I have always loved getting ready to go back to school. There is something so wonderful about shiny, new composition books, boxes of fragrant crayons, a fistful of sharpened Number 2 pencils, and setting up a three-ring binder with fresh dividers and crisp, clean sheets of college-ruled notebook paper. But then, eventually, there is the awful adult realization that one must provide appetizing, nutritious lunches on a daily basis. The romance is gone. Evaporated. Poof.
There are always new organizational systems to learn or adopt, and this is a good time of the year to try a few. You must have noticed when Marie Kondo swept through the country, causing everyone to pause and reconsider their piles of stuff. She managed to upend the American notion of acquisitiveness is a virtue, and forced us all to decide if we loved items or if we could live without. Thrift shops all over the country are staggering under the weight of all the unloved socks, sweaters, white button-down Oxford cloth shirts, and all those old National Geographic magazines.
Recently the Wall Street Journal ran a story about Marie Koodo-ing your refrigerator. Honestly. I read the story with a degree of amusement and detachment, because I have been out of the kid lunch business for a few years. I thought that these people were just too clever for their own good. But that was also before I was mopping out the fridge for the second time this month because the ice machine froze itself into a veritable cube of ice-encased gears and mechanisms. I was dumping out all the produce that was still packaged in its original plastic bags and green berry baskets, seething at the mess and the waste. There had to be a better way. Without being smug and obnoxious, though. I needed something truly helpful and realistic. And cheap. Always cheap. My white wine principles extend to the rest of my kitchen footprint.
I did a little research into fridge organization. I will not color coordinate the contents of our fridge. Who has that sort of time, anyway, particularly in these last gasping days of August heat? I will shun plastic as much as I can. I will recycle. And on the days that Mr. Friday wants to bring his lunch to work, he can take leftovers. (Back in the day, when I was in elementary school and walked home at lunchtime, my mother would rustle up a little leftover spaghetti for one of my favorite lunches. I can still remember that almost-burnt aroma as she shoveled it out of the aluminum pan onto my plate. The stuff of happy memories!)
There are some kitchen eager beavers who believe in labeling all the compartments in the refrigerator. This might be a helpful thing to do. Mr. Friday and I still can’t agree on which is the drawer for cheese, and which is the drawer for celery. Nicely lettered labels would end those lively discussions. And a drawer for leftovers would be a constant visual reminder that a dinner solution might be much closer than taking another trip to the grocery store.
I have a friend who has always been organized, logical and rational. Don’t we all? She has always been an advocate for spending a couple of hours on Sundays getting ready for the week. It is an amazing concept. She does a weekly shop, preps for some of the meals, makes lists for lunches and dinners, and cooks a gourmet Sunday dinner. I am amazed that she stays friends with me. I like a little danger in my life. I’ll buy some chicken breasts, some hamburger, a couple of bags of salad, a 12-pack of Diet Coke and figure that I am good to go.
Now that I have been reading up, I realize that she pioneered all of this Marie Kondo-ish planning ahead. She was even ahead of Food52. Food52 says to boil up an extra big batch of rice on Sunday, and freeze the leftover rice. Not only will you have rice on Thursday night to stretch some leftover chicken into something delectable, the rice grains will be light and fluffy, because rice loves being in the freezer. Wisdom.
When you walk in the house with big stalks of celery, a bag of carrots, bunches of broccoli, a fistful of radishes, a melon and a basket of blueberries – you should wash and cut up all of the veggies and fruits, and put them in airtight containers. (If you want to color coordinate and turn everything into a Pantone Color Dream, that is your business.) I have been saving some glass jars instead of tossing them into recycling – pickle jars, marmalade, jelly and prepared spaghetti sauce. I have also invested in a few tall Ball jars for the stalky items. (I found a good stash of stackable glass containers at the dollar store, too.) Now there will be clean, washed and perfectly proportioned fruits and vegetables just waiting to be tossed into a lunch bag or into the vegetable steamer come dinner time. They do look very attractive nestled in their glass jars; much more appealing than in the printed plastic bags (leaching petrochemicals!) in their assigned drawers. One gets a heady whiff of Marie Kondo approval when surveying one’s final results.
I read along the way that you should treat soft herbs as if they were cut flowers, so put the parsley, basil and thyme in jars of water. A little bit of greenery beautifies the refrigerator view, and you won’t find a moldy plastic container (or two) like I just did cleaning up the fridge.
Here are a few links to practical refrigerator rehab: How to Marie Kondo-ize Your Refrigerator: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yYhvWi6FEo
https://www.wsj.com/articles/yes-you-can-kondo-your-refrigerator-11565619983? Apologies – the WSJ paywall is usually pretty restrictive.
“As a cook I generally believe that you can tell a lot about people by what they keep in their refrigerators. What comforts them, what they need to have on hand to sustain them. Bon Appétit magazine publishes an interview with a different famous person each month, and often the interviewer will ask the celebrity to name three things that can always be found in his or her refrigerator. The answers are generally too finely crafted to be believable. “A bottle of Stoli, fresh raspberries, and beluga caviar,” or, “San Pellegrino, fresh figs, and key limes.”
― Meredith Mileti