Pantry Staples

Everyone has a list of their favorite pantry staples. I am no different.

These are the things I always have in my pantry:

Hellman’s Mayonnaise
Miracle Whip
Heinz Ketchup
French’s Mustard
Kraft Cucumber Ranch Dressing
Rotel diced tomatoes and chilies
Muir Glen canned tomatoes
Balsamic Vinegar
Flavored Balsamic Vinegars (fig, pineapple, lavender, honey ginger, neopolitan herb)
Olive oil
Flavored olive oils (Arbosana, butter, Arbequina, Tuscan herb, wild dill)
Safflower oil
Apple Cider Vinegar
Rice Vinegar
Sugar in the Raw
Granulated sugar
Brown Sugar
White Flour
Rye Flour
Quick-rising yeast
Cocoa Powder
Baking Soda
Baking Powder
Tapioca Starch (for friends allergic to corn)
Table salt
Diamond Kosher salt
Himalayan Pink Salt
Persian Blue Salt
Sel de Mer
Smoked Salt
canned tuna
canned Vienna sausages
canned spam (bacon spam, mostly)
canned mixed chicken
Jasmine/Jasmati Rice
Wild rice
Rice-a-roni long grain and wild rice
Rice-a-roni beef rice
Zatarain’s yellow rice
French Puy Lentils
Rolled Oats
15 kinds of dried beans
8 kinds of canned beans
Peanut butter
canned soups (chicken noodle, cream of chicken, cream of celery, pot pie soup)
Lipton’s Noodle Soup
Lipton’s French Onion Soup
canned chopped chilies
10 kinds of bagged pastas
Fingerling potatoes
Yukon Gold potatoes
Red new potatoes
Sweet potatoes
Blue potatoes
Yellow onions
Red onions
Fresh chives, rosemary, basil, sage, thyme, oregano, dillweed, parsley
Culinary lavender
Dried herbs (rosemary, chives, parsley, oregano, marjoram, thyme, savory)
Dried spices (cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, allspice, chili powder, cumin, star anise)
Bouillon cubes
Extracts (vanilla, almond, orange)
Cooking Rum, Frangelico, Tennessee Red Whiskey, wine, beer
Heavy cream
Sour cream
Cream Cheese
Icelandic yogurt
Butter, salted and unsalted
Cheeses – cheddar, havarti, parmesan, provolone, mozzarella, asiago, edam, butter…
Chicken – whole
Chicken thighs and legs
Chicken carcasses
Beef bones
Ham bones
Frozen vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, shredded potatoes)
Frozen fruits (berries)
Nighthawk’s frozen beef patties and tater tots
Hungryman’s Frozen Mexican Dinner
Frozen Pub Pies
Frozen veggie patties


Pocket Soup

“Pocket Broth”. It takes about 5 days to make, but most of that time is waiting. The total time of actually doing stuff to make this is probably around half an hour, in 5 – 10 minute segments.

Take bone from the tougher cuts like shank/shin, neck, feet, tail, back, and marrow bones. Sometimes, I’m a purist and use bones from only one kind of animal (all beef, all buffalo, all venison, all chicken, all turkey, all pig), and sometimes I mix it up (poultry and pig, buffalo and beef, beef and turkey, venison and chicken…), and fill a pot with the bones (can be frozen bones if you’re single and need to save up enough bones too make this).

Cover with water (I add a rib of celery and a teaspoon of fresh parsley, cut up, but no other seasoning – not salt, not pepper, not onions or carrots or garlic. Nothing else. You can season it up when you make soup later.).

This can be done in a crockpot or stove top (I have a special burner set for a ow simmer, but I use the crockpot in summer). Put a lid on and simmer (no bubbles!) for 20-25 hours. Cool completely.

Strain out the bones and veggies and return the broth to the pot.

Simmer uncovered on low for 24 hours. Cool completely.

Peel out the layer of gel carefully, pat dry, and place on a cooling rack.

Set up a fan set on low to blow over the gel for 2 or 3 days. Do not use heat – the gel will melt and make a mess.

When the gel is reduced to a thin, leathery consistency, like fruit leather, cut it into 1″ squares. Each square will make 1 cup of soup. Wrap the squares in parchment paper and store in a tin or cookie jar. They will continue to dry out and harden – this is OK. Do not let them get moist, though, until you are ready to make soup.

They will keep for years, but mine never last that long because I use them as dog treats as well as people beverages and soup and sauces.

Flexible Specialists

I was reminded of a quote by Robert A. Heinlein today:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. -Robert A. Heinlein

It sounds good, doesn’t? Very human, adaptable, independent, flexible. The “man is an island” concept of humanity.

And then I think of all those marvelous, wonderful “Humans are Weird” and “Space Australians” and “Humans are Orcs” threads on assorted social media sites, and want to expand Heinlein’s words to add things like “tell a joke, laugh in the face of disaster, emulate McGyver, band together, be an expert in one area or maybe two, accept help as well as give it, and know when to call in the specialists.”

Because we need specialists, yes we do.

This quote, one I embraced unquestioningly for years and even attempted to emulate, has popped up any number of times, particularly on Libertarian sites.

And that gave me pause at last.

Libertarians are embracing this quote?  Why?

And then it struck me.  They are using this quote to bolster their concept of “each man is an island, complete unto itself and independent of all others” and I realized I’d grown beyond that “mine mine mine” attitude.

Yes, definitely be flexible, be adaptable, learn new things – at least enough about them to understand conversations and make friends in those areas.  But also – specialize. Become an expert in a field.  Cooperate with other experts and specialists.

Leaders are people who have superficial skills and knowledge in many many areas and who can therefore speak to the specialists in each field well enough to meld all those specialists into a cohesive group working towards the same goal. They appear to be jacks and jills of all trades, but they actually are specialists, too – specialists in the field of leadership.

Not everyone needs to be a leader – if we all were, who would we be leading? Conversely, we also don’t need to be followers if we aren’t leaders. This isn’t an either/or situation. The world is too big for that.

We need specialists who probe deeply into one area, one passion, and generalists who can take that specialized knowledge and apply it outside that narrow field – a salmon researcher whose in-depth knowledge of why and how salmon spawn that can be applied (perhaps) to human migration patterns, or butterfly migration, or dinosaur migration patterns. Do they overlap?  What can we learn from this?  How will this knowledge migrate us to the stars? If we meet aliens, will knowing this help us understand those aliens?

We need coordinators (aka leaders) who can inspire the specialists and guide their efforts for the greater good, using the various generalists’ ability to spot congruencies and correlations between fields to meld everything – the related specialists and all the different generalists and projects and such into a cohesive whole.

And then we have the outliers – the ones who go off on a tangent from everyone else, who break new paths rather than deepening old paths, who think and act an connect differently. Their heads are “in the clouds”, so to speak. They are artists, scientists, mad scientists and engineers, McGyvers of a different order. They inspire and frighten – repel and attract. They are distant dots or pivotal points in human history.

And then we need the glue – the people who don’t lead, but provide comfort and coziness, who keep things functioning, clean, orderly, who push papers or mops, who make sure the “i”s are dotted and the “t”s crossed and the grammar is good.

What Heinlein described are – hobbyists.

What society needs are interlocking specialists, generalists, coordinators, glue, hobbyists – and those frustrating outliers that don’t fit any rules at all.

Food Critiquing

I belong to a writer’s group where we gather once a month to critique one another’s works and once a month to just write.

I know I can be rather harsh when it comes to critiquing other people’s writing (and don’t mind harsh critiques on my work – all the ghods know I need it!), so I’ve wracked my brain for ways to soften the blow and better explain what I mean.

I accidentally hit on food.

Yeah, it surprised me, but it works.  A story is a lot like a recipe.  So I started making the foods that I used to critique a story.

One person is writing a memoir about his time as a Vietnam Vet. His story is firm and meaty and a little bit juicy, but kind of dry. When I made my first bacon apple pie, it was a lot like that. It needed more juice, more spices, a touch less meat, and a firmer crust, just like his story, so when I tried to tell him kindly he needed to juice it up with more emotions and spice it up with more personal heart, and maybe bring in some raisins for that unexpected delight, kind of like that bacon apple pie. I think he sort of got where I was going, but not really.

So I baked that bacon apple pie two ways – the way his story was currently written, and the way I’d tweaked it to make the pie something divinely delicious.


Once everyone had eaten some of each pie, they knew exactly what I meant.



The next time we critiqued his tale, it was much improved.

And then there was the sweet little flash fic critique that was nicely written but normal and predictable. I suggested it get something to twitch it up to unexpected, like watermelon pie. Everyone knows pie, and everyone knows a nice cream pie, but watermelon?


Delightful, sweet, exactly what people expected until they bit into it and then – watermelon!

Haven’t read the rewrite yet, but I am anticipating it!

Now, I have to figure out how to deconstruct a lovely sushi platter so all the parts are there, but nothing is connected. There’s a story that has everything it needs to be good, but it’s all in pieces that need to be pulled together into not just a pretty platter, but an exquisite dish that is beautiful as well as delicious. I think he can do it.

And there’s this dense novel that has the most gorgeous language and use of words but it’s hard to digest and not to everyone’s taste.  It’s a fruitcake that’s all fruit, and hardly any cake – no glaze, no rum, some nuts.  I have to make both the fruitcake as written and the fruitcake it could be.

I’ve said I have to give this dense darling some time before I can fully critique it.

The food correlation won’t work with every story, but I think it does help make the critique clear and gives the author some direction without me trying to put words in their mouth.


A dear friend of mine is an artist (well, a great many of my friends are artists, as are my children – one works in metal, the other in fiber), and she shipped me a print of a painting I had admired a great deal.

I bought several of her originals to grace my library.

Art from other friends hangs in my Snuggery and my kitchen. Once I get my workshop organized, more art will hang there.

I have sculptural pieces displayed on shelves, and jewelry displayed in frames when not being worn.

All of the art I possess was made by artists I know, purchased directly from them to help them keep making art.

Books and stories, from authors I know, are the same thing.  I buy the books of my friends – and read them! I feed them, I visit them at conventions and book signings and book readings.

I used to put up reviews on Amazon, but you apparently can’t be friends with an author and review their book. Le sigh.  I know so many authors. I’ve been buying their books for more than 50 years.

So I joined Good Reads and am trying to figure out how to post reviews there.

Supporting creative people makes life worth living. My own writing is mostly for fun – I don’t need the income from it as I have a day job that provides for my needs (and eats up a lot of my time), but I have so many friends who do need the income from their art to pay the bills and buy food and pay for healthcare.

I do my small bit, and spread the word where I can. Buy their books and their art – actually pay the artist. It will fuel them to keep producing more art to enjoy and love.

Mind, I do belong to a writer’s group, and they are very nice people. Some are published, most aren’t anywhere near ready to publish. That kind of inspired me to get off my lazy tush and start submitting some of my own fiction.

I’ve spent way too many years writing NaNovels and short stories off of pinterest prompts and doing nothing with them. They’ve languished on floppies and flash drives.

So, even though the people in this writing group don’t really understand what I write (they write crime novels and autobiographies and modernized Bible stories), they do their best for me. They’ve helped. I hope I’ve also helped them.

Being part of this group has solidified for me what I really want in a writer’s group, though.

And here it is:

A) gets together to WRITE (write ins, word wars, 1 day writing retreats, observation journaling, word challenges, writing games, first lines, flash fiction…). Part of each meeting is actively writing together, or the actively writing together is done once a month, with the other 3 meetings consisting of critiques, classes, guest speakers, progress reports, marketing tips, and other writer-related activities.

B) has progress reports (charts, accountability, swag*).

C) does reading swaps for critiquing (not only or always group critiques – that takes too long, especially at novel lengths).

D) encourages writing any length, any medium, any genre.

E) holds writing “classes” (character creation, journaling, lexicon work, sentence and paragraph creation, world building, set design, themes, plots…).

F) has local author guest speakers.

G) pairs writing partners for in-depth support and help.

H) meets weekly (monthly is just too slow, especially if you miss a meeting).

I) actively assists with marketing because so many authors are self-publishing now.

J) gives publication parties – for any length and any medium (maybe works with a bookstore on this when it’s novel length, and includes book sales and signing?).

Thus, a meeting would be spent:

1) 15 minutes of timed writing
2) 15 – 30 minutes discussion of critiques given
3) 15 minutes of progress reports
4) 30 minute “class” or guest speaker
5) 15 minutes marketing shares
6) 15 – 30 minutes socializing

Total meeting length – 2 – 2.5 hours.

(My minimum requirements are A), C), D), E), G), H), I), and J).)

*Swag could consist of stickers, badges, pencils, pens, plot ninjas, muse figures, plot bunnies, mini notebooks, flash drives, buttons, clappers, small packets of nuts or dried fruit snacks, small packets of tea (or cocoa, or mini bottles of booze, if the group is old enough…), themed magnets, bumper stickers, key fobs, post its, index cards, lip balm, hand lotion, literary bandages, writing related ink stamps, paper clips, book marks, and so on,most come from trashy treasures stores like Dillon Imports or MG Novelty or Oriental Trading Company. Stickers, buttons, and badges can be made on a printer and use a button making machine.

I like buttons and button making, but that’s probably because I have a button making machine. If I had a color printer, I’d probably be more into sticker making. Badges – well, those could be stickers or buttons or even computer badges to put on one’s website, not necessarily fabric badges to sew on.

Am I asking too much?