A few days ago, via blog-comment, my good friend Kira made it clear that inquiring minds have serious questions for the Fat Girl regarding food storage. They all deserve well-thought-out, honest, funny Fat Girl answers, and that will take time. So, I’ve created a new category, Pantry Principles, to encompass these posts, and I’m making Wednesdays Pantry Principle days (unless/until I forget, at which point it’s on you guys to remind me). I know it’s Thursday, smart-alec! I did that on purpose, because the habit hasn’t been established yet. It starts next Wednesday. This Wednesday? Whatever >.< the next time we have a Wednesday.
Today, I’d like to talk about some basics of pantry basics (yes, that far back) – the non-edible equipment you use in your pantry to keep stuff fresh/organized/easily accessible. First off, let’s get everybody on the same page with some vocabulary, so that when I mention my Pantrinet, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Little Pantry – This is the little closet in my kitchen, near my fridge, full of shelves, and holds most of our day-to-day pantry stuff. Since I don’t live alone, I've printed out a guide to this pantry and taped it on the inside of the door. This has really cut back on the, “Fat Girl, where’s the [random item I’d like to be snacking on right now]?” type questions, makes it easier on everyone when Fat Husband/Fat Friends help unload groceries, and makes it much easier to see inventory status at a glance (well, I guess technically at an open-the-door-and-glance. Either way, quickly.) From top to bottom, Little Pantry wrangles:
- Cereals/Crackers – (shelf height: overhead, in arm’s reach) We don’t often eat cereal out of a bowl with milk, but we use it in stuff occasionally, hence the out-of-the-way-but-handy placement. Fat Husband is 6’4” and loves to munch on cheese and crackers while I’m making dinner, so his crackers go up there too.
- Snacky Smores – (shelf height: Fat Husband eye level) Chips/Cookies/Snack Cakes/Candy (filling this shelf triggers an automatic purge) – yes, that parenthetical note is typed on the sign. It was put there because ‘we never had any snacks’ even though the shelf was full. We had snacks, just not ones any of us wanted to eat. So we handed them out at Halloween and stocked up on the good stuff.
- This Week’s Selections Pantry – (shelf height: Fat Girl eye level) Each week I plan out our dinners (not breakfasts or lunches; those are all done on the fly). I type out a fancy ‘menu’ for the week and tape it on the fridge, then use it as a guide to pull stuff out of Deep Freeze/Big Pantry. Frozen stuff goes into the fridge to thaw, and pantry stuff gets corralled here for easy prep.
- Floating Storage – (shelf height: Fat Girl waist-if-I-had-one level) This is a concession to reality; sometimes you’re exhausted and just don’t feel like putting stuff where it belongs right now, but you don’t want it on your counters either (which are at Great Dane eye level). Sometimes company shows up unexpectedly and stuff just has to go somewhere behind a door right now. Sometimes expected company is staying with you and results in This Week’s Selections not fitting on one shelf. Sometimes you have a something that just doesn’t belong anywhere, and so it needs a home until you eat it. Voila, a shelf for all those homeless food staples.
- Temperature Sensitive Bulk Items – (shelf height: Fat Girl knee level, behind the trashcan and the dog food bins) I live in Vegas. It doesn’t matter how well insulated my garage is, with no ventilation my Big Pantry gets exposed to unpleasantly-high heat. Most stuff can take it and be just fine; heat does affect the shelf life of items, but you should store stuff you actually like to eat, you should rotate, and very very very few items should be in your pantry for more than a year, so you’re fine. But some things, most notably mayonnaise, creamy salad dressings, and other emulsions can break* when they get too hot, which is gross. So they get to stay in the climate-controlled pantry, but they get stuck in an awkward-but-reachable spot.
- Seldom Used but Occasionally Very Necessary Cookware/Bakeware – (shelf height: on the floor, behind the trashcan/dog food bins) I host enough large dinner parties that I find humongous mixing bowls, surplus casseroles, tortilla warmers, chaffing fuel, and other things helpful. Unfortunately, 98% of the time these items are a giant, space-wasting pain in the keister. So I put them in the closest, otherwise-practically-unusable space in my kitchen.
*Break here doesn’t mean the bottle cracks or anything, it means the emulsion breaks. Emulsions are basically a very weird food state where tiny bits of oils are suspended in between tiny bits of water-type liquids. Instead of separating normally (like Italian dressing), emulsions remain integrated (like Ranch dressing) unless the emulsion breaks. ::squints as lightbulb appears:: Yeah, so now you know.
Pantrinet – A portmanteau of ‘pantry cabinet’ (since the mishmash of ‘cabinet pantry’ [cabinetry] is already a real word with not-my-intended meaning), this is the overhead cabinet just to the left of my stove. Since I don’t live alone, I’ve used a label maker to assign each shelf a certain family of items. From top to bottom, they are as follows:
- Entertainment – To make refreshing my guests easier on me, this is where I stage all my coffees, fancy tea bags, hot cocoa packets, and Crystal Lite To Go®-type packets. I have them arranged in little tins so I can just pull one/some/all, depending on the weather, the company, and my mood.
- Baking Goods & Ryan’s Tea – When grouped together in one central place, specialty baking items like shortening, baking soda/powder, cooking extracts, yeast, etc, become exponentially more user-friendly. You’re more likely to bake bread, for instance, if doing so means open this one cabinet door, not spend an hour hunting around in 43 obscure storage locations only to find out you don’t have half of what you need. Also, Fat Husband drinks a lot of iced tea; since I make tea in 7 gallon batches, I store his tea leaves directly above the tea-brewing gizmo on my countertop.
- Marinades & Dressings/Spice Stack® – Taller than spices and used only slightly less frequently, I keep bottled food-enhancers close at hand for impromptu flavor. My Spice Stack® is definitely one of my Favorite Things. If you have ever found yourself with 8 bottles of ground nutmeg and no cinnamon, or ever knocked over 71 bottles of random spices just trying to pull out one from the back, gaze upon your salvation:
I could gush for hours about all the storage space, how user-friendly it is, how sturdy it is, how the size is perfect because even if you open multiple shelf-rack-tilty thingies at once and cause the thing to tip out a little the cabinet shelf above secures it, about the included pre-printed shelf labels and the blank ones for your own random spice preferences, how it pays for itself by the third time it saves you from buying more nutmeg, but let’s be honest here: you either took one look and were dumbfounded that it took this long to invent the single most awesomely useful culinary thing since the stove, or you didn’t get why a Fat Girl would be so excited about a stupid spice rack – spices don’t even have calories, for fatness’ sake.
As you walk out into my garage, you will see an over-the-door canvas shoe organizer nailed to the wall near the water heater, and 3 industrial-grade plastic storage 5-shelf units.
Pocketry – A portmanteau of ‘pocket pantry’, I use this bad boy to sort/organize/file/keep at my fingertips all those random bits and pieces that every pantry has and no one knows what to do with. Sometimes this stuff ends up in the junk drawer, stuck between cans of green beans, or other horrors. From top to bottom, my Pocketry holds:
- Bags of Dried Beans/Lentils/Peas/Barley – While the thin plastic bags these guys are sold in are really cost effective, they lend zero support to the contents, which makes these little buggers absolute nightmares in a pantry. You can stack maybe one on top of another, but even then they’re more likely to slide/ooze/flop over than actually stack. But the canvas pockets are the perfect size and strength to hold a couple of 1-pound bags of legumes.
- Hidden Valley Ranch® Seasoning Packets/Puddings/Instant Grits/Instant Oatmeal – We go through a lot of Ranch here at Fat House, so I store the packets at eye level and closest to the door. Instant breakfast stuff needs to be get-at-able when I’m hungry and bleary-eyed, and pudding gets used rarely enough that if I don’t keep it at eye-level I’ll never remember to use it at all.
- Mild Taco Seasoning Packets/Miscellaneous Seasoning Packets – Yes, I keep taco seasoning one pocket down from HVR seasoning, and for the same reasons. The rest of this row is for those cheesy-steamer thingies and other random insta-sauce packets. Because sometimes you just don’t feel like fighting with a roux.
- Floating Storage – This is actually my bottom 2 rows, for the same reasons I have Floating Storage in the Little Pantry.
Big Pantry – These units start just on the other side of my Pocketry, and are arranged perpendicular to the wall. I did this because they are 18” deep, which doesn’t sound like much, but is in actuality a lot of space. Having them jut out from the wall and a couple of feet apart from one another means that I have easy access to 3 out of 4 sides instead of just one. Plus, it gives the whole shebang a grocery-store-aisle ambience I really enjoy. Since they’re in a row, I have super-easy access to side A of the first unit, but slightly less fantastic access to the rest of the units. It’s not difficult, I just have to open the garage door and walk around Fat Husband’s car to get to them. Big Pantry contains (top to bottom):
Unit 1A - this side focuses on major staples and quick 'meal-in-a-box's
- Canned Beans/Canned Veggies
- Hamburger Helper®/Scalloped Potatoes/Cornbread Mix/Canned Veggies/Olives
- #10 cans of Dehydrated/Freeze Dried Veggies and Fruit/Bottled Fruit Juice
Unit 1B - this side focuses on quickie side dishes
- Canned Chili/Dry Soup Mix/Brownie Mix
- Dry Pasta/Pasta Sauce/Cake Mix
- Salts/Snacks/Fried Onions
- #10 cans of Freeze Dried Meat, Eggs, Cheese/Potato Pearls
Unit 2 - this unit focuses on bigger bulk items and entertaining
- Sweetener Packets/Creamers/Cup-o-Noodles®
- Zip Top Bags/Canned Fruit/Sugars/Cases of Canned Veggies
- Cookies (Graham Crackers, Oreos®)/Quick and Old Fashioned Rolled Oats
- Party Mixers/Sauces/Beverages
- Party Supplies (cups/plates/napkins)
Unit 3 - this unit focuses really giant bulk items and zombie-preparedness stuff
- Hand-Crank Grain Mill/72-hour Emergency Kits
- #10 cans of Garden Seeds, Pasta, Baking Stuff
- Fat Pails** of Jasmine Rice
- Fat Pails** of Whole Wheat Berries
And that’s the nickel tour of my pantry obsession. Check back Wednesday for our next installment!
** Emergency Essentials sells Superpails®, which are food staples vacuum-sealed in huge mylar bags, which are then sealed inside 6-gallon buckets. I guess, technically, mine are less-than-super pails, because I bought the BIG 25-50lb bags of stuff at Costco® and then put them in my own pails from Home Depot®. Superpails have guaranteed shelf lives of 10-25+ years. I go through mine about every 9 months, so I’m not worried.