Monday, July 31, 2006

The Stocker

I am a stocker. I stock non-perishables. For some reason, this makes my husband uncomfortable. I, on the other hand, am uncomfortable if we have an open bottle of mustard and don't have an unopened one in the cupboard.

As soon as we open the "other" bottle or jar of something, I put that item on the list so we can get a new one. That way, you see, we never run out of olive oil, or peanut butter, or ketchup (we simply cannot run out of ketchup--we have a three year old).

But, as I say, for some reason my husband winces at this.

"Do we really need chicken broth?" he asks peevishly.
"Well, we have two cans left," I'll reply, "but we have three things that call for it on the menu for next week." (Admittedly these are the large cans we're talking about, but we use a LOT of chicken broth in a week.)
"So do we need chicken broth?" he'll repeat.
Usually I just sigh at this point. (And buy the damned chicken broth anyway.)

Now, mind you, I'm talking about the purchase of a $2.69 can of Swanson chicken broth. I'm not trying to corner the market on peppercorns or anything like that. But I've heard from other women friends that their respective spouses are also uncomfortable with this behavior. In fact, I had one friend whose husband went so far as to build a little pyramid out of the three or four boxes of dental floss she had bought (on sale!), presumably to make a subtle point about what he considered to be an excessive number of boxes of dental floss on the shelf.

I would argue that this stocking tendency actually acts as a money-saving device. Grocery stores are laid out in such a way as to encourage impulse shopping. You go in for chicken broth, or mustard, and you come out with mustard, and some butternut squash that looked good and was on sale, and some shallots and pears (because now that you've bought the squash, you figure this weekend you'll make that fabulous roasted squash and pear soup with curry powder that you love so much), and some olive oil, and rosemary bread (goes with the soup), and some brown sugar (why not?).

With my method, we never have to go to the grocery store midweek. OK, almost never. But still, we rarely have to go to the grocery store midweek. And thus, I argue, we save both time and money by not being sucked into the quick-stop-for-mustard that turns into a mustard-squash-pears-shallot-bread-brown-sugar-$35/35 minute trip.

Besides, I hate getting half way through a recipe and finding we're out of the kind of tomatoes I need, or something like that. When I make a recipe for the first time I prefer to make it exactly as written. Then if there's something I don't like I can make a fully educated decision about what to modify. If I've had to substitute an ingredient and I don't like something about the finished product, I feel that perhaps it was the fault of the substitution and not the fault of the recipe. Once I've made it and determined what I like and don't like, then I'll know if using tomato sauce instead of crushed tomatoes (for instance) is OK or not.

My husband hasn’t always had this unreasonable fear of having a well-stocked pantry. When we were first married, we lived in a house that had a whole wall of shelves above the steps that led down to the basement (conveniently located right off the kitchen). These shelves were just deep enough for canned goods, and I recall no objections to our having half a dozen cans of various preparations of tomatoes, plus multiple cans of several kinds of soup, back up chicken broth, etc. lining these shelves. Ah, you say, clearly he now objects because you’ve moved and you haven’t the space for all these non-perishables.

Nope. Since then we’ve lived in houses that had MORE storage space, not less. This attitude seemed to come out of the blue. I vaguely recall that it might have started with hoisin sauce. Some years ago I developed a…well, OK an obsession, with an Australian cookbook author named Donna Hay (an obsession, by the way, that continues to this day). Because of Australia’s proximity to Asia, modern Australian cooking has a very strong Asian influence, and uses a lot of oriental ingredients, including hoisin sauce. It took some experimentation to find one I liked. As soon as I had identified it, the grocery store we went to most often stopped carrying it (natch). As a result, I was forced to “stock up” when we went to another grocery store, to which we went about once a month. This particular brand of hoisin sauce didn’t come in very large jars, so a single recipe could wipe out most of a jar (plus hoisin sauce is somewhat sticky, so like ingredients such as molasses or corn syrup, you scoop up a half cup, and about a tablespoon of that remains in the measuring cup when you add it to your recipe, so you—well, I—end up plopping a little bit more in the pot for good measure). The purchase of three or four jars of hoisin sauce at a time seemed to activate some long-repressed “objection gene” in my husband’s DNA composition. I still don’t get it.

However, I think that after ten years I'm finally wearing him down. Since we now have three children under the age of four (and the younger ones are twins), there's no such thing as a "quick" trip to the grocery store. Going to the market means either one person stays home with the babies and the older kid goes along to the store, or someone stays home with all three kids. Stopping on the way home when we have all three kids with us is just NOT an option. It's almost impossible to navigate the store, push a double stroller, keep an eye on the older child AND collect whatever it is we need all at the same time.

So I may have convinced him, but it took having twins to do it. Seems rather drastic to me, but I think I came out the winner—not only do I get to have all my extra bottles and cans of things in a comforting row in my pantry, I also got three really great kids out of it.

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