When I’m upset you won’t find me with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s or a box of tissues and a chick flick. You will find me, wild-eyed and frizzed out, deep cleaning some heretofore-unseen crevasse of the apartment. As if the physical scouring could erase the metaphysical grime in my conscience.
This weekend, the kitchen is my victim.
My kitchen sees a lot of action. I cook a hot breakfast at least five days a week. There’s a decent dinner thrown together daily. Okay… damn near close to daily. There’s stovetop popcorn coming out of there on more nights than I’m willing to admit. And since I’m the cook in the household I know where everything is even when no one else does. All the ingredients for my workday breakfast are on one fridge shelf. Deli meats, cheese and tortillas reside in the bottom right drawer. Leftovers live on the middle shelf in front as a visual reminder to eat them up. Meat goes on the bottom shelf on a plate in case it leaks (a habit gleaned from my mother). That fridge is my system. Except lately… things have gotten a little loose. When a week kicks you squarely in your lady parts, organization is often the first habit to abandon ship.
Don’t believe me?
I have no shame, interwebz. Welcome to my crib:
Trust me, it looks much worse closer up. My crappy camera is not doing it justice.
Each fall, The Kitchn starts The Cure: a four-week journey to a happier, healthier kitchen. This year, it couldn’t have come at a better time. Each week, participants are presented with a challenge to be documented on The Cure’s Flickr page as well as on main site. To begin, we are charged with purging and cleaning out the pantry, fridge and freezer. The challenge guidelines urge you to consider not only purging expired or stale foods but also those items that are simply taking up energetic space.
I started with the less-threatening area first: the pantry.
Check out that bottom shelf! A logical, systematic organizational system, no? What? Your vitamins don’t live next to your peanut butter? You don’t have 3 open bags of powdered sugar, all almost untouched? Weird.
Here’s what I trashed: The green chiles are expired by 6 months, the can of soup by 18 (it moved in with us just over a year ago). The instant miso soup is a sodium bomb and not even a little bit tasty. The kiddie Clif bar is foul. The Kavli and the Crystal Light packs are holdovers from my diet days. Mmm… cardboard and powdered apartame lemonade… The caramels are wasteful, but we’re never going to use them. The coffee beans were purchased to fill glass votive candle holders we have and the bag has been stored open on the top shelf since last September. And the graham crackers? Did you know they can mold? Yurp.
Here’s the shiny, new pantry!
BLA-DOW!! Gah, just looking at it makes my day a little brighter. I grouped items onto shelves based loosely on type of food (i.e., grain, can, legume, etc.) but also by frequency of use, which is why the spaghetti and the gemelli are on a different shelf than the other pasta/grains. And Justin thought me saving all those glass jars was silly. They’re a slightly more attractive solution for all those twist-tied bags of dried pasta, lentils and rice. And yes, there are four different types of lentils in there. And an equal variety of flours. And before anyone asks, no, I don’t keep an industrial sized amount of nutritional yeast on hand. Anymore. I totally did– at one time. I big puffy paint, glittery heart nutritional yeast. But now it lives in a small jar on the counter. The mega container houses popcorn kernels (which I buy from bulk bins), which are my nutritional yeast vehicle of choice.
The freezer was easy. We don’t use the freezer all that much, actually. Which is a blessing, given how often the door gets left open accidentally overnight (ahem). The freezer carnage is as follows: badly freezer burned bacon (I had already bought and frozen a fresh pack); freezer burnt ice cubes of vegetable stock; Flatout wraps, another holdover from dieting days which taste precisely like diet food; cheese and bacon flavored Pooch Pops—part of the swag from the shelter where we got Soup that he refuses to eat (can you blame him?); a package of acai-flavored popsicles which have thawed and refrozen more times than I can count (shut the door, keep out the devil!); and lastly, 8-10 frozen cheese rinds. Mostly parmesan. I did save the freshest specimens. Why? Oooh, you’ll have to wait and see.
The fridge was a disaaaaaaaaaster. It was ugly, ya’ll. The fridge trash is not as well documented but included: several condiments that expired in 2008; 4 sandwich bags filled with an equal amount of moldy lemon and/or lime wedges; a variety of expired dairy products; an empty container (!!) of yellow mustard; foil-wrapped meatloaf from two weeks ago; several terrifyingly spoilt and furry hot peppers (So stealthy in the bottom of the crisper drawer!). Ooze. Crud. Guk.
And now, one sparkly fridge free from grime and crud later, looks like I need to go grocery shopping.
If you’re thinking about tackling this in your own kitchen, my recommendations are as follows:
- Get a good soundtrack. Today I was rocking out to Mavis Staples, Jónsi, Mumford and Sons, Passion Pit and The Wood Brothers. Spontaneous dance parties, while not mandatory, are strongly encouraged.
- All jokes aside, a glass jar can do wonders. In groups, they remove packaging clutter and are more visually appealing to the eye. Plus, you can see their contents immediately which gives you a visual inventory of available ingredients. If you don’t have any on hand, try clearing out your fridge before your pantry– you’ll sure gain some new jars from the condiments and moldy spaghetti sauce you have to toss. If you’re really in a bind, go out and buy some Mason jars.
- Since you’ll be ditching all that packaging, consider investing in a role of masking tape and a Sharpie. Use it to label any non-obvious ingredients (for me, semolina flour). You can also add any other details you might want in the future, such as cook times and/or nutritional information. It’s a non-permanent labeling solution, so whenever you’re out of red lentils you rip off the tape, clean the jar and prepare for the next occupant.
- Clean out the fridge with a natural cleanser. I used a green food-safe cleaner but vinegar and warm water will work great, too. Start with the top shelf so that any crumbs you brush off will fall below, allowing you to get any stragglers in one final swoop at the bottom of the fridge. As you’re removing shelves and drawers to wash, make sure you dry them well before stowing them in the fridge. Nobody loves mold.
I still need to tackle the spice cabinet but I have all week. In the coming weeks, we’ll clean out equipment, tools and gadgets; restock the kitchen with staples and tools; make it all pretty and finally, throw a dinner party! If you’re interested in joining the cult, you can sign up here. If you’d rather gawk and judge other peoples’ mess, check out the flickr pool here.
Coming up, I have a wild, fancy, newfangled zucchini bread! And stock. And soup. And more carbs to eat with stock. And soup.