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