Yesterday morning I tidied the pantry. I wasn’t cleaning it, though it could have used it, just tidying, but I couldn’t help but notice that there was hardly anything in it. Empty containers waiting to be refilled, coffee and tea, a couple of cans of tomato sauce… I felt like Mother Hubbard.

Then I made some soap. I have made soap with lye and oils, but I am not temperamentally suited to it. Now I make melt & pour, or M&P soap. Someone else does the chemistry, and I just do the fun part. Usually  I put a lot of effort into soaps, blending scents and making interesting colors and fancy pours, combining bases for just the right level of translucency and adding suspensions and stuff.

M&P soap is rather like a cake mix, it seemed to me. Someone else has done all the complicated things, and you can make it fancy if you want, and end up with something quite good, but you can also just put in a very small bit of time and you will still end up with a cake.

So yesterday, I wasn’t expressing myself through soapmaking, we were just running out of soap. I stuck the base in the microwave, dumped in a fragrance blend Brambleberry sent as a sample, poured it in the molds, and skedaddled to work.

Where I found that I am scheduled for 15 days straight, including Sundays. On one day I have “off?” on the calendar, but otherwise, I will be there early and late every day. I am not unwilling, but I cannot help thinking about getting home every evening at 7:00 or so. Tired.

And cooking dinner.

All these things coalesced into one thought: convenience foods.

Those of us who believe in eating healthy foods with ecologically sound packaging (i.e., as close to none as possible) can sometimes get the impression that if we were not purists, we would find many marvelous quick foods under the heading of convenience foods. People talk about avoiding convenience foods as though they were sort of lurking about tempting us with their delectable selves to disregard our knowledge that they are composed entirely of amazingly-processed corn and palm tree by-products. I visited the Amazon grocery store to see what wonders were out there.

There are 306 varieties of packaged macaroni and cheese.

Also lots of cookies and crackers. And Jello products. Apparently, if you are ready to give in and eat processed foods, you can eat like a dorm-dweller. I know there is something called Hamburger Helper out there, and frozen pizzas, and Refrigerated Crescent Rolls, but I was sort of hoping for something that allows a person to prepare Chicken Marsala in 15 minutes.

I obviously do not have time to familiarize myself with processed foods in the actual grocery store, as opposed to the virtual one, so I think I will check my Pampered Chef cookbooks (they are big believers in convenience food, those pampered chefs) and the Kraft website and whatnot. Then tomorrow morning I can race into the grocery before work and pick up jarred spaghetti sauce, taco kits, hot dogs, and whatever new and modern wonders I discover between now and then. I intend not to read the labels.

Disappointed by the Amazon offerings, I ended up ordering half a dozen frozen meals from the Schwan’s man. This will mean that 1/3 of the time, I can call home and tell the boys to stick something in the oven. If I get some pre-packaged salads, and my husband pitches in a little, we should be fine.

#2 son emailed me this recipe for Strawberry Cream Puffs Extraordinaire. I say “this” because you can click on this link and find the recipe yourself if you want to. We made it last night. It took two hours, and about $5 worth of ingredients. It was my farewell to proper fait maison foods for the duration.

You begin by making choux paste. This is the traditional French pastry used in cream puffs, Napoleons, eclairs, and so on. You cook it, and then bake it. It isn’t hard to make, though it takes some time and little bit of muscle.

It is supposed to be in a ring, but we did not think ahead. We were using the pan needed for baking the ring to cook the choux paste. Next time we will be more prepared. In any case, you pipe the dough into the pan and bake it, and get this light, crisp, mostly hollow pastry with lovely swirls all over it. If it were a ring, you would cut it in half and fill it with the almond pastry cream and strawberries, but we decided, since ours ended up as a rectangle, that we would just put the pastry cream on top.

Once you have united the pastry, the almond cream, and the berries, you drizzle the top with chocolate glaze.

The finished masterpiece must be eaten immediately. We had some leftovers, though, so I baked them this morning as I would a strata, and it resulted in a miracle of a bread pudding. I only had one bite, as no amount of overworked-ness justifies the consumption of this much butter and cream two days running, but I strongly recommend that you try it yourself. Some time when you have leftover cream puffs. and only if you made the pastry cream yourself with those 6 egg yolks. I can’t imagine what would happen if you tried to bake an ersatz cream puff made with Refrigerated Crescent Rolls, Cool Whip and Jello pie filling.

#2 son will be making this for the visit of his sisters and brother-in-law next month. He does not want my help next time, he assures me.

It occurred to me, when he told me this, that perhaps he could do some of the cooking this month.

A boy who can make cream puffs surely can make tacos from a kit.