Forage

whole food ~ well made

view of Lynne Curry's pantry in her Oregon kitchen. Photo by Joe Whittle

Whip Your Pantry into Shape for Spring in 30 Minutes

For weeks, the girls have been asking, Is it spring yet? At last I can say, “Yes!”

Spring holds so much promise, especially the parade of fresh foods we can look forward to from now until fall. Like cleaning out the closets of the wool sweaters, leggings and boots of winter in preparation for warmer days, this is also best time to set up the larder for all of the good things to come.

Spring!

The season has just changed–even if the weather hasn’t–so make space for spring in the kitchen cupboards.

Spring Pantry Sweep

When I recently spent a week de-cluttering my kitchen, my strategy involved major items: appliances, pots and pans, dishes and glassware, knives and utensils and cookbooks. It’s the best thing I ever did {and I highly recommend it when you can schedule the time}, but it took three whole days and tore the kitchen apart.

How could I tackle the smaller things–the cabinets, pantry and other places for storing less-perishable foods–without turning it into a giant project?

Instead of cleaning every nook and cranny, my goal was to sort, organize and take stock. To weed out foods that need to be used up and to discover items that have been out of sight out of mind. In other words, to do a little foraging just in time for spring.

So, on the first day of spring I set a timer and made a little promise to myself that I would not obsess over cleaning. It worked!

With music on and the timer running, I moved quickly from area to area, ignoring the deep cleaning for another day {Type A alert}. I carried a small box to collect any items to use immediately or discard. Then, I arranged each space to put everything within eye shot and within reach.

I found some surprises–not all of them exciting, like the bag of moldy onions. And I wondered why in the world I bought so much spaghetti, but kept moving along.

When the timer went off, I’d managed to arrange every cabinet and the pantry. Plus, I had a collection of {random} food items to incorporate into a whole week of meal planning.

Are you ready?

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Kitchen Inventory

Everyone organizes their kitchens differently, but here are the food groups I attacked one by one. I hardly knew all the food I had on hand. {And that really surprised me since I forage through my stores every week to figure out what to make for dinner.}

Now the cabinets are tidy and efficiently used. And I know exactly what foods I have on hand to use, like, er, pounds of spaghetti…

Dry Goods

Opened packages, duplicate items and “lost” foods, I found them all while pawing through the bulk beans, grains, nuts, seeds and pastas that are often the starting place for supper especially in winter.

dry bulk foods in jars from lynnecurry.com

I always store dry goods in jars on the open shelves of the pantry. Even still, I forgot about some things, like a giant bag of dried chile peppers and masa harina {guess I’ll be ready for Cinco de Mayo}.

So, I arranged the jars to put the items I want to use soonest in front, like the polenta for oven polenta and the last of the walnuts for this roasted potato and kale recipe.

Canned Goods

Other than coconut milk and whole peeled tomatoes, I don’t generally keep a lot of aluminum cans in house. But I do still have home-canned items to put into more frequent rotation. Along with stock in tetra packs, nut milks and thickeners, these are often the foundations for meals ranging from coconut cream of broccoli soup to roasted tomato sauce with baby meatballs.

You’ve probably heard of FIFO {First In, First Out} so that the oldest items are in the front where you’ll grab them first. It’s a simple and useful principle to adopt for all food storage areas, including the refrigerator and freezers, and especially with fresh produce

organized and tidy canned goods in a cabinet from lynnecurry.com

{Parent tip: the bottom of this cabinet is the Free Kid Snack Zone: I stock this shelf with trail mix, pistachios, fruit leather, flake coconut, tamari almonds, dried mango and other whole snack foods the girls like so they can help themselves. Full disclosure: the cracker and chip cabinet is right next door, but they do always “shop” here first.}

Spices

I would not want anyone to see what my spice cabinet looked like before, so here’s the after.

organized and tidy spice cabinet at lynnecurry.com

This was a real trouble spot that I just kept ignoring–even though I had run out of cumin and cinnamon sticks and could never find the peppercorns. Worse, I had spice jars falling on my head whenever I went hunting.

I’m guessing I’m not alone. The spice cabinet is like the sock drawer of the kitchen–totally neglected. But it is also one of the most necessary places to keep in order.

Replacing herbs, restocking spices and pulling out empty jars to refill was quick and satisfying. Look at it now! And no more jars falling out.

As a reward, I mixed up a fresh batch of a za’tar herb, spice and sesame seed recipe that I’ve been loving on eggs, roasted vegetables and popcorn.

Cooking Oils & Vinegars

Another critical cooking area that I use every day for making salad dressing, noodle bowls, marinades and more, this cabinet is right next to the stove. And it was filled to capacity.

organized cooking oils, vinegars and other seasonings from lynnecurry.com

I hardly knew everything that was hiding in the depths, like the extra bottle of rice wine vinegar with about one tablespoon left. With a little more wiggle room, I’ve organized the more perishable oils, like avocado and walnut, in the front, so that I think to include them before using the olive oil on autopilot.

And the top shelf organizes my favorite fish sauce with the soy sauce, ponzu, sesame seeds and other seasonings to make meals like this ginger carrot quinoa salad or glazed teriyaki burgers. Perfect lighter fare to eat while waiting for the spring produce to come on full force.

Bonus: March Meal planning

I’m so ready for spring! When it was all said and done, I had just this small pile of random foods to use up sooner rather than later. And only one item got thrown away.

a collection of dry goods, including seaweed, garbanzo beans and spaghetti from lynnecurry.com

These foraged foods are the jumping off point for meals for the next few weeks.

I’ve got dibs on this butternut squash for a lasagne and will use the garbanzos for our favorite 20 minute garbanzo-tomato stew recipe. As for the molding onions, I’ll trim them well and make a batch of caramelized onions.

But I’m still at a complete loss at to how best to use this dulse.  Please send any good ideas my way.

Let me know in the comments below or tag a photo #lynnesforage on Instagram or Facebook for more inspired kitchen organizing.

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