Eat the pantry, continued

In Food on April 4, 2014 at 7:16 pm


I’ve just eaten a rather eccentric lunch. The last meat off the chicken – the bones and bits now simmering nicely in the stock pot – with warmed-up gravy poured over, with a side of last-possible-day salad leaves and beetroot.

It was absolutely delicious.

When I was assembling this Leftovers Lil repast I wondered whether I would want to admit to it, but with my tummy now full and smiling, I feel no shame. And it’s actually made me realise something.

We’ve all got caught up in a collective delusion that every meal we eat has to be some kind of landmark food event. It doesn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I love beautiful cookery books and great food telly as much as everyone else. I adore fabulous food shops, farmers markets, artisan bakeries, ethnic eating adventures and all the other joys of lifestyle food.


I remember when it all started, in the 1990s with the glory days of Vogue Entertaining – when the peerless Sharyn Storrier-Lyneham was editor.

That was one of the defining experiences of my magazine life. Up there with the first few years of The Face and Wallpaper mag. Game changingly fab.

I still set those pages as my own entertaining benchmark. I want my table to look that generous, the food that tempting (and unfussy), my guests to look that happy.

But a quick lunch on my own at home, grabbed between stints of work and putting a few loads of washing on? Random bits of chicken and microwaved gravy is fine.

I wasn’t about to Instagram my plate (don’t get me started…), but it tasted great and filled the gap. Does it matter that it doesn’t have a name, or cultural reference? No. Sometimes a bit of simple grub is all that we need.

I don’t mean Cup-a-Soup, but as long as the ingredients you cooked with in the first place are good (cf the horrid potatoes in my earlier post), unadorned leftovers are fine.



So that was today’s revelation from Cooking My Pantry, an experience which is turning out to be giving me far more than clear shelves. Now nearing the end of Day 5, with some frozen fish and spinach planned for dinner, I’ve still spent less than £10 on food this week and I’m starting to understand a lot about the way we shop for food – and why.

Really annoyingly, I’m going away tomorrow, for at least a week, so I’ll have to leave the rest of my food mountain where it is for now. But when I’m back, Operation Clearance will continue.

Meanwhile, please tell me your stories and keep sending those links.

  1. I’ve just had a bowl of porridge for breakfast – with nothing else – just oats and water (have to go salt-free/sugar-free for a couple of weeks) served in the big Pyrex jug it was cooked in. That certainly wouldn’t make the pages of a magazine – or even Instagram – but it will fill me up for about four hours and, somehow, it feels really good. And would have cost a couple of cents/pence.
    PS It’s amazing how good any food can look for lunch when presented on a wooden board!

  2. Maggie I’m a bit worried about the gravy/chicken/ wilting salad leaves thing ( gravy ???) … Clearly you were NOT channelling your inner Australian foodie when writing this ( or eating THAT) … I would have made Avgolemono with the chicken and bones ( and a left over bit of rice, the last sad lemon and the one egg remaining) and followed it with the salad … With an olive oil and lemon zest dressing from those things certain to be hanging around ( total production time – 20 minutes …. Tops). However given I’m currently in Spain ( yes I know I’m bragging ) I would probably have had left over fish and bones in the fridge rather than chicken and bones … The recipe could just be adapted accordingly. Good luck with the remainder of your mother Hubbard/ stone soup fest !

    Australian woman

  3. hmm, it’s always interesting to get a fresh perspective on something which has become taken-for-granted in your life 🙂

  4. Really enjoying this series of posts. So refreshing that some one in blog land does not create cheap, fabulous meals for every meal, every day! And whose home is less than ‘optimally organised’ just like most of the silent majority.
    Good luck with the book deadline. Like you, now off to do the washing. xx

    • Thank you so much for that. I find the ‘my perfect life’ aspect of Instagram and blogs vomit making. It gives us all a little twitch of anxiety ‘I’m not good enough, I’m not trying hard enough’ which we really don’t need… It’s lovely to have Vogue Entertaining ideals to aspire to, but we shouldn’t feel shame for being normal people leading normal busy lives. xxx

      • Thank goodness for ‘real’ people. At this present moment I am slowly, labouriously, methodically trying to get my house into order – doing a cull, declutter, clean and organise – one room at a time – while trying to organise my ‘diet’, my wardrobe, my exercise routine, my work, blah, blah, blah. It’s a struggle and I falter, fall over, surge ahead, change my mind, forget what I’m doing, lose my motivation, get it back, start again; and I take two steps forward and one step back. It’s really important to focus on what’s real and achievable and what’s important. The way I do that is to think about the people I really like and really admire and feel I have an affinity with – and they are all falling over and getting back up again, and agonising over stuff, and trying things, and changing their mind, and living in a mess, and forgetting to cook ahead, and running late, and generally being less-than-perfect. Phew!

      • You are my soul sister… I’ve been doing this for two years now. Trying to de-clutter every aspect of my life. It’s hard, but every time you surge forward a bit, so so worth it x

  5. I have some boxes filled with old Vogue Entertaining and House & Garden Successful Entertaining (dated as early as 1983!). I think there are some Belle magazines somewhere too. I can’t bear to part with them. I rarely used a recipe but the pictures filled my need for fairy stories about the possibilities of a more glamourous life. I was young and naive. I still gaze bemusedly at one feature showing photos of a picnic table placed with insouciance in the middle of a stream! Yeah right! One’s guests would catch their death with their feet stuck in a cool stream over a long lunch. At the very least they’d have puckered toes.
    Vogue, H&G and Belle aside, a sandwich with left over chicken spread with avocado and sweet chilli relish on some high fibre white bread cut into triangles, served on a nice plate and eaten on the deck in the sun is pretty darned good.

    • oh YUM I want that sanger… I’m afraid I ate my lunch standing up in the kitchen, but with a book deadline, it was something that I didn’t eat it while typing. Aussies know how to live properly.

  6. You really hit the nail on the head with your comment that not every meal has to be a landmark event! I’ve been very guilty of thinking that, and feeling let down if even my spag bol isn’t gourmet. I’m sure that’s one reason why the weight has been steadily creeping on too. Time for a change, thanks for the inspiration!

    • Sometimes Instagram makes me want to burn down a building… I love it when people put funny things on it, or something beautiful they’ve come across, but the Me and My Fabulous Life posts are just repulsive. I’m strangely addicted to them though!

  7. I frequently do dinner for the kids by plating up some leftovers- I think of it as a fridge forage but call it a mezze plate and they love it. It usually includes some crackers, hummus, carrot sticks, cheese, cherry tomatoes, a boiled egg and some cucumber, maybe some ham or leftover chicken meat. If the veggies look suspect then I’ve usually got an apple I can cut up or even some dried fruit or frozen berries. I usually have most of the above kicking around in the fridge by the end of the week. Spaghetti Puttanesca is something I can usually make from my pantry as well. And I have 2 chicken carcasses in my freezer: I am going to make some stock RIGHT NOW, thanks for reminding me!

    • Wow, I had never thought of freezing the carcasses… great idea when you don’t have time to go straight to stock making. We call the meal you describe ‘a put together’ and it’s one of my daughter’s favourites. Hers must feature at least one ham/salami component.

  8. Magpie ( I am leaving this iPad correction for Maggie as I love it!) I have so enjoyed this topic having stared into my large pantry on countless occasions wondering when I will ever use all thise tins – as I make out my weekly shopping list. You have inspired me to finally look for a recipe to use that tin if chickpeas that has been haunting me. So many ingenious recipes – who knew! Thanks!

    • I like my new name! Let me know what you make with those chickpeas. I’ve been wishing I had a tin because some hummous (spelling?) would have really helped the chicken and pita combo.

  9. Tonight it’s stirfry beef with bottom of the fridge veg, honey, soy, ginger and chilli, all present in the kitchen.

    We’ve just come home from a terrific day at the annual “rural lifestyle expo” – not as wanky as it sounds, but primarily a get together of loads of local/statewide rurally folk and their wares. I was JUST about to buy up big from the organic grocer man when I remembered what was still lurking in my fridge and in the fruit bowl(s). I was similarly tempted by the loads of relishes/honeys/jams/biscuits… But I didn’t buy any food to take home. Yay! The only nutritional beneficiary of this outing was our darling dog, who scored kangaroo treats (free!) from a very nice lady from the local stock and station merchants.

  10. We’ve been doing the same here in Putney, Sydney. Realized it was stupid, crazy and expensive to have a pantry heaving with foods, tins, 6 bottles of tomato purée and pulses and rice, spaghetti, risoni and vermicelli.

    Yes we cook for 40 when we host Christmas or Easter but every other day of the year, we only have 4 people to feed, 2 of whom are kids. Loved the feeling of not spending money. Temporarily fell off the bandwagon but am drawing strength from your 4 posts. Keep it up! I’m going to keep clearing the pantry and also declutter the rest of the house.

    • Yay! I love meeting my soul sisters on here – see Lizzymint’s comment above, we are all on the same road. I’ve been de-cluttering for 2 years and still have a biiiiig way to go. Faltered and bought a little bowl at a junk fair on Saturday, but if I don’t use it soon it will have to GO. Let’s keep encouraging each other x

  11. Hi Maggie, finding you everywhere on the net atm. The whole pantry thing is very cool, you should deffo do a book on it, not exactly a recipe book and not exactly a food diary (Goodness forbid) but something like like “Sensible grub and what to do with chicken bones” or “The down to earth meals of a modern fashion guru’s family” well okay maybe not that title, but you get the idea…. and meanwhile a fabulous post on how to choose the right shade of red lipstick would be amazing. 😉 Jen and family x

    • Hi Jen – thanks for you kind words. I’m still emptying my pantry. Can’t believe how much food I had stockpiled…I love the sound of Sensible Grub. I do think the whole food thing has gone a bit potty. I’m HOPELESS on red lipstick as I can’t wear it, I just don’t have luscious enough lips, but I’ll see what I can come up with xxx

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