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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

How to Grocery Shop When You're Only Temporary

This past week we stopped at the penultimate point on the itinerary before out final and long-awaited destination.  Brandon has training in DC for three and a half weeks and we're stuck here with him.  We have lodging money and could have stayed in a hotel, but three and a half weeks is a little too long to be stuck in two rooms while eating out every night.

Luckily DC has lots of people like us and corporate housing companies to take care of us during our temporary stays in DC.  We were able to find a nice furnished three-bedroom two-bathroom apartment within walking distance to the Foreign Service Institute so we could have a little more space, a full kitchen, and a washer and dryer.

The kitchen is furnished along with the rest of the apartment, but only furnished with basic cooking equipment (although we do have a wine bottle opener and a coffee maker).  We've had this same situation before while in DC for training, but we've always had an air shipment to supplement the kitchen tools.

In addition to having limited kitchen supplies, we are also starting the pantry from scratch.  I always hate starting from scratch because there is always something you forget. It usually goes like this: go to the store and buy salt, pepper, flour, eggs, butter, oil, baking powder, sugar, carrots, potatoes, onions, carrots, garlic, tomatoes, cucumbers, apples, bananas, peanut butter (in America), jelly, bread, beans, chicken stock, pasta, canned tomatoes, saran wrap, napkins, paper towels, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, and trash bags.

Then you go to bake cookies and realize you have no vanilla or baking soda.

So you go back to the store and get baking soda and vanilla.

Then you realize that you don't have toilet paper.

I once went to Target three times in one afternoon because I needed chocolate chips, then cumin, then trash bags.

And when you leave, you have to get rid of everything, finding a home for your half-used bottle of olive oil, one cup of lemon juice, three sticks of butter, mostly full jar of peanut butter (turns out the children don't like sandwiches too much), full box of cereal, two cans of tomato sauce, two frozen chicken breasts, and half bunch of cilantro. 

At the end of one move, we had at least a gallon of homemade pesto in the freezer that Brandon insisted we throw away.  I just couldn't stand leaving it, so I stuffed it into our suitcases and pulled it out, over twenty-four hours later, still slightly frozen.

This time, however, we are here for an uncomfortable amount of time.  It's too long to go out or order out for every meal (we got fast food for lunch the other day and it was $45.  I'm trying to block out how much the matinee showing of Incredibles 2 cost), but not long enough to justify stocking a full pantry.  I'm not going to buy a full range of basic ingredients just to turn around and ditch them less than a month later. 

So when I went to the grocery store on Monday I had to think very carefully about my meals.  Any kind of blended soup is out because there's no blender.  No cookie making is going to happen because we don't have a mixer or a cookie pan, and I don't want to stock flour, sugar, vanilla, and baking powder.  Indian food is right out because I don't want to buy the twenty spices that it would take to properly make my curries. 

So instead I'm having an experience in how the other half (or everyone else in America) lives.  I've stocked up on chicken pot pies, frozen burritos, pre-made quiches, frozen skillet meals, Indian simmer sauces, just-add-chicken Thai sauces, bagged salad kits, sandwich bread, and yogurt.  Lots and lots and lots of yogurt.  In less than a week, we've gone through more than two dozen cups of yogurt. 

If the meal takes anything more than some chicken or rice, I'm not buying it.  No salad dressing, no flour, no chocolate chips, no olive oil.  I thought I would be clever and buy a muffin mix for breakfast one morning and then realized that I don't have a muffin tin and I didn't want to buy Pam.  I considered a pancake mix but then remembered that I'd have to buy syrup. 

I've informed the children that we have a no-leftovers policy.  We don't buy any more food until we're entirely out of the food that we have left.  If you don't like potato salad, too bad, because we'll be eating it until it's gone.  If you prefer peaches to apples, then I'm sorry when the peaches run out because now we only have apples to eat.  We are having oatmeal every morning because I bought ten pounds of oats at Costco; I don't care if you hate it. 

This kind of cooking is the polar opposite of what I do overseas.  Everything I cook there is from scratch.  You want enchiladas?  Better start making those corn tortillas from the masa flour that you put in your consumables shipment.  I make all my bread from scratch, from wheat that I ground myself.  I can my own pizza sauce every summer when the tomatoes are cheap and ripe.  My definition of convenience food is canned tomatoes that are already diced for you.

The other day one of the children asked when I was going to start making bread again.  They held out the piece of sandwich bread (which was even the good kind that I paid over four dollars for) disdainfully, "This bread is so gross.  Why can't anyone make good bread like you make??  Would you please just make a little bit of bread while we're here???"  I reminded them that I don't have yeast, flour, gluten, honey, or bread pans so they'd just have to wait.

I do have to admit, however, that I can see the appeal of this convenience food cooking.  The other day I opened a bag, dumped it in a frying pan, poured in some water, and had a half-decent pasta dish less than twenty minutes later.  Meanwhile Brandon had opened a bag of chopped greens, slit open a packet of salad dressing, and sprinkled in another bag of pumpkin seeds and craisins to make a salad.  And when we were done, all I had to clean up was the frying pan.  No washing, no chopping, no measuring, no seasoning.  Just dinner, in less than twenty minutes.

So, I guess I'll enjoy it while I can.  And maybe next week I'll try out refrigerated cookie dough.  I might even cook it, too.

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