It's springtime, which for a lot of us means it's time to do a deep-clean of our homes—throwing out the old, organizing the new, storing the winter clothes, and getting ready for warmer weather and a fresh start. For others, it's the beginning of another season of denial about how squalid our living conditions have become. Even more than New Year's, spring is a good time to make some new resolutions and create an environment that'll make us want to keep them. Here are some ideas for getting your kitchen into shape.
1. Out with the old. I like to think of my refrigerator as a cabinet of hope. Most times, it's full of fruits and vegetables, purchased in a fit of confidence that I would steam and stir-fry my way to a slimmer me. Then I end up going out to restaurants with friends, and my Sunday produce ends up looking pretty bad by week's end. Yet, unbelievably, I leave it all in my refrigerator with the hope that it'll somehow return to a state of edibility. Similarly, expired dairy products and aging condiment bottles litter my shelves, the result of my misguided optimism that they too will come back in fashion—like my '80s wardrobe will, if I just wait long enough. I'm here to tell you, however, that there's been no grocery miracle in my refrigerator these many years. And now, it's time to give the expired residents of this frosty food hinterland a proper burial.
First thing to do: Get rid of everything that even looks old. Be merciless. If it's past the expiration date, throw it out. If it doesn't have an expiration date, throw it out. Another scourge in my fridge is the many plastic containers filled with leftovers. I don't remember exactly what meal they are left over from, but I can't recall anything that included frizzy mold as an ingredient. Much of the reason the containers languish in the back of the fridge is because I'm avoiding the horror of having to wash out the science experiment they've become. This year, I'm going to throw money at the problem, and throw out the leftovers in their containers without ever lifting the lid. Then, I will treat myself to shiny, new plastic containers as a reward for my new hygienic lifestyle. Additionally, if my plastic cutting boards are beyond bleaching, it's a good annual tradition to replace them.
2. Out with the bad. While I'm gripped in the mania of throwing away all the food that has literally turned to garbage, I'm also going to throw away the food that's metaphorically garbage. All the unhealthy snack foods that lure me away from my healthy eating plan are going to have to go. I'm evicting the half-full bags of tortilla and potato chips from my cupboards. Ben and Jerry's® are moving from the freezer to the dumpster. Any empty-calorie snacks I can steal a spoonful or handful of and pretend they don't count have to hit the road. Once I clear the cupboards and refrigerator, I can go to the store and load up on healthy staples, whose temptations I won't have to resist.
3. In with the new. Now that the refrigerator's clean and the cupboards are bare, it's time to shop. Stock up the larder with delicious, healthy foods from the first two tiers of Michi's Ladder. And make sure to get lots of easy-to-prepare snacks to keep within easy reach when hunger pangs hit. Great snacks include cottage cheese, nonfat yogurt, hummus, salsa, and raisins. Instant oatmeal, whole-grain cereals, and egg whites are good to have on hand for breakfast. And foods like brown rice, dried beans, canned broths, water-packed tuna, and frozen fruits and vegetables are good staples to always keep in supply for mealtime. Of course, you should also try eating plenty of fresh produce, seafood, and lean meats. Just don't be like me and go crazy at the Sunday farmers' market only to have to throw food away at the end of the week. Buy enough perishable items to last a couple of days, then make short trips to the supermarket or farmers' market during the week. Your food will taste better and fresher, and you won't have a CSI episode in the crisper drawer at the end of the week.
4. When life gives you lemons . . . I know I've talked a lot about throwing all your produce away. But some of it can do a little cleaning work for you before it hits the compost bin. Lemons are very acidic, and their juice is naturally antibacterial and antiseptic. You can use lemon juice to bleach countertop stains and shine up metal. And it makes your kitchen smell lemony fresh to boot! Instead of throwing those lemons in the trash, throw one or two in the garbage disposal and grind away. It'll help get rid of food dried onto the blades while filling your kitchen with the smell of lemons. (If the lemons are really old and the rinds have turned hard and leathery, don't try this. The disposal blades might not be able to chop them, and they'll just rattle around in your disposal forever. Trust me, I know.) Another great tip a friend gave me is to cut a bunch of lemons in half and put them in a big microwave-safe bowl filled with water. Then microwave the bowl of lemons on high for a few minutes, until the water steams. Keep the microwave closed. The lemon-juice-infused steam will permeate all the stuff cooked onto the microwave walls from various exploding culinary attempts. The crud will wipe off easily and your microwave will smell great. Best of all, no toxic cleaners will accidentally find their way into your meals!
5. Vinegar—not just for salad. While you're cleaning and staying nontoxic, try using the Michi's Ladder top-tier favorite vinegar to spruce up your kitchen. Diluted with water, white vinegar can be used to clean windows, wash floors, and wipe countertops. It cuts grease and removes stains from cookware, and if you run a pot full of the vinegar and water solution through your coffeemaker, you'll be amazed at the kind of hard-water deposits it removes. It's also good for removing hard-water stains on your glassware. It even cuts soap scum and kills mildew, so you might give good, old-fashioned, cheap white vinegar a try before investing in expensive cleaners that can introduce toxins into your kitchen.