Kitchen resolutions: Recycle, Repurpose, Renew
How about making some New Year’s resolutions that feel good and do good?
Like many of you, the kitchen is the center of my home. So, I thought this would be the perfect place to focus some of my resolutions.
Let’s get a fresh start here, focusing on recycling, repurposing and renewing. The beauty is that it is fairly quick to do; you will be doing a good deed; and your meals will thank you afterwards.
I’m not talking about your glass and plastic, here. It’s your pantry that I’m interested in – those items that are months (years?) beyond their expiration dates, and need to go to that great compost pile in the sky.
Look especially at grains, flour, oatmeal, and cereals; all of these can become stale or even acquire unwanted houseguests, if not tightly sealed and stored at cool temperatures.
Canned goods are more durable, but check for bulging tops – those items should be discarded immediately. Give everything a once-over, and consider moving things up front that used to hide in the back, so that you will finally use them.
Poke around in your freezer, too. If an item is covered in ice crystals to the point of being unrecognizable, it’s time to go, the freezer burn has won this round. Invest in good quality freezer bags and a Sharpie with which to label them. The madness stops here.
When you brought home that quinoa box, I know that you had every intention of preparing it. But let’s face it – it’s been 7 months, and you’ve picked it up, moved it around the pantry when unpacking every grocery trip since then, but it hasn’t made it to the table and it never will.
Accepting that you made a mistake is the key, because now you can donate the product to your local food pantry. Don’t wait until it has expired beyond usability – just donate it now, along with all of the other well-intentioned and frankly delicious purchases. Canned sardines? Raspberry blush vinegar? Artichoke hearts in olive oil? Just do it.
When I am stressed, one of the things that totally calms me is to refill my sea salt and pepper shakers, replace my dishwashing sponge, put in a fresh roll of paper towel on the dispenser, and start a new garbage bag. These don’t sound much like “renewing” but they are; it’s out with the old, in with the new.
The prime area for renewing, in your kitchen, is your spice collection. For some reason, those little bottles of herbs and spices take more abuse than almost anything else in the kitchen. By abuse, I mean that they are stored in the absolute worst conditions, often over the stove where they get heated and oil-spattered and exposed to sunlight every day. Then, they are kept in service for long after they have lost their wonderful flavors.
There is no set shelf life for herbs and spices, but I use a very simple formula: open it. Smell it. Did you go “Ahhhh…..”. No? Time to go. Don’t throw away the containers, though – go to your local co-op or health food store and pick up fresh product in the bulk bins (or consider shopping online for your refills, with a source like the amazing and affordable Mountain Rose Herbs).
Some spices can enjoy a second life around your home. You can use expired cinnamon as ant deterrent around baseboards – the ants hate crossing a line of cinnamon. Cloves and bay leaves can act like mothballs in linen drawers and storage chests. Simmer stale cinnamon sticks on the stove, in water, as an easy and natural air freshener.
Here’s your checklist to snip and tape on the fridge:
- Sort through the non-perishables; discard what is no longer good, and donate what you know you will never use.
- Clean out the freezer; discard the unrecognizable, and buy better storage for the coming year.
- Test your herbs and spices; if they are not ahhh-worthy, replace them with fresh product, and use some of the old spices around the house.
Portions of this blog post were also published in print, in the January 2014 edition of the Hudson/Hillsdale Life Magazine.