So Hard to Find It in the Refrigerator

It’s late, late summer and the farmers market and my garden are still going at full tilt, which means that my refrigerator is crammed with bags of produce, the last plums and melons, wine, dried fruits and nuts hauled from California farmers markets, oils of all kinds, grains, vanilla beans, and cheeses. Before our cameras were digital, there would have been film stashed there, too. I dread opening the door and the reveal of such plenty, but these are my art materials, as my artist husband Patrick, reminds me. It’s true; I do use all of these foods for my work—and pleasure. I paint my pictures with them.

Sometimes I think of my refrigerator as the “wall of bags.” When about to reach into the wall one day, Patrick asked, “Do you even know if there’s any beer in here?” That’s when he got his own refrigerator. Of course I poached into his domain and transferred some of my oils and grains there, but that hardly made a dent in my own collection.

My refrigerator is modest in size and I like it that way. A mid-size model acts as something of a governor on my edible acquisitions. I know that larger would not, in the long run, be better, so getting a behemoth box for even more food is simply not an option. Making good use of all that is harbored even this one means spending time simply managing food, trying to remember what’s there and use it, thus avoiding encounters with slimy cucumbers and greens wilted beyond recognition and redemption. I’m not necessarily proud that food ends up in the compost, the catchall place for neglect and failures along with trimmings, scraps and coffee grounds, but it does occasionally.

Once we ran out of food. We went to Italy and when we came back, the refrigerator was empty except for a cabbage, some coffee, a chunk of Parmesan, a stick of butter, and the usual collection of oils, nuts, and grains. The onions had grown handsome green sprouts in our absence. There was some parsley in the garden, the last of the chard and a few new potatoes yet to be dug.  I surveyed the possibilities. It was effortless cheap oakley to put dinner together, relaxing, really. Even liberating would not be too strong a word. A dinner menu was easy to come up with: cabbage and chard braised with new potatoes, some chopped parsley, a few snippets from those sprouting onions, and finally a capful of olive oil and a sliver of cheese. Simple food. Food to feed two hungry, travel worn souls.

I liked this approach a lot. This was how I want my refrigerator to be all the time, I thought. For that matter, it’s how I wanted my life to be. I would like both refrigerator and self to be modest, easy to view, more empty than full, accessible, and not quite so dense. It’s actually easier to cook—your dinner and probably your life—when there are fewer things to choose from. You can better hear what your ingredients cheap oakley sunglasses have to say about how they might best be used when there’s no one screaming in the background, “Choose me!  I’ve been here for weeks!” Or, “I’m going to wilt if you don’t use me now!” And that sad little voice that says, “I’m already wilted.”

Now the truth is, I need a new refrigerator. Is it possible that I wore mine out? It seems to be the case.

22 comments to So Hard to Find It in the Refrigerator

  • qui_ca

    I love this idea. Idealistically that’s where I would like to be and yet I find myself going to the store again and again for this or that to fill out a recipe list or menu. Maybe I need more discipline AND creativity at the same time! 🙂

    • Lisa -Idealistically that’s where I’d like to be, too. But it’s amazing how infrequently it happens. Having to drive
      20-plus miles to town to shop both helps and hinders, and today I just harvested about 30 pounds of Jerusalem
      artichokes, leaving me with the question, “Where on earth do I put them?” I hadn’t counted on their actually growing!

  • Ali

    Every Saturday morning on my way to the farmers market I resolve to buy less, to not get carried away, reminding myself I can always stop by another nearby market Wednesday or Thursday if I run out of produce. And then every Saturday I am once again seduced by the gorgeous bounty waiting for me, and spend the week scrambling finding ways to use it all! The idea above is indeed appealing, but I think I lack the discipline to get there.

  • Ali – I too lack the discipline to get there—it’s just such a pleasure to be seduced by beautiful produce. Surely spending a weekend cooking isn’t so bad. I’ll bet you have some delectable leftovers by Monday.

  • Susan

    That sad little voice is sometimes a chorus in our fridge! It’s heartbreaking to grow the perfect cucumber or bunch of beets only to find that they’ve turned into a slimy brown vegetable pudding in the back of the crisper, but it happens on a regular enough basis when there are only two of us to feed. The compost bin is a great guilt-reliever, though. Tonight’s wilted or rotted veggies might not feed us, but they’ll feed next years crop. Maybe by then we’ll have come up with a better system, though I’m not holding my breath…

    • Susan —This seems to be a common problem. Those of us who are smitten with beautiful produce, whether from our garden
      or the farmers market, simply can’t resist it. Is it because it’s still something unexpected, perhaps, or just a gene against waste?
      But the compost pile is a marvelous solution—plus you do get compost, all the better to raise more vegetables. If spoiled vegetables went to the dump, I’d be devestated.

  • We just went through this same thing in my house: we opted for a smaller fridge — it’s just the two of us — and we’re forever trying to keep our eyes from being bigger than our stomachs (to quote my grandmother) at the farmer’s market. So far, so good: not too much has gotten buried since we’ve had it, and it’s forced a certain level of creativity at the stove: braised radishes; wilted kale, garlic, and farmer cheese on toast; etc etc etc. 30 pounds of Jerusalem artichokes??? Gee….

    • So Elissa, what kind of refrigerator did you get? It’s rather discouraging to find the right one. If I were a true minimalist I’d get a Smeg, but
      then I would have to be super disciplined and mildly disinterested in food. It’s tall, slender and elegant—a terrific Euro look— but with little capacity for indulgences. I don’t think I can manage that, somehow.

  • I’ve given up feeling guilty about food ending up in the compost. It is my way to stick with my CSA subscription, even when it is too much food for my husband and me. I figure I’m letting it go to become some other vegetable.

    I do love the idea of being more empty than full – both as a person and as a cook. I think I’ll go see what’s in my pantry and see if I can make it a little less.

  • By total coincidence (or maybe not?), I am reading your post after a rather frustrating session in front of my open refrigerator. I was sure I had set aside some roasted onions from last night (your recipe, by the way), and now I can’t find it. My problem, so to speak, is that I reuse yogurt containers to store food in the fridge, which is a great reusing idea, except that then I have a fridge full of nearly identical containers and often I need to open several before I can find what i am looking for. As it happens, in the recent episode, I didn’t.
    I also have difficulty restraining myself at the farmers’ market. I need to keep in mind that I cook mostly for two people. I get worried about all the great produce I leave behind: cases of sun-ripened tomatoes, gloriously colorful peppers of many varieties, the first pears and apples of the season, all that crisp lettuce…

    • Ciao Simona! Here you try to do a good thing, like actually use all those yogurt containers, and it just makes
      for confusion and frustration. It’s just not right. Maybe some labels with sticky backs would help lessen confusion.
      Or a strip of blue masking tape — easy to write on. And as for those onions, our market have a great assortment of small
      onions (the dregs of the sesaon?) – all kinds including Torpedo reds, and I’m planning to follow you and roast those tonight
      with some sage. Fortunately they’re out on a counter where I can actually see them and use them.

  • Barb Stanek

    Thanks for these thoughts. Not being much interested in food in the past, I am always glad to have your perspective, Deborah. It helps me broaden mine. Letting in a few more ideas, if not greens.

  • Minimalist, mannerist, mannerist, minimalist. Oy, I am so there, adoring a limited pantry… and completely giving in to the bounty, every Saturday. Sigh.

    I adore the idea of “a modest box” as governor. Maybe I’m not yet ready for self-rule. I’m okay with that.

    Oh, and I’m not sure it would dispatch with 30 POUNDS, but those Jerusalem artichokes will shrink handsomely, roasted. Blitzed into soup, they could even sneak into the deep freeze. But that’s a whole separate topic. Don’t get me started…

  • Molly – perfectly stated, and for so many of us—adoring the limits, splurging on Saturdays. And you’re right, those J. artichokes do shrink like crazy, and they’re so good roasted. Okay – I’ll quite worrying about the fact they take up one big section of my fridge and start roasting!

  • Malini

    its the first time I am visiting your blog and its really interesting and perceptive. We recently moved from New York City to India (Bangalore) and i am dealing here both with different vegetables and a much smaller fridge. I miss the vegetables, especially the ones I have grown to love like kale and chard. But I have to say the small fridge is liberating. Admittedly we did not have a enormously large one in the US (we were in a small New York flat after all), but the small fridge here really makes me think, look at the vegetables and come up with ideas of what I want to do. Thank you for sharing on such a mundane but valuable thing as a fridge

    • Malini — Thank you for your comment!
      I had one of those really small fridges when I lived in Italy. Even the ice cubes were tiny. It held just the necessities, which meant that shopping was something we did daily. Since we couldn’t store much, it really made us think about what we wanted to cook and
      eat in a different way, a more conscious way. Would it fit? What else was there? When would we cook it, really? Fridge size definitely placed a governor in our lives, and in a good way. The cost of giving up the convenience of one stop shopping was well worth it.

  • Hannah

    I lam a 35 year old mother of 2 living off the grid in Argentina, and have an on again off again tiny little mini bar fridge- on again off again depending on the wind. . . . which has taught me to store only the absolute perishables like today’s milk, fresh cream,or recently made butter and yogurt. And if there is no wind. . . . we do without , eat it up, or send it to the celler. Actually, the garden is better than any fridge root vegetables, carots, kale, and greens all stay perfect until minutes before harvested for supper. Even so, I am seduced by the seed packages and often PLANTway too much. . . . . and then we are back to the same dilema. Or opt for a jersey cow instead of a nubian goat and then have to learn to make cheese or soap or SOMETHING with all that milk. And yes at a certain point there are just too many eggs and nobody wants another omlette or flan or islas flotante POR FAVOR! I guess, even if one is eating locally and sustainably which some say we are doing, there are lean and bountiful times of year. Those woody parsnips do look tasty after all else has been pulled, and sorrel tastes sweet before the other greens grow in spring. By the way so love your books, they translate well with or without a fridge, and have helped me make use of both excess and limited ingredients. Thank you for your writing and coooking talents!

    • Hannitah – What an interesting story of fasting and feasting in Argentina! Thank you for sharing it. Finding the
      perfect balance is hard enough to be considered impossible I suspect, or close to it. Your story makes me think of old farm recipes found in
      community cookbooks. In summer there would be casseroles that used a dozen or more eggs because hens were laying.
      In the dark of winter, there were no recipes like that. That’s truly eating with the seasons and with all that they bring you, or don’t. Thank you again.

  • J Sculley

    A smaller fridge in a recently acquired second home near Corcord NH is smaller by half than the one to which I am accustomed in south Georgia. With seasonal foods readily available either location, a good thermal ice chest would likely serve as well by careful attention to maintaining proper temperature. In fact, one was pressed into temporary service on occasion when impending quantity food preparations or over-buying called for the need of it. Inspiring publications like Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen cultivates impulse gathering of living produce. Those pages nurture dreams of potential that each leaf, root, grain, and pod contains. As a thwarted visual artist, I became enamored of food as easily accessible raw material for creativly designing flavor and texture combinations, visual juxtapositions that beckoned and pleasured the senses. Having basic and extraordinary culinary ingredients at hand seemed important in adventures seeded by inventive whims. It was fun to share the result with unsuspecting friends. After I began writing, little time was left for excesses in the kitchen, further blunting any hope of ever getting back to paint and canvas, clay, other media. In perspective, attention to detail in food planning/preparation/presentation (then was displaced by writing) sharpened observation and perception skills, prompted editing, fused the disciplines. In turn, those practices have whetted my edge and enabled me to revisit my primary dream of visual expression. Full circle, now played out with grandsons: water color and crayon paintings, potato salad hands-on lessons, journaling of weekend activities, for example. Before abandoning kids to return south for the remainder of winter, I successfully emptied the fridge at Windchime home by incorporating the “made aheads” into simple last meals (there are no “left overs” in my kitchen, only ‘mato-heads) . Confronting a near-empty fridge back at Lullwater home, I pined for eggs from cold climate backyard hens raised by our daughter’s family. Yet I managed with two commercially produced eggs left in a pink styrofoam box. They were still useable by convenience of electric refrigeration that had not been interrupted by spotty winter power outage. In a week from now, I will be landing in Albuquerque with Vegetarian Suppers book in hand. Time to share it with a grand nephew, budding as a fine hand in the kitchen, to make some special suppers that are congruent with his mom’s macrobiotic diet which helps manage her treatment for cancer. First, we inventory the refrigerator. Where are you, Laurie Smith?

  • J Sculley

    Thank, Deborah, for dreaming in color and following those dreams for the benefit and pleasure of us all.

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