2009-01-22 / Features

The Big Barrier To A Clean Kitchen

By Margrita Jager THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

Hectic and hardworking, my kitchen tends to attract stuff, lots of stuff - things I love and cannot seem to let go. It collects surreptitiously in drawers and on countertops, in cupboards and closets, until every nook and cranny overflows with clutter.

Yet I crave the quiet tranquility of a sleek and clutter-free space.

It is time for an intervention, I tell myself and jump in. After a few focused hours, my cupboards are crisp and clean, my fridge is fresh and fabulous, and my junk drawer deserves a new name to reflect its almost elegant appearance.

Now, one final hurdle stands between me and neatness nirvana: a delicately hand-woven basket crammed with recipes. Snipped from newspapers and magazines, ripped from jars and boxes, this mountain of paper threatens to thwart my aspirations.

Perched precariously at its peak is my circa-1975 cookbook with its battered Holly Hobby cover, sheltering a lifetime of tried-and-true favorites, recipes I return to again and again despite the abundance of new and exciting ideas buried beneath. Yet this pile of clippings looms before me, a miniature Mount Everest I yearn to conquer.

A more practical person would puzzle at my predicament. As a committed collector, I am prone to odd and irrational attachments. Each of these crumpled recipes holds the promise of a delicious drama waiting to unfold, like a stack of wonderful books waiting to be explored and appreciated.

Will I discover a scrumptious secret? Or will I find myself hopelessly hungering for something more? The mystery is undeniably mouthwatering.

I am not alone; recipes run rampant in even the most orderly household.

Some are tossed hastily into a drawer or a basket, while others are pasted painstakingly into the pages of a homemade scrapbook. Some are captured in beautiful books displayed respectfully on a shelf, while others are efficiently organized onto a laptop. No matter where they are housed, they always seem to magically multiply like dust bunnies gone wild.

Once, while visiting the home office of an accountant, I was drawn to a towering pair of builtin shelving units behind her desk. They were jammed with books - not money manuals or tax guidelines, but a curious collection of cookbooks of all shapes and sizes.

When I commented on the impressive array, she confessed to a distinct dislike for cooking but an inexplicable addiction to cookbooks. Looking lovingly over her shoulder at this wonderful wealth of assets, she admitted to spending hours savoring the recipes and photos on each page - although she never planned to prepare even one.

To me, that was as baffling as the IRS.

Unlike my culinary-challenged acquaintance, I relish the opportunity to prepare a homecooked meal - when I have time. Interesting and intriguing recipes arouse my sense of adventure. Yet no matter how tempting these gastronomic goodies sound, this unruly accumulation of papers no longer fits into my vision of a sparkling, stress-free space. There is no turning back; it is time for action.

I sift gingerly through the burgeoning box, assessing the bits and pieces of paper one by one. My stomach growls as I scan the appetizing lists of ingredients in Cheese-Gilded Linguine. Spicy Peanut Soup. Honey-Orange Chicken.

Maybe I could make this one for dinner tonight, I think as I set it aside for later consideration. Then I stop myself. This is how I got into this predicament in the first place, by envisioning magnificent meals that never materialize. No, this mission requires me to be bold, swift, severe.

I draw in a deep breath and in one audacious act of elimination, toss the entire heap into the recycling bin.

I exhale slowly and ponder the now-empty basket in my hands. Gone are all the delicious memories in-the-making, the promises of delightful new dishes I have yet to discover. Do I feel lighter, tidier, even a little more free? Not really. I miss them already. But Rachel Ray is cooking something fabulous on TV. Maybe I'll just take a few notes...

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