31 December 2012

Dealing with plasticware

One fine evening last week I was trying to put away some leftovers, and I ran into a regularly recurring problem: my stash of plastic tubs and take-out containers had gotten out of control. Yogurt cylinders, Chinese takeaway rectangles, the tiniest little bins for holding, I don't know, a single Brussels sprout at a time -- all overflowing the long, deep bin I try to corral them in. How does the collection grow? Who knows? Maybe it's what socks lost in the laundry turn into. Time to purge!

To maintain my sanity, I store the plasticware containers and their lids separately. When I try to put everything into one large bin, the lids seem to jumble themselves to the bottom of the bin and get lost. Or they don't, and they prevent the containers from nesting neatly, so that the stacks of containers become an unwieldy pile and topple over into the floor of the cabinet. It's a little thing, but consider that if it takes you 15 seconds to find a container and its lid, and you need to retrieve a container twice per day (once for your sack lunch and once for putting away dinner leftovers), then you've spent 30 seconds a day, or just over 3 hours per year, fiddling in the plasticware bin. Cut that down to 15 seconds a day, and it's still stupid math, but let's continue. My point, and I had one, is that I keep the plasticware tubs in that oversized bin, but I store the lids separately in an oversized ziploc-type bag placed next to the bin. Saves some time and grief.

And that bag is the barometer that tells me when it's time to purge my plasticware. When I'm having trouble cramming all my lids in the bag, it's time to pull out the bin and start tossing plasticware. How to choose what to throw out? Start with problematic pieces:

  • Lids without matching containers, and vice versa
  • Stained or odorous items
  • Cracked, scorched, or otherwise damaged items

    With any luck, you're back down to a reasonable number of containers. But if the bin is still overstuffed, toss these:

  • Any surplus over two items of a particular size (e.g., if you have 5 quart yogurt containers, throw out 3, and keep 2)
  • Odd-sized items that won't nest with the rest of the items when empty, or won't stack neatly in the fridge when in use
  • Items printed with holiday motifs, figuring that you will be disinclined to use them some 360 days of the year
  • All of the super-tiny sizes, such as half-cups (4 oz.)

    Now, those super-tiny containers can be useful elsewhere in the home: thumbtacks, other hardware, buttons, beads, paperclips, epoxy-mixing, whatever. As for the kitchen, forget it. Plastic tubs are ugly for storing spices, and American slapstick comedy teaches us that inevitably you will open them with a jostle that spills spices all over the kitchen. Better to keep spices in the packages you buy them in, or use jelly jars.

    If you're extra lucky, you can discard these containers in your curbside recycling. Last time I purged, everything I tossed was #5 plastic, which Philadelphia happily collects in my commingled recyc bin. Or you can try to think of a way to re-use containers, especially the larger ones. For example, we keep a small home remedies kit (band-aids, thermometer, cold symptom relief pills, etc.) in a box-shaped quart-size bin in the cabinet above the kitchen sink. I've containerized our nail clippers and tweezers on a medicine cabinet shelf in the bathroom. And I store our emergency candles and matches in containers in my living room dresser. All utilitarian stuff that I don't have to look at on an open shelf and don't use every day.

    So to wrap up the process. Once I've purged down to a reasonable amount of plasticware -- maybe a dozen pieces, at the absolute most -- then I clean the storage bin and replace the lid storage bag. And now I'm good to go for six months to a year. Now to go and purge the singleton socks from my underwear drawer.
  • 28 December 2012

    The Fourth Day of Christmas Cheese

    Rowhouse Livin' is celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas by using up some odds and ends of cheeses that we bought for a holiday party. Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents:

    To mark the occasion, I made my little tiny child clean her room. In the end, we had one bag of clothes, one bag of "weight" (our local charity thrift store takes clean, unsaleable clothes and fabric and sells it by the pound for industrial re-use -- stuff like singleton socks, ripped trousers, and stained but laundered shirts), two small bags of trinkets and knick-knacks, two grocery sacks of paper recycling, and one bag of trash. We moved a boockase, dusted surfaces, and swept under all the furniture. We started sneezing at 9:30 a.m. and didn't quit until we were done at 1:00 p.m., though we did take a leisurely break for lunch.

    Then I made popcorn and grated pecorino cheese onto it.

    For dinner tonight, we'll have a creamy macaroni and cheese made with Robiola. My daughter worked hard and did a very good job building the decision-making skills she'll need as an adult to keep an uncluttered home, so I'm happy to make something a little less nutrient-dense than I prefer to put on the table regularly. But before dinner, we're walking all her old stuff to the thrift store.

    27 December 2012

    The 12 Days of Using Up Christmas Cheeses

    The Christmas season -- or, more accurately, Advent -- is a little overwhelming here at the Rowhouse Livin' household. While our family and friends do a lot of celebrating, from hosting parties and dinners to shopping and whole-home decorating, Rowhouse Livin' tends to not join the whirlwind.

    I love to attend a good party, and the teenager here has detailed plans for the next $32,339,945 worth of iTunes gift cards she receives. But during Advent, I prefer to hunker down with my end-of-season stocked pantry and enjoy the cool weather. Advent's nonstop loud advertising and droolingly predictable news stories about last-minute shoppers (oddly, often starting up during the first week of December) are too much for me. The ads are too noisy; the products are too unnecessary. I don't decorate; I admit I tend to just check out and wait until the storm blows through.

    As I say, though, I love to attend a good party. This year my sister hosted a Christmas Eve shindig at her home in the outer Philadelphia suburbs. I offered to bring some bread, some butter tarts from our old-timey family recipe, and some cheese. But not just any cheese: I went to two shops and the farmers market to pick out some cheeses that we don't usually enjoy. It was a party, after all.

    By the end of my shopping trip, my fridge held six types of cheeses. First, some cheddar from Vermont and supermarket mozzarella, two cheeses I almost always keep on hand. And in addition, a Robiola made of goat, sheep, and cow's milk (I've seen the one I found called "approachable"; I've had others that are more, shall we say, challenging). Two other Italian finds: a pecorino and a pecora, though I'm sure I can't tell the difference. One was wrapped in walnut tree leaves, which was fun. Both were sweet and the slightest bit sharp, and not so earthy that they weren't, you know, approachable. A Livarot, very similar to Camembert, while more approachable than a Pont-L'évêque. And finally an excellent local raw-milk blue from a farm closer to my sister's house than to mine. All told, I must have had more than a pound of cheese in there, making the fridge smell like les pieds de Dieu, as my host mother in Normandy when I was a student there would have said.

    Not that we got through that entire pound of cheese at the party. Naturally I have a lot of it left over. So Rowhouse Livin' is celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas by using up all this cheese.

    Day 1 was Christmas itself. Actually, we were out and about visiting family, so we didn't use any.

    Day 2, Boxing Day, I made cheesy beans. Or, more elegantly, Tuscan-style beans with sage and pecorino (or pecora?). When the beans were done cooking, I removed them from the heat and stirred in a few ounces of pecora (or pecorino?) cheese until it melted and blended with the beans.

    Today is the third day of Christmas (Feast of St. John the Evangelist). This morning, I had some leftover cheesy beans on toast with my breakfast, which felt odd because I'm such a silly creature of habit with breakfast and almost never, ever vary it. For lunch, we'll have a picnic plate of Livarot with apples and crusty bread. At dinner we'll use up the cheesy beans.

    Tomorrow -- haven't decided yet!