I started thinking about this post when I noticed a few truly antique items in my pantry and freezer - packages crusted over with ice; dented boxes of exotic grains; twelve varieties of stale nuts. Too many items to list individually, really, and plus right off the bat, we know they're going to waste.
But I'm going to plow ahead anyway, because the amount of stuff sitting there unused is truly wasteful. I mean, imagine if you added up the stuff everyone had sitting unused in pantries and basement freezers! I bet you could come up with Thanksgiving dinner for every homeless person in New York City.
So, I polled a few friends to find out what they had in their freezer, to compare similarities with my own excesses, and here is the resulting list of items that linger, in order of popularity (or non-popularity, however you choose to think about it):
- Quinoa. A grain-like crop that originated in South America, cheap and very high-protein, most of those polled mentioned quinoa (KEEN-wa). Fabulous, but I've yet to find a person who can cook it so that it is edible, or even knows how to cook it. Boxes of these pebbly bastards grace a lot of shelves, including mine, if they haven't been trashed already. I vaguely remember using it with cauliflower and cheese to make a casserole a decade ago.
- Coconut milk. Why, why, why? Because the name sounds good. Meryl Streep once said on The Actor's Studio, when asked her favorite word, that she had posed the question to her young daughter, who immediately mentioned the infamous unused ingredient. Yep, sounds pretty. But unless you've got the curry and lemongrass and rice noodles and what-all that usually go with this to make a dish, you're screwed.
- Bulghur wheat. Same story as quinoa.
- Panko bread crumbs. Because you never know when you're going to fry up a batch of tempura shrimp!
- Matzoh meal. Making matzoh ball soup must be complicated.
- Tomato paste. Classic thing that you pick up, thinking, "Oh, think I'm out of that!" and you never are.
- Turkey chili and beef jerky for a planned camping trip that evidently never occurred. Or if it did, they ate wild greens.
- Soba noodles. They're great. I just never got around to cooking them.
- Confectioner's sugar. Quite a few bags and half-bags out there.
- Lotus nuts in syrup. (That was my husband's inexplicable contribution.)
- Half-box of frozen ice pops. Weather changes, who wants 'em. The other half of the box, still in liquid state, sits on the pantry floor. When I bought these, the cashier cheerily said, "Hey, I've had a box of those in my room for about five years!"
The moral here: Beware of buying ethnic food ingredients if you aren't making the entire meal tonight, and already have everything you need. Clean the pantry every year or so so you don't keep buying the same staple items over and over. Go easy on seasonal items. Oh, and stick to a list when you shop.
Now, would they like Panko crumbs for the school Thanksgiving food drive...