This wasn’t supposed to be the story I was telling today. But last Sunday morning, I opened our basement freezer, also known as the meat freezer, to retrieve a cod fillet and discovered a crack in the ancient plastic lining. I blinked my eyes to wish it away, hoping beyond hope I was imagining things. But nope, there it was, leaking cold air out of the fridge and jeopardizing the status of the pig parts stashed in its frosty depths. [Insert copious amounts of swearing and denial here.]
Now it’s a story about how I’ve been forced to confront the contents of two refrigerators in anticipation of our shiny new 21st-century coldbox arriving on Wednesday.
I always felt that as someone who essentially buys and consume groceries for a living, having two refrigerators isn’t so much a matter of convenience as it is a sanity-saving tool. I weep for my fellow food writers in the five boroughs who manage to stuff a cookbook’s worth of food into one apartment-sized fridge. But I’m starting to come to terms with the reality that I’m also a food writer with a DIY addiction, and having two refrigerators’ worth of space to fill is sometimes like giving an inveterate gambler a steady supply of poker chips. Beyond staples like milk, OJ, eggs, bread, and butter, it’s not leftovers that take up the bulk of our kitchen fridge’s real estate. That space is usually occupied by various long-keeping accoutrements that feed my condiment need.
Without opening the door to verify, I can list at least five types of pickles—beets, squash, carrots, relish, dill rounds from last year’s lemon cucumbers—on the shelves, along with Heinz ketchup, three kinds of mustard, Bourbon Barrel worcestershire sauce, the off-brand Sriracha I prefer to the ubiquitous bottle everyone else likes, truffle butter, sunflower seed butter, homemade peanut butter, bottarga, homemade Magic Shell left over from the Klondike bar recipe testing, and homemade caramel sauce. I managed to finish off a jar of strawberry-balsamic jam this morning, but there’s still half a jar of wild blueberry jam and some Anarchy in a Jar grapefruit-smoked salt marmalade to kick (this, by the way, should always be eaten with high-quality goat cheese on water crackers. It’s the only way).
And we haven’t even touched the contents of the cheese drawer or the booze. I curse our decision to stock the basement fridge with a shopping cart’s worth of 21st Amendment cans, bottles of Abita and Flying Fish, and more 22-ouncers of Dogfish Head’s My Antonia—because you don’t say no to those when they’re on sale—a few weeks ago as our summer porch-drinking stash.
So what did we do this weekend? We ate. And drank. I spent Saturday morning rendering lard, a four-pound lumpen mass taken straight from the pig, membranes and all, into manageable blocks. I marinated a bunch of thawed chicken thighs in tamarind, lime, and garlic, then grilled them for tacos stuffed with avocado, charred onion salsa, and shredded radishes. Leftover pulled pork and thawed kidney beans became enchiladas.
I also took a cold, critical look at everything else in the fridge. I’m a proponent of a well-stocked pantry, and I do regularly use and eat about 80 percent of what’s in there, but some items that needed to be purged. The prickly pear syrup I bought in Monument Valley in 2010? Still edible, but there was no time for a batch of jargaritas this weekend, so it’s gone. A failed batch of carrot hot sauce that never completely emulsified? Let’s be real, I’m never going to eat it out of pity when I still have an industrial-size bottle of Frank’s Red Hot, my most beloved brand of all hot sauces. Hoisin sauce? Holy croak, how long has that thing been in there? Have I even opened it?
If I keep going like this, the rest of the crazy condiment hoard, along with the beer, already-chilled white wine, and half a bottle of Danny Devito’s Limoncello, will fit in our few coolers on Wednesday while we play the Refrigerator Tetris game (bye bye, basement fridge; old kitchen fridge to the basement; new fridge in the kitchen). And after all the sweaty work is done, after the shelves have been wiped down, the ice maker bin overflowing, and each bottle at home in the door cubbies, I’ll swear to be more judicious with what edibles I pickle, jam, and buy, tamping down my experimental urges to a manageable size.
Eh, but we all know it won’t last. Resistance to my kitchen inquisitions, as they say, is futile. I’ll eat something at a restaurant, see an ingredient at the market, or read a recipe that unlocks the part of my lizard brain that pushes me into the kitchen to tinker. But hey, that’s the part of my brain that got me where I am with this crazy food career; if it means I need to ditch a few jars of unused onion jam or cherry juice a few times a year, I’ll shrug it off as karmic payment. After all, it’s a good thing we have two refrigerators.
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