Learning to Cook With Limited Supply

In my previous post about what one can cook on an isolated military base with unpredictable and limited supplies, I mentioned that the shipments coming into the commissary can overdetermine what is available.

As an example, I recently helped plan a Sunday birthday dinner for my husband with his coworkers; my original plan had been to roast a bunch of acorn squash because I remembered seeing them several days before. However, by the time the weekend came around there weren’t enough left. This is why people hoard. Still, they had several bags of waxy red potatoes, and mayonnaise, and grainy mustard, and a jar of cornichons, so I was able to salvage a half-decent mustard potato salad from the affair.

This is one of those mistakes you learn from. This is one of those mistakes you learn from.

You can still do things anyway. I needed to make dessert for this party as well, and it presented a new challenge: A tranche of unsalted butter finally came in; we took home pounds of it and threw most of it into the freezer. I kept some fridged so I could try to make a tart shell. Normally when I make apple tarts, I roll the pastry flat and cut it into a rectangle; that allows for a geometric, striking presentation. But the loaner baking sheet I have to use until my stuff arrives isn’t the right size for that, so I splurged $8 for a removable-bottom fluted tart pan.

I have no idea how to use this, as you can clearly tell. The dough is rough, it’s uneven, and I under-filled it because I underestimated how much the apples would shrink as they cooked. I don’t have a pastry cutter or a food processor so I was dunking my hands into ice water to get them cold before massaging the butter into the flour. It left me aching and a bit flustered. I feel a bit weird double-buying utensils I have already, so I’m hesitant to just buy a pastry cutter (same for a replacement food processor – no thanks). I might just be stuck doing this manually for the next month.


All that being said, it is entirely possible to make things work. They actually sell whole wheat pasta at the commissary, and they regularly ship in greens. In this case, it was one of those big plastic bins of mixed baby greens (like kale, arugula, escarole, stuff like that). And I have some squash I had roasted with a head of garlic and some rosemary but never used because of an impromptu night out. So I thought: why not throw them together and see what sticks? And stick they did. I’m a fan of roasted garlic sauces – they have incredibly good flavor.

You don’t really need a huge grocery store full of weird or trendy products to cook really delicious, low-key food that will make you happy. I know it isn’t a terribly interesting point, but the relative limitations of a typical American grocery store actually allow for a huge variety of cooking styles. The only thing that can be a limitation is one’s time. Or some weird ingredients (I am still eager for a shipment of Sichuan peppercorns to arrive).

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And if worse comes to worst? There’s always some Jamaican food. I found an informal shack on a hill that serves incredibly vibrant escabeche with johnny cakes fried almost like churro. Not exactly light eating but incredibly good for watching the sun set over the Caribbean.

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