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Feast or famine

Columns2012 The beginning of a new year calls for cleaning up, cleaning out and starting fresh.  And for some people that extends to the refrigerator.

For most of us, our interest in refrigerators is limited to what and how much can we put in them, how long can it stay there, and will we ever find it again.

One sign that it may be time to put on the cleaning gloves is when too many jumbled plastic tubs are stacked up like containers on a loading dock, contents unknown.

Some items are beginning to look a bit too familiar, and not in a good way.

Not familiar like a trusty bottle of ketchup or a tub of margarine, but familiar like a relative staying in the spare room, and if the visit is extended any longer, we’re talking about claiming an additional dependent on the tax return familiar.

Among the most offensive items are those which are now undistinguishable as to origin and would require a forensic specialist to determine in which former food group they previously belonged.

In the deepest recesses lies the dried and cracking crust of the remnants of a long ago bean dip, a shriveled and mottled lemon and a hardened block of blue cheese that looked so appealing in the store, but was a no starter with folks at home. And dare I mention that aged and dried corsage in the butter compartment, which may be a contender for admission to the Smithsonian?

When to actually clean out the refrigerator is altogether an art and a science, and such a bold move should not be undertaken lightly.  It truly becomes a situation of feast or famine.

Other members of the household are destined to complain that they were saving this or that and it was perfectly good – a veritable treasure of a meal.

Factors to consider when disposing of food items include a delicate combination of appearance, odor and more importantly, the potential intrinsic value of not disposing of it.

An empty refrigerator offers the illusion of no food in the house and nothing to eat.  This leads to the requisite moaning, groaning and grumbling.  Alternatively, a stuffed refrigerator, albeit with its share of inedible foodstuffs, makes the hungry person either just not that hungry, too picky or a complainer.

Objectively speaking, there is a lot of choose from if one is only willing to see. Looking past the now wilting lettuce purchased just last week, there is a bit of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and several birthdays lurking on the shelves and in the corners of the deepest drawers. That smidgeon of epicurean cheese and summer sausage from Christmas is still tucked away in plastic wrap and isn’t that some delightful spaghetti hiding out behind the eggnog?

Granted, that tiny container of once freshly minced garlic, which has evolved into another life form, needs to meet its destiny as does the sugar free jelly and plain yogurt, which nobody will eat.  Not all is a waste however, as the latter two did serve a purpose as guests have undoubtedly been impressed by our obviously extraordinarily healthy lifestyle.

But if the refrigerator is a breeding ground for compost, then the freezer is the graveyard of meals past, and in some instances meals never realized.

A peek beneath a freezer shelf sitting askew since the semi-successful attempt to stuff both half a turkey and ham in along with an assortment of gravy and sauces, elicits an aha moment while revealing that long sought after ham hock that was supposed to bring good luck in the New Year.

Depending on how I’m feeling, it might get its chance next year, or not… And for those of us who toss excess hotdog and hamburger buns in the freezer, shriveled and cracked means it’s time to go.

And there is that can of soda I misplaced several days ago.  Hard as a rock, top and sides bulging, but not yet exploded.  Into the sink with that one while the law of physics determines whether it will simply go out with a whimper or roar like a lion.

There are the bags of frozen peas for use on sprained ankles and throbbing headaches next to the dab of green frosting in the sandwich baggie. Do I hear last year’s St. Patrick’s Day here? Or was it the year before?

And while seemingly illogical, the refrigerator can be an excellent place to locate a misplaced TV remote control or a wayward cell phone.

Whether to clean or not to clean is a decision that must be weighed carefully, because just as one person’s junk is likely another one’s treasure, your actions can determine whether it’s a time of feast or a time of famine.