New Year’s is all about fresh starts, which is fine by me: I can’t remember a year that didn’t include at least a few things I’d like to reframe or reconsider. However, I find it best to work up to large shifts of habit or consciousness by starting small. Thus, I decided to take on my refrigerator, home to many nameless bottles and tubs, especially in the freezer compartment. My old fridge had a top unit which my kids called The Freezer Of Death because whenever you opened it, slippery, crammed-in packages tumbled out, causing panic, discomfort, and sometimes significant pain.
My brother, who manages a restaurant, was recently hit on the head by a 30+ pound box of soup in a walk-in. My freezer never held anything that potentially lethal, but I did break a toe once when half a ham hit my foot just right. My mom was famous in our family for repackaging and freezing unsuccessful meals, usually with labels that said ‘needs work’. I was formerly famous for hosting what my kid’s referred to as The National Collection Of Blueberries (now there’s just one bag, so change IS possible).
Bargains & Moral Imperative
When the old reefer died and one of my boys’ girlfriends helped me swap out the frozen stuff, she asked me tentatively why there were 15 pounds of pasture butter to schlep. I thought that was a weird question and explained that I always buy nice butter when it’s on sale. Don’t you? Doesn’t everybody? I also buy tea on sale, which is why I have 38 boxes of it (mostly different kinds) in my tea cupboard at this very moment. (Don’t you? Doesn’t everybody?) Oh, and really good pasta, of course. And and and.
When I really considered it, I discovered that I actually believed that buying things on sale is morally superior in some undefined way that probably connects to my parents’ growing up during the Great Depression (and depression runs in both families to this day, imagine that!). The bargain habit was not as ridiculous when my kids lived with me and all their friends ate here daily. It even wasn’t as silly when my mom was with us and her caregivers were here for several meals a day. In between those two periods, however, lie a stretch of years when only one or two people were regularly fed from this kitchen, yet it was always stocked like a flood of starving refugees might appear at any moment. I’ve alway wanted to work in a soup kitchen…
Back To The Fridge
Anyway, this year I am celebrating the new by experiencing a fresh start with my refrigerator. Taking on the whole thing at once seemed a little daunting, so I decided to do one section a day. The vegetable bins came first, since they get cleaned out pretty regularly so are not scary. Next I did a shelf at a time, purging anything I didn’t recognize. Yesterday was Door Day. My reefer door was home to dozens of little bottles and jars and cans of condiments, all of which were super cool at some point but less so now.
After removing over a dozen bottles of salad dressing, home made and not, I could wiggle out ten or fifteen jars of…something that had once been amazing (I don’t save the failures, yet another example of the possibility of changing up family patterns. (See? It all works together, really; pick up anything, as John Muir once observed, and you’ll find it is inextricably connected to everything else in the universe.) Perhaps I need to remember that I only care to be culinarily amazed so often, else why would I fill my fridge with amazingness that I don’t seem to feel the urge to experience again?
Out With The Old
Some purging is quite easy: if it outlived its use-by date, it’s doomed. If I don’t know what it is, farewell. If it looks or smells dubious, so long. If it triggers no memory, ciao. With other things, it’s a bit harder; that really quite lovely vanilla-infused vinegar, for instance. Maybe with so much less stuff cramming the door, I might remember it’s there (fabulous on boiled beets, roasted carrots, and fruity salads, among other things).
Perhaps my biggest take-away is that novelty no longer rules my kitchen, since I rarely use most of those gotta-have-it condiments above once. Back when I was doing more food writing, I made and tried new stuff all the time. I still do, but far less often, since the pull of new life patterns has drawn me to different paths. What’s left? Several kinds of mustard (but not over a dozen anymore). One kind of ketchup (the only one everybody likes). Five kinds of vinegar and two kinds of ponzu, which I actually use. Fish oil and flax seed oil (they make a big difference to my eye happiness). Organic tart cherry juice, my morning sip. A jar of toasted sesame seeds, dated a few weeks back. A jar of sourdough starter, which gets used often. That’s it. It’s a new year indeed!