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As much as I love to be in the kitchen, I never love grocery shopping. While I’m grateful for the abundance that I have, and the ability to purchase more when the need arises, I’d still rather just open the pantry or fridge and have whatever ingredients I need miraculously appear.
Also, there are days when being outdoors is a far more attractive option than the kitchen, and I want to spend every moment of the day out in the garden.

Yesterday was one of those days, and I was hit with the double whammy! It was the dreaded day-before-shopping-day (so not a lot of in-house options, gastronomically speaking) AND, it was a sparkling, warm, sunny day—abundant with birdsong and roses—begging for me to be out in it!

There were bumblebees working furiously in the catmint, goldfinches waiting to furrow up my newly planted basil seed, and so much meltingly warm sunshine that all thoughts of anything not garden-related were fast disappearing.

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When the two of these realities collided, suddenly there was the possibility that the husband would come home to something-not-his-idea-of-dinner. And though he doesn’t complain, it’s not his favorite way to end the day.

So what’s a pantry-challenged, gardening girl to do? How to maximize the time in the garden without compromising dinnertime? (And no, pizza delivery was not an option, although peanut butter and jam sandwiches might have been. I just haven’t figured out what wine goes with PBJ yet…)

The first thing I had to do—and what I hope to encourage you to do, is to…

GET CREATIVE!

Be brave and fearless in the kitchen! After all, the very worst thing that could happen is that your creation fails. Then you just send out for pizza, or make PBJ’s, or popcorn! (Well, I suppose the worst thing is that you might set your kitchen on fire, but I’ve never had that happen. The living room, yes, twice, but that’s another story, unrelated to cooking. Oh, and the garage wall—that one WAS related to cooking, but I digress.)
As I was saying, don’t be afraid to get creative! Of course, it helps if you have a few ‘staples’ on hand (like peanut butter) but the most important thing is to have some courage and imagination! Don’t worry about failing—nobody in your house will starve.

One caveat thought—I don’t recommend this approach when you have dinner guests coming unless (A) you don’t want them to come back, or (B) you are very adept in the kitchen.

Here’s how I solved my dining dilemma. I had dinner done, stowed away in the fridge, and was back out to the garden in twenty-five minutes! It would have been twenty, but I stopped to shoot a few photos first.

Since this is not a post about provisioning a kitchen, I won’t go into the whole inventory of what’s always on hand in my kitchen, but because it’s not possible to create something out of nothing, a few of the basics that I try NEVER to be out of—

Some type of pasta
olive oil
an onion
garlic
olives (I keep a large jar of kalamatas in the fridge)
a couple of different vinegars
flour
sugar
peanut butter

It’s actually a slightly longer list, but this gives you a little idea of what I keep on hand so that I always have something to fall back on.

Now here’s where the creative part comes in.

After considering my options (and the speed with which I wanted to get back outside) I decided on a ‘main-dish’ salad to have out on the patio, one that would go with one of my prizes from last Friday’s field trip to Hood River and the Gorge.

A quick re-con of the fridge and pantry yielded half a bag of shell pasta, olives, artichoke hearts, half a red onion, some almost forgotten but still redeemable celery, a third of a head of romaine lettuce, half of a red bell pepper, and the most remarkable treasure—a pint jar of home canned albacore that a friend had given me some time ago—forgotten about because it was cleverly hiding behind some buckwheat flour.

Out it all came, and while the pasta was boiling, I chopped the onion (saving some for another use), olives, artichokes, celery and a couple of cloves of garlic.

Next I prepped the last of the lettuce for a tossed salad, adding some paper-thin slices of red bell pepper and the remnant of red onion. I tucked it away in the fridge with a damp paper towel on top, and at dinner-time all it would need would be the addition of a ‘must-be-eaten-today’ avocado and some balsamic vinaigrette (another thing I make each week and keep on hand).

When the shells were done and drained, in went the chopped vegetables together with the albacore, some olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt, fresh cracked pepper, a few red chili flakes, and…
Voila! Dinner!

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These two salads, accompanied with something crisp, minerally, and white to drink (I chose a beautiful white blend of Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris from COR Cellars, appropriately called ‘AlbaCOR) came together for a fine meal. I know it wanted a bit of crusty bread, but there was no way I was going to bake. I could have taken the stale baguette from several days ago and turned it into crostini, but I didn’t come in from the garden in time.

Here’s my guide for last night’s creation;

½ a bag of small shell pasta (or whatever pasta you have—even grains would work)
1 pint jar of albacore (or can of tuna, or left-over chicken, steak, or no meat at all)
½ cup Kalamata olives, roughly chopped (or any other olive)
½ cup artichoke hearts, chopped
½ a red onion, chopped fine (or any other color onion, or chives, or shallots)
2 ribs of celery, chopped fine
2 cloves of garlic, minced

Olive oil (or mayonaisse or some other oil)
White wine vinegar (or another vinegar, mustard, or lemonjuice)
kosher salt
fresh pepper
red chili flakes (or other seasonings – your only limits are what’s in your cupboard!)
or some other type of dressing—be as creative as you need to!

There are no amounts on the dressing ingredients, because I didn’t set out with the idea that this would be posted. I only want to encourage you to be confident with what you have on hand.  Add the dressing ingredients in conservative increments, then adjust them to suit your tastes. You can always add more, but you can never take them out once they’re in!

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I hope your day is lovely, and that you only have peanut butter for dinner if that’s what you really want!
And please, comment on what some of your ‘must-haves’ in the pantry are, and how you use them to get dinner quickly!
Thanks for coming to see me. And now, off to the garden I go (as soon as I grocery shop).
Lorrie

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