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Cooking with Myra: Cleaning in light mode

Sept. 13, 2011 at 4:13 a.m.

Apple Strudel

By Myra Starkey

Last week, I had some minor surgery, so I am taking a few days off from work to heal. I cannot remember the last time I was away from my job without anything specific to do.

I am probably like everyone else in that I always have a ton of work to do at home, which mostly involves lots of little projects, but I never make the time to get all those things done. I consider myself a messy person, as does my husband, Taylor.

I have neglected several areas in our home, and it is time to whisk away the old piles of magazines and books. I hate to even open certain drawers because they are so full of junk.

I started my weekend off by writing down all the areas I needed to clean out. Since I am not supposed to be lifting heavy objects or moving around too much, I have to limit myself to smaller, lighter items. I can't clean out the garage.

My first housekeeping project was the refrigerator. Of the multiple jars and containers that fill that space, some of which are no longer identifiable, there was nothing too large to lift.

In surveying its contents, I recall that I went through a salad dressing phase in which I created about 10 variations of vinaigrettes. I put each one in small jars (probably leftover pimento jars with lids) and tried them out over a week or two. That was about several months ago. I found at least three jars remaining, which proves that salad dressing does last longer than a few months because when I tasted the dressings they still tasted pretty fresh.

My condiment shelf is full to the edge with old jars of chutney, sauces, shrimp paste and other sauce enhancers, but if I could not remember even opening the jar, out it went.

I made pimento cheese last week and used most of my leftover cheese, but a small wedge of blue cheese remained. I don't think that blue cheese ever goes bad in my house, probably because it is one of my favorite cheeses to snack on. There is just something delicious about a strong blue cheese on a cracker. And I don't know if I could tell if blue cheese was spoiled because it smells sort of old when you first buy it.

I realized I had about six bottles of hot sauce. Tabasco will stay because surely there is no germ that could survive in that stuff. I pitched the others since I was unsure of their shelf life and didn't even vaguely remember when I bought them. The remaining area of the refrigerator contains butter and whipping cream, and it is the one area that never goes bad since these are used weekly.

I then turned my attention to the freezer and the multitude of small Ziploc bags lurking on the door shelves. I can recognize the contents in some of them. Some are filled with sliced or chopped vegetables.

I uncovered a container of fresh squeezed lemon juice left over from last year's harvest, which would make a wonderful sorbet. I also found four bags of cranberries, which I intend to put to good use, but need to sit down with a couple of cookbooks to find the perfect recipe.

Several hot pockets and breakfast sausage sandwiches had fallen off one of the shelves from Spencer's high school days, and he is now a junior in college, so those were definitely bad and were ejected from the game. I am amazed and ashamed that all this stuff could live in my house for so long without me noticing.

With the momentum I had from the refrigerator cleanout, I sat down with stacks of magazines that were taking up space in a kitchen drawer. I heard once that you can tell how long a person has lived in a house by going through their drawers.

Apparently, many of us keep old magazines or phone books and simply put the new ones on top. This is true for me since I found a 2005 copy of Cooking Light Magazine. The stacks of magazines were wearing on me, so I decided to tear out a few interesting recipes and throw the rest away. I sat on the couch with scissors and a stack and quickly amassed a shoe box full of possible meals to try. Now, if I could just find a place to stash the shoe box.

The problem with all this cleaning was that it made me exhausted and hungry. I found some chicken sausage from our recent trip to Lake Charles and made sausage and cabbage. I added some of the chopped onions, bell peppers and parsley I found in the freezer, but I'm afraid they had been in hibernation too long. I swear I could taste a hint of old Blue Bell sorbet in the onions.

So, I have learned these lessons: Eat what you need for today. A few leftovers may be OK, but don't overdo it. Don't save those special Valentine's chocolates for later because they won't be good in a few more months. And discard or give away those things you don't use.

If it's worth keeping, then it is probably worth sharing.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email myra@vicad.com.

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