In my new living situation, I happen to be residing in a house with two males, but don’t be fooled by gender stereotypes. When it comes to domestic standards, we can show women a thing or two. Dishes get washed and dried and put away promptly, within three days of eating off of them, and the carpet in the living room gets vacuumed once a month like clockwork, whether it needs it or not.
But it is very difficult to maintain this high standard in all aspects of living at home, and accordingly I was in for a major shock when I first moved in and inspected the pantry.
Hmm. Cans of refried beans. What are they expecting, Armageddon? Is there an air raid shelter out back? Things went from bad to worse when I spotted soup in packets. Desiccated chemical modules that no amount of super-heated water could ever satisfactorily dissolve. This was far more serious than I had imagined.
I mopped some beaded sweat from my brow. Rice-a-Roni, I read on one box. Something salty that claimed to be something Cajun on another. The type of cans you only see in food drives. That ominous rumbling in my gut was the sound of my last meal looking for a quick escape route.
I already knew what was coming next, as I moved aside the iodized salt and a box of raisins left over from the Reagan administration. I’ve seen grown men cry over the sight, but my reaction is always one of anger and disbelief. How is such a thing possible in a world that gave us Shakespeare and Sophia Loren? I could only think, as tears of rage welled up in me. Why? But there is no logical answer to explain man’s inhumanity to man. Just the inscrutable wording on the box: Ramen noodles!
“What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”
But I’m a highly-trained professional and it was time to take charge. I willed my heart rate down to that of a rabbit on speed, and in a calm and authoritative voice told my housemates: “Put your hands to your sides and slowly step back from the pantry.”
Don’t worry, I assured them. No one will get hurt. I am here to take care of you. The trick was not to reveal how scared I was, to act as if I had the situation under control. This was a true food emergency, and fortunately I knew the drill.
Sooner or later, even the best of us find ourselves in a food emergency, with a bare cupboard and an empty stomach, but if you carefully plan for the contingency and have the right ingredients on hand, you can prevent a total disaster. True, your preparation may be fattier or slightly more toxic than what’s good for you, but you’ll be far better off than making a mercy dash to your local fast food joint, or – heaven forbid – having to heat up something out of a horrid packet.
Food emergency option number one: Omelets. The beauty of an omelet is this is the one dish that works well any time of the day. Brunch, dinner, late night treat – this is your go-to meal. Moreover, since the name sounds French, you score very high in style points with little effort. As a bonus, almost any ingredient works in an omelet – cardboard cheese slices, frozen mixed vegetables, even a can of refried beans looks like it came out of Julia Child in an omelet. If you have a bit of red or green pepper or some mushrooms then you can really pass yourself off as a chef. Eggbeaters tend to produce rubbery omelets, but you can achieve a satisfying compromise with a half and half mixture.
Food emergency option number two: Quick Pasta. Literally, heat up a can of crushed tomatoes and pour it into a pot of cooked and drained pasta. That’s it. Tomato paste and water also works. If you have a bit of Italian sausage and a splash of wine, so much the better. Be sure to have emergency Parm (from an – ugh – shaker) on hand.
Food emergency option number three: Frozen Shrimp. Always have a large bag of these in your freezer. With but one or two supporting ingredients there are so many ways you can go – scampi, sate, pad Thai, paella, Creole .. the list is endless so long as you have rice or pasta on hand. Use them for that emergency omelet or in that can of cream of mushroom soup you bought back when you were in college. In fact just pour the soup-shrimp slop over some rice. In a pinch, shrimp works with Rice-a-Roni and other abominations in a box.
Food emergency option number four: Sausage: Italian, chorizo, kielbasa, whatever – these babies are as versatile as shrimp. Mix a bit with emergency shrimp, in fact, and it looks like you actually planned your meal in advance.
Back to my emergency situation:
Out of nowhere, I managed to produce a stainless steel frying pan. Making sure my housemates could see what was going on, I made hypnotic circular motions in the air with the implement. The demonstration had a calming effect on them, while showing that I was in charge. It’s all in the wrist action.
“You can go back to the living room and work on being sensitive caring males,” I assured them. “PBS has a fund drive going featuring Wayne Dyer, I think. Later on we’ll light candles and play New Age music. John’s going to take good care of you.”
You could literally see the tears of gratitude and relief. I knew they wanted to embrace me in a group hug, but I shooed them away like a firm but loving auntie. The kitchen, after all, is MY territory, and it was time for business. Time to feed my hungry boys.
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Published On: January 04, 2007
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