Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Spice Must Flow

Call me Sisyphus.

I am glacially de-cluttering my parents' kitchen. This involves evicting items from cabinets, scrubbing said cabinets, and re-organizing as I go.

I call it "my parents'" kitchen because, even though my mother died nearly two years ago, it is so very much her kitchen.  Dad just eats there.  Everything else is hers.  Her pots, her pans, her salt and pepper.  Well, there's also the clock.  The one that says "Snookie's Kitchen."

You can't argue with a clock.

(Sidenote:  You can, however, take issue with the fact that they have multiple clocks. There's the "Snookie's Kitchen," clock, a cuckoo clock (that cuckoos every fifteen minutes), the microwave clock, the stove top clock, and the under-the-counter radio clock. Did I mention that none of the clocks agree on a time?  These are very, very disagreeable clocks.)

Today, I focused my efforts on the spice cabinet.  Yes, cabinet. Not rack.  Most people have a spice rack, maybe even a Lazy Susan thingamajig, that contains about two doze frequently-used spices.  Since my mother cooked in great volume, frequency, and variety, she'd racked up a rather large collection -- conglomerate, really -- of spices.  I mean, she wasn't rolling her own sushi or anything, but she'd delve into Americanized versions of Irish (corned beef and cabbage), German (sour beef and dumplings), Italian (meat lasagna), French (chicken cordon bleu), and, of course, White Trash American (I can't even begin to christen the chef's salad sprinkled with Fritos and drizzled in hot Cheez Whiz).  Point is, there were about a hundred and fifty spice containers in this cabinet.  Can you even begin to appreciate that many  bottles of cloves, oregano, and mace?  Also: what is mace, for God's sakes?

I've been dreading the cleanup effort on this particular cabinet.  The way I figure it, in the twenty-one years she lived there, my mother cooked over seven thousand dinners in that house.  That cabinet represented the love she poured into each of those meals.

Ugh, I just dove into the deep end of my ow melodrama.  Blech. 

That's who I am now, for better or for worse. I'm reduced to the weepies, and possibly the vapors, by McCormick's finest.  Anyway, I went through all of these stupid spices, simultaneously getting teary-eyed over the Cream of Tartar that I knew went into the incomparably fluffy meringue atop her lemon pies. Cream of Tartar should NOT make cry, right?  

Lucky for me, before I could make myself throw up from my own weak sauce, I found the five boxes of baking soda.  Why does anyone need five boxes of Arm & Hammer's finest?   Mom, apparently, had some hoarder tendencies.  

Each bottle, each tin*, made me think of something she cooked for us. Since food was the real way that she'd tell you she love you, it was stupidly hard to toss an empty container of garlic salt. 

Confession:  I might -- might -- have found, and hugged, an empty bottle of Superose liquid sweetener. It caused an ape-strong memory of my mother mixing a squirt of it into her morning coffee, still bleary with sleep.

But toss it I did it, along with dozens of bottles of spice.  I pared the collection down to those that hadn't expired, and further reduced it to those spices that my sister and my father actually use.  I started with a hundred and fifty bottles.  I ended up with about thirty.  Now they can use that cabinet for a bunch of other things, including their coffee, tea, and baking ingredients.  Which is good.  But now there are two trash bags full of that which spiced up our family life for decades, which makes me feel incredibly awful.  

I know it's just stuff. Unusable stuff, to boot. But myriad tins of bottles... They are a powerful symbol of my Mom, and now they sit in an inglorious heap, waiting to go to a landfill.  And that's what feels awful.  If she were here, she would've called me a ninny for either being emotionally attached to a dusty bottle of cloves.  Well, either that or she would've been horrified that I threw out 'perfectly good' thirty-year-old bay leaves.

But she's not here, so I'm helping my Dad by clearing out the stuff they don't use or need.  In every way, what I'm doing is sane and right and good.  But it still sucks.

*thirty seconds of Google research shows that McCormick issued their spices in tin canisters during the '70's. So, this means that my mother bought these spices while living in my childhood home, and then moved them TWICE, and still didn't pitch them.

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