Empty Cupboard Syndrome, Romanesco and Sweet Potatoes


Today just as I was finishing up a romanesco gratin to take to a lunch, I realized I didn’t have any more ready made bread crumbs and was appalled.  I had to sit down and calm myself.  I really HATE running out of things.  As I calmed down, I realized that this is the reason I over buy.  If my kitchen was as big as a warehouse, I wouldn’t have this problem because everything would be organized on shelves in plain view and I would be able to see if I was running low on some ingredient.  That not being the case, I over buy.  I don’t like reaching for something and discovering that the cupboard is bare.   The kitchen rage that ensues is a primary symptom of empty cupboard syndrome.  I contracted this disease while living in underdeveloped countries.

This infection crept in with our first consumable shipment.  In marginal countries that have difficulty providing their nationals with basic goods and services( Niger ran out of sugar in the entire country for over a month), every 2 years, the U.S. government provides a consumable shipment allowance for the family of each Embassy employee assigned to the country.  In our case this came to 2500 lbs.  With this allowance, each employee, on his/her own dime, can buy up to his shipping allowance in consumable goods; food, cleaning materials, paper products, etc.  The government bears the cost of shipping the consumables to the country.  When the consumables arrive, they are stored in a “consumables room”; usually an extra bedroom or outdoor storage room, depending on what’s available.  The idea is to buy everything that you think you will ever need during your 2 year assignment.  So imagine a bedroom lined with shelves and row after row of soap powder, Ajax, Pine Sol, toilet paper, cough syrup, Vicks, flour, sugar, spices, maple syrup, baking powder, baking soda, canned tomatoes, Spaghettios, tomato paste, tuna, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup.  You get the idea.

Like nicotine, the goods in our perpetual mini market, the consumables room, created a dependence.  At our house in New York during vacations when our son would would say, “Mom, we’re out of toilet paper”, I, looking like the wicked witch in The Wiz musical when she sang that song “Don’t Bring Me No Bad News”, would respond with a  “Why”?  He’d shrug and say, “I think we need to go to town.”  Which we did, buying enough toilet paper to last several years.

That’s not to say that we were able to accurately project all of our needs for the 2 years.  Many times, usually when I was expecting a crowd of 30-50 people, I would find that I was missing some important ingredient for a recipe and had to wrack my brain for an emergency substitute.  After each of these traumatic incidents, for the next few weeks, I’d either buy the missing ingredient over and over again each time I went to the store or, if not available locally, order an obscene amount on the internet.  Empty cupboard syndrome, being a communicable disease, also infected my husband.  Loving man that he is, after witnessing my distress, he would buy the item over and over again each time he went to the store or order an equally obscene amount on the internet.  We would laugh, but I wonder if it was funny.

Anyway, I substituted Tuc cracker crumbs for the bread crumbs.  The sesame in the crackers added a nice crunch and the mild, creaminess of the casserole provided a nice contrast to the tomato rich, spicy flavor of the main course, Senegalese thieboudienne.

Romanesco and Sweet Potato Gratin

1 head romanesco, separated into florets

1 small sweet potato, halved vertically and sliced

1 onion, halved and sliced

1 clove garlic, slivered

3 tbsp butter

3 tbsp flour

2 1/2 cups milk

Salt and pepper

A pinch of grated nutmeg

1/2 cup comte cheese, grated

Steam the romanesco and sweet potato for about 5 minutes and place on the bottom of a buttered baking pan.

Cook the onion and garlic in the butter until the onion is soft.  Add the flour and stir to cook without browning.  Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly until well blended and bubbly. Remove from the flame and add the salt, pepper, nutmeg and cheese, stirring to melt the cheese.    Pour this mixture over the top of the vegetables and bake at 425 F for 15-20 minutes until browned.

Beverage and dessert suggestion:  Cafe Gourmand

About cookinginsens

An American living in Burgundy, France
This entry was posted in African, African, Cooking, fish, Food and Wine, French, Main dishes, Recipes and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Empty Cupboard Syndrome, Romanesco and Sweet Potatoes

  1. Steve says:

    Nice save, and nice story.

  2. I love Romanescos, and this looks a very versatile gratin.
    I love to challenge myself to use up store cupboard ingredients and not go shopping for say a week.
    My wife always says we’d be able to survive months on our store cupboard and freezer, I’m a bit of a hoarder.
    Great story and insight into expat life.
    Cheers
    Marcus

  3. Romanesco gratin looks amazing! Good substitution with the crackers!

    I laughed out loud when I read your story about hoarding in Niger. When I was there, I don’t think that I felt particularly deprived in the city, but I think that the Niamey had started to change quite a bit and there were some bigger, modern stores (generally run by Arabs) that were well-stocked.

    In a funny and Saint Patrick’s Day related story, my mom sent me this giant care package filled with macaroni and cheese, sunblock, and snacks. She also sent a giant bottle of green food coloring that we proceeded to use to color all of our food green. All of it. From the rice, to the palm nut oil, to the lentils, and to our Senegalese fish stew! I don’t think, I know that the Nigeriens thought we were insane.

    And green food coloring with red Palm nut oil is not very pretty!

    • Every year we would host a St. Pat’s Day Party for about 100+ with green kegged beer, my home made corned beef and soda bread. The dip community, including the Americans were charmed 🙂

  4. Kavey says:

    It’s so easy to take for granted, and forget how different things are elsewhere… nice story.

  5. m&m says:

    I sometimes find having to substitute can make it even better than you originally intended. I love to bread chicken cutlets in other things like ground up cereal, crackers, or nuts. You can get a new, fresh recipe out of it!

  6. chefconnie says:

    We live in the mountains so we shop usually 1 time a month. 2 years!! I could not do that.

  7. ceciliag says:

    wow what a horrible condition and you must have learnt to be very good at stocking up. Though the thought of all those stores in a special room does have a certain appeal!! You must have lived in some fascinating places though.. cc

    • When my husband straightens out the garage c, I’m going to have him set up somes shelves for cleaning supplies and paper products. I really hate running out of those 🙂

  8. Nice to have a peek at embassy life. Running out of something here just means I choose to cook something else or make a substitution or two — but it’s better if you discover the lack before the recipe is almost finished.

  9. Michelle says:

    Your photos are always incredible, but your blog is ne plus ultra when you share your stories of embassy life. Now I totally understand your love of the freezer!

  10. LOL. I hate running out of things also.
    Looks yummy. Will try this one as I love Romanesco — and this looks like Romanesco comfort food.

  11. Loved the story! We live 50km from the nearest decent supermarket so I try to only do a “big” shop about once every 6 weeks, but can´t imagine planning for 2 years. It´s amazing how inventive you can be though when you run out of a “crucial” ingredient…your lovely recipe is testament to this!

  12. I saw the title and though, NO, impossible with that freezer – from all your posts I have this image in my head of a freezer the size of say a suburban garage! and then it turns out it is a literal cupboard. Mind you I also hate running out of anythig and yesterday managed to run out of coffee, that’s my current dilema – running between France and UK something gets missed. But coffee, how could I ?!

  13. I refuse to believe you ran out of something! Everything looks just wonderful of course.

  14. katyarich says:

    Very nice story, everything looks great, you managed very well with the stock cupboard!

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