta and — yes — steamed vegetables for an evening meal.
Food is my one true extravagance, it’s the one area where I don’t stint. I’ll wear the same shoes until they fall apart, and I’ll talk myself out of purchases of clothes and books and music and CDS, tell myself I have no need, no time, no place to put them.
Not so with food. I don’t buy the cheapest food, but I’m not extravagant either, I’m not a lobster and pate fan, for example. I do buy fresh vegetables and frozen salmon and shrimp, but I only eat red meat once a week, if then.
No, my extravagance isn’t always about the ingredients themselves, though I’ll admit that’s relative. My extravagance isn’t in calories either. Instead, it’s in the potential. I like knowing that if I want a salad I can make one. If I wake up early on a Saturday morning and feel like making brown bread, the yeast, flour, molasses and oatmeal that I need will be at hand. Curry? The coconut milk and spices are right here, though I will need to step out for the lamb.
There are worlds of possibilities every time I open a cupboard door, food for every mood. Very little is prepared, most will require effort on my part, but that is not a burden — I can put as little or as much effort into any given meal as I please, there is no one to hurry me along or dispute my choices.
One day I opened my refrigerator door and was suddenly struck by the number of fruit inside. Kiwis and grapes and fresh strawberries, oranges lemons and limes. Apples. I started a catalogue, opened the freezer and found raspberries, cranberries and blueberries. In cans in the cupboard were peaches, pineapple and mandarin orange sections. Bananas on the counter.
I went back and counted vegetables: potatoes, zucchini, carrots, red and white onions, broccoli, tomatoes (canned tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste in the pantry), salad greens, cucumbers, a rainbow of peppers. There were chicken pieces, turkey sausages in the freezer and a steak in the fridge for supper. Two kinds of frozen fish (salmon and something white, probably basa or tilapia) plus shrimp; tuna and crab in cans.
Eggs, milk, bread; white and brown flour, oatmeal, cornmeal, oat bran and wheat bran, rice flour, cornstarch; white and golden sugar, icing sugar; four types of cheese (cheddar, mozza, herbed chevre and feta) walnuts, pecans, almonds, sesame and sunflower seeds; vanilla, shredded coconut, cocoa, molasses, white chocolate chips; four kinds of vinegar; olive, canola, peanut, sesame and truffle oil, as well as two bottles of flavoured oils for dipping; chickpeas, black beans (the last destined for a food bank bin); tahini; chicken and beef broth; three kinds of crackers; pasta; white, brown and wild rice, quinoa.
It’s an embarrassment of riches, but it’s all good food, most of it will be used and I feel good knowing it’s there.