THE PANTRY

Mankind’s fervent desire for new and interesting experiences is reflected in the contents of the pantry. Alas, that is also where that desire crashes on the shoals of reality. For the pantry is where forgotten packages of couscous, cellophane noodles and pearled barley await their expiration dates. Oh, did I forget to mention the grits, lentils and ultra-grain quinoa penne?

The main course for dinner in our household is often chicken or fish. The accompanying dish is usually from the worlds of pasta, potatoes or rice. When we dine out, however, especially if it’s at an ethnic restaurant, we see greater variety. Our enjoyment of exotica invariably leads us to purchase “something different” for use at home. Yet, when “push comes to shove,” due to the familiarity of taste and preparation, we almost always opt for one of our basics. After several rejections, the “different” recedes into the dark corners of the closet where it is forgotten, out of sight and out of mind.

*****

I am responsible for several household tasks including, but not limited to, the following: unloading the dishwasher, taking out the trash, and mowing the lawn. Every few months, I voluntarily venture into the food pantry.

Sometimes, my goal is to organize and sometimes to alphabetize. And sometimes, like a lemming jumping off a cliff, my goal is to find packages that have fallen behind others into obscurity. When I locate one, I tend to announce to my wife, Katie: “We’d better eat some spinach channa tonight, whatever that is. The box says it’s about to expire.”

Sometimes, the discovery is within the tastes and preparation parameters of the planned meal. More often, unfortunately, there is a reason the product hasn’t seen the light of day. “Long grain, slow-cooking brown rice” is, as the label notes, slowly cooked. Forty-five minutes for a side dish is rarely acceptable. And “rice fettuccine noodles without gluten?” Does that sound appealing to a person who isn’t on a gluten-free diet?

*****

The other evening, in a fit of masochistic efficiency, I took out everything in our pantry that didn’t fall into the category of “normal.” I determined to make a meal of several of the products. “Kasha,” I announced, “is something my mother used to make. I haven’t had it in forty years, but tonight’s the night.”

“I don’t like kasha,” said Katie.

“Then why did we get this?” I asked, brandishing a small, plastic package.

“I think it came in a gift box,” said Katie.

“Someone gifted us kasha?” I asked, incredulous. “They must not like us very much.”

“Well, it’s supposed to be healthy. You know, it’s buckwheat,” Katie said.

“I didn’t know. I’m impressed. How does that differ from plain wheat?” I asked.

“Now you’re pushing it,” said Katie. “Maybe the groats are shaped differently.”

“Groats?” I said.

*****

Anyway, I recalled from childhood that kasha often surrounded bow-tie pasta. We didn’t have any bowties but I found a package of green and red Christmas tree shaped pasta purchased in a fit of holiday enthusiasm. Suspecting kasha might benefit from some flavor other than buckwheat, I also grabbed a small bag of dried currants that was surely destined for disposal. In my view, currants are to raisins what harpsichords are to pianos or typewriters are to computers –- obsolete. Still, they could play a role in my meal of obscurity.

The directions on the package of kasha were basic. Add a cup of water to a cup of groats, boil them for fifteen minutes, let them sit for ten minutes, then, eat. When the kasha began to thicken, I added the currants and threw in some almond slices, for texture. I also had the idea that a can of cannellini beans that had held down a corner of the pantry for nearly three years might be helpful. I threw them in, too.

Within half an hour, I had a massive pot of dark brown paste along with a second pot of colorful trees. The kasha gave off a fairly unpleasant fragrance.

“I feel like we’re in a gulag,” I said.

“This was your idea,” said Katie.

“Well, how bad can it be?” I asked.

No response.

*****

After only two or three bites, Katie went to the refrigerator and found herself some leftovers from the previous night’s restaurant meal. Left to consume my medley on my own I determined to finish. I added salt, then pepper, then more salt. I drowned a portion of my kasha in blue cheese dressing. There was no way I would admit it was inedible.

After the meal, Katie turned to me and asked if I’d like to go out for dessert. Like a person throwing a life preserver to someone who’s drowning, she added: “Let’s go to the place next door to the pizza shop.”

*****

Later that evening, on the phone, I told my mother what I’d made for dinner.

“Oh, I love kasha,” she said.

“You do?” I asked, incredulous. “It hardly had any taste. And the smell…”

“How did you prepare it?” asked my mother.

I told her the details and she laughed.

“There are different kinds of kasha,” she said. “Yours sounds like the type you just add for texture, like bread crumbs, not to eat as a meal.”

“Yes,” I said. “It was like eating little pieces of buck-shot, not buckwheat.”

“You made the wrong kind. There’s a type of kasha that’s fluffy and delicious.”

“Hard to imagine,” I said.

After this experience, I’ll avoid the pantry for at least a month. Then again, there’s a jar of peach-mango chutney that might be just perfect with Fat-free Organic Thai Rice Noodles.

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