The Well Stocked Pantry

This year, February was unusually warm. We are fortunate to live relatively close to the beach, so we decided on an impromptu Duffy Boat (electric boat) ride with our close friends. The only problem, was that we made the decision at about 11:30 am, and the reservation was at 1 pm. No real time to shop, and certainly no time to cook. We all raided our pantries and ended up with quite the spread. No shopping needed! I had some apples and pears that I sliced up and doused with lemon juice to keep them fresh. I took out some crackers and cheese from the pantry. Grabbed a bottle of wine from the cellar. Our friends brought some kettle corn, honey, nuts, and smoked salmon. Et voila! Lunch!

How to be neighborly: Always be prepared for an impromptu get together.

That’s the benefit of a well-stocked pantry- you will never be hungry, and you can always assemble a meal on the fly. Here’s my list of goods always present, and in general, they keep a long time:


Pantry Items

  • Olive Oil
  • Champagne vinegar
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Canola Oil
  • Shortening
  • Granulated Sugar
  • All Purpose Flour
  • Dried Pasta
  • Rice
  • Grits
  • Vanilla Extract/Paste
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Crackers
  • Honey
  • Beans (dried or canned- I usually have black beans and lentils)
  • Brandy

Refrigerator Items

  • Butter
  • Chunk of fresh parmesan cheese (not grated)
  • Some melting cheese (such as cheddar, comte, gruyere, or fontina etc.)
  • Better than Bouillon – Chicken Base
  • Soy Sauce
  • Rice Wine Vinegar
  • Mirin
  • Ponzu
  • Sriracha
  • Sesame oil
  • Plain Greek Yogurt
  • Lemons/Lemon juice
  • Eggs
  • Onions
  • Garlic (pre-pealed)
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Heavy Cream
  • White & Red wine (for cooking)

Frozen Items

  • Frozen Puff Pastry
  • Ginger (frozen- you can grate it with a micro-plane grater)
  • Good sliced bread (such as sourdough, frozen)
  • Nuts (walnuts or pecans, almonds, pine nuts)
  • Frozen Bacon


  • Kosher Salt
  • Peppercorns
  • Garlic Powder
  • Cumin
  • Smoked Paprika
  • Dill
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg

Quick & Easy Pantry Recipes

Here’s an example of some the meals you can make from these ingredients.  No measuring needed, just keep tasting:

  • Soup – saute onions and garlic, add chicken bouillon, a little cumin, salt and fresh ground pepper, water, can of tomatoes, throw in any veggies you have, rice or pasta if desired, allow ingredients to cook, and you have dinner. Toast some bread from the freezer for dunking.  If you have leftover rotisserie chicken you could put some of that in too.
  • Quiche– Make a pie crust with flour, salt, butter, and shortening. Slice off some frozen bacon and cook, add in some onions and cook until soft. Drain off bacon fat. Mix eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, melting cheese, bacon and onions. Pour into pie crust. Bake.
  • Easy Peasy Tart– fill puff pastry with any fruits you have on hand, sprinkle with sugar. Bake.
  • Easy Peasy Appetizer– top puff pastry sauted onions and melting cheese and bake.
  • Simple Sauce for Chicken/Salmon– Mix together yogurt, garlic powder, and dill. Serve with baked chicken or salmon. Also good with smoked salmon.
  • Healthy Asian Soup– combine water, Better than Bouillon – Chicken Base, Soy Sauce, Rice Wine Vinegar, Mirin, Ponzu, Sriracha, grated ginger from freezer, grated garlic, and Sesame oil to taste. Throw in any vegetables you have (carrots, cabbage, snap peas, and bok choy work well), noodles (spaghetti like noodles are best- I use soba noodles), and top with cilantro. If you have leftover rotisserie chicken you could put some of that in too.
  • Easy Salad Dressing– Olive Oil, Champagne vinegar or Balsamic Vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. You can add lemon juice, dill or garlic powder to spice things up a bit.

So, that’s my pantry.  What’s in yours?


I see you…

A funny thing happens when you live in this neighborhood- people point at you. Well, not you, but the house. I spend a lot of time in my living room, which has a huge window. It’s a big arch of vintage plate glass about 7 feet tall, and just as wide and it frames a big pine tree that has to be at least 100 years old. Under the tree sits my old white wooden bench where I change the pillows to reflect the season. My neighbors know my house based on the pillows out front. My living room couch faces that window. Despite the fact that we have a beautiful dining room, Alex and I eat dinner at our coffee table in front of the TV, and that huge window. Alex sits on the floor, and I sit (yes, in my PJ’s) on the couch, and we eat dinner while watching Mythbusters, or Modern Family, or some other show. When we first moved in, we started noticing that people walking by would be riveted to what was happening behind this big window. It was as if we were the TV show, and people couldn’t take their eyes off of us. They would walk from one side of the window to the other, and just stare into our living room. Drivers would noticeably slow down, and point at our house. For some reason, it seemed as though they thought we couldn’t see them. As if the window were one of those one sided police interrogation type mirrors. You could only see in and not out, which let’s face it – makes no sense at all. Yet, every day, people continue to stare. Eventually, Alex started to wave at them, as if to say “Yes, we can see that you are staring at us.”

How to be Neighborly: If people stare, just smile and wave.

We wondered- what are they pointing at? Were we special? Was it because we were new to the neighborhood? No, it had nothing to do with us. We found that we started to do the same thing when we would take our dog Wiley for a walk. Drivers wouldn’t just slow for our house, they would slow at several houses. And it got noticeably worse during the holidays- when our neighborhood erupts with Holiday Spirit, Christmas trees appear in those giant windows, and home owners carefully highlight the historical rooflines with twinkling lights. It is as if we are all transported to a different time when we walk or drive along these streets. You are immersed in history, beauty, and all you can do is stare. We understand. Just ignore my PJ’s, please.

Perfectly Clean Windows


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Where you can see out, and neighbors can see in.

  • Newspaper
  • Mix of 50/50 Distilled White Vinegar and Water

Spray on vinegar, wipe clean with newspaper.

Welcome Home

It was November 2012 and I had to get the house set up in time for Thanksgiving, which I host every year. Mission accomplished. My parents, Alex’s parents, my grandma, and our best friends, sat at my Grandpa’s old drafting table (now our dining table), lit by our original hand painted 1930 chandelier, and we shared a delightful French themed Thanksgiving in our new home. It was beautiful and delicious…. and exhausting. A couple weeks later the dust from the move settled, and the dishes from the feast all back in their proper places, I could finally just admire my new home. I relaxed on my living room couch in my PJ’s, glass of red wine in hand, and I was struck by the beauty of this room. The iris stained glass window is a vibrant blue with specks of orange when the morning sun illuminates the small window. The fireplace, with its original Batchelder tiles, glows a golden orange when lit by a cluster of candles. The wood framed windows are a perfect shade of mahogany, the largest of them framing a giant pine tree much older than this home. This home really is beautiful, and it’s ours. Well, it’s ours for now. We are the current a caretakers of this home, and it’s our job to preserve its beauty.

Lost in wonder, I was suddenly awakened by a knock-knock-knock on the door. It was between 8 or 9pm and (remember) I was in my PJ’s. I called to Alex to see if he might spare me the embarrassment of answering the door in said attire. No luck. I cracked the front door open, trying to hide my PJ’s behind the door, and found two smiling men and a welcome bag extended.

How to be Neighborly: Get used to your neighbors seeing you in your PJ’s. It will happen a lot.

Wayne, and Merle behind him, introduced themselves and said “we just wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood….” We said our courteous thanks for the bag and I rushed to shut the door and once again hide my PJ’s from view. I looked in the welcome bag, and there was a list of local amenities, newsletter, homegrown tangerines, and some homemade chocolate bark in cute little mason jars. I put the mason jars on the kitchen counter and went back to the blissful solitude of my living room. Little did I know that Wayne and Merle would soon introduce me to what it meant to be neighborly, and would eventually become two very good friends.

Here’s my version of the perfect chocolate bark.


French Chocolate Bark

  • 1 10 oz bag dark or semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 cup candied ginger, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp dried cranberries
  • 2 Tbsp pistachios, unsalted
  • 2 Tbsp cashews, unsalted

Melt chocolate in microwave or double boiler. Spread on a silpat or piece of parchment paper with an offset spatula to ¼ inch thickness. Sprinkle on salt, ginger, cranberries, pistachios, and cashews. Gently push the toppings into the chocolate. Put in the refrigerator to set. Once hard (it will snap into pieces), break into pieces and enjoy. If there’s any left, share with your neighbors.

Moving In

The Creative Community

The dust barely had a chance to settle on my half unpacked boxes when I noticed a bunch of ladies strolling down my street, laughing, pointing (more on this later), and what’s that- are those shopping bags??? My curiosity peeked. I headed to the curb to see where the ladies were going. I noticed the home 4 doors down seemed to be having an open house of some kind, and there was a sign out front. So I moseyed on down just to see what the excitement was all about, and found a sign proclaiming that a holiday craft fair had landed squarely on our street, and just our street. What luck!   Do some holiday shopping AND I get to peek into some of my new neighbors homes? Sign me up!

Five of my crafty neighbors opened their homes and put their artistic and creative talents on display. Jewelry, embellished crosses, purses, etc. and oh yes, Caramel Sauce. I chatted with the home owner/crafters and found that I had entered a creative community. These were not the business people I had expected to be my neighbors. These were creative spirits. These were my people.   Before they even began to tell me about their creative creations for the fair, they first shared the story of their historic home.

How to be Neighborly: Be prepared to share the history of your home. When was it built? What style is it? How many people have lived there? What’s original, what’s not? You must tell this story to everyone who enters your home.

I clearly had some research to do on my own home. I put that on my to do list, which I knew I wouldn’t get to for a while. At least I had the caramel sauce to remind me… this is my version of the craft fair special.  Make, share, enjoy!

Bourbon Salted Caramel Sauce

  • 1 c sugar
  • 3 Tbsp water
  • 1 Tbsp corn syrup
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 c heavy cream
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1.5 Tbsp whiskey (*)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp salt

Combine sugar, water, corn syrup, and vanilla in heavy medium saucepan. Stir ingredients to combine and place on stove top over medium-high heat. DO NOT STIR.   Allow mixture to boil until syrup turns deep amber color, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with wet pastry brush, about 10 minutes (time will vary). Remove from heat. Pour in cream (cream will make the sugar solid and mixture will bubble vigorously). Continue to stir to melt the solid sugar into the cream. Mix in butter, bourbon, cinnamon, and salt. Cool sauce completely. Pour into a mason jar. Makes three 4oz mason jars. Seal and refrigerate. (Can be made 2 weeks ahead.)

Serve with hard salty Cheese (like Noord Hollander Aged Gouda). Yes, I said cheese. Try it. You’ll love it. If not, there’s always ice cream.

(*) I keep Evan Williams Whiskey on hand for all my baking and cooking needs. It has a strong Whiskey flavor, and is relatively inexpensive.