Emptying the Fridge

Big news, oh friends: come July, N. and I are moving.  We’re leaving Eugene, OR and heading south for Los Angeles, where N. landed a great job.

I’m sad about this, of course.  I love Eugene.  I love its beauty, and I’ve made some of the best friends and eaten some of the best food of my life here.  I don’t love the way the weather lately has been playing winter/spring/winter/spring/summer/winter on us, and I’m terrified it will pour on graduation day in a week or so.  But mostly I love it.

Yet this move presents the potential for plenty of new delights.  LA is a foodie paradise.  A quick search on Yelp for our new area revealed restaurants serving every kind of food I could possibly crave, and some I’ve never tried before.  Ethiopian will be new to me, as will Caribbean (outside of the ubiquitous and usually inauthentic jerk [insert your protein of choice here]).  The idea of being back in a place with excellent Chinese and Mexican food is overwhelming.  But it’s not just restaurant food that I’m looking forward to.  The Willamette Valley in Oregon boasts great growing conditions for lots of foods, including berries of all kinds, hazelnuts, and plenty of local produce.  But Southern California has so much, given its balmy temperatures year round, that buying and eating local food will suddenly become much easier – not even from farmers’ markets and farm stands, but even from the grocery store.  Avocados, citrus, grapes, all no longer destroy the locavore dream.  Even the backyard of the house we will be moving into has a lemon tree.  A lemon tree!  This excites me almost more than anything else about the whole situation!

Our upcoming relocation also presents a challenge.  N. and I have lived in our current home for four years.  We have lived in Eugene for six.  Over that much time, things accumulate.  Not just house things, like forgotten books and extra sweaters and skillets I shoved in the back of that cabinet N. hates when I replaced them with Circulon non-stick wonders.  Food things.  We have so many half-empty jars of condiments.  So many bags of frozen vegetables bought on a buy-one-get-one sale.  Blackberries from last summer and cranberries from Thanksgiving, carefully preserved on the shelves of my freezer.  Canisters of rice, and brown rice, and millet, and dried beans, and barley, and noodles in the pantry.  It’s a lot of stuff.

So here comes the challenge: interspersed with regular food posts and wedding cupcake practice and the occasional, still-kicking-because-I-can’t-bear-to-abandon-it Bittman dish, I will be instituting a new project.  I’m calling it “Emptying the Fridge.”  Each week when I make our menu plan, I’m going to try to incorporate at least one dish that requires the remnants – or a good quantity – of at least one refrigerator, freezer, or pantry item.  I’m not talking about things we use all the time, like yogurt or bread or eggs.  I’m talking about the minimal use items, like anchovy paste, or capers, or champagne honey mustard, or chili garlic paste.

This week, I have plans for several items, and though I may not eliminate them, I will at least make a dent in several jars.  After a barbeque a few weeks ago featuring a peanut noodle side dish, I decided I want to make Ina Garten’s Szechuan Noodles.  This requires a whole cadre of ingredients including peanut butter, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and various vegetables.  It also, of importance to this project, requires hot chili sauce and tahini.  Both of these items currently languish on my refrigerator door, awaiting stir-fries and hummus.  But this week, they will shine and diminish simultaneously. 

Other plans include a white bean puree I will invent (and post the recipe for, if it turns out well) to work on using up the four cans (four?  How can I possibly have four?) of white beans in my pantry, and peanut butter energy bars, which will help eliminate the giant canister of oats I’ve gotten too stubborn to turn into oatmeal.  At a certain point, you have to eat like it’s summer, even if the sky says it isn’t, don’t you?  But snack bars are a worthy and not-un-spring-like application.

This project is, I think, a combination of homestyle Iron Chef and Chopped.  Not only are there feature or star ingredients, but after a while the pairings of available options will become unusual and require a certain amount of ingenuity to use up.  I like this, because it prepares me for the Food Network show I will never have, which I would call “Empty Fridge.” EF would consist of me trying to use limited pantry and refrigerator items to create something delicious without having to make an extra trip to the store, so in essence it’s Chopped-at-Home.  The difference with my current project, though, is that I am not prohibited from shopping, and am in fact planning ahead based on the contents of my condiment collection to determine our dinners.

Come August, you can expect an abundance (after a short hiatus, most likely – moving and blogging don’t necessarily mesh well) of drooling and groveling over our new location and its diverse and numerous highlights.  But until then, you can look forward to quarter jars of mustard, forgotten marinated artichoke hearts, and hidden canned peaches in various applications.  Hopefully, in this case, not in the same meal…

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One thought on “Emptying the Fridge

  1. What a great challenge! I could have used such foresight myself when we left SoCal – we ended up depositing about a backseat’s worth of groceries at a friends house before heading away. Your method is much, much better.
    I’m so excited for your tastebuds to live in LA! So many tasty food options. I don’t know how well you know the city, and I hardly know it at all, despite a few years there, but I’ll happily dish any places I discovered and loved whilst there!

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