Cabin Fever Chronicles: Here’s Some Stuff You Can Make With What’s Actually in Your Damn Pantry

Make the most of what you have in your cupboards — whatever that may be.

How to make pantry meals when your pantry looks like this. Photo: Sandy Hingston

Welcome to the Cabin Fever Chronicles, in which the author, stuck at home, muses on the perils of coronapocalyptic existence.

Since I’m in the magic demographic that’s really not supposed to leave the house during the Great Pandemic (old, cranky, and unable to deal with technological challenges), I’ve been whiling away the oh-my-God-there-are-so-many hours cleaning out my kitchen cupboards and taking stock of what Doug and I have to survive on for the next decade or so. My main takeaway from this: It’s a really good thing I don’t believe in expiration dates.

My second-biggest takeaway: Why do I buy so many boxes of Wheat Thins? I have boxes of Wheat Thins that are older than my kids, and my kid has a kid. It’s strange to realize the stuff one tends to stockpile, or at least buy on sale in hopes of getting around to using someday. In my case, this turns out to be coconut milk. Apparently I think about making curry a lot but never actually do. Now I find myself wondering if you can use coconut milk in coffee, seeing as I have lots of coffee but am running sort of short on dairy, and I don’t see why not, since they’re now milking things like oats and almonds and soy, which is strange, because I also have almonds in the cupboard and I’ll be damned if I can see the nipples on them.

During this crisis, you’ll probably see a lot of chefs suggesting wonderful ways to throw together delicious gourmet meals from what you happen to have on hand in your pantry. The only problem will be that you have none of the stuff in your pantry that gourmet cooks do. With that in mind, here are some recipes I’ve written up that actually utilize what I have in my pantry and you probably have in yours, by which I mean you’re a helluva lot more likely to have eight cans of coconut milk and 14 boxes of Wheat Thins than, oh, say, dried pasta. Speaking of which, I have a nifty recipe for Herby Pasta with Garlic and Green Olives, but Doug says if I waste his stash of martini olives making dinner, I’m dead meat.


Tuscany Tuna and Beans à la Hingston

  • 1 can (14 ounces) Bush’s Maple Cured Baked Beans
  • 1 can (4.5 ounces) tuna (in water, in oil, who the hell cares?), drained
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 tsp. meringue powder (God, what did I ever buy that for? It’s from 2002)
  • 2 Tbsp. pickle relish
  • 1 can (13.5 ounces) coconut milk
  • 1 cup crushed Wheat Thins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In 3-quart casserole, stir together beans, tuna, peanut butter, meringue powder, relish and coconut milk until assimilated. Bake for 20 minutes, top with crushed Wheat Thins, and bake for 20 minutes more. Serves two. With leftovers. 


Spicy Szechuan Black Olive Dip

  • 1 can (2.25 ounces) sliced black olives, drained
  • 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
  • 1 can (13.5 ounces) coconut milk
  • 3 Tbsp. hot Chinese (is it okay to say Chinese?) mustard
  • 1 can sardines

Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth. Serve with Wheat Thins.


Easy Cottage-Style Barley Soup

  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • Six cups water
  • 3 bouillon cubes (from pre-9/11, preferably)
  • 1 can (15 ounces) dark kidney beans
  • 1 can corn (probably purchased for Boy Scout food collection drive in 2003)
  • 1/2 cup pickle relish
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • One bag (6.3 ounces) microwave popcorn, popped

In large saucepan, bring barley, water and bouillon cubes to a boil; let simmer for two hours. Add kidney beans, corn, relish and raisins, return to a boil, and simmer one hour more. Strain and serve in bowls, topped with popped popcorn.


Deviled Ham Curry, Bengalese-Style

  • 1 can (4.5 ounces) deviled ham spread
  • 3 martini olives (it’s just 3, Doug, chill out; that’s what makes it Bengalese)
  • 1 can (10.5 ounces) vegetable soup
  • 1 can (13.5 ounces) coconut milk
  • 1 box (7.25 ounces) macaroni-and-cheese dinner

In large saucepan, prepare macaroni-and-cheese dinner according to directions, leaving out milk and butter, which of course you don’t have because those greedy bastards at the Giant snatched the dairy case clean. Chop olives finely and mix with deviled ham spread in medium saucepan. Stir in vegetable soup and coconut milk. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. To assemble, serve the curry atop the macaroni-and-cheese dinner. Serves six, but since you can’t have anybody over, you’ll have to try to gag it down three times yourselves.


And finally, because even in a global pandemic, no meal’s a meal without dessert …

Granola Bar and Himalayan Pink Salt Tiramisu

  • 1 cup strong instant coffee (I think I bought this for my dad; he died in 2007)
  • 6 (1.2 ounce) granola bars, any flavor (assorted is fine), finely crushed
  • 1 can (13.5 ounces) coconut milk
  • 1 bottle (8 ounces) CorePower protein drink
  • 1/2 cup rum (if you’re actually willing to use some of your precious booze hoard in a dessert)
  • 1/2 cup meringue powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp. Himalayan pink salt
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder or Angostura bitters

Soak crushed granola bars in coffee for one hour. In large bowl, mix coconut milk, CorePower, rum, meringue powder and vanilla, then beat until it forms soft peaks. I don’t know; maybe it will form soft peaks. I think it depends on how old your meringue powder is. In 13-by-9-inch pan, spread one-third of the coffee/granola bar mixture. Top with one-third coconut milk mixture. Top with another third of coffee/granola bar mixture, then another third of coconut milk mixture. Repeat once more. Sprinkle top layer with Himalayan pink salt and cocoa powder or Angostura bitters. Chill for 2-3 hours until firm. Chances are this won’t work, but at least it will give you something to do all day.