Monday, September 12, 2011

Refrigerator Blues

LUCY BURDETTE: It's old news by now, but we were right in Hurricane Irene's path just about two weeks ago and she knocked our power out for a week. During that week, I mastered the art of reading with a flashlight laid across my clavicle and got up early every morning to do the hunter-gatherer thing. The prize? Ice for our three coolers. I nursed along as much food as I could without spawning botulism but the contents of the freezer had to go, including my stash of pesto, a nice sack of blueberries, three half-gallons of ice cream, two pounds of organic butter, and an expensive steak in a teriyaki marinade. On the other hand, I was forced to root out items in the refrigerated side that should have been discarded long ago: elderly relish, jalapenos and capers, even older, oyster sauce circa 2005, enormous, rusting canisters of chili powder. What a relief to see them go!

I thought my friend Jane, a terrific cook, would be devastated to lose two refrigerator/freezers jammed with food. But she was thrilled with the guilt-free opportunity to start fresh. Let's hear it from you, Reds, are you refrigerator neatniks or freezer hoarders? How would you feel about having to pitch the whole mess? What would we find and what would you miss?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: My refrigerator is so bad. I literally open it, grab what I need, and then slam the door shut before my mind can register what my eye is seeing. It's because I'm a food hoarder. I can't throw out anything if I can envision any possible use for it in the future. Which is odd, because in other ways, I'm a rigorous tosser. Toys that don't get played with, books we won't read again, clothes that don't fit - out they all go. But, boy, try to clean out my icebox or pantry (that's a literal, 180-year-old, size-of-a-bathroom pantry)and I pitch a fit.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I don't want to admit how many jars and bottles of sauces, marinades, salad dressings, pickles, pestos, and jams there are in my fridge. I put rubber bands on anything in a clam shell because when I open the fridge door, things fall out. (It's a terrible thing to see a whole pint of fresh blueberries or cherry tomatoes go rolling across the kitchen floor.) But except for the condiments, I clean fridge and freezer out on a regular basis, and I toss anything that hasn't been eaten within a reasonable time. I even plan menus based on what needs to be used in the freezer. If I could just stick to the plan it would be brilliant . . . We used to have an old-fashioned walk-in pantry before we remodeled our kitchen, and DH now bemoans the lack of food storage space. But I don't mind. When we tore out the old pantry, I found cans of things that were more than twelve years old--and those were the ones with the still-visible dates . . . Never again.

And now I'm going to clean out my closet.

HALLIE EPHRON
: I keep pretty good track of what's moldering in my refrigerator and get rid of it. And my favorite dishes (never made twice) are from "what's in the fridge." (Last night: a half green pepper, the end of a celery head, a chunk of vidalia onion, an open can of chipotle peppers, three ears of corn, a baked potato, the end of a box of whipping cream -- Corn chowder!) It's like throwing myself a surprise party.

I do have what has to be a two year old jar of the world's best tasting duck sauce -- it's "Gold's" which I think is a Jewish brand and I must have gotten it at Costco because it's quart sized. I keep waiting for it to turn blue or smell bed, but it just goes on and on. If I die of food poisoning you'll know why.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN
: My problem is indecision. My pattern of inner dialogue:
Day one: "Hmmm, leftovers.Yum."
Day two: "Oh, can't use these leftovers today, it would be too boring. I'll use them tomorrow."
Day three: "Whoa, it's day three. Wonder if this stuff is already deadly? Seems iffy, but wasteful to throw it away. But it'll never be fun to eat it, because I'll be worrying. It'll just--throw it away TOMORROW, when I'm sure it's bad."
Day four: "What IS this stuff? Yuck. But if I put it in the trash, it'll smell bad, so I'll wait til Sunday."

And that's why my fridge looks the way it does. Little pods of aluminum foil.

As for old stuff: I bet my box of baking soda (or is it baking powder?) is from 1973.

RHYS BOWEN: Lucy, I'm so sorry about your losing all that stuff in your freezer. We were in a flood once in Texas and the only house on the block that didn't lose power, so I stuffed my freezer and refrigerator to the gills with neighbors' most precious food items, and cooked up about to spoil meat for them at every meal.

My husband is a 'waste not want not' kind of guy. So our refrigerator tends to fill up with tupperware containing three green beans, some marinade he might just use again, and every now and then I wait until he is out and then have a huge throw away. I'm not big on leftovers myself. But I do know that at the very back there is a jar of boiled condensed milk that my sister in law made for us about eight years ago. I have no idea what to do with it, but it lives on.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: We lost power but didn't throw everything out - and now I'm afraid to eat almost everything in the fridge. My husband swears by the sniff test. I will have to slowly pretend to have eaten stuff - and quietly pitch.

We have an apartment in NYC and we very rarely cook there - we either order in or go out. I had a friend stay over for a few days while I was in CT and I had to warn her that there was almost no food there - oatmeal, protein powder, condiments, beverages and an envelope of tuna that I'm pretty sure I got in Tanzania in 2005.

Lucy: Rhys, you're such a good neighbor! Ro, Hank, and Debs, know exactly what you mean...can't quite get myself to throw things out but the longer they lurk, the scarier they become! How about you guys, hoarders or pitchers?

21 comments:

Gram said...

Rhys - that jar of boiled condensed milk is now - toffee! But much too old to use....Dee :)

girlygirlhoosier52 said...

OMG... we've had to clean out my mom's kitchen to move her to assisted living.... I think it's passed on in the genes... She did start to date stuff... salt...2006... but the good stuff? 3 different places in her very small kitchen had rice, powdered sugar and jello... do you have duplicates in different places?

Sheila Connolly said...

The problem is, things get pushed to the back and forgotten. How often do we get the chance to pull everything out and start over?

I am having trouble explaining why I have two unopened bottles of Devonshire cream that I've had for at least a decade. But it says right on the label that it's safe until opened. Maybe if I call it a science experiment...

Brenda Buchanan said...

Roberta, I'm so sorry to hear about your loss of pesto and blueberries. Those are two staples we keep in our freezer also, so we can enjoy a burst of summer flavor in mid-winter. You have my sympathy.

Like you, Deborah, I'm something of a condiment queen. I clean out the vegestable binds more or less regularly and keep the milk fresh, but the fridge is always cluttered with multiple jars of jam, three-quarters-gone bottles of salad dressing and many, many jars of capers. (I think they must procreate when the door is shut.)

Brenda

Jan Brogan said...

Yes, yes, and yes.

The condiments, they are the problem, Brenda. It gets worse when I close down our summer place and bring things from the refrigerator home. Now I have two or everything, sometimes three. And capers, last for ever, right?

And the pushing back, Sheila, it's scary what I find in the back of the fridge, even though I try really hard to keep track of stuff.

But as Hank so aptly explained, it's the indecision. Might use it tomorrow. Can't throw it out, might be good. Maybe just one or two more days.

Sorry about your hurricane disaster, Roberta, but thank you for inspiring me to go clean out the fridge.

Lucy Burdette said...

Relieved to hear that this is such a common problem! We STILL have four bottles of Tabasco sauce...two of them jumbo...

CindyD said...

Stuff doesn't build up in our refrigerator because my husband LOVES to clean it out. We have an agreement that he won't do it last thing before bed because he drives me crazy asking how long something has been in there!!

Rosemary Harris said...

Sheila's right about the stuff that gets pushed to the back of the cabinet. That can be the only explanation for owning three jars of cream of tartar (which I do.)I'm not even sure what that is, but it's in Nigella's scone recipe.

Hallie Ephron said...

What accumulates in mine are bottles with one inch of no longer "sparkling" beverage left in the bottom of them.

Duplicates happen. Particular with mustard, ketchup, and chili sauce. Except when they don't and you need one of them.

Hallie Ephron said...

Anyone else remember when a can of boiled condensed milk turned to caramel was considered "dessert"? I think it was in the 70s.

Julia said...

Yeah, what is it with capers? I honestly can't recall ever buying them, but we have three partially filled jars in the fridge. Do they come with the appliance?

Ramona said...

Things get interesting when you have a beer fridge. (It doesn't matter if you drink or not, or if there is any actual beer in the fridge. If you have a secondary refrigerator in your basement, it's a beer fridge.) A beer fridge is great for food overflow around the holidays or when you have visitors, but if you put a frozen turkey breast down to thaw for a couple of days and you forget about it because you don't see it every time you need milk, and three weeks later...phew.

Glad you are no longer playing hunter/gatherer, Lucy.

Deb said...

Confession: We had a second fridge in the old pantry, which we used for drinks and baking goods, because I've always used whole grains and they have a very short shelf life, especially cornmeal. Now I bake less, because I don't have room for all my goodies. BUT we do have a drinks fridge, and I LOVE it. And I do usually drink the half-flat bottles of Perrier that I save. I just wait until I'm really hot and thirsty and don't care if it's flat as long as it's cold!

Darlene Ryan said...

Hallie, sadly I do remember the dessert made from a boiled can of condensed milk. I also remember a lemon square recipe in which the can of condensed milk was mixed with lemon juice, poured over graham crackers and topped with icing made with several cups of icing sugar and at least a half a cup of butter.

No wonder I know so many people with high cholesterol.

Grapeshot/Odette said...

We were w/o power for 4 days, but we have a gas stove and a Weber kettle, so we just cooked it up as it thawed. I threw out one pizza (water logged from melting ice) and a few leftovers that needed to be tossed anyhow. My big worry was keeping the cat's insulin cool, so we went on ice-hunting expeditions daily. At the ice cream up the first day. Right now, both the fridge and especially the freezer look pristine. Everyone in the neighborhood was grilling chicken breasts.

Nancy said...

CindyD - Can I borrow your husband? (if nothing else, perhaps he can train mine!). I'm envious!

Brenda Buchanan said...

Lucy/Roberta,

Tabasco lives forever.

Brenda

rhys bowen said...

Hallie, I think my jar of condensed milk may have been put there in the 70s! I had no idea what to do with it then and still don't. as long as I don't have to eat it.

Hallie Ephron said...

Okay, so here's the recipe for
Caramel Sweetened Condensed Milk

1 can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)

Remove label from can. Place unopened can in the bottom of a very deep sauce pan. COVER with water so that (to 3 to 4-inches above the can).
2. Bring the water to a boil
3. Boil steadily for four (4) hours.
4. Remove the can with tongs and place on a wire rack to cool.
5. Refrigerate.

When can is cold, open and you will have soft, caramel-colored caramel.

barbaraannross.com said...

I wrote a short story about the stuff in my fridge--Harry Covert and the Smell from Hell http://wp.me/p17ij-1n

Pat Marinelli said...

CindyD, I also so want to borrow your husband. If I could just put yours and mine into a large paper bag and shake them to combine skills I’d be happy. My Hubby doesn’t have to clean out the fridge, just be willing to let me toss out his well-over expiration dated, six different kinds of mustard, two different types of catsup, etc.

We also had the power out so long we lost food from fridge and two freezers. We had chocolate chip mint soup for lunch. I lost all the homemade pesto, tomato sauce, cherries, blueberries, and strawberries I’d put the freezer. This was the most difficult since the fruits are passed season and can’t be replaced. Since I still have the jungle herb harden, we can make more pesto. Good news: storm damage deductible does not apply to food loses due to power outage; however, even if you send a list and take pictures, they prorate the amount you receive by how many people live in the house.

Brenda, I found brown hot sauce in my fridge when I cleaned it out. Worse, Hubby brought a new one up from the basement pantry after the power came back on. Guess what, it was brown also and expired in 2009. Guess he doesn’t rotate the pantry very well.

As a side note: I can tell you how to live without a sewer for five days—we had to do that twice now—but power outage, this was my first experience. Boy, did we learn a lot. Would you believe I filled all the water bottles and put them in the fridge, I had no clue that you couldn’t open it to get them? Duh! I did find out that my gas stove will work without power, but that the oven will not. You really need to keep an ice chest even if you never use one these days (We had given the two we had to our adult kids.) Put a roasting pan of bagged ice in fridge. Who knew? If I’d put the bottle water in the freezers, it would have kept the food from defrosting as quickly.

Candles and flashlights are fine. And the big one, I really need a battery backup for my CPAP machine if I plan to sleep when the power fails!