Reader question… “I have tried several of your recipes and they were a big hit with my family, so I hope you don’t mind if I ask a question about how you feed your family. I know that you don’t buy any processed foods, and I would like to feed my family a more natural diet too, but the bulk of what is in my pantry and freezer is processed food, and I don’t know how to cook without them. Would you mind telling me what you buy and what you keep on hand in your pantry and freezer?” —Annie
No, of course I don’t mind the questions, although my shopping list is probably quite a lot different than most people’s because we have to be so careful to avoid ingesting soy or any of its many derivatives. There are many, many items I don’t buy… things like chocolate chips, cake or cookie mixes (or any other type of mix), baked goods or any convenience type foods, but I can usually make a from-scratch version of many of these items or come up with equally tasty alternatives. We’re buying more organic foods now, and over the last several months we have added genetically modified foods to the “avoid list.” Shopping has become a whole lot more difficult… and a whole lot more expensive.
More of my hostas
Anyway, here is a list of what I always keep on hand in my pantry.
- Flour… has become a much more expensive purchase for us since we have been buying only organic flour. The reason for switching to organic… to avoid the thiamine mononitrate that is a part of the government-required enrichment that is now added to all white non-organic flour. I buy organic white whole wheat flour and organic whole wheat flour and use those for the majority of my baking. However, some baked goods are just better when they’re made with all purpose flour, so I now buy King Arthur’s organic all purpose flour (called artisan flour). This flour has no added enrichments. I have the store special order this flour for me in the fifty pound bag, which does save a few dollars over the smaller sized bags. If you have a soy allergy and are having allergic episodes you can’t trace… check the flour you bake with and the other products you regularly use for thiamine mononitrate. More about thiamine mononitrate later in this post.
- Yeast… (see my previous post)
- Granulated CANE sugar… granulated sugar not labeled as “cane” is almost always made from sugar beets, and 95% of the sugar beet crop has been genetically modified.
- Brown sugar… hopefully purchased when prices are the lowest around holidays and stored in the freezer so the moisture in the sugar doesn’t evaporate and the sugar doesn’t get hard. Again, I check the label for CANE sugar and CANE molasses. Or I make my own brown sugar using granulated sugar and molasses.
- Confectioner’s sugar… I don’t buy confectioner’s sugar any more because it contains corn starch and also because I do not like the taste. On the rare occasions when I need confectioner’s sugar, I make it myself using granulated sugar and the blender.
- Molasses… unsulphured CANE molasses with nothing added
- Baking soda, cream of tartar
- Baking powder and corn starch… the Rumsford brand makes both of these with non-genetically modified corn
- Cocoa… if you have access to Shaw’s Cocoa, you really should try it. I think it is one of the best cocoas “out there.” It is 100% cocoa with no added ingredients, and it has the most wonderful flavor.
- Baking chocolate is a recent casualty. This used to be the last “real” chocolate we could eat (always of course in baked goods), but all brands now list soy as an ingredient. Goodbye baking chocolate… but we don’t miss it because a local store special orders a dark chocolate bar for us now that contains only organic products and is soy-free. We’re finding that this chocolate is a wonderful occasional indulgence… and chopped into pieces, the chocolate works great in chocolate chip cookies!
- Pure vanilla extract… this costs more but is well worth it, because the ingredients in the imitation vanillas are questionable and probably contain soy. Same with other extracts… I do not buy them because of their proprietary formulas… I cannot be sure they do not contain soy.
- Spices… cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cloves. I’ve been buying small containers of spices that have no added ingredients. These are more expensive but again worth it, I think.
- Herbs… I’ve had a lot of problems with commercial herbs and soy that isn’t listed on the label, so I grow all the herbs I can. I grow sage, basil, oregano, parsley, and thyme… dry all of these for winter use… and also grow pots of fresh herbs all winter. The herbs I can’t grow, like bay leaves, fennel, paprika, and coriander, I look for organically grown and buy the dried in small containers because of the price.
- Mustard seed, celery seed, etc.
- Garlic powder… I used to buy a national brand that we discovered caused an allergic reaction every time we ate it. In a call to the company, a representative refused to admit that there might be soy in the garlic powder, but she did say that anyone with a life-threatening allergy to soy should probably not eat the garlic powder I was asking about. Apparently some added ingredients… binders and fillers, for example… don’t have to be listed on a label or included in an allergy warning. So I now make my own garlic powder.
- Chili powder, red pepper flakes, curry powder, Italian seasoning mix… I make all of these myself from scratch now using organic ingredients or ingredients we have grown ourselves.
- Dry mustard… only ingredient: ground mustard. I use this in baked beans, mayonnaise, etc.
- Black pepper… we buy black peppercorns and grind our own pepper fresh when we need it. I have never bothered to buy a pepper grinder, however, because I find it so easy to crush the peppercorns with a rolling pin. By repeated crushings (and it only takes a minute or two) I can get a fairly fine grind, although we like the tiny bits of coarse pepper in our food. Several months ago I couldn’t resist buying a large jar of different colored peppercorns. There were pink, green, white, and two types of black, which of course all had a somewhat different flavor. The colors were pretty
:o)and it was interesting to see what the different colored peppercorns tasted like but this is not something I would buy again. The plain black peppercorns are just better. If you’re still using the already ground pepper, you really should try grinding your own peppercorns, because the flavor is so much more intense and wonderful.
- Salt… I still buy the cylindrical containers of table salt and use it for putting out fires, oven spills, and the occasional dropped egg
:o). I buy pickling salt for making relishes and pickes, but for everything else I buy kosher salt. We like the coarser crystals and the more subtle salty taste. I even use kosher salt for baking, although this is not recommended. We have an unusually large amount of kosher salt on hand at the moment because the last time my husband picked up some groceries for me he found kosher salt in quantity on sale… forgetting that he had already stocked up on kosher salt at another store a couple of weeks previously during another price reduction! Oh well…
- Walnuts, peanuts, pecans, and almonds… purchased in large quantities around the holidays when prices are lowest. I buy nuts that have no added ingredients, although they do cost more. Nuts will stay fresh for a long time in the freezer.
- Raisins… only ingredient: raisins. I buy two or three of the 24-ounce size when they are on sale and store all but the package we’re using in the freezer.
- Dried beans… kidney beans, pinto beans, Great Northern beans, soldier beans, chick peas (garbanzo beans), green and yellow split peas. These are getting harder and harder to find… most brands now show a big warning that their beans are processed on equipment used to process soybeans. The Hurst company seems to be one of the few companies that does not have a cross-contamination problem… however, they have a limited selection of bean types. I have not recently been able to find chick peas anywhere. We have a local store special order Hurst beans for us by the case (twelve) for a small case discount.
- Lentils… I’ve got to work on this because I haven’t really given lentils a fair chance. I know they’re a healthy choice, but we really don’t like them.
- Barley… I like to keep barley on hand for soups and occasionally to serve in place of potatoes, rice, or pasta. After an especially disgusting experience with a sealed package of barley that came from the store infested with maggot-like crawling creatures, I keep barley in the freezer.
- Rice… we no longer eat ANY white rice because of the thiamine mononitrate enrichment. The brand of brown rice we used to buy is also enriched, as are many other brown rice brands. We now buy Carolina brown rice, which is not enriched and therefore does not contain thiamine mononitrate. A small “mom and pop” type local store orders this rice for us a case at a time for a 5% discount. I especially like the way this brand of rice is packaged to stay fresh for a longer time. Update: This rice has become a problem food for us.
- Pasta… this has been another huge change for us because of the added enrichments and the presence now of thiamine mononitrate in commercial pastas. I used to buy different varieties of pasta shapes. I know it sounds crazy, but I’m convinced that for example, the same pasta dish made with elbows doesn’t taste the same as when it is made with spirals. So I used to go for some variety when the sale price was there and bought lasagna, spaghetti, elbows, twists, spirals, rotini, etc. I also bought whole wheat and whole grain pastas in an effort to convince my husband he didn’t prefer the other types. I have always made my own egg noodles and recently we purchased a hand-cranked pasta extruder so we can now make our own macaroni and other pasta shapes. This inexpensive little machine makes five shapes of pasta including bucatini (hollow spaghetti), fusilli (kind of a spiral), large macaroni, small macaroni, and rigatoni. I make three or four batches at a time and freeze the pasta fresh. This way it’s almost as convenient as having boxed pasta on hand, and I know exactly what is in this pasta. So far we’ve made regular pasta, spinach pasta, and tomato pasta, and my husband has found that he really does like whole wheat pasta when we make it ourselves.
- Potatoes… I watch for sales and buy fifty pounds at a time… or the equivalent in smaller bags if the price is better. We have created a cool area for storage and potatoes keep well for us.
- Onions… twenty or so pounds whenever they are on sale. They also store well in a cool (not cold) place.
- Cooked tomatoes… again, this is a huge change for us. I used to can my own tomatoes, but my back injury severely limited the size of our garden for several years. For a while we bought a natural brand of crushed tomatoes… however, all commercially canned tomatoes now contain citric acid (most frequently derived from soy). During the spring and summer we buy fresh tomatoes by the box (grown organically and hydroponically) from a local greenhouse, and at some point during the summer months they offer substantial discounts for quantity purchases. We’re also growing our own tomatoes in quantity again, and between the organic tomatoes we buy and the tomatoes we grow, we have enough tomatoes for eating fresh and for making tomato sauce and cooked crushed tomatoes to freeze.
- Olive oil… it’s the only oil we use, again because of the soy issue, but also because olive oil is a healthy oil. We can often buy extra virgin olive oil in the 3-liter metal cans for $10 to $12 LESS than its usual price, and when we find this olive oil at this price, we buy several cans.
- Cranberry sauce… I buy whole fresh cranberries and freeze them or make my own cranberry sauce and freeze that. This way I can avoid the added high fructose corn syrup that the commercial brands seem to think is necessary.
- Rolled oats… ingredients: 100% natural rolled oats. We buy five-pound packs (Quaker) and buy several when we find a good price. I’m working on the idea of buying rolled oats in the 25 or 50-pound bags, but I want to be sure that the oats haven’t been cross contaminated, and I haven’t been able to get that information yet.
- Corn meal… this has been another expensive change because we now buy Arrowhead Mills organic corn meal that is certified to be made from non genetically modified corn.
- Vital wheat gluten… I have been experimenting with making sausages and “hot dogs” using vital wheat gluten. I’m still not satisfied with the flavor but we’re close… I have also made some very tasty “chicken” and crumbles that did taste very much like ground turkey. We make the gluten from organic whole wheat and organic all purpose flours. I do not buy the commercially available vital wheat gluten.
- Coffee and tea… my husband has a cup of coffee in the morning and a cup of tea at night. I don’t drink either, although I am hoping to make a Postum-like substitute from roasted grains. I have several recipes but have not tried them yet.
- Peanut butter… unfortunately, soy-free peanut butter is available only in the smaller jars. Usually we buy various brands of organic peanut butter or Smuckers natural peanut butter in a two-pack of 26-ounce jars at BJ’s Wholesale Club… and occasionally Teddy’s natural peanut butter. All of these contain only ground peanuts and salt… or my favorite type of peanut butter, just the ground peanuts.
- Jellies and jams… I’ve been making our own jellies and jams again. Last year I made apple jelly using apples from our wild apple trees, and grape jelly, and strawberry and raspberry jams.
What isn’t in my pantry? Purchased cake flour, purchased self-rising flour, or added gluten for bread making… I never buy any of those. If a recipe calls for self-rising flour, I make my own by adding 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt to each cup of all-purpose flour (that’s all self-rising flour is) and substitute cup for cup for the recommended commercial self-rising flour. The King Arthur flour I use already has a lot of gluten, so it is great for making bread. I use the organic all-purpose flour for making most cakes, including sponge cakes and angel food cakes. I have read that using all-purpose flour will result in cakes that are not as light as those made with cake flour (and that sponge and angel food cakes may fall)… I honestly have never had either of those problems. I do use cake flour for a special few cakes, but I make my own so I can be sure the cake flour is soy and GMO free.
Basically what I’m trying to avoid in the foods I buy are:
- Soy or any of its derivatives, like lecithin or monosodium glutamate (also most “natural flavors” because that is usually just another name for soy derivatives)
- Genetically modified corn or any genetically modified food
- Artificial flavors
- Artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup
- Trans fats
- Excess salt and sugar
- Foods originating in countries with questionable food standards
My husband… especially… loves pies, cakes, cookies, and other baked goods, and I OCCASIONALLY make these types of treats from scratch using the most natural ingredients I can. I don’t worry about serving the occasional cake or cookie that is made with white sugar and white flour, because I feel that the rest of our diet is so healthy.
Note: I am constantly frustrated by the lack of consistent information on allergens in general and soy allergy in particular. After readers of this blog first started writing to ask me to add thiamine mononitrate to the soy lists, I contacted several manufacturers and asked if thiamine mononitrate WAS made from soy… and all of them gave the same answer… that yes, thiamine mononitrate could be made from either soy or corn. I read somewhere recently that thiamine mononitrate is now made synthetically, so I contacted the same manufacturers again and asked the same soy and corn question… and this time every single manufacturer said that thiamine mononitrate is no longer made from either soy or corn and that thiamine mononitrate is now completely a “chemical synthetic.” It would be interesting to know why ingesting products with the government required enrichment STILL causes such severe allergic reactions. Is soy present in those enrichments in some other undeclared form? Or is some thiamine mononitrate still being made from soy?