Friday is Lunar New Year, the beginning of the Year of the Horse. I’ve been down with a nasty cold but on Monday was feeling well enough to do a little house work. I’m compelled to because you’re suppose to fulfill your obligations, settle all debts, and tidy things up before one year ends and another starts. It’s a cleansing of sorts that allows you to refresh, renew, and reboot.
I decided to focus on my stand-up freezer, located in our garage. It’s always full, very full. But on Monday, I decided to rummage through it and purge. It wasn’t easy and a bit frightening to realize how much the contents of my freezer reflects who I am.
I learned to freeze things from my mom, who took to American-size refrigerators and dedicated with vigor. She has two fridges and two freezers, keeps things meticulously labeled. She rotates what’s in her freezer in a timely manner.
The situation in my freezer is not quite like that of my mother’s. To be honest, I found some shamefully old things in mine -- food that I thought I should eat and would keep, but I never did. For example, lobster fumé from 2011. I used to save the shells from cooking lobsters because they were so pricey, and made the broth for special event lobster risotto. I thought I was being frugal but not using it killed that ambition.
I cannot remember why I bought a huge bag of coconut (top left) and let it expire in 2010. Seriously. I didn’t know it was in the freezer until I dug way to the back wall. And then there’s the embarrassing clumps of ground yellow mung beans from Tet 2013 – when I made banh chung Tet sticky rice cakes. Since we’re on the brink of a new new year, I owe it to myself to cook a new batch.
Other bad habits included keeping opened bags of pandan leaves in the freezer. (Hello, freezer burn! Duh.) And, why keep banana leaves that look so over the hill? I actually thought I could salvage a few soft inner portion but I didn’t get around to it. Bye bye banana leaves.
The second category of frozen food that I found was food items I bought and never used. They often came from Asian markets. I selected them with the intent of tinkering with them but never did. I’d come home with the groceries, toss the ‘high-value’ items in the freezer where I knew they’d keep well. Then, I just kept them there. For years, it turns out.
Leathery looking sheets of tofu? I was going to make a salad with them to replicate something I ate in Chengdu in 2010. Vaguely named “frozen Chinese spinach” was suppose to be part of a 2009 dumpling filling experiment.
Hard-to-find caul fat was dragged to Northern California from Southern California. It cost me a whole $2.79 -- the gasoline cost more and the price of running the freezer too. I never employed it for grilled meaty morsels.
The freezer contents also got me to relive some of the VWK experiments of the past. The trial and errors of making Vietnamese beef jerky were preserved in two bags of the stuff. The recipes go back to [gasp] 2009 and 2011.
Digging around I also found a Peking duck carcass (saved for stock) and some duck liver that I genuinely thought I’d put into stuffing or pate. Never got around to either of those tasks.
Spring roll wrappers, freezer burned scallops, ancient looking bags of soy milk lees (okara) were part of the twenty or so pounds of trash that I dumped into the garbage. Some items, however, I couldn’t part with. Precious keepers included dried lantern chiles that Karen Shinto and I carried back from Sichuan, bags of natural yellow and purple food dyes that Elizabeth Andoh insisted I buy in Tokyo, dried sa sung worms that Cameron Stauch brought from Hanoi, and rye bread from Langer’s in Los Angeles.
Here’s how the freezer looked post-purging:
“It doesn’t look like much changed,” my husband said. Yeah, I have to agree. I need to go through it again. There’s a tub of rendered chicken fat that probably goes back several years. Oh, and there’s also the freezer in the kitchen to tackle too. I guess I have a little more clean up to do before Tet arrives on Friday.
So, how are you preparing for the New Year?
Related post: Why Vietnamese Tet is for home cooking