Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Cabbage growing in Willie's garden in Black Point, Exumas.
Two years ago, I participated in a cooking challenge where I agreed to go supermarket-free for an entire week, feeding my family only with what was already on hand. The project, called Eating Down the Fridge, was the brainchild of my friend Kim O'Donnell, cookbook author and food columnist for USAToday.

At the time of the challenge, I was living on land, in a house with a jam-packed freezer, refrigerator and closet-sized pantry, but at the time, the idea of going a week without grocery shopping was disconcerting, something I had never done.

I religiously followed the rules of the game, but I can tell you, there was such a glut of food in the house that there was not an iota of suffering. However, I did consider it my first lesson in provisioning.

Now, two years later, I have sailed six weeks through the Exumas without setting foot in a "super" market, and I look in the mirror to find a much different person. Out of a mostly empty, college-dorm sized refrigerator, a very small pantry/cabinet and a bin with baking supplies, we are still eating three meals a day -- and eating well.

But I did not get here without a lot of planning, agitation and lessons learned. In fact, three weeks into this eating-down-the-boat run, I went into a tiny food market in Staniel Cay no bigger than an American kitchen and not as well stocked, and very nearly burst into tears, wondering what I would eat during the remaining weeks it would take to get to the next supermarket in Georgetown. I had hopefully brought along five cloth bags expecting to fill them. I left with a few containers of yogurt, a couple of potatoes, a pound of butter, some onions, a head of cabbage, a can of juice and four empty bags.

Before we left Miami, we made repeated trips to supermarkets, trying to guess what we would need and how much of it to carry. In retrospect, we didn't do too badly. However, mastering a good corn tortilla eludes me and perhaps that stockpile of masa was not such a good idea. We quickly devoured all the pepperoni sticks and wish we had divested Florida of more of them before we left, but, we're still enjoying chicken salad made from all that canned chicken and hummus made from those dried chick peas.

On land, I would have snubbed the idea of eating fruits and vegetables out of cans, but I now find some actually palatable, including beets, corn, pineapple and mandarine oranges.

Out of necessity, we have learned to cook from scratch, using dried beans over their less tasty, less available and more expensive canned cousins. We make our own bread and muffins, because flour is easy to store and readily restocked at even the smallest market.

We now stretch a head of cabbage for weeks, stuffing the leaves with beans or reconstituted TVP (soy protein), incorporating small bits in tuna salad and couscous to stretch them and add some crunch.

Necessity has taught me to cut away a few blemishes and relish the flavorful tomato left behind -- but only a quarter of it! A whole tomato at one sitting? Gluttony!

I now track leftovers as if they were nuclear waste -- keeping a mental log of what is stored, where it is and when it should be consumed. The tiniest morsels that used to go straight into the trash, now get entombed in snack-sized zipper bags and savored like caviar the next day. Two years ago, I would have laughed at myself for putting five tiny tortellinis in a snack bag. I'm also pretty sure that same me would not have relished them the next day.

Now, when I enter a miniscule market, I can find something to eat for dinner, no matter how paltry the offerings. And you know what? I have discovered some delicious treats, like Irish butter and coconut cookies.

Absolute treasures found at Adderley's in Black Point. 
And along the way, I don't know when, I started celebrating fresh celery and being deeply thankful for a crisp red apple. When on land did I ever grow exultant over finding a head of fresh broccoli?

I have not become a great and wizened food appreciater looking down my nose at those who shop daily in Whole Foods heaven. On the contrary, I welcome the chance to take that for granted again one day.

On the other hand, I learn day by day to honor what is offered, to use it to its fullest and savor every morsel. Now that I think about it, I'm sure that's what Kim had in mind after all.

No comments:

Post a Comment