The Refrigerator Dump

March 8th, 2013 · 21 Comments · Organizing, Strategizing, Planning

Last year, “Tony’s Steak” Tony came through our house on his way from Hong Kong to SXSW in Austin and one of the first things he did after his trans-global traveling was open the refrigerator for a snack. In the life of a refrigerator, it was the optimum time to be opened: Sunday afternoon, aka post-Trader Joe’s Shop. All our sliced fruit sliced, stacked and glistening in their containers. Egg cartons at right angles, supporting bagged stalks of vibrant lacinato kale. Bottles of kefir and honey tangerine juice that had yet to be decimated by sweaty grabby hands of thirsty girls. Tony stood for a second in front of my kitchen shrine and said to no one in particular, “Now that’s a stocked refrigerator.”

I’m not sure how readily I’d admit this to Sheryl Sandberg, but I derive a ridiculous amount of happiness from that moment. And from a full fridge in general. At the risk of sounding like a bad hotel commercial, it’s true: When I’m prepared, I believe I can do anything.

But it’s not always a pretty path to get to that point. Some Sundays, like this past one, we come home to unpack the groceries and upon opening the fridge, realize we never used that stalk of broccoli or an entire bag of Cara Cara oranges is still sitting there wrapped in its charming netting. Half a container of grape tomatoes sits on the shelf — just enough to make you feel guilty about throwing them away. This is when I perform a Refrigerator Dump. I take out everything that’s on its last legs and see what can be salvaged. Or I see what I can put together for the week that might clear up some space for the new refrigerator residents. Or I just get in the zone and go All freaking Out. Here’s a peak:

1. I sliced all remaining whole fruit into grabbable (or spoon-able pieces) like the cara cara oranges above. Shriveled berries all went into freezer bags (stems cut off in the case of strawberries) for use in smoothies.

2. How annoying is ONE EGG left in the egg carton? Really annoying. I turned it into lunch only so I could justify throwing the carton away. I had an egg salad sandwich, made with drop of dijon, mayo, and the few strands of chives in the pack that hadn’t liquefied yet.

3. I blanched broccoli, sliced up the three separate bell pepper halves (why? how?) and packed them in little containers to throw into lunch boxes.

4. Tomatoes: Andy solved that one last year.

5. Ever since making that Indonesian Chicken Salad a few weeks ago, I’ve been in the habit of throwing a few salted and peppered split chicken breasts into the oven at 375°F for 45 minutes. When they’re done, I shred up the meat, store, and then all kinds of possibilities suddenly present themselves to me during the week: barley salads, chicken salad, avgolemono, and, of course, that Indonesian chicken salad.

Have a great weekend.

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21 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Reynaul // Mar 8, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    Thank you for reminding me about the tomatoes! That is the main thing I ALWAYS end up letting go bad and have to throw out! It’s always like handful and it drives me nuts! I think I have some right now on the counter that will be going in the oven tonight! Thank you! Have a great weekend!

  • 2 A Plum By Any Other Name // Mar 8, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    I derive an embarrassing amount of pleasure from keeping an orderly fridge. Someone desperately needs to ruffle up my kale and tell me to get a life. That said, love the idea of a fridge dump … and salads seem ideal for this type of behavior. (P.s. can’t wait to make the Real Deal Pad Thai.)

  • 3 Kat // Mar 8, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    Jenny, I read your site religiously, I have Time for Dinner and Dinner: A Love Story. I look forward to the bon appetit columns.

    I can truly say that of all of the words you’ve ever shared here, there and everywhere, this post may be my favorite.

    All of these words and actions are mine, and reading that your kitchen operates the same way (especially where your fridge/freezer and strays are concerned) makes me feel 100% less crazy.

    And truth: When I graduated from college, got to stock my first fridge and a girlfriend complimented me on how clean/organized it was, I felt like one of those little birds on a twig that had puffed itself up.

    Anyway, thank you for what you do here. It makes my world brighter.

  • 4 Avril // Mar 8, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Wait, I’m freaking out!! You cut up your oranges, before you eat them!!!! OMG, I had no idea!!! Is that why even if I have a full fridge, my family complains there is nothing to eat??!! Please show pictures of your fridge. And please tell me more snack ideas that are instantly grab-able. We are on a Tomato Basil Hummus and pita chip rut!!!! ( I met you at Thyme Cafe in Santa Monica, and my little one will still NOT eat a veggie to save her life, despite all the lovely cheesey fritter-y goodness I try to mask them with!!)

  • 5 Kendra // Mar 8, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    I am so impressed that you supremed your oranges. Damn girl!

  • 6 Leslie@MsMagpieWrites // Mar 8, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    Jenny, I won’t tell Sheryl on you – I also derive an insane amount of pleasure from a fully stocked fridge. If there are onions, tomatoes, squash, and kale, I can do anything – and that’s just enough empowerment to get me through the week.

  • 7 Jesse // Mar 8, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    i try so hard to use everything we buy. we’ve recently started juicing again and i was so proud of us when we finished an entire LARGE bag of fruits and veggies in one week. we were all juice-dancing our proud buns off!

  • 8 Dana // Mar 8, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    Loved the Sandberg reference and likewise, when my fridge is well stocked with some cooked beans or barley and homemade broth in the freezer, I feel that I can concur the week ahead. Love your posts and have a great weekend!

  • 9 Caroline // Mar 8, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    Jenny – Have you read the Sheryl Sandberg book yet? (I know it’s not out yet, but you guys usually seem to read everything before we do.) I’m really curious to hear what you think of it.

  • 10 Tiffany@RaisingLemons // Mar 8, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    Your title lured me in because I thought a “Refrigerator Dump” is exactly what I have been doing the last few days. I thought I needed to go shopping Wednesday because I was out of a few things, but then I saw all these parts and pieces I still had in my fridge and decided to delay the shopping trip by 2 or 3 days and see what I could use in my refrigerator instead. So we had leftovers Wednesday night. I finished off my buttermilk and strawberries with waffles for dinner last night. We ate the rest of the left over carrots for after school snack today, etc. I used the last two tortillas for lunch etc. I like to make my fridge as bare as possible before I bring all the new stuff home or, like you mentioned, the older stuff gets forgotten for the newer more exciting foods. I waste a lot more when I shop too soon. I also thought about how much money I would save if I could always delay a shopping trip by 2-3 days. After a year, you bought yourself one month free groceries.

  • 11 Kristen Raven // Mar 8, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    I love this post. So practical it might seem obvious, but it is so fascinating to hear the wheels in someone ELSE’S brain turn when it comes to managing the fridge. You really hit the nail on the head with this one, putting words to a process I didn’t even realize I was involved in.
    Thanks.

  • 12 Akemi // Mar 8, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    We just got a Trader Joe’s near us. What are your go-to’s at TJs? Thanks… love the blog and just made the pudding. Our bones are feeling stronger already!

  • 13 Allison S. // Mar 8, 2013 at 11:16 pm

    Love this post! I swear, that same egg and random pepper remnants are in my fridge every week too. And those dreaded, semi-squishy grape tomatoes. Thanks for the suggestions!

    P.S. I saw your sister recently at WF. Hadn’t seen her since our high school reunion a few years ago. Told her I’d been enjoying your book and blog. :-)

  • 14 Julie // Mar 8, 2013 at 11:40 pm

    This is my favorite kind of blog post/article to read…innovation at it’s best :)

  • 15 Tara // Mar 9, 2013 at 4:33 am

    Great post, as usual, but please do yourselves a favour and stop storing the tomatoes in the fridge! Honestly, their texture will be better (less mealy) , and they will taste so much better, so much more tomato-y. Just find a cool spot in your kitchen, and then use them within a week.

  • 16 Gretchen // Mar 10, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    Jenny (and Andy): I hope you get lots of comments in which people explain to you how you have changed their lives. This is one of those comments.

    Let me start by saying I have been trying to borrow the DALS book from my local library for months, to no avail. I had to get it from a library 50 miles away. When I finally got it, I offended (in a good way) my fiancee by ignoring him all weekend and reading it. Then I bought my own copy, because it is so profoundly wonderful!

    I have always loved to cook, but have been more of a cook-for-myself person, at my own pace (e.g., dinner at 9 or 10 PM). Enter fiancee person and his two teenagers and things got a little interesting (and complicated). When we all moved in together, I really tried to be the uber-super-woman-martyr gourmet chef, hoping to impress my husband-to-be and new step-kids with Very Impressive Dinners. I think I did make some really impressive dinners, but I sacrificed my work, my relationship with my fiancee, and my sanity in the process.

    Cue finding your blog (the thing that changed our lives). We finally had the DUH let’s meal-plan on Saturday and shop on Sunday moment, which freed me from the daily dreadful/horrible/wretched post-work-stressy-run-to-the-grocery-store that made me resentful about everything. Now we meal-plan a combination of favorites and a few adventures for the week, which is a great bonding exercise on its own, and we have some fun doing our shopping errands (it’s almost date-like!), and then we get home post-shop Sunday, have a drink, and start cooking. Gloriously stress-free. The savings that we have realized by shopping more smartly mean we actually get a date night – a date night! – at a restaurant! – at least once a month!

    We post our weekly dinner plan on the fridge and damn if that is not beautiful. You really have changed our lives. The serenity that we have knowing what we will be eating, and knowing that we have everything we need to eat it, is amazing.

    Thanks for changing our lives. Hope we see another book from you soon, because you are kind-of like our Bible-People.

  • 17 Gretchen // Mar 10, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    I just realized that my comment about trying to get DALS from my local library may have come off wrong. Let me be clear: All our local libraries have several copies of the book, and it is still nearly-impossible to get your hands on a copy because they are so in-demand. Yay, you.

  • 18 M // Mar 11, 2013 at 9:18 am

    I love these posts about not just the recipes, but the management of the kitchen. Keep them coming!

  • 19 samantha // Mar 11, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    Hi Jenny,
    I LOVE YOUR BLOG…but I think you owe us pictures of your fridge. Also, suggestions for the best, freshest containers for food storage would be greatly appreciated!

  • 20 Christin // Mar 11, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    This is such an interesting post! Like others that have commented above me, I would love more info about how you prep food after grocery shopping to make the rest of the week easier on yourself. I feel like we could all learn a lot!

  • 21 Jenny C // Mar 11, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    I LOVE the tomatoes trick! In fact, I’ve never made the actual salad, just use your technique for slow roasting ALL THE TIME and then put them little tasty shriveled gems in everything (omelets, rice bowls with kale & ginger/scallion sauce, quesadillas, etc. etc.). We got some chili honey for Christmas, and let me tell you, is THAT every delicious! I now buy grape tomatoes with the intention of roasting them, not even waiting until they’ve gotten a little old because we didn’t eat them fresh.

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