Jean Croker Petke

Stocking Up

Planning is a good thing — especially during the holidays. Our normally busy lives get crammed with even more activities, leaving us less time to shop, less time to think ahead, less time to be at our best.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m an inveterate list-maker, planner, and ponderer — often bordering on obsessive and incurable.

Perhaps you can imagine my dismay at the state of my pantry as I began my holiday baking. I always have at least ten pounds of all-purpose flour on hand — always. On baking day, I discovered a mere two cups of flour in the canister. The flour shelf was full — 2 bags of rye flour, 2 bags of bread flour, 1/2 box of cake flour, nearly a bag of whole wheat flour — but my usual stash of all-purpose flour had been used and not replaced. Granulated sugar was in a similar state: 4 cups in the canister, but no extra bags on the shelf, though both powdered and brown sugar were in abundance.

In other corners of the kitchen, the ground ginger was nearly empty, as was the onion powder, and the coarse ground black pepper. Only one stick of margarine remained from the usual two pounds I always keep on hand.

In the freezer, I still had three bags of frozen cranberries from last year’s holidays. I always buy ahead lest I run out during the year. I hadn’t used a single bag since last Christmas.

Something is alarmingly amiss with my planning: the pantry is bare in places, yet freezer treasures haven’t been touched.

I’ve been pondering the situation, beyond the mere inconvenience of not having what I need on hand. Two principles are at work here:

  1. Expectations: because pantry staples abound, I expect them to always be there — even without my periodic checking. I kept using the supplies without noticing their depletion, didn’t replace them, which required an unnecessary grocery trip in the midst of cooking.
  2. Fears: last year’s cranberries are still in the freezer because I was afraid of running out before cranberries returned to the supermarket this November. I was saving them for a special occasion — which apparently never arrived. I missed fresh baked cranberry orange muffins in June because I was afraid I wouldn’t have enough for later. And this November I bought more cranberries to last through 2017 — now there are seven bags to get me through next year.

This post is really about being attentive to “what we do” and “why we do.”

  • When I operate on auto-pilot, oblivious to the present moment, I assume my planning and organizational habits also continue on auto-pilot. Well, they don’t. Maintaining the supply cannot happen without my attention to such details.
  • When I save things only for special occasions, sometimes the food item goes bad before I ever use it. So why have it in the first place? And I, and my friends and family, have missed the specialness altogether, because of my fear of running out. When I see cranberries in my freezer I should think, “What can I make that will make this week, or this day, special because I have cranberries in the off-season?” I could create an occasion to share coffee and a fresh baked muffin with my neighbor.

Beware of complacency with the usual and fear of the special.

Until next Tuesday . . .