The quantum effects of pantry organization on marriage, and vice versa

Himself is spending a week in Sacramento with his family, so naturally I have been spring-cleaning. (It’s spring in South Africa. That’s good enough for me.)

So this evening, after a leisurely day of procrastination, snoozing and reading a most excellent book (which I will tell you about in more detail just as soon as I finish reading it so watch this space), I am now tackling the most dreaded task of all: The Pantry.

To get this into context, when Himself and I launched our cozy barque upon the halcyon seas of matrimony, I simultaneously embarked on the great adventure of Keeping House. I mean, all by myself. No domestic assistance. Yeah, I know, but I grew up on the privileged side of life in South Africa, so I was pretty clueless.

Anyway, one of my first projects was to acquaint myself with the contents of my Beloved’s pantry, because this seemed a sensible way to learn what the man liked to eat. The kitchen was quite small, so the pantry cupboard was maybe 18 inches wide and six feet tall, and just a little deeper than the length of my arm … or maybe it connected with some kind of alternate universe, because you would not believe how much strange and terrifying stuff came out of there! I don’t actually remember all of it myself – this happened 16 years and many cupboard reorganizations ago – but I do remember finding an enormous quantity of Top Ramen, and four open but apparently full containers of oatmeal.

I tossed the Top Ramen, of course, and I lined the three older containers of oatmeal up on the kitchen counter, and I packed everything else away in an orderly, logical sort of way – you know, jam and peanut butter together; canned beans, tomatoes, soup and tuna all in their individual stacks; rice and pasta on the same shelf; and so on.

And when he came home from work I said, in tones of wifely inquiry, “So … do you like oatmeal, or don’t you? Because you buy it a lot, but you don’t seem to eat it.” And he explained that he usually disliked oatmeal but that every now and then he felt the urge to eat a bowlful, and he could never find it when he wanted it, so he would go out and buy some and have it the next morning for breakfast and that would be his oatmeal urge satisfied for the next few months.

I believe (although it was a long time ago) that I trilled a wifely sort of adoring giggle at his manly helplessness (yeah, that’s how long ago it was) and tossed out the old oatmeal. Because, you see, I just knew that from that day forward our pantry cupboard would be a model of orderly perfection, containing everything needed for delicious and healthful meal preparation by my sweet wifely hands. (Look, I was a late developer, okay? It just hadn’t occurred to me that acquiring wife status wouldn’t instantly transform me into Polly Homemaker, aka She Who Loves To Cook.)

What I did not know, but have since learned, is that Himself absolutely insists on Putting Things Away. Which, in husband-language around these parts, means opening the nearest cupboard door and shoving, with complete disregard for the Pauli Exclusion Principle, which clearly states that two things can’t occupy the same place at the same time. (I got a bit sidetracked looking this up and learned that this principle doesn’t apply to bosuns – a bosun apparently being something Schrodinger’s cat dragged in. So, granting Himself the benefit of the doubt, and also remembering that he spent many years aboard various ships and may in fact have known a few bosuns in his time, he may be onto something after all – except that I have now cleaned those pantry shelves most thoroughly, and I am very damn sure there are no bosuns in there.) Getting back to my original point, my far more logical and energy-efficient approach to keeping things where they should be is to put them down in a convenient, visible, horizontal location, and then pick them up and take them with me the next time I happen to pass by in the direction of wherever they actually belong.

Anyway, 16 blissful years of joyously learning about each other’s little quirks, and here we are. Darn, I wish it had occurred to me that I would absolutely have to blog about this, because I would have photographed the pantry before I unpacked it. Instead, here are some pictures of the work in progress.

This is what the mudroom looks like, after the pantry cupboard vomited all over it
This is what the mudroom looked like after the pantry cupboard vomited all over it
Pristine pantry shelves awaiting ... No bosuns or mouse shit here!
Pristine pantry shelves await. No bosuns here!

I would have sorted everything as I removed it, but honestly it was a lost cause. Empty storage containers, mouse traps (also blessedly empty), a diverse range of comestibles (including dog food), cleaning products and household hardware were all scrambled together, interspersed with a liberal scattering of mouse poop. Gah! This project is way overdue!

One hour later …

Aahhh! That feels better!
Aahhh! That feels better!

Okay … I’m not quite ready to share another picture of the whole mudroom, but this was a good evening’s work. I can sleep easy now!

So what mysteries and horrors have you uncovered in your pantry cupboard lately? Do you think your stuff behaves differently when you observe it? Talk to me!

Tipsy tart on turkey day

I think you have to have been born American to get pumpkin pie. I mean, seriously, guys, eeuw! That stuff is the exact color and consistency of baby poop, and pumpkin is a vegetable, for crying out loud! Strange enough that you put together jello and marshmallows and call it a salad – I mean, I’m completely down with starting any meal with dessert, so I think jello salad is a great idea. But pumpkin as dessert? Oh hell no! That stuff needs to be baked or boiled and served hot, with a dash of salt and a dollop of butter and maybe just the lightest sprinkle of cinnamon, and piled alongside a generous serving of bredie or oxtail. Yum!

So anyway, today, having volunteered to contribute dessert to a friend’s Thanksgiving dinner, I went back to my Soustannie roots to find something easy enough that even I can’t screw it up, and delicious regardless of which side of the Atlantic your palate got educated. What could be better for a cold-weather holiday feast than that traditional South African favorite, Cape brandy pudding, aka tipsy tart? And since my housewifely moments are rare, and therefore deserving of their own celebration, I am sharing the recipe here.

Tipsy tart
Tipsy tart. No vegetables were harmed in the taking of this picture.

Tart

2 cups raisins and chopped dates, mixed and halved
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans for preference)

Add boiling water and bicarb to half the dates and raisins, stir, and set aside to cool.
Cream butter and sugar, add beaten eggs, and mix well.
Sift dry ingredients and fold into the egg mixture.
Stir in dry fruit and nuts, then add soaked fruit mixture. Mix well.
Pour into large dish or two tart plates. (I use a pyrex dish, 8x8x2 inches. A deeper corningware dish would also work well.)
Bake 30 – 40 mins at 350F, 180C, until you can insert a sharp knife and it comes out clean.

Syrup

Start this about 10 minutes before you take the tart out of the oven.

3 T butter
2.5 cups sugar
1.5 cups water
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
Pinch salt
1 cup brandy

In a saucepan, bring the butter, sugar and water to the boil. Boil fast, stirring to prevent it from boiling over, 3-5 mins.
Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients.
Pour over tart as soon as you take it out of the oven. You will need to pour slowly, giving it time to soak in. Use a knife to push the tart away from the sides of the container so that sauce can run down and soak in from the sides. Stick a knife in the top of the tart at intervals to encourage it to soak in. The deeper the dish, the easier it will be to use all the sauce.

Serve hot with ice cream or cream, or cold with whipped cream.

So now you know how it’s done, folks, and you don’t have to torture any more poor unassuming pumpkins. Let them celebrate their vegetable nature, and allow your mouth to savor the best of boerekos (aka soul food the way we do it at the south end of Africa).

Day 2, with apricots

Update on the diet: so far so good. Yesterday was fairly rough, with little energy and much sleepiness, aches and pains – likely caused more by an excess of rich food and drink the night before, than by the radical simplicity of Going Daniel. Last night brought another valuable reminder of Why Fatness Is Bad For You: I snored so loudly at one point that I woke myself up. Ugh! I’d feel sorry for Himself, if he weren’t as bad! However, snoring like a truck indicates a shortage of that essential princessness that lies at the heart of every woman. Well, maybe not every woman – but certainly at my heart, which is the one I’m concerned about here!

Today it was hard to wake up, but once I did I found I had noticeably more mental and physical energy than in the past few days. I’m also feeling nice and empty … Not to get too graphic, but all that roughage in yesterday’s fruit, nuts and veggies, flushed along with lots of our sweet, home-grown well water, is working its magic.

For breakfast this morning, I visited the apricot tree.

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This has been a great season for apricots! Over the past few weeks, Himself and I have been engaged in delicious experimentation in the kitchen (no, don’t you be getting all kinky, now! I’m fat and he’s old – these experiments were strictly culinary!) And I have been taking pictures and keeping track, specifically in order to share the bounty. Or at least to tantalize you with it.

This is where we started, before picking. The apricot tree, a pear and a nectarine all grow in a fenced area that is also home to our chickens. They have been STUFFING themselves on windfalls! Apricot chicken, anyone?

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So … first, Himself made a large batch of apricot jam. It didn’t set quite as it should have so is a bit runny, but the flavor is excellent – perfect for french toast or pancakes.

I then made apricot preserves. I started with this recipe, trebled for 6 lb apricots. but they cooked down so much I went ahead and added another 5-6 lb apricots (but without increasing the sugar). The result is just out of this world!

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Himself made apricot puree and apricot leather, and I filled the crockpot with apricots and stewed them down, with just a little stevia for sweetening. They are delicious and sugar-free, so I can enjoy them a la Daniel…:) (Stevia’s a natural substance, not an artificial chemical sweetener, so I feel okay using it.)

Finally on Sunday, I baked up loaves of vanilla cake for the freezer, only I replaced some of the milk with apricot juice, and then I dumped in a whole lot of fresh blueberries (a gift from a neighbor). I’ve been using this recipe since I was about 12; it was originally handed out with Stork margarine, which I don’t think even exists any more (plus margarine, you know, ick). It’s a fairly solid cake, which I like, and the recipe is pretty much fool proof. (For instance, I meant to double the quantities for this recipe and accidentally tripled them, and it STILL worked!) Fool-proof recipes are necessary for me. I’ve had a good run with these apricots but don’t be fooled; I am usually completely inept in the kitchen! Anyway, here’s the recipe – enjoy.

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Beat and Bake Cake

9 oz (250 g) sugar
6 oz (180 g) butter
10 oz (280 g) flour
2 oz (60 g) corn flour (aka corn starch, aka Maizena)
1 T (15 ml) baking powder
Pinch salt
4 eggs + milk to make 2 Cups
1 t vanilla

All ingredients should be at room temperature.  Set oven at 350 F (180 C).
Cream sugar with slightly softened butter.
Sieve together flour, corn flour, baking powder and salt.
Break eggs into measuring jug, add milk to make up to 2 C, and add vanilla essence.
Mix well at low speed, pausing regularly to scrape ingredients together.  Try not to mix for longer than about 1 ½ minutes total.
Pour into greased cake pans. Put onto oven rack slightly below middle.
Bake for about 30 min. Turn out onto cooling racks.

Variations:

Cocoa in place of corn flour.
Lemon or orange rind added to liquid, replace milk with water and lemon or orange juice, no vanilla.
25 ml coffee powder diluted in hot water and mixed with cold milk, then added to eggs.