Bonus Post: My Pantry Basics

Bonus Post:  My Pantry Basics

One of Jon’s co-workers asked me for this after he brought in some leftovers one day.  I think it was West African Peanut Soup.  Usually even something that seems exotic is actually very easy and requires very few ingredients you need to go out and buy. 

This is my list of basics, things that I always try to have on hand.  When you’re searching for recipes and you cook from scratch, it is much easier to decide what to cook when you already have a stocked pantry. 

One thing I love to do is go shopping based on my pantry basics.  Then I get home and search Pinterest based on what I feel like using.  For instance, a search for “chicken and black beans” will give you everything from enchiladas to soups and burrito bowls.  And if you shop based on my pantry basics, you’ll probably have everything else you need to make whatever you choose.  And the good thing about cooking is that you can almost always substitute.  You can always substitute brown rice for white, or honey for maple syrup, or parsley for cilantro (but not always cilantro for parsley).  Whatever, just go with it. 

Also, when it comes to produce, always buy what is on sale.  That is when it will taste the best, because it means it’s in season.  Do not buy strawberries in October or Brussels sprouts in April.  They will have traveled a long distance and will taste like nothing.  Just wait until they start to show up in the bins with the cheapest prices.  I’ll try to mostly post my recipes by season. 

I’m also going to link a few great articles here.  

This one will tell you which produce you should buy organic and which you shouldn’t worry about. 

And this one will tell you when different kinds of produce are in season at which times. 

Here are my pantry basics, divided into categories:


Grains and starches:

Brown Rice

Jasmine Rice

Long pasta (linguine, spaghetti, etc)

Short pasta (penne, rotini, etc)

Potatoes (whatever kind is on sale)



Canned food:

Beans (black, kidney, cannellini, garbanzo, pinto, re-fried, etc)

Tomatoes (crushed, diced, etc)



Cream of mushroom soup

Cream of chicken soup

Crushed pineapple

coconut milk


Sauces and condiments:

Jars of marinara sauce

Peanut butter


Barbecue sauce

Vinegars (rice wine, balsamic, white wine, red wine, white, etc)


Chicken base

Vegetable base

Hot sauce

Dijon mustard

Soy sauce

Worchestire sauce


Real maple syrup



Oils and baking:

Veg oil

Coconut oil

Olive oil

Pam spray

Brown sugar

White sugar

Dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, etc)



Corn muffin mix

Baking Powder

Baking Soda



Always garlic, onions, lemons, and other citrus. Other than that, buy what is on sale because that is what is in season.

Always some kind of salad greens, whatever you like or is on sale.

Always some kind of fresh herbs, whatever you like. Parsley goes with everything.


Meats frozen and portioned out for your family:

Chicken breasts

Bone in, skin on chicken thighs

Ground beef, turkey, or chicken

Boneless pork chops



Ricotta or cream cheese

Parmesan cheese wedge

Cheddar cheese block

Mozzarella cheese block

Salty or soft cheese (blue, goat, or feta)



Sour cream



Spice cabinet:

Vanilla extract

Garlic powder


Onion powder



Chili powder

Curry powder







Ground ginger


Salt and Pepper



Frozen peas

Raw plain nuts (almonds are versatile)


[originally posted 8/17/2016]

[updated 3/18/2017]




The Grass Is Greener Here

The Grass Is Greener Here

Fifty years ago, almost half of all moms (49%) stayed home with their children.  Today, true stay-at-home moms are pretty rare:  only about 29%.

This coming May will mark 6 years since I left the so-called workforce.  The longer I’m away, the more distant the memory becomes.  I have had 6 years to reflect on my decision to leave, and overall, I am glad I quit my job to stay home with my kids.  I was so scared to quit, though.  Jon and I were engaged, and he was deployed until the week before we got married.  He and I talked about what we would do as far as me continuing to work.  Jon made a lot more money than I did, and Henry and I were planning to move from the house my mother owned (but did not live in) to the house Jon lived in with Chase and Rylee.  We lived about an hour away from each other, and my office was pretty close to my house.  I knew that when we got married, I’d be looking at an hour commute for not very much pay, plus the stress of the kids being in daycare (they were 2, 2, and 3 years old back then).


Henry, about 2 months before I stopped working.  Most of our quality time was on my bed in the morning.  He would eat breakfast while I got ready for work.

I was just a medical secretary, but I was proud of my job.  I graduated from college in 2008, 3 months pregnant and right as the economy was crashing.  Talk about bad timing!  It took me over a year to find a job.  I applied for at least 50 job:  jobs I was qualified for, over-qualified for, under-qualified for, some not doing anything I was remotely interested in, and plenty of offers for “business opportunities” (aka scams).  I finally got a job working at a hospital as a secretary.  The job was only on an as-needed basis until I could secure a permanent job in one of the offices I was temping in.

I did get a permanent position and worked from September 2009 until May 19, 2011.  On my last day, I left work and went straight to the airport to pick Jon up.  We applied for the marriage license the next morning, waited 72 hours and were married 3 days later on May 23, 2011.  I had been terrified to put in my 2 week’s notice.  Jon and I talked about all the options, and I kept asking “are you sure?” because I knew how hard I had fought to get that job and how hard it would be to find another one if I quit.  Jon didn’t understand this because he had been in the military for 12 years at that point.

When I was growing up, both of my parents worked.  I was a latchkey kid from about age 9.  We had dinner together most nights, but I relied on friends’ moms to take me to Girl Scouts and gymnastics.  I walked to piano lessons.  I ate Little Debbie’s in the afternoon while watching Saved By The Bell, Full House, The Real World, and (most importantly) Beverly Hills 90210.  I stuffed the Swiss Cake Roll wrappers in between the couch cushions.  I secretly shaved my legs.  I went in AOL chatrooms.  I mixed up peanut butter with chocolate chips and ate it straight out of the bowl.  I basically did whatever I wanted until my father got home from work.

I always got the feeling that stay-at-home moms weren’t worth as much as moms who worked outside the home.  I don’t know if it was explicitly said by my parents, or if it was just implied. Three of my four childhood best friends had moms who stayed home, and I was always so jealous!  I loved going to their houses after school.  Their moms had snacks for us and would check in on us periodically as we were listening to music or doing makeup or whatever.  There was something comforting about going to a non-empty house in the afternoon.

Most days I love being a stay-at-home mom!  I love it for the reasons I wished I had a stay-at-home mom when I was a kid.  I like welcoming my kids home from school, having a snack ready for them, and being there while they wind down and then start their homework.  I like that I’m there to ask questions.  I like that we can have a home cooked dinner every night at 6 because I’m always here to make it.  Not only that, but Jon’s life is less stressful because he doesn’t have to worry about making dinner.  Chores that, in my childhood, would have been left to the weekend, I can do during the day when everyone’s gone.  Then our weekends are free so we can truly relax together.  I feel lucky to have a partner who earns enough so I don’t have to work.

But some days I wish I did still work.  I know it will be really hard to return to the workforce, each passing year marks another year I’ve been gone from it, a bigger gap to account for on a resume.  Do I say I spent six years vacuuming, changing diapers, and baking cookies?  I don’t know.

From time to time, I’ve gotten catty remarks from other moms who work –comments to suggest I’m spoiled.  I sense jealousy, and my instinct is to get defensive.  But really, they’re feeling the same thing I do when I think about returning to the workforce.  Every time I consider returning to work, I know there’s someone else who wishes they were a stay-at-home mom.

I could spend my days being jealous or defending my choice, but I try to have compassion because sometimes we all want what we don’t have.  Everyone has days where the grass seems greener on the other side.  I imagine that the women who get a little catty are just having one of those days because I also have those days. 

I think about where I might be in my career 6 years later, had I continued working.  But why?  I made my choice, and for now, this is my path.  I think returning to the workforce would be just as hard as leaving it.  I’m sure I will someday, hopefully doing something I love, possibly food-related.  But it’s not even on the horizon right now.

So what’s the best thing to do?  For me, it’s to revel in my choices.  I’m a stay-at-home mom!  I am a badass in the kitchen.  I get to take my kids to the pool every day during the summer.  I am always available to help with homework.  I get to see all of Ben’s firsts.  I’ll probably never be a six-figure earner or maybe never even a manager, but I’m glad there are women who are those things because the world needs both of us.

xo, Sara

PS:  This is my 100th post!