Taking Stock of Things:  Pantry, Freezer, Cabinets, and Wine

Our Spring Break started on Friday, and with it started Ramadan.  We loved having Charlotte and Zak stay with us for the first month of Morocco’s quarantine.  Then they left a few days before Ramadan began to hunker down through the Holy Month and for the remainder of the quarantine back home with Zak’s family 10 minutes away in the Oulfa neighborhood.  We will miss quarantining with them, but we are happy they can celebrate Ramadan in a house filled with family to celebrate with them.  We wish all our Muslim family and friends Ramadan Mubarak Kareem!

With their departure we have resumed empty-nesting, albeit the quarantine version.  We cook for two instead of juggling various palettes of world foodies, carnivore halal, and vegetarian halal.  We remember how much easier it is to keep up with dishes and kitchen mess with just two people.  Audrey has “her” bathroom back as Brian reclaimed “his” bathroom that Charlotte and Zak used while they stayed with us.  Instead of wondering if we can make it two weeks without shopping, Brian thinks we can make it at least three weeks before going out again.  And, at the same time, we miss having them here while also appreciating the simplicity of having fewer schedules, needs, and idiosyncrasies to balance.

Two nights ago we left open the sliding door to the balcony so that we could enjoy fresh air while we slept.  In Morocco, fresh air is deemed a cure-all while Moroccans consider conditioned air to be very unhealthy.  The COVID-19 pandemic and its resultant quarantine cannot keep Spring from coming, and we now have weather perfect for opening up windows and doors to let in the ocean breeze that rolls up the hill from the beach.  But while we slept, an unseasonal storm intruded on the peaceful night and sprayed its shower through the open balcony door.  By the time the claps of thunder woke Brian, we had a small lake extending from the door across the dining area floor of our common room.  Rather than mop it up in the middle of the night, he just closed the door and left the lake to dry.  By morning the tile had dried pretty well.  That resembles our lives right now:  something seems okay, then unexpectedly it turns on its end, then with discernment and patience it works through to being okay again.

Spring Break allows us some cognitive dissonance from the craziness that has surrounded us for weeks.  Of course, we cannot travel anywhere, but even after just a few days we feel our tanks starting to refill from this treat of a staycation.  GWA’s Online School continues to go well; the spirits of people in our school community remain positive, even with people here and there showing signs of weariness from monotony, routine, and cabin fever.  Our HR team has organized a rich assortment of Spring Break quarantine activities that people can join to remain connected with community and find distraction from the rigors of Online School.  Having a week to turn off constant attention to leadership, letting regular email check-ins suffice, has proven invaluable for us.  Yet, one thing always hovering is a cloud of surrealism fogging our days, as in the backs of our minds we try to reconcile excitement from planning to move across the ocean with the daily reality of both Morocco and Panama remaining resolutely under quarantine.

To be sure, we feel well-blessed in our quarantine situation.  To allow some absurdity, we started rewatching “The Walking Dead” on Amazon Prime.  Before moving to Morocco we used to watch weekly episodes as a family.  The zombie element appealed to Audrey and the girls, all horror movie fans.  Brian, a fan of neither horror flicks nor zombie things but a political scientist by academic training, connected with the show’s inherent manifestations of political philosophy with themes of the the state of nature versus civil society, virtue, communitarianism, aristotelian concepts of good versus bad government, and more.  Upon first-run watch, the outlandishness of TWD’s post-apocalyptic dystopia let us think, “That’s so crazy.”  However, rewatching episodes in the present (we have binged through five seasons since the quarantine began) gives us a different perspective as now we see it in a new light and think half-jokingly, “We’re so glad things are not THAT bad.”

As the most obvious impact on our planning, injecting a pandemic into our prep work had us jettison the six-month, easy pace, no-stress approach we envisioned originally.  To set the stage, understand that we are professionals at moving:  In nearly two and a half decades of marriage we have moved – whether across town, across a state, across the country, or internationally – no fewer than 10 times, seven times in just our first decade together.  For our seventh move, Brian even created a sophisticated labeling system to help movers know in what rooms to put boxes upon delivery and to help us know box contents during unpacking after movers put them in the wrong rooms.

Ramping up for what we hope will be our last move in a long time, true to form we started so organized.  We planned very well.  Coming back in January from spending Christmas with extended family in the Pacific Northwest, together we constructed a “Relocation Planning” spreadsheet complete with tabs for things like questions Audrey should ask the International School of Panama to help us plan; a running list of items to sell or give away; information about shipping companies to carry our things across the Atlantic; and a master calendar that marked when we would make two transition trips to Panama (now not happening), when family and friends would take advantage of their last chance to visit us in Morocco (now not coming), and other key events scheduled through Spring (also cancelled).  Indeed, we took the photo for this post in February when we first thought we would write about our rational, disciplined, organized plan to eat through our food and use our other supplies before moving at the end of June.

People plan; God laughs.  

Not to say that pandemics are amusing, or that God observes the current world circumstances with a flippant attitude.  But our sticking to such a deliberate and intentional course of action amid the global pandemic would reveal it as merely contrived and not strategic.  Suddenly, instead of continuing to whittle down our supplies, we bought more to ensure a provisioned home for four adults facing a quarantine of unforeseeable length.  Then, for a month we resupplied to maintain our stock.  However, now our footing has changed and we must reposition again.

We have dwindled from four people to two.  We know better what to expect for the duration of Morocco’s quarantine.  We feel more confident that Morocco will begin to relax restrictions after passing the May 20 extension of its state of emergency.  As best as we can tell, flights out of Morocco will likely resume in time for our departure at the end of June.  Likewise, Panama also seems likely to open to flights in by the time of our planned entry.  So, now with just two months instead of six to implement transition plans, we again have taken stock of what we have in our pantry, our freezer, our cabinets, and on the closet floor that serves as a makeshift wine cellar.

Simpler meal-planning also allows for better leftovers planning.  A big pot of spaghetti sauce, soup, or chili gives us dinner one night and breakfast or lunch for days after.  This week we contemplated a soup exchange, with breakfast entaling Audrey eating leftover sausage and kale soup and Brian eating leftover turkey and wild rice soup, then switching for lunch.  Brian messed it up by eating leftover chicken stir-fry instead for a late brunch, but at least Audrey held to the plan.  The bottom line imperative is that we keep eating what we have in stock, which we are doing well.  Due to Brian’s quarantine buying of tomato sauce, tomato paste, and pasta that comprise roughly a quarter of our pantry space, we might as well pull out Strega Nona’s magic pasta pot (shout out to our elementary educator friends!) to maintain the near-constant option of pasta and sauce.  In the cupboards we have several pounds each of dried black beans and pinto beans, plus different kinds of rice and lentils, a chef’s collection of dried herbs and spices, not to mention oils and sauces and vinegars that let Brian utilize the Comice Pear and Blueberry balsamic vinegars to create a superb pear-blueberry sauce to accompany a duck breast he pulled out of the freezer to pan-sear two nights ago.  In our standing freezer inventory conducted over the weekend, in addition to a large bag of Amoud baguettes and msemmen made by our wonderful housekeeper Tourea (whom we have missed dearly during the quarantine, and about whom we plan an upcoming post) we noted chicken breasts, chicken brochette, a whole chicken to roast for one dinner and provide makings for chicken stock and soup, ground beef, filet mignon, beef brochette, tagine beef, a few packs of bacon, a pork tenderloin, several packs of mild and hot ground Italian sausage, and a few packs of Ballpark beef hotdogs.  Add to that the upright freezer’s supplies of homemade refried beans, roasted tomato sauce, sliced rhubarb waiting for a pie or crisp, and various other things to build into an inventory consumption plan.

Then, of course, we have the wine.  For four years we have enjoyed fully the easy and affordable access to European wines that allowed us to stay stocked.  Not only did we make regular acquisitions at Grand Sud Import, our favorite place to buy wine in Casablanca that let us buy fabulous Bordeauxs, Burgundies, and Chiantis for prices that turn our stateside oenophile friends green with jealousy, but we typically have returned from travels to Europe with native wines in tow (minding the two-bottles-per-adult customs limit for entering Morocco):  Portuguese ports (LBV, 30-year, and 40-year) and wines from the Douro Valley; Brunellos from Montalcino and Barolos from the Piedmont traveling in Italy; Bergeracs and Bordeauxs from the month we lived in the Dordogne region of France.  One delightful task when preparing to move is having to drink the cellar.  In our Cleveland home we converted a ramshackle basement pantry into one with custom shelving for kitchen appliances; platters, trays, and other supplies for large-scale fancy entertaining; and a wine rack that held up to 144 bottles.  Audrey and the girls preceded Brian to Louisiana by a year so he could finish transitioning successfully his turn-around school there, so he had to rely regularly on friends to help him take care of the cellar stock before joining the rest of the family in Louisiana.  We had to be more creative in our Louisiana and Arizona houses that did not have basement cellar racks because they had no basements, but we still managed to maintain good inventory, whether to entertain or simply to enjoy a nice bottle together.  Each time we moved, we delighted in addressing the same “problem” in the weeks and months leading toward the departure date.  Once again, now, we must make due with having to eliminate our wine stock.  Brian inventoried what we have on hand and, now looking at the two-month mark, delights in backwards planning consumption of the list from best-bottles-last to “What should we have with beef stir-fry tonight?”

The stretch processing all this scenario planning requires makes our brains elastic.  The addition of doing it juxtaposed with the surrealism of our cognitive dissonance between planning and our current quarantine status stretches them further, to the point of being hypnagogic if being on Spring Break did not allow us to sleep in and nap as we wish.  With luck, we will have everything on track by the time Online School resumes next week.  Par for the course:  something seems okay, then unexpectedly it turns on its end, then with discernment and patience it works through to being okay again.

On your mark, get set, here we go!

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