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?