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When I renovated the back part of my house a decade ago, I was left with piles of random construction debris. In fact, that is a lot of what was still cluttering up the shed until I finally cleaned it out this fall.

This time around, my contractor was much tidier. Other than a forgotten piece of sandpaper in the living room and a few pieces of wood in the garage, there is hardly a trace of him remaining at my house. (Unless, of course, you count the beautiful new kitchen that has suddenly appeared from the mist.)

But there is still a huge, self-inflicted mess I need to deal with now that he is gone.

Inside my shiny new refrigerator.

A lot of people spend years in therapy trying to get to know themselves better, but I have discovered that buying a new fridge is far quicker.

In transferring the contents from the old to the new, I have discovered quite a bit about my core character.

For example, much as I like to think of myself as someone who eschews materialism, it turns out I am a hoarder. That can be the only explanation for the 79 (yes, 79 — I counted them) jars of weird condiments and other things that were stuffed into the old fridge and are now threatening to completely fill the new one.

Chutneys, hot sauces, mustards, relishes, oils and Asian ingredients that defy description were crowded onto the shelves of the old refrigerator — and are clamoring for a spot in the new one. I am having to fight my hoarder instincts as I try to winnow them down. I am curiously attached to them all.

I culled the dried-up, half-used ones that looked past saving, but it’s amazing how few of the others I could bring myself to toss. The shelves of the new fridge are still crammed with so many that they leave little room for actual food.

Another thing I learned is that I am even more my father’s daughter than I thought. He never left a restaurant without purloining a few packets of sweetener, ketchup or whatever else was on the table “free” for the taking. I’m not quite that bad, but way too many miniature samples have entered my pantry by way of culinary events, conferences and the Fancy Food Show in the past 10 years. Because, hey, free food, and they were just giving them away.

The problem is, some of the packets were small and I kept overlooking them and forgetting to use them. Now that I’ve rediscovered them, I can’t bring myself to toss them. They have all been moved to the new fridge so I can use them up (because “waste not, want not” — yes, Dad, I heard you).

The fridge did reveal a positive trait — my eternal optimism.

I studied Thai cooking about a dozen years ago and was fairly proficient for a time, but then moved on to other cuisines and haven’t worked my way back to it. Nevertheless, my refrigerator reveals that I have every faith I will be returning to it in the near future and will soon be churning out Thai feasts. At least, that is what my lifetime supply of shrimp paste and pickled garlic says.

It appears I am also optimistic about developing my skills in several other cuisines, all of which are represented by jars and bottles. Plus I’ll be eating a lot more salads, judging by the many bottles of fancy oils. And if you can believe the flax, chia and other healthy seeds stuffed on the shelves, I have high hopes of resuming my smoothie-making career.

The final lesson I’m learning from my fridge is my utter fearlessness.

Some of those jars are well past their “use by” date, and some of the ingredients were pretty scary to begin with. Food poisoning is a very real threat.

But personal safety be damned. Given the combination of hoarder, Depression-era dad messages and optimism that make up my personality, those jars are still on the shelves and I suspect I’ll be dipping into some of them soon.

Or if I chicken out, maybe they’ll just sit there until my next new refrigerator, sometime in the 2030s.

Citrus Rice Noodles

From Martin Yan “Quick and Easy”

With Chinese New Year approaching, I thought I’d dip my toe into Chinese cooking this week. But after having no kitchen for three months, I’m out of practice and feel like I’m learning to cook all over again, so I’m starting in the shallow end with this simple salad.

If your kitchen isn’t as overstocked as mine, you might need to track down the rice noodles and chili garlic sauce, but neither is hard to find. And then you can be in the same boat as me. At a tablespoon at a time, we’d have to eat this every day for the next three months to make a dent in our condiment supply, but at least it justifies the existence of a couple of the containers.

Yan offers it as a side salad; however, served on a bed of lettuce with some grilled shrimp or chicken pieces on top, it could easily turn it into a very satisfying spa lunch.

Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main course.

8 ounces dried rice stick noodles

2 oranges, segmented

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1 grapefruit, segmented

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint

1-2 Tbsp. chopped roasted peanuts


1 Tbsp. fish sauce

1 Tbsp. sesame oil

1 Tbsp. chili garlic sauce

2 tsps. honey

1/2 tsp. salt

Prepare the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Break or cut the dried noodles into 3- to 4-inch lengths and cook until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. (The cooked noodles will look like limp spaghetti but will have a slightly tougher texture.)

Once the noodles are cooked, drain them, rinse with cold water and drain again. Place them in a large bowl and add the dressing and fruit. Toss to coat evenly.

Garnish with the chopped mint and peanuts and serve.