Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Cleaning of the Kitchen Cabinets

I've been cleaning out the kitchen cabinets in preparation for the move to our new house. We have one corner cabinet that's large, deep, and awkward to get into. Items in the front of the shelves eventually get pushed into the dark recesses of the back, never to see the light of day again. Cleaning it out has been the kitchen equivalent of discovering the La Brea tar pits. For instance, why do I have five containers of honey? Four bags of rice? Two unopened bottles of smokey chipotle hot sauce? And I certainly didn't need to buy another bottle of lemon juice because I already had two up there.

Obviously this cabinet is not the best design for organizing food and keeping tabs on what I've run low on and what I need to buy. However, I can't just blame the cabinet as I've done this before in other kitchens. When I packed up my apartment in Davis, CA, to move back to the east coast, I found four unopened boxes of brown sugar in the kitchen cabinets. Really. I don't know what possessed me to stockpile ten pounds of brown sugar unless I thought it would come in handy if there was a really bad earthquake and I needed to have an emergency supply of brown sugar on hand to make penuche fudge in the aftermath.

Moving on to our refrigerator I found two bags of ancient, mummified raisins in the bottom drawer. At least I hope they're raisins and not the bunny turds they look like. They were in storage bags, so I probably used part of a package and kept the remainder with the idea that I'd use them in another recipe later on. For a moment I stood there with the bags in my hand, considering keeping these rock-hard raisins even longer. I could soak them in hot water and then use them in oatmeal, even if it meant actually packing up these two bags of old raisins and moving them to the new house. Then I remembered the dried fruit in my mom's freezer.

Mom has a small bag of dried fruit, the kind you'd use in a fruitcake, in her freezer. This fruit is about as old as I am, but she's had it so long that she can't throw it out. When I was about 14 I used some of the red and green cherries to decorate sugar cookies at Christmas, and I think Mom was totally shocked that I'd use the family heirloom dried fruit in such a casual manner. Although, now that I think about it, maybe she was more shocked by the idea that the candied fruit was still edible, even back then, 25 years ago. I can laugh about this, but then reality smacks me on the head and I remember that I've got yet another bag of desiccated raisins somewhere in my own freezer. I decide to toss the first two bags from the fridge out for the birds and squirrels, then deal with the freezer raisins when I unearth them later on this week.

I can't clean out a refrigerator without thinking of my late grandmother. One day, as we were helping Memaw clean out her refrigerator in preparation for her to move to a retirement home, we found an old box of chocolate covered cherries. The expiration date indicated that Memaw had been saving these for a long time. I was about to toss the box into the trash when Memaw turned around with her hands on her hips and declared that she was going to put the cherries in some applesauce to give it more flavor. I laughed at the idea at the time (chocolate cherry applesauce? Yuck!) but now I find myself doing similar things.

I tend to save food, even small amounts, for a later use. Maybe there aren't enough cooked vegetables leftover from dinner for another meal, but I'll freeze them until there's enough to make a pot of vegetable beef soup. I know this is a thrifty behavior I've gotten from my mother and her mother. Mom puts her leftover vegetables in the same freezer container. When it's full, it's time to make soup. She pulls the container out and dumps it in the soup pot with cooked ground beef, onion, and whatever fresh ingredients she has on hand. The frozen vegetables thaw out in the hot pot, revealing individual layers of yellow corn, green beans, maybe a stripe of tomato sauce. The stratified colors always remind me of the Grand Canyon. We've always referred to this soup with leftover vegetables as "garbage soup" but it's always delicious. Much in the same way, we always boil down the leftover roasted turkey, meat and bones, into soup stock that we call "turkey carcass soup." I was delighted to see a recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook for the same thing, only they gave it the move delicate name "turkey frame soup."

I've made soup out of just about every ingredient, but I won't be using those pebbly raisins. I could make a batch of granola with them and the handful of dried coconut I also found in the fridge. Common sense tells me to refrain from tossing in the mint chocolate M&Ms that I found in the same drawer, but I can also hear my grandmother's ghost telling me, "Well, you know, they might not taste that bad in some granola."

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