Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Midwestern Medley

Well, last night I went out to visit a friend at her workplace, and we spent about an hour hashing over the recent school board elections and debating intelligent design. It was an interesting discussion. This morning, just as I was loading a pan of biscuits in the oven, another good friend called, a retired high school math teacher, and we worked over the problems with schools today (mission creep, low teacher standards, and general cussedness all around), and talked about a declining yarn shop.

I could probably hold forth about any one of these things at great and vigorous length, but then your eyes would probably glaze over, and to paraphrase Dave Barry, your brains would sneak out of the auditorium of your skull and go off to play Frisbee in the park. Besides, between Wikipedia’s entries on any one or all of those topics and various authoritative and credible websites, I’d just be duplicating existing electrons in the cyber spume hanging over the Midwest anyway.

So, I think I’ll talk about my refrigerator instead. Well, not actually my refrigerator, more like what’s in it. Or, even more accurately, what’s not in it. I have thrown out the honey mustard. I know that probably doesn’t make drums beat, horns tootle and pennons flutter for you, but it’s a big step for me.

I’m generally pretty good about combing through leftovers once a week or more to add to meals in the making or just to get them out of there before they become unidentifiable. I’m not so good at doing the same for the door of my frig, which is where all the useful and hopeful condiments hang out. All the popular condiments hang out on the top rack – the mayonnaise, ketchup, yellow mustard, Miracle Whip and sweet pickle relish. If there’s a skosh more room, a plastic lime might be there, too, for the few times hubs or I want to have a drink and squirt a little citrus into it.

The second shelf holds our second string, backup type condiments – Worcestershire sauce, a bottle of lemon juice, teriyaki and/or soy sauce, jams and jellies. The third shelf has the hopeful items on it, things I’ve bought for a particular recipe I tried once and not enough people liked it for me to make it again before the ingredients became forgotten. That’s where capers, the pickles with the missing label, olives of uncertain birth date, and the horseradish stay.

The third shelf also has odd mustards that only I like, and things in jars we get as gifts. After a certain age, I think lots of us get things in jars for gifts. Hot pepper jelly, mint jelly, some kind of marmalade with a peculiar spice in it, or organic apple butter that wasn’t quite right the first time you tried it, but you couldn’t stand to throw it out just in case someone else might like it better. I think the third shelf in my frig door should be called the “just in case” shelf. So that’s where the honey mustard was.

The bottom shelf has salad dressing on it. The only reason it’s been sent to the equivalent of refrigerator purgatory instead of being located higher up is that that’s the shelf with enough room for the bottles to stand upright. We keep fairly up to date on our dressings.

So anyway, back to the “just in case” shelf and honey mustard. I don’t keep track of freshness dates on the “just in case” condiments, even though I know I should. Most of the time what goes through my mind is either, “It’s PICKLED, how can it go bad?” or “How can you tell if horseradish has gone bad anyway?” As a result, the third shelf gets crowded, stuff is stacked on top of other stuff until something falls to the floor once too often when I open the frig, and I decide to cull the condiment herd. Unless someone else is next to me, making their wishes known, I tend to throw out stuff I don’t like and leave stuff I think I might like behind.

That’s not as successful as it could be, since I have very eclectic tastes in food and a very hopeful, optimistic approach to using up even the strangest of pickled or preserved things in jars. “I can put it in a stir fry/batch of cranberry sauce/pasta salad,” I think to myself. Then the capers grow more tired looking as I keep forgetting to put them in something, and I still don’t know if those are dill or sweet pickles lollygagging on my third shelf.

Today, as I was making myself a sandwich out of Things The Children Won’t Eat, like cappicola, some Christmas cheese with a creepily fake name, like Edamster du Nord, I thought I’d put some honey mustard on the sandwich for a little tangy taste treat. We got this mustard in a gift box along with the creepy cheese and a couple of those sausages with no particular flavor but an estimated shelf-life in the range of Lincoln’s four-score reference. I think we had previously put it on Townhouse crackers and added real pepperoni.

Anyway, as I opened the jar and attempted to stir the honey mustard around to homogenize it, I remembered why we had never finished it in the first place. It’s got too much honey and not enough mustard, and it tastes like honey with a little accidental mustard in it. I used it anyway because my parents’ leftover Depression era bull-headed frugality pops up frequently when I’m in the kitchen, trying to not waste food. The sandwich would have been better, by a long shot, without the honey mustard.

As I sat at the table, chewing manfully through a sandwich made nasty by inappropriate frugality, I decided I had had enough. No one was going to come racing up behind me and push me to my death over chucking mustard no one will eat. We were not going to have to tell our children we couldn’t send them to college because I had thrown out a jar of gift mustard and thereby whimsically squandered their college funds on some replacement Grey Poupon. So, I chucked it. I felt so triumphant that I threw out the olives, too, and then the capers.

I’m still working up to the horseradish and the mystery pickles. No need to get carried away.


Anonymous said...

Ha! That's funny. If you like tuna, I've got a good recipe for the capers (the only time I use the ones in my fridge). And, for what it's worth, honey mustard with too much honey is great on those gigantic pretzels (frozen, microwaveable) if you're not watching your starch (I watch mine go in my piehole). That's all I have to say about that...I'm going to check the door of my refrigerator :).

Amber in Albuquerque
(aka sushie_2000@yahoo.com)

Anonymous said...

Perhaps now I'll have the emotional strength to do the same thing (needed because of the same depression-era-thinking-from-my-mother). OTOH, it is sometimes interesting to see the "science experiment"...