It was time to face the fridge. I’d put off the distasteful chore for weeks — months really, if we’re being honest in this kitchen klatch — and the fall cleaning to-do list where the task began was about to be relabeled spring cleaning. Plus it felt odd to have obsessively scrubbed down the kitchen to the point of a toothbrush around the oven dials but not yet tackled whatever monster lurked behind those innocuous stainless steel double doors.
For the housecleaning record, I’m pretty good at keeping the refrigerator mysteries at bay. I’m not one for sniffing the milk, shaking off confirmation that the expired date was back before the Gregorian calendar kicked in and putting it back on the shelf certain that somebody else will undertake the laborious task of stepping three paces to the garbage can.
But even with a fairly regular checking of the vegetable and deli drawers, time has a way of letting the refrigerator collect souvenirs from snacks past, dinners-turned-leftovers and the ingredients of culinary plans that never transpired. That last corn tortilla, crumbling around the edges, but taking up an entire bag despite the two freshly purchased replacement packages sitting on top of it. Bits and pieces of chopped cilantro that wiggled their way out of the mise en place bowl and fell between the water bottles and wedges into corners. Wine bottle drips. That feta container that never closed properly and dumped crumbles far and wide. Finger smudges from rifling to the very back of the crowded refrigerator to confirm that despite all the food there is in fact nothing to eat. Smears of egg whites, now hardened like glue, on the door shelf underneath the barbecue sauce bottle — darn, thought that cracked egg had been entirely cleaned months ago.
Point is, refrigerators have a way of making even the most fastidious of cleaners and organizers feel, for lack of a better word, filthy. This was time to forget easy rearranging of salad dressing bottles and throwing out bacon that lost the fight before it could hit a frying pan. This was a time for gloves, cleaner, elbow grease, willpower and the misguided confidence that once removed the various shelves would actually fit back in the right grooves at the preferred heights.
This type of deep cleaning is eye-opening, mainly to the fact that obviously in my household horseradish needed purchasing multiple times over just as many years and that chocolate pudding cups hold onto their looks better than a fading Hollywood star. But that’s why the gods invented preservatives, because nobody is going to use an entire jar of tahini before the use-by date.
The biohazard endeavor known as refrigerator cleaning also unveiled that a stick of butter melted into a lake on the refrigerator floor but hidden under the vegetable bin — where in the world did that come from and how did it melt? — also tends to collect dust particles and the occasional dog hair. Like I said, filthy. Although the fur strands does give a little more credence to my rhetorically asking the dog who drank all the juice. I always knew that lack of an opposable thumb was just an excuse on his sneaky part. Now that I’ve uncovered his secret dexterity, perhaps he can earn his keep tidying up the perishables next time.
Refrigerator maintenance is a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it. Unfortunately, that somebody ended up being me.
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: email@example.com.