I was reading a past post recently on a lovely blog I like to follow The Nourishing Gourmet, where the blog’s author Kimi Harris identified the foods she likes to always have to hand in order to feed her family nourishing food. The essentials list. It got me to thinking of what my essentials list would look like. The essentials list will differ from person to person depending on their culture, background, food philosophy, family dynamics, budget… It can also change over the course of a person’s life.
Once upon a time, during my single motherhood days while studying at uni, my diet was dominated by Mediterranean flavours. I felt secure in the knowledge that I could feed myself and my son good food so long as I had supplies of pasta (so much pasta!), extra virgin olive oil, eggs, good italian sausages, tinned tomatoes, anchovies, olives, parmesan cheese, pecorino, garlic, onions, tomatoes, basil, radicchio, and chillies. It was also at this time of my life that I stumbled across a copy of the book Superfast Foods by Michael Van Straten and Barbara Griggs. This book now appears to be out of print and circulation, though with some searching I did find 1 listing on ebay. This book was instrumental in my journey to a wholesome, real-foods diet. This book offered meal ideas for a variety of population groups (from Children, to the Elderly), and identified what the author’s considered to be the essential list of superfast foods. Together with my favourite pasta book, Trattoria Pasta by Loukie Werle, my son and I lived well on a student budget.
As the years have gone by, my time demands, budget and interests have changed so that my essentials list is now quite different. The foods I look to include in my family’s diet are a reflection of the season I am now in. I am at home with my children, I am always busy, though much of that busyness is of my own choosing, some days are consistently hectic and demand more timely, efficient food preparation, and others are unharried permitting a more languid approach to our meals. These days I feel at ease when I have to hand carrots, onions, celery, a leafy green, whole milk, butter, eggs, cream, buttermilk, oats, wholemeal flour, rice, extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup (not essential I understand but I really dislike it when I run out! First world problem I know!) wholemeal bread, apples, frozen peas, and chicken (either whole or legs so that I can use the carcass or bones to make bone broth), and minced (ground) beef. I could have included so many more items to that list, but in honesty we could live well on those foods alone, perhaps with little variety, but still we could thrive.
My essentials list tends to become confused when I am experimenting with new styles of food, or examining a different food philosophy. These experiments are inevitably accompanied by some long cooking sessions (as you try to work out in your mind how these new recipes will come together), and some frustrating jaunts to the shops (oftentimes all over town as you try in vain to find that one particular ingredient). It is at these times that I find our food budget being swallowed up in a moment, but leaving me with the feeling that I don’t actually have anything to feed the family. That is why I think it is so important to create your own essentials list. I would never suggest that we ought stick to the one style of eating, or that we should eat the same restricted set of meals every single week – I really like variety, so I know I could never commit to such a way of cooking. But, I think there is great merit in having a standard menu for the majority of the week, fortnight or month (and by standard I mean the recipes that you are familiar with, that are enjoyed and that provide nourishment to your family), that rotates for the seasons, but that allows for a little bit of experimentation. In this way, you can be assured that your food budget has been prioritised on foods that you know will feed your family well. If there is wiggle room in your budget for a bit of play, then find an undemanding day and fill your boots.
The idea of creating your own essentials list naturally leads itself to the necessity of creating a menu, but that is another habit entirely and I am yet to include it into my days, though I know it will liberate me from my ever present quandary “what’s for dinner?”! For now I will be putting my essentials list in a prominent position near the kitchen as a constant reminder so that I might stay on the path well trodden, at least most of the time.
What do you consider to be your essentials list?