Shelf Life

Two Women Who Make the Most of Tiny Kitchens and Pantry Staples

Nora O’Malley and Phoebe Connell went to the same high school in Cleveland, Ohio, but the idea of going into biz together didn’t come for many years—and many miles—when they were both working in NYC restaurants that just so happened to be on the same block. At that point, it seemed fated that the two of them—Nora the wine whiz and Phoebe the chef—would open their own natural wine bar, and in 2015, they unveiled Lois in the East Village—which also served as the launching pad for their phenomenally tasty cracker and condiment company, Aida, two years later. As Nora puts it, “We share the exact same philosophy about food and wine.” Come peek inside their cupboards at their go-to ingredients and see if you do, too.

1. Berbere

Phoebe: “Berbere is an Ethiopian or North African spice blend that has 15 to 20 different spices in it. We use it at Lois a lot actually, and I have it in my pantry all the time now. I get it from a little shop on Avenue B called SOS Chefs. It is like the Ollivander’s Wand Shop of spices (heyo, Harry Potter fans). When I’m feeling uninspired, I go there and smell spices and speak to the incredible owner. I use berbere on just about anything. It has a really clear and bright citrus note. Recently I mixed it with chickpeas and farro and served it with a dollop of yogurt. I also use it to top soft-boiled eggs and mix it in with brown rice. I feel like it is the spice blend I’ve been unconsciously looking for and finally found!”

2. Dried Mushrooms

Nora: “I throw dried mushrooms into everything. I make a lot of soup, risotto, and bone broth, and throwing dried mushrooms into all that is my favorite thing to do to deepen the flavor.”

3. Tinned Fish

Nora: “I always have tinned fish. I love Ortiz, especially their anchovies and tuna. Because I lived in Italy, a lot of my cooking is Italian-inspired, and tinned-fish pasta was our thrice-weekly lunch. It’s just tinned fish with a bunch of lemon and capers, and it’s the best.”

4. White Beans

Phoebe: “I’ll do mashed white beans or white-bean salad, or I’ll make them into soup. They’re good and hearty and high in protein. I would love to tell you that I cook my own white beans every time, but sometimes (let’s be clear—most of the time) I just don’t have that much foresight. In those cases, I LOVE all the beans from Conservas Picuezo.”

5. Flavored Salt

Phoebe: “Citrus salt is a great way to brighten a dish when I don’t have fresh citrus around. It is also a great way to not waste anything. When I eat an orange, I’ll zest it before I peel it and refrigerate the zest. During the winter, I always have a little container of zest going in the fridge, and then, once a week or so, I’ll dry it out in a low-temp oven and combine it with Maldon salt. You can mess with the salt-to-citrus ratio to fit your own flavor profile (I go heavy on the citrus). I use it as my finishing salt for pretty much everything. The very best use of citrus salt is on a fresh tomato. Eat it like an apple and sprinkle as you go—you honestly can’t beat it.”

Nora: “I’m a huge salt fiend—but also a salt snob. I carry Maldon in a little tin in my purse. Right now, I have fleur de sel, Maldon, and grey Celtic sea salt from Kalustyan’s. And Phoebe makes a porcini salt where she salt-cures porcinis for six months, bakes them, and blends them with salt flakes. It’s almost chocolatey, it’s so good.”

6. Black Tea

Phoebe: “Black tea is basically what I live off of in the way that other people live off coffee. I just recently started buying a loose Nilgiri black tea from Kalustyan’s—the description on the bag says it is ‘forgiving,’ which suits me. I’m not militant about brew times or temperatures. When I have some leftover tea in the pot, I’ll add it to everything from marinades to baked goods. Cold black tea instead of ice water in a pie crust, for example, adds a really subtle depth that I love.”

7. Chia

Nora: “We’re both obsessed with chia. We just did an event with Maille mustard, and Phoebe made a gluten-free chia banana bread with a mustard glaze that was so good. Most of the time, we use it as an energy boost. We’ll make chia pudding or big pints of chia water with a bunch of lemon and maple syrup.”

8. Olive Oil

Nora: “I’m pretty obsessed with different types of olive oil. Right now, I’m using Bardi, which is a Tuscan olive oil. When I was living and working at La Foce in Tuscany, I got to actually drink fresh olive oil, and you really understand the difference. It’s not the Kirkland olive oil that everyone’s buying by the gallon. I hesitate to say I have a favorite brand because I’ll just buy new brands constantly to try them and learn about the flavor profiles.”