OK, today’s is a two-part challenge… and to do the second part tonight would mean scurrying out to the Farmer’s Market in the next twenty minutes, and that’s not going to happen. It seems like a much better idea to spend the rest of the night hanging out with the family.
Here is the spice shelf, in all its glory. As with the pantry and other storage areas in the kitchen, things tend to stack up on each other, resulting in chaos and daily frustration. The spice shelf is pretty bad. And to make matters worse, it has become a place to squirrel away stray bits of kitchen-related (and sometimes not-so-kitchen-related) oddities.
To tackle today’s clear-out, I thought I would divide the herbs and spices into two piles–things I’ve used in the last six months, and stuff that I can’t remember the last time I needed. The goal was to hang onto what I really needed on hand in the kitchen, and then to discard everything else–mainly stuff that I’ve been holding onto for years “just in case” I might need it some day. As I started into the process, though, it became apparent that I needed two additional categories: empty storage containers that needed to go into recycling, and random medicine cabinet supplies that somehow worked their way into this particular kitchen cabinet.
I ended up chucking out a lot–most of the herbs and spices that I hadn’t used in six months in reality hadn’t been used in years. Many of these containers had followed me from one house or apartment to the next–the lemon pepper blend in this picture, for example, must be at least thirteen or fourteen years old, and I’m pretty sure the dill actually predates my marriage…..
So I cleared out a lot today–I emptied out herbs and spices into the back yard and recycled the glass, plastic, and aluminum containers. And the medical stuff went off to the bathroom closet–or into the trash. And what I had left was a reasonable arrangement of the herbs and spices that I actually use on a regular basis. The pictures may not look too different, but actually I have empty shelf space now, instead of herb tubs stacked four high and three deep.
So now, about the refresh part of today. I had heard somewhere that the best thing most of us can do to improve our kitchen spices is to throw them all away. Hang on to dried herbs for longer than a year (or in my case… a decade) and all that you really have are a bunch of old leaves with barely any oils left in them.
Now granted, herbs and spices can be expensive, and it may not seem too minimalist to throw away “perfectly good” decade-old herbs, but given that I’ve already purged the stuff I haven’t used in ages, I’m only replacing the herbs and spices that are in regular rotation, but that have lost a good portion of their flavor. And I am fortunate enough to have a farmer’s market around the corner, where I can get half-pint plastic containers of herbs and spices literally for pennies. The last container of oregano I purchased cost me 55¢. I suppose it’s good and bad news–while I might actually use that much oregano in a year, there’s no way I’m going to go through a half pint of file powder in twelve months, even if I make gumbo twice a week. It’s a fine line to ride, I suppose, between caring for and tending to the freshness of what I have, and taking part in unnecessary consumption (no matter how cheaply) by purchasing more of something than I can use in a reasonable amount of time.
So perhaps I will have to reconsider some of the finer points of this argument in the future, but for this purge, clearly there was a lot of stuff I needed to get rid of–and there’s plenty of good reason to think that our meals can be made that much more pleasant… not by purchasing extravagant goods, but by attending with care to the small details of what and how we eat at our family table.