With autumn settling in here in the southern hemisphere, nature is prompting us to make a few seasonal adjustments. While the change in seasons might be overlooked in contemporary culture, our bodies still hark back to more primitive times. As the weather cools and dampens, it’s a reminder to lay the foundations for a stronger immune system. Now is the time to throttle back a notch, prioritise a daytime walk as the darkness creeps into the morning and closes in earlier at night, and reintroduce more warming foods.
A handy ritual for this change in seasons is a pantry and fridge clean out, to restock for autumn and winter.
If you’re easily overwhelmed, start with the shortest job. Ideally make the time to clean and sort everywhere you store your food – pantry, fridge and freezer. Take everything out and clean down the shelves. Throw out food past its use by date. (If it’s just a ‘best before’ date, take a good look and smell as it might be safe to eat). Create some meal plans utilising the food in need of using up. Also check all dried goods for weevils (‘pantry moths’) and restock as needed.
Cool weather staples
Here’s a checklist of my favourite healthy staples.
- Beans – dried legumes if you have the time to cook from scratch or canned (organic and BPA-free where possible).
- Nuts and seeds – I like a wide range and rotate through almonds, walnuts, pistachios, brazil, cashews, linseeds and pumpkin seeds. If storing nuts in the pantry, buy smaller amounts so they don’t go rancid. Australian walnuts are harvested around April and are so much fresher and sweeter than most of the imported ones. It’s a great time to buy up new season nuts in bulk and store in the fridge or freezer.
- Oats – nothing like a bowl of whole rolled oat porridge on a chilly morning
- Other wholegrains – brown rice, quinoa, millet – whatever takes your fancy.
- Dried fruit – figs are delicious in porridge and packed full of calcium.
- Stock –frozen homemade vegetable (or bone for the carnivores). You can store tetra packs of liquid stocks or powdered with no additives in the pantry. (Marigold organic bouillon powder is my favourite.)
- Oils – I tend to use coconut or raw sesame for frying and olive oil for salads. The worst place possible to store oils in the sun or a warm spot (for example over the stove) as heat denatures fats. Sniff and taste any bottles of oil in the pantry. If they taste at all bitter, dispose of them appropriately (most local councils recommend to decant into a sealed container, don’t pour it down the drain). If you like to leave oils out on the bench for cooking, dispense them into smaller sized bottles (eg 100 mls) and keep the larger bottles in the fridge or cool dark spot.
- Vinegar – my favourites are balsamic or sherry for salad dressings.
- Tahini and nut pastes – keep these in the fridge in summer but are they’re usually ok to store in the pantry in winter.
- Dried herbs – the packet of mixed herbs you bought years ago is only good for the compost heap now. Volatile oils in leafy herbs and seeds, as well as any powdered herbs only have a shelf life of a few months. If they’ve turned brown, have lost their distinctive aroma or smell musty – throw them out. Freeze fresh kaffir lime, curry and bay leaves.
- Frozen lemon juice – if you have a glut of fresh lemons, freeze in ice cube trays.
- Good quality frozen berries are handy in winter.
Not so wholesome but handy
- Noodles – flat rice noodles and pasta.
- Flour – as we use it so rarely, we now keep in the fridge to stop going rancid and keeping it safe from weevils.
- Frozen pastry – for a veggie pie on a chilly night or an apple turnover.
- Sweeteners – my favourite is a dash of maple syrup on my porridge.
- Canned tomatoes
- Canned fish – red salmon, tuna and sardines.
- Tortillas/taco shells
- Other types of rice – basmati, arborio and sushi
- Canned coconut milk – watch out for added thickeners. Don’t bother with ‘lite’ milk, use 50:50 regular and vegetable stock/water and freeze leftover undiluted coconut milk.
- Long life milk – non-dairy and mini tetra packs of dairy for visitors.
- Miso paste
- Dried seaweed
- Tamarind paste
- Red curry paste
- Olives, sundried tomatoes and anchovies
Tip: if you’re introducing a new product to the panty, find a recipe you want to make and use the new food within a couple of days of buying. Otherwise you might find it untouched at the back of the pantry next time you do a clean up.