The Smart Girl’s Pantry Essentials

I’ve lived alone, with roommates and with a spouse, so over the years I’ve become adept at stocking my pantry for whatever my meal planning needs are at that moment.

I know too many people who think that feeding themselves at home is more expensive than grabbing a daily sandwich from a restaurant to ignore this topic. You can cut costs immensely when you stock your pantry with the essentials, no matter how many people you’re cooking for.

And this isn’t just for girls. It’s for anyone looking to cut costs and get a little bit healthier at the same time (yes! It’s true, you can do both).

What to keep in your pantry & why

  • Baking Soda. Oh, how I love this stuff. It’s perfect in almost every situation, most notably those times when you can’t spare the time to run an errand for a household item. By combining it with some of these other pantry essentials, you can use it in recipes for homemade shampoo, toothpaste, household cleaner and more. It’s the best, and it’s ridiculously cheap.
  • Bouillon cubes. These go a long way when you’re cooking without breaking the bank. I toss a couple of cubes into a pot when I’m making soups and stews for a flavor boost or when the recipe calls for any type of broth. It’s way cheaper than getting liquid broth. Bonus: if you’re hungover and can’t possibly get yourself a Gatorade, toss a bouillon cube into a large mug of water, microwave for a couple minutes and stir. I don’t do this frequently because of the absurd amount of sodium, but it’s helped nurse me back to life on my most miserable mornings.
  • Canned tomatoes. I’m cautious about these, just because of the BPA lining that many cans have—although you can check out if your favorite brand uses BPA here. But these are such a staple in our apartment on soup or chili nights, and we don’t have to worry about fresh tomatoes going bad before we can use them. The pantry essentials I’m listing work best together, so if you have beans, bouillon and canned tomatoes you can whip together a meal when you’re pressed for time (or money).
  • Coconut oil. You’ve probably heard enough about this miracle oil, so I won’t go into too much detail. Use it to replace other oils when cooking, in toothpaste recipes and to treat your skin to something nice. Just one caution: don’t get carried away with it and consume too much at once. I couldn’t stop drinking coconut oil coffee one morning and spent the afternoon on the couch with a queasy stomach.
  • Dried fruit and nuts. These can vary in cost, so stock up whenever you find a good deal in the bulk bins at your grocery store. I’ve used almonds and unsweetened coconut flakes to make my own nut milks, and they’re amazing (plus, you can use the protein-packed pulp in other recipes). I also keep these things on hand so that I can prepare big batches of muesli, my daily breakfast, in advance.  
  • Dry beans. I have at least six different types of beans on hand at any given time. Black beans for burritos, red kidney beans for chili and chickpeas for hummus and roasting are some of my favorites. Lentils and fifteen-bean mixes are awesome for soups and chilis as well. I usually end up forgetting to soak them overnight, but I’ve had success putting dry beans straight into the slow cooker on high for the afternoon or boiling them for a couple hours. The extra effort is worth it - beans cost pennies on the dollar when you buy them dry instead of canned.
  • Flour. Duh. It’s a baking essential, and is a huge relief to have on hand when you’re having a cake emergency. This is my current favorite microwave mug cake recipe, but I also adore mug brownies. Thank you, flour. 
  • Honey. Sweet, sweet honey. I’ve given up on that fake coffee creamer and even regular white sugar in favor of good ol’ nut milk and honey. I feel so much better about sweetening my favorite beverages when I opt for honey. It’s also useful for sweetening my daily muesli and for creating yummy face masks
  • Oats. Again with the muesli: this is such a cheap way to up your breakfast game. If you’d prefer an easy to-go option, Minimalist Baker’s granola bars are cheap, delicious and highly adaptable to your tastes. 
  • Vinegar. We’re a vinegar family. We use white vinegar as a rinse aid in our dishwasher, as a household cleaner and a hair conditioner, so we usually purchase it by the gallon. Apple cider vinegar is amazing to drink if you can stand the flavor! I mix a tablespoon of ACV, honey and a dash of cinnamon in warm water when I’m craving a warm and soothing beverage.
  • Yeast. This one might come as a surprise, but making your own delicious bread is not as difficult or time consuming as you might think. And if you’re a bread-lover, it can save you big in the long run. We’ve been making this french bread for a few weeks now, and can’t stop—our apartment has an almost permanent smell of freshly baked bread, and who doesn’t love that? Or try your hand at pita bread. You can also make your own tortillas if you don’t want to deal with yeast, so get in touch with your industrious side and get to work! 

There you have it!  Buying in bulk isn’t just for huge families or people who have to stock up in preparation for road-closing snowstorms. As long as you have these staples on hand, you can keep your household running smoothly at any budget.

What would you add to this list of pantry essentials?

My Favorite Food Shows & Documentaries on Netflix

Food shows and documentaries mean a lot to me. I've been told to stop watching them because they're filled with propaganda, because they make me scared of everything, and because "who wants to live like that anyway?"

Sure, they can be a little frightening, but I learn stuff I never learned in health class or at home.

Plus, I get so inspired to continue to improve my diet and to further my knowledge about what I'm putting into my body. And guess what? If I don't like what I see, I don't have to agree with it.

So today I wanted to share my favorites with you. Most are documentaries about health and the diet industry, but some of them are just meant to change the way you look at the culinary world.

1. Forks Over Knives

Probably the documentary I've watched the most, Forks Over Knives is an in-depth look at how a plant-based diet can reverse many of the many common western diseases. 

This film contains provocative data, well-informed researchers, and engrossing personal stories that will have you questioning the way you eat. 

2. Fed Up

I saw Fed Up at the Traverse City Film Festival a few years ago, and it lit a fire in me to reduce (or eliminate) processed sugars from my diet. Even when I indulge, I have an awareness of what the sugar is actually doing in my body (again, not something we learned in health class).

There are personal stories in this film as well, and lots of great information about the sugar industry and what the human body can (and can't!) handle.

3. Food Matters

Food Matters is a bit more fueled than the others - it takes a look at the "sickness industry" and explores alternatives to pharmaceuticals. Take what you will from it!

As someone who deals with thyroid issues, I need to revisit this one again soon. Maybe not necessarily for a cure, but for some serious lifestyle inspiration and motivation. It's a good reminder - you are what you eat.

4. Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead

I promise that my next two on this list are uplifting. Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead follows the journeys of several people dealing with obesity, severe migraines and other health issues as they try juice fasts. It does help!

However, I take this one with a grain of salt (heh) as well, since I'm not sure about the health benefits of juice fasting for everyone. I think the great thing about food documentaries is that you can take a little from each one in order to adjust your lifestyle the way you want to.

5. The Mind of a Chef

Okay, so this won't necessarily make you want to eat healthier. In fact, The Mind of a Chef started me on my current obsession with all things Ramen. This show follows one chef per season and explores their inspirations, their processes and their mindsets about food.

The first season follows Chef David Chang on his culinary adventures and goes in-depth about the cultural significance of Ramen, among other foods. Educational, inspiring and beautiful, this show is one of my go-tos.

6. Chef's Table

There's something about watching people cook that just gets me. I usually can't wait to get in the kitchen after watching an episode of Chef's Table.

Each episode follows one chef to learn about his or her beautiful culinary journey. And when I say beautiful, I mean it - this is one of the most visually stunning shows I've ever seen. The next season is due this month, and I'm anxiously awaiting its return.

So whether you're looking to redefine your whole relationship to food, or if you're just looking for some kitchen inspiration, I usually recommend starting with these six.

The best thing about food shows is that you can sample as few or as many as you'd like, then assemble your own plate of values. I haven't gone as extreme as any of the documentaries suggest, but I now really focus on whole, plant-based foods.

I've come a long way from college Emily (who was living on pasta and coffee), and I'd like to say that these shows were a part of that transformation.

What are your favorite food shows?

A Nourishing Weekend

One of my three words for 2016 is nourishment. I have a bad track record of putting many other things before taking care of myself, so I decided to really focus on self-care this year.

While I'm primarily focusing on my food and drink intake, it's also a great concept to apply to all areas of life. I want to nourish my relationships and nourish my brain this year too.

More good books, more good talks with friends. Playing more games and going on more dates with my husband. Doesn't sound like a bad plan, right?

Anyways. Nourishing myself means learning to properly listen to my body and give it what it needs. Hearing that little voice can be tough, especially if you're like me and other obligations are competing for your attention. 

So this weekend? My body wanted fruit. And lots of it.

Fruit Plate

I was tired and underhydrated after the long week, so a long walk, a giant fruit plate, tons of water and a good beer were all very welcome.

Fruit

It helped me to reset how I want to care for myself this week, and served as a reminder to just chill out and enjoy some of the best things in life.

So whenever I'm not working this week, I'm going to be taking full advantage of this lovely, cool LA weather to run and wander my neighborhood. And I'm going to keep fruit and veggies on hand so I can resist the temptation of the mac & cheese that's sitting in my cupboard.

Founder's IPA and Fruit

I hope you get a chance this week to take time to listen to whatever it is that needs your attention. 

How are you nourishing your mind, your body or your relationships this week?

DIY Crochet Cord Covers

With two rabbits running around, I have to get really creative with how I protect my apartment from their little teeth. There's masking tape on the baseboard and electric tape on cords (mostly to cover up gnaw marks after the fact).

Needless to say, I need some attractive ways to protect the cords I have running around my desk. Enter: crochet cord covers.

This is a super simple project that beginner crocheters can easily handle. The most difficult part is picking out the yarn!

Getting started

All you'll need is a crochet hook (I used a 5.5mm I hook), yarn, and some ugly cords. Create a loop to start with, and then you're all ready!

While the initial loop sits on your hook, move your needle around the cord to hook the yarn from the opposite side of the cord. Pull the yarn so you have two loops on the needle, then hook the yarn again to pull it through those two loops.

It's the same easy single crochet stitch the whole way through. Here's my step by step once you get rolling:

Take your crochet hook behind the cord and hook the yarn.

Hook a bit of the yarn to pull it through both loops on your needle.

Pull the yarn to the front so that you have two loops on your needle.

And pull it through! 

Keep going, adjusting and pulling back your previous work as you go. I wanted to hide as much of the cord as possible, so I scrunched up the stitches pretty closely.

To end it, start from the point in the fourth picture above and just pull a single stitch of yarn through the loop on your hook (a single crochet). I like to take the loop on the hook, stretch it out, and cut right in the middle of it. Pull that "tail" of yarn (usually a couple of inches) tight, and then weave it into the work.

You can start and stop as many colors as you would like, or use multicolored yarn for a neat effect! Here's the "cord collection" that I keep in a pot by my desk now that it's a little prettier:

Happy stitching!