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  • Writer's pictureErin Carenzo

I Can Name That Smell in Two Notes, Bob!

Tonight I played a rousing version of Find That Smell: Refrigerator Edition, which is right up there with How Long Has This Load of Wash Been In Here? and Who Forgot to Put the Bag in the Trashcan?

Through this little Groceries Gone Wild exercise, I have discovered a few things – the first being that hunting for elusive mystery smells in my fridge is just another way to determine exactly how much money I’m spending at Trader Joe’s. The proof being in the 18 or so plastic containers of half-eaten hummus, some kind of ranch dip, a blue cheese with pecan elixer, and grape tomatoes. Oh, the grape tomatoes.

I’ve known for quite some time now that my relationship with grape tomatoes is over. I buy them. Compulsively. I throw them away.  Ad nauseam. For a decade at minimum, I have allowed this co-dependent relationship to rule my refrigerator. I am certain that they realize our twisted tomato tango is over, that it’s time to make room for the kale; their cold shriveling stares say it all. I have deliberated over asking them to join me for therapy, but it is clear that they’ve moved on and I must accept it. But the reality is, I’ll probably ask them out again.

Upon opening the crisper drawer in this troubling game of hide and seek the unfortunate odor, I have encountered forgotten bags of shredded carrots and expiring lettuce, recalling neglected dreams of gourmet salads past, forged in the fresh food section of Ralph’s – dreams that at some point turned to visions of wine and takeout. I closed their chilled compartment, vowing to return tomorrow to complete our leafy concoction together. But the truth is, they know I’m a liar. They’ve heard this before, and in short, I’m fairly certain I’ve lost all credibility with the produce. I’m also pretty sure the grape tomatoes have been spreading rumors, which has not helped my cause.

What I am not sure about is where all of these leftovers have come from, as there seems to be an overabundance of boxes, bags, and Tupperware containers that I’ve obviously lifted – inherited – from somewhere, because I don’t recall buying one covered in snowmen. I realize now too that baggies of somethings my husband has saved over an indeterminable period – and he saves everything – have dropped behind the glass shelves, which for some reason do not go all the way back to connect with the actual refrigerator wall. This has left exactly the right amount of space to catch a Ziploc occupied by taco shells of yore and one containing a half-eaten egg-shaped peanut butter cup from last Easter.

I have further discovered through this exercise-in-excess that I have more bread in my refrigerator than any Celiac should ever admit to. Being as I almost get a rash from looking at it. But my 12-year-old, who eats plain, non-toasted bagels like there’s about to be a shortage of yeast, requires a back-stock at all times. And as if to keep the bagels company, there’s at least one rejected bag of gluten-free bread perpetually in residence (because some loaves of what they pass off as gluten-free bread are really just re-purposed sidewalk pavement – they’re fooling no one), and inexplicably one lowly hot-dog bun on any given Sunday. Or Thursday. Basically whenever you open my fridge and the light comes on. I don’t think I even buy hot dogs, so that one’s a bit of a mystery as well. Unfortunately not the scented one I’m trying to solve.

In addition to a disturbing amount of bread products, this repellent search and rescue mission has revealed a hidden penchant for stocking more butter than a bakery the week before Christmas. What the hell am I whipping up in this neglected scullery? Because by the look of the restaurant take-out boxes, I haven’t actually used the kitchen in quite some time.

I’m thinking the butter is perhaps some kind of silent calorific tribute to Julia Child, or to a forgone era when butter, eggs, bread, and milk populated pre-gluten-free shopping lists. Or maybe, I have some sort of nondescript butter trama from my childhood which causes me to stockpile, that I’m anticipating some future lard-laden emergency. Now that I think about it, I do actually recall eating butter right off the stick when I was a child. My 6-year-old has long since accepted this torch, and I’m suspecting he may have inherited my fixation. But for now, I must resign myself to accepting that this may require further inquiry, and will have to remain on the unsolved list for the present.

Tonight I have encountered roughly 9,000 different types of cheese in my refrigerator that don’t taste like cheese – soy cheese, cashew cheese, almond cheese, and cheese made from sheep who made cheese while grazing in a pasture made of tofu and lactose intolerance. Cheese really should not fall into the “mystery meat” category, and I’m afraid mine may dip a toe or two into those “naturally smokey”-flavored waters – which currently bear all the unmistakable signs of “cheese” intentions gone bad. Or in this case, moldy.

And as a side note, can I ask – how many 20 oz. organic strawberry jams does one family need? I’ll tell you how many – at least three. And those should be in front of the 8 oz. organic strawberry jam jars, because there are at least six of those.

So after a long evening of catch-up with the inhabitants of my refrigerator, I finally located the smell – a forlorn and somewhat confused El Pollo Loco box containing one chicken leg. While delicious a mere four days ago, now a stench that will waft through the house if anyone even looks at the refrigerator door. It’s that serious.

As I celebrate my small, finally-unearthed victory, I become painfully aware that there is a counter full of discarded edibles that once called the stainless box in my kitchen, home. And I sigh, mentally blaming the grape tomatoes – the root of all refrigerator evil.

And this I know for sure.

Because we’re going out tomorrow night.

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