Saturday morning, I woke up and decided not to buy any food until Monday. In warm weather this would be reasonable, because the refrigerator would be crowded with fruits and vegetables that my wife, Susan, and I had lugged home from the farmers' market. But this was January, at the front end of a searing cold snap, and the fridge, cupboards and freezer were exhibits in a museum of oddities. A cloth sack of rice. A nearly complete set of chicken giblets. Two rolls of film. Marmite. There could have been a rack of wildebeest under the ice-cube trays. Honestly, I had no idea what was in our kitchen. Cooking six meals straight without leaving home was one way of finding out.
I also hoped that my self-imposed performance of Survivor: Brooklyn would push me into uncharted reaches of my cookbook shelf. The problem of what to cook when the pantry is bare is one that every culture on earth has wrestled with, as have some of the best food writers. For years, I've read and reread certain recipes for squeezing sustenance and even pleasure out of severe hardship, and wondered about them. When hunger looms, though, my curiosity slips away. Now, if I was going to last the weekend without reinforcements, these books would have to talk me through it.
So: Breakfast! How to Cook a Wolf, M.F.K. Fisher's book of idiosyncratic advice for weathering the rationing and shortages of World War II, prescribes "some brown nutty savorous porridge." No problemI reached above the microwave for a can of Irish oatmeal. I was out of the maple syrup and chopped dates Fisher recommends, but in the back of the refrigerator was a bottle of sorghum I'd brought back from Tennessee two years before. All my days should start so well.