The dust bunnies behind my fridge will get to live another year. Come April, I’m dedicating the scant few hours I’m willing to spend indoors cleaning once the snow melts to spring greening my kitchen.
I may be able to find a minute to wipe up the splat of chocolate cake batter my KitchenAid mixer threw against the wall around Valentine’s Day, but after that, I’m focusing on these ten tasks to make my kitchen a greener space for cooking with the spring greens and summer bounty.
1. OPENING THE WINDOWS.
Off-gassing is the release of chemicals from the stuff (cleaners, plastics, non-stick pans, air fresheners) we bring into our homes or the materials from which our houses are built (plywood, synthetic countertops, particle board, painted cabinets). As our abodes get tighter to make them more energy efficient, these chemicals can build up inside them. Good ventilation is the best way to combat indoor off-gassing in your kitchen.
2. ORGANIZING THE FREEZER.
Whether it’s half of a side-by-side, a whole chest, or well-positioned above or below your refrigerator, a freezer is a green eating vending machine. Freezing is the easiest way to preserve local foods at their peak. That is, if it’s not an overstuffed, energy sucking mess. An efficient freezer should be packed to allow for both airflow and organization. March is a good month to take stock in your freezer and work the last of 2016 berries into your smoothies now before the 2017 ones are knocking at the door. Speaking of doors, a white board posted on the outside of the freezer listing what it contains saves both time for the eater in search of something good to eat, and energy for the appliance working hard to keep its internal temperature constant as warmer weather approaches.
3. TAKING INVENTORY OF CANNED GOODS.
Even shelf stable home preserves won’t last forever. According to Marisa McClellan of "Food in Jars" blog and book fame, higher sugar preserves like raspberry jam or blueberries canned in syrup can sit on the shelf for between 18 and 24 months as long as the seal holds, but lower sugar ones like, say apple butter, won’t make it that far. She says it’s a good idea to take stock of what you still have left in the larder now, plan to eat what you can reasonably, and if it’s obvious you’re not going to be able to use up certain items in advance of the upcoming season, consider skipping that particular jam or preserve this year and canning something new this year.
4. UNDERSTANDING THE POWER OF CITRUS.
Bright green limes, sunny yellow lemons, and oranges of all colors are a few of the faraway things most cooks in the northeast allow themselves. To justify the carbon expended, not a bit of the fruit should be wasted. Use spent lemon halves (once you’ve zested and juiced them) to clean your kitchen surfaces. Drop orange peels into spray bottles filled with white vinegar to get a citrus scented window cleaner. Plunk a handful of used lime wedges into a measuring cup half filled with water, heat it on high in the microwave for 5 minutes, let it steam with the oven door closed for five more, and use a damp cloth to wipe out all the softened gunk from the inside of the oven. To pull out the crud sitting in your wooden cutting board, sprinkle coarse salt over it and use a squeezed out lemon half to scour the board. Let the acidic salt sit on the board for 5 minutes, then scrape off the gray, dirty liquid and give the surface a final rinse with a clean wet cloth.
5. SHARPENING THE KNIVES.
They’ve likely been dulled by months of peeling, slicing, and dicing storage apples and winter squash. A sharp knife helps you work quickly, with precision. A sharp knife makes food look and taste better because a sharp blade will damage fewer flavor-containing cells in whatever is on the chopping block than a dull one will. And from a green angle, keeping your knives as sharp as possible cuts down on food waste. Kitchen knives should be professionally sharpened once a year and springtime is as good as any. To keep your knives sharp, use them only for their intended purpose and never to cut frozen foods. Also, employ wooden or kitchen-safe plastic cutting boards, wash and dry knives by hand, run them regularly over a steel to maintain their edge, and store them in a sleeve, on a hanging magnetic strip, or in a knife block.
6. RE-ASSESSING COMPOSTING HABITS AND GEAR.
It takes discipline to make sure the compost bucket doesn’t become a catchall for food scraps with which you don’t feel like dealing. In a green kitchen, composting is the last resort, not a first step, in diverting usable food from the waste stream. Resetting habits to make sure nothing goes into the bucket unless the culinary life has been sucked out of it when you turn the clocks ahead will help prep for the onslaught of fruits and vegetables coming your way. And giving your countertop compost bucket a good scrub with a baking soda and water paste will help neutralize any odors that may have accumulated in there over the winter.
7. SMELLING THE FLOURS.
Locally milled whole grain flours have more oils in them than bleached all-purpose ones do and therefore can go rancid. If they are stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, they will keep for months. But like any food, flours can go bad and will have a sharp smell and sour taste. While safe to handle, they will make anything you bake with them taste horrible. If you’ve got kids, make playdough (but don’t let them ingest it.) If you’re crafty, use it to make paper maché. If you’ve got a garden, dust your plants with it to deter grasshoppers and other leaf chewing insects. If you’ve got a compost pile, mix it in well, as just adding it on in one big layer will affect necessary air flow.
8. MAKING WAY FOR CSA BOUNTY.
They are coming, folks. Boxes — well, reusable bags more likely — full of produce. Be ready with countertop bowls to store fruits that like room temperature in full view so it all gets eaten. Air out baskets destined to hold an abundance of root vegetables. Stock up on white flour sack towels that extend the fridge life of herbs and leafy greens until you can eat them all.
9. CLEANING THE GRILL.
A clean grill is an efficient, greener one. Evict any nesting critters and clear out the cobwebs or debris from all corners of the grill. Empty and clean the grease trap and replace the drip pan if necessary. If you’ve got a gas grill, inspect the hoses which should not be crimped or brittle and the tank which should not be bulging or rusting. To clean the grates, warm the grill first. Use a wire brush and elbow grease to get the grilled-on bits off the grates, wash them in warm soapy water, and air dry before putting them back onto the grill.
10. ROTATING COOKBOOKS.
Everyone gets in a recipe rut. Take a rainy March afternoon to leaf through your cookbooks for inspiration on how to prepare all of the bounty that’s coming your way. Move the books that inspire you most to the most prominent shelf in the case. Keep a running list of recipe names, book titles, and page numbers posted on the bulletin board to remind you where to find them easily.