Saturday, July 12, 2014

Cleaning Out the Fridge

People often ask us how we can leave home for weeks at a time.  "Don't you miss your own bed?" they ask.  Or, "Who takes care of your house while you're gone?"  Or my personal favorite, "Are you leaving your kids here?"

(The answers to these, BTW, are yes, anyone God sends our way, and of course not.)

But lengthy mission projects or assignments teaching abroad do present some logistical challenges.  One of them is what to do with the stuff in your fridge.  Of course, you could just give all of the perishables away to friends, but over time I've developed other strategies that work for me.  So before I slip on my heels and head to the airport, here's what I do.

                 The dregs from my refrigerator before our most recent traveling adventure: 
                                    half an onion, some celery, an orange, and a lime.

1). Milk:  It never fails.  I can never perfectly coordinate our date of departure with the end of our milk supply.  There is always about a half of a jug left.  And since we usually return from our travels late at night with no desire to stop by the grocery store before collapsing into our beds, here's what I do.  I put the entire jug of milk upright in the chest freezer just before we leave.  Then when we return, I put it out on the countertop to thaw so that it's ready to drink at breakfast.  A bastion of food safety?  Maybe not.  But it works for me.
*Note:  Don't try this with a new jug of milk since there will be no room for the frozen liquid the expand and you'll return home to a mess that will make you wish you'd just thrown the stupid milk out in the first place.
2).  Fresh Vegetables:  I often find myself on the day of departure with one last wilting stalk of celery, a few pitiful carrots, a half-used bag of onions, and some potatoes just about to sprout.  What to do?  I usually store my onions and potatoes in a cabinet, but before I travel I simply move them to the produce drawer of my fridge.  They usually last there for up to six weeks.  For the celery and carrots, I freeze them for chicken or beef stock.
                              Instead of tossing this half an onion and some ribs of celery, I added
                                                              them to the stock bag.

I always have a gallon Ziploc in my freezer filled with odds and ends for my next simmering stock.  The root end of an onion, the yellowish inside ribs of celery, a weirdly shaped carrot that's too crooked to peel?  They all get popped into the stock bag and frozen until I have a pile of chicken or beef bones, some leftover wine, and several hours to cook up a flavor-filled, healthy stock.
3).  Citrus Fruits and Berries:  Much like my ever-ready stock bag, I always have a bag of frozen fruits in the freezer, not to be eaten, but rather to be floated in punch or sangria.  There have been many occasions where I have made a recipe that called for the zest of a lemon, lime, or orange but not the juice.  If you've ever zested a citrus fruit, you know that the remaining orb looks a little like a shorn sheep.  Kind of naked and pitiful.  I always hide it in the fridge to save its dignity, promising to eat it later.  Except I never do.  So after a day or so, I put it out of its misery, slicing it into circles and throwing it in the fruit bag.  Later when I need ice for punch or sangria, out comes the disgraced citrus, ready to shine in my drink.  (It's possible that I'm projecting my own issues of needing to feel necessary onto my citrus, but I digress.)
                                The lonely lime and orange are sliced into circle-ish pieces.  (Even
                                though the lime had reached that almost-over-the-edge-kind-of-
                                tough-and-hard stage, there was no way it was going in the trash
                                in the midst of a lime shortage!)


                                Sliced, bagged, and ready to freeze for punch or sangria!

4).  Fresh Herbs:  My little herb garden was going great guns the day before we left, and I just couldn't bear to let them go to seed.  So I clipped off the thyme and oregano and added them to the stock bag, stems and all.  Since the stock will eventually be strained, who cares?  (Alternatively, you can wash and freeze them separately to use in any recipe.). 

For my basil, though, I had other plans.  My kids love pesto.  I mean a pick-it-for-their-birthday-dinner kind of love.  I didn't want my basil to go to waste, but I also didn't have the time (or the pine nuts) to make and freeze a recipe of pesto. So instead, I washed the leaves, pulling them if the stems.  Then I dried them with paper towels and put them in yet another Ziploc to freeze until I can make pesto later.  I'm guessing they'll darken, but they'll taste fine.
                                             Frozen leaves of basil from my garden

5).  Bread:  Ziploc strikes again.  In my freezer I also keep a bag of frozen bread odds and ends for making bread pudding or dressing.  I never have enough stale bread for bread pudding when I need it, so I just freeze every leftover end piece, uneaten roll, or hotdog bun (why oh why doesn't the package of buns equal the package of hotdogs?) until I am ready.
*Note:  I can't take credit for this one.  I learned it from a chef at a KitchenArt class.  And then I decided to take the idea several steps further with a stock bag and a sangria bag.

And there you have it -- Gina's tips for cleaning out the fridge before your vacation!  (Please don't report me to the health department! 😊)


  1. Will try to freeze the fruit. Good idea Gina.

  2. Thanks, Christi! Tell me how it goes!

  3. I'm a little awe-struck right now. My life has been forever changed by your stock bag! I can't believe I've just been composting those rubbery back-of-the-fridge carrots and celery stalks when I could have been freezing them for stock!

    I'm still coming to terms with how drastically you just changed my life. Give me a moment.

    1. Rachel, I am beyond thrilled to have saved your rubbery carrots from a slow death in the compost bin! Saving those pitiful little veggies makes me feel so thrifty!