Learning to Love Cooking + Peek in the Pantry

The good news is you probably won’t get the munchies when you peek into our cupboards.  The bad news is that I’m going to have to figure out what to do about lunch here pretty soon.

It’s not all bad, though.  I’ve learned to love being the chief chef in our house.  (Write that ten times!)

That’s our kitchen here in the ol’ recycled tire house.  Behind all those plastered walls are tires.  The ceiling beams are lumber killed by pine beetle.  Martin and I don’t use most of this kitchen.  Coming from a 36-square-foot space in Berlin, we just haven’t quite figured out a need for a big kitchen.

Swing your head a little to the left with me because there’s still more kitchen.  That’s it.  Here’s what’s to the left of the fridge.

Yes.  I totally stuck the coffee maker way up there.  We’re just not coffee drinkers.

This house is fully stocked for the owner – including a couple cupboards of food.  But we’ve managed to carve out our own little corner of staples.

I’m not sure how “American” our eating is.  It’s certainly not very German, either.  Over the years, we’ve been discovering a system that’s certainly us, and it’s constantly evolving.  I thought I’d share some of that journey and some super cool tips with you today.  It’s not every day you hear about a not-so-into-cooking gal become a cooking fanatic…

** 2006 **

We used to eat a lot of packaged vegetarian food.  Neither of us knew how to cook or had the time.

When we were visiting Martin’s family in Germany, it suddenly fell on me to make a few meals.  Every American staple I knew – from packaged foods to cheddar cheese or tortillas and taco shells – was nowhere to be found.

Let’s just say:  word traveled fast amongst all those European women.  “Martin’s wife CAN’T COOK worth a darn.”  Can you just see them shaking their heads in sorrow?

** 2008 **

So when my corporate work schedule loosened up a little, I pulled out How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone.  Then I began cooking new recipes every night for an entire month.  How does the old saying go?  If you can’t communicate through words, communicate through food.

(Okay – so I think I just made that up!  You get the idea, though.  I still didn’t know an ounce of German.)

You could say it was a lot like Julie and Julia without any of that French stuff.  If there were one thing I knew:  cooking French food wasn’t going to relax anyone I knew in Europe.

My challenge began on January 1, 2008.  Those 31 days of cooking changed my perspective on cooking.  And oh yes – Martin totally got into my new project, too.  He even got me a handmade apron on Etsy.  It was love.

Sometimes making meals was a horrible, horrible chore – especially with a new recipe EVERY day.  Yet the other days were really fun.  Cooking started to become something I loved to do.  It was a hobby that could immediately benefit everyone.

There was no turning back.  Our family had its very own cook!

** 2011 **

Fast forward some more, and today I’m happy to report that we don’t really eat many packaged foods anymore.  That’s why our cupboards look like this:

Now don’t get me wrong.  There are days when I still absolutely DREAD making meals.  That doesn’t ever go away.

I can usually get into dinner making after a few minutes of poking around the kitchen.  Other times, we’re going to have that grilled cheese sandwich.  Yes we are!

No staging for photos here.  That’s how our cupboard looks.  We save the Nancy’s yogurt containers and glass jars.  A quick wash in the dishwasher, and they’re ready to store food.

About once a week, I cook a bunch of beans, maybe some bread, and granola.  The beans go in the freezer in smaller proportions, and the granola lands in this jar:

Those are German influences.  I’ve never seen cans of beans in Germany; we have to cook them ourselves.  So I just started doing it in the United States, too.

Our favorite breakfast-on-the-go in Germany was muesli and yogurt.  It was much cheaper there.  Now we can’t justify the cost of muesli or granola in the United States.  So I just make it.  (My recipe is loosely based on the one in this thumbs-up cookbook.)

On Sundays, I try to make a big meal like lasagna so we’ve got leftovers throughout the week. It’s a tradition carried down in my family from relatives who immigrated from Germany.  I don’t know which culture that idea came from, but it’s absolutely the best ever.

You don’t have to be on top of cooking every day to have homemade food.

I swear there were some treats in here last week.  Martin?!

You can’t really see it, but the middle section of this cupboard is all nuts, honeys, and peanut or almond butters that we’ve poured into jars.  When I shop at bulk food grocery stores, I’ll just bring the jar to fill instead of getting a plastic bag or tub.

Jane’s idea of using fabric bags (from her etsy shop!) for bulk shopping is next on my must-try list.

Now that we live in rural America, we can’t get takeout or have a pizza delivered.  The nearest restaurant – a country restaurant – is 20 minutes away.  We’ll totally go for grilled cheese sandwiches (again!) or tortillas with beans and cheese on those nights when we’re craving a break.

Guests know they’ll be getting a homemade dinner at our house.  There’s a good chance we’ll be using quinoa, kale, and other not so common foods.  (People keep coming back, and no one has died yet.)  Sometimes they even roll up their sleeves and help, like with the graham cracker making project last summer.

Here are some of our favorite international recipes.

I guess it just came down to realizing one thing around here. If we wanted to save money and manage eating in two very different food cultures, someone had to cook – like honestly, actually cook. And when it came to my European relatives’ perspective… it had to be me.

(Just don’t tell them that Martin jumps in pretty often, too!)  In fact, just last night, he did a wonderful job taste testing these cookies.

We had to replenish the stock, you know!

Our life has become so much easier when we know who is doing the grocery shopping and cooking and who is doing all the other hundreds of tasks of running a home.  I’m just so glad I’ve learned to really love this responsibility.

I’d say there was victory last year in Berlin.  My mother-in-law was about to head off to a fancy dinner.  But first?  She joined us for some of the dinner I had made.  I still can’t get over it.

Good food.  Good friends.  Good approval from the in-laws.  What more could you ask for?