Nothing warms your soul on a cold day like throwing out all the expired foods lurking on shelves waiting to kill you.
It's a bittersweet experience. Well, semisweet. I gobble up the remnants of an old bag of Nestle semisweet chocolate chips secured with a rubber band and languishing in a crevice between the sliding shelf and pantry wall. The chocolate morsels turned gray in their years on the shelf, but so did I, so who am I to judge?
Going through our shelves is like flipping through an old photo album. Our three sons used that bottle of Mongolian Fire Oil more than a decade ago as a prop in their short film titled "The Boy Who Could Eat Anything." That video still makes me smile. I can't discard one of the supporting foods just because it expired during the George H.W. Bush administration.
Foods aren't the only things with expiration dates. When I turn to the Internet to see if the white dust on the Savannah Smiles Girl Scout cookies could be powdered sugar instead of mold, I come across a reference to the 1982 film "Savannah Smiles." The movie stars Bridgette Andersen as a 6-year-old girl who runs away from home after being ignored by her politically ambitious parents but ends up being rescued by a pair of convicts and a priest played by Pat Morita. Then I keep reading and discover that Andersen died of a drug overdose at age 21. I toss those cookies.
I throw out most of our expired foods, even the bottle of Colgin Hickory Liquid Smoke that I remember buying during my bachelor days. It's so old the expiration date is written in Roman numerals.
Some of the expired goodies reinforce the realization that I am not good with money or shopping. On Christmas Eve, I bought a bottle of cocktail sauce to go with a shrimp appetizer, and a can of pumpkin filling for a pie. Cleaning our cabinet, I find unopened (and now expired) containers of both. That's poor food management.
It gets worse when I discover that our Hidden Valley ranch dressing managed to stay hidden in our pantry. We use ranch dressing only for one baked catfish recipe that was popular enough at one time for us to stock up. Behind the one unopened bottle of Hidden Valley that expired on Sept. 13 hides another identical bottle that expired on July 13. Behind that stash are two unopened bottles of Original Western dressing that one of our kids loved for a month. They expired on my wife's birthday last summer.
I don't understand how cans of soup, the last of which expired on Dec. 21, survive a year in a home with three always hungry teenage boys. I would have eaten the jar of Nutella if I had discovered it before its September expiration date.
The can of mandarin oranges, which expired on Oct. 16 of 2009, reminds me of how our boys used to gobble them right off their highchair trays. Having taken health class in high school, our sons now check expiration dates before they agree to consume anything, which forces me to funnel milk that hits its expiration date into cartons that don't expire for another 24 hours.
The spicy Thai peanut sauce purchased before we had kids gets thrown away, but not before it brings to mind wonderful memories of how we bought that package shortly after the Asian trip my wife and I took during the first Gulf War. Life before kids also explains the bottle of La Tourangelle Hile de Truffe Noire, which apparently was purchased back in the days when we didn't need to worry if kids would eat something made with infused black truffle oil. God knows what we made with that.
While everyone in our family has enjoyed s'mores in the past year, I find a package of Honey Maid graham crackers that expired on March 9, 2012, and a bag of marshmallows hard enough to be flame-retardant. I throw away raisins that expired a year ago, even though they already are just expired grapes. A similar pouch of currants doesn't expire for another two weeks, but I'm just not in the mood to wait.
I toss Parmesan sourdough twists, which expired on March 14, 2011, even though they smell better than the 16-ounce bottle of Natural Molasses Blackstrap Unsulphured, which I toss even though I can't imagine it changing much during the next century. The barrel-size tin of hot chocolate powder I bought a few years ago at Costco might still be good, but throwing it away clears space to store all our vinegars on the same shelf -- especially after I toss one bottle of red-wine vinegar that expired in 2012. I fear that the red wine had turned, making it a bottle of vinegar-vinegar.
The day of purging makes me feel better, if only because it sends me to the Internet to find these words of wisdom from the late comedian George Carlin: "Leftovers make you feel good twice. First, when you put it away, you feel thrifty and intelligent: 'I'm saving food!' Then a month later when blue hair is growing out of the ham, and you throw it away, you feel really intelligent: 'I'm saving my life!'"
Any day when you can combine lifesaving and happy family memories is a good one.