My weekend and the days after have been terribly busy. From Friday, and especially Saturday until Tuesday, the store was mobbed with people preparing for the great Blizzard of 2011. It didn’t matter if it was 10 inches of snow or 24- people were buying food as though they were never going to see the outside world again.

I can kind of understand this mentality, but not in Chicago. In every case, there is a place that will be open for business regardless of the outcome of the snowfall. If not now, perhaps it will be open three days down the road. Still, people insist on buying as much food as they can to reinforce their winter coats.

Ten pork chops (of which we ran out after two days), five giant ribeye steaks, 5 lbs. of ground beef. It isn’t my place, I’ve found, to tell people to take it easy on the meat, as much will go south before they have the opportunity to cook it. In addition, many people, while putting their meat in the freezer, fail to account for the fact that during large blizzards, electrical storms, etc., power goes out. Chicagoans can be left without electricity for hours or days on end, rendering the contents of their fridge soured and ruined.

There’s an easy solution to this: Buy what you need, and supplement it with what you have in your pantry. Over the last few days, behind the counter, we’ve talked about this, and the general consensus of foodservice workers who have jobs at Whole Foods is this: our customers do not have empty pantries. If they can afford to spend 300 dollars on enough food for the last supper, chances are that somewhere in the back of their cupboards, they have that one can of chili or Dinty Moore beef stew, a can of tuna fish, a loaf of bread, and many other things that they can turn into dinners for days, if not weeks, on end.

People don’t like to have to resort to this sort of eating. It is eating to sustain one’s self, but within that, it is eating to make it to the next time you can come to the supermarket to refill and restock your fresh food, sundries, etc. Many people live like the former, pulling out a box of pasta and a jar of tomato sauce, boiling it up and having a dinner that provides the basic nutrients to survive and feel sated. It just doesn’t make sense to me that there are those out there who shop so selfishly that they show little to no concern for others who, with a slightly more rational view of eating, only need a pound of hamburger meat.

Here’s the big beef with it all: For better or worse, many stores out there that supply the necessities of dinner are going to try to make that push to stay open. It may mean that a lot of people call in to work, citing lack of transportation, etc., but coming from Wisconsin, all it means to me is that you need to accurately plot out more time to allow yourself to get to work.

Yesterday, a night after we got 2 feet of snow dumped on us, our store leadership made the decision to open for business at ten AM. All it meant for us was that we had to show up and wait for the lucky few who chose to brave the cold to purchase the essentials for a few days worth of eating. Throughout the store, there were the expected call offs in numbers, but for my meat department, 100% of the workers showed up on time, ready to cut meat, ready to serve customers for the day. They came from 30 minutes away by bike, an hour away by train, and in my case, 45 minutes by bus and train. If all of us can make it to work, so can you.

In addition to our department, those who chose to show up came from as far away as Evanston by way of public transportation. On a clear day, catching the express train, it takes an hour and twenty minutes. Take the Evanston Purple Line to Howard, switch to the Red Line, and, if you’re lucky, catch the 12 bus up Roosevelt to the store, about a half a mile away. On my route, I took the 65 bus from Navy Pier to the Red Line, and then the Red Line to Roosevelt. Seeing the snowdrifts lining the unshoveled sidewalks, I started walking in the street towards work, still ahead of the game by 45 minutes thanks to prior planning.

As the slight hill crested at the halfway mark, I looked behind me to see a Jeep slowly making its way up the hill. As I trudged along, it pulled up beside me, the driver recognizing me from work.

“You work at Whole Foods, right?”

Yep.

“Want a ride the rest of the way?”

Sure I do.

I hopped in, and we rode the two minutes up to work, punched the time clock, and finished the set up for the day. The store opened by ten, and as we had cut every last scrap of meat in the cooler, we immediately started breaking down the shop, assuming correctly that what we had would be sufficient to serve whomever chose to come out and buy.

All this chicken, and nobody in the store to buy it.

I shouldn’t say immediately. The day before, one of our guys had his mother down from Michigan, and he had prepared a giant pot of jambalaya, the remnants of which were to be enjoyed at a leisurely pacce by those who chose to show up to work.

It was delicious. Because we were there, we were not only able to make the sausage for his jambalaya, but prep a pork shoulder that was also destined for the pot, and the next day, enjoy the fruits of his culinary labor.

As for my own pantry, before it all hit, I bought a giant bag of root vegetables from work, which I’m immeasurably excited about. For seven bucks, I got a 5 lb bag of organic carrots, japanese turnips, rutabagas and sunchokes that I plan on using for either a roasted dish or a soup. When plans changed a few days ago and I couldn’t get to a dish of swiss chard and white beans that I wanted to make, I turned items from my pantry into another hearty soup, and it served to satisfy and heal.

The lady was sick for a few days, so on Saturday, with only snow and chill in the forecast, I woke up early and started a soup.

Here’s the recipe:

Winter Soup

2 Yellow Onions, sliced thin

3 Cloves of Garlic, sliced thin

1 Fennel Bulb, tops reserved, sliced thin

2 Carrots, peeled and chopped into rounds

1 Bunch Swiss Chard, stems sliced, greens rough chopped

1 Can White Beans

8 oz. Italian Style Seitan (I used Upton’s brand, which was really good, but you can use ground beef, sausage, or fake meat crumbles)

Vegetable Broth

Water

Salt, Pepper, Oregano, Thyme

Olive Oil

***

1. In a large stockpot, heat a swirl or two of olive oil. Add the garlic, onions, fennel, carrots, swiss chard stems, ¬†and sweat over medium heat until they become translucent. Season with Salt and Pepper, and add enough vegetable broth to cover the vegetables. Add some water to double the volume if you, like me, don’t have enough vegetable broth. With all the vegetables in there, it’ll come together on its own.

2. Simmer for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables soften and you get the aroma of a soup in the air.

3. Add your can of white beans, your meat (if it’s raw ground beef, brown it in a separate pan if you want to), and the chard greens. Season it up with thyme, oregano, and let it simmer another 30 minutes, until the soup smells really good.

4. Taste the soup. What does it need? Is it bland? Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Does it need heat? Add some chili flakes. Stir it, and let it sit. It’s only going to get better as the days go on.

***

Think about all the things that you can do with your pantry. I cleaned out the fridge and made a soup that has lasted for days, and I’m on the verge of making another one. Don’t let snow get in the way of your plans. Take your time, and if anything, get a bottle of wine or two to make sure that you don’t have to head out in the snow for at least a day or two. Then, curl up by the television with someone you’re fond of, open that bottle of wine, and enjoy the majesty of Mother Nature that is creating a Wintry wonderland of wintriness outside your window.

As for the shoveling that no doubt you’ll have to do, just leave it for tomorrow. If it’s too much, just take the train.