Friday, January 22, 2010
A couple of months ago I spent a few minutes cleaning the old baking products from my pantry: cake flour, baking powder, etc. I was inspired by a spill I discovered after a few teenagers had a craving for homemade pie and took it upon themselves to make a crust from scratch. For some reason I felt really good after I cleaned that shelf. (Am I weird or what?) I later hinted to a few friends that maybe I'd start a new blog ala Julie and Julia; each blog would discuss and explore the value of cleaning. But I couldn't come up with a catchy title; somehow Gail & Heloise didn't have the same ring. And besides, I don't really like to clean.
To me, cleaning is boring. When I have to clean, I do the bare minimum, sort of like one of my kids approaching a history assignment. You do what you have to do (and I certainly don't like things dirty), but eventually it gets boring and you wander off to something more fun, like eating chocolate or going for a walk. The good news, and the bad news, is that the cleaning project is always there waiting for you when you return.
But every once in a while, I do like to purge, which in my mind is different from cleaning. And that's what I really did in my pantry that day anyway. I purged powdery substances. Then, last week I purged a whole lot of shoes, which was horribly painful, but in the end, when I looked at my less-cluttered closet, I realized it was a cleansing ritual and I felt okay.
Now I'm hooked, and today I decided to attack my spice cabinet. Fortunately, I didn't have any more old McCormick's spice tins (if you do, your spices are more than 15 years old), but I know some of mine were seriously aged. Depending on who you believe, herbs and spices can last from 6 months to 4 years. Whole/dried herbs last longer than powdered ones. Of course most spice brands don't bother putting an expiration date on the jar, and of course I have not been very consistent at marking the date purchased when I buy them. So I had to resort to the tried-and-true method of determining whether they were salvable...the sniff test, and when in doubt, taste.
Turns out I was able to save more than I'd expected, but I dumped a lot too, from bay leaves we brought home from Grenada several years ago to the orange peel I rarely use. The onion powder was clumped somehow, so that had to go. The ground thyme and sage were actually dated, by me, and the year of purchase was, well, too long ago to mention. And then there was the mace. Who uses mace? Why did I even have it in my pantry? I have no idea when or why I bought it, and the sniff test was inconclusive (what the heck is mace supposed to smell like, anyway?) so out it went.
One thing that came of this project is that I now get to replenish, and although I don't like to shop for most things (other than shoes and boots), I do like to shop for spices. I love those pretty glass jars lined up in alphabetical order in the store, filled with gold and red and green leaves and powders and pods, with names that evoke images of faraway places, like Jamaican ginger and szechuan pepper or madras curry or zydeco dust. And this exercise of going through the spices also brought back memories of parties and people of my past, like the thyme, sage, and poultry seasoning in Grandma Ruth's Thanksgiving dressing recipe and the sesame seeds in my old favorite hummus recipe that showed up as an appetizer numerous times. But the best part of today's purging exercise was getting to sniff and taste all those spicy, pungent, aromatic leaves and powders. Wow, what a rush.
So now the spice cabinet's clean, and the baking product shelf is orderly, and there are no longer jumbles of shoes in my closet. I feel a little cleaner, a little lighter. Life looks a little clearer now. But I'm afraid I am hooked. Hi, my name's Gail and I'm a purgaholic.
I look around at my kitchen, my closet, my office (oh dear), and my kids.
The question now is, what's next?