Thursday, March 3, 2011

hace frio, eh?

Throughout our freshman year in high school, my best friend and I relished in passing absurdly pointless notes to one another between classes.  Frequently, my friend’s messages began with the self-derived catchphrase, ‘Hace frio, eh?!’  For those unversed in Spanish 101, ‘hace frio’ roughly translates to ‘it’s like an igloo in here’.  This multilingual greeting was the product of  said friend’s first year Spanish coupled with a souvenir expression from her recent visit to Canada.  And it was chilly.  We lived in Alaska, mind you, where classrooms were often too cold for comfort, particularly as the building was warming up in the morning.   january in sitka, alaska… brrr!

Unlike the sentiment my friend penned to protest those frigid mornings, the expression ‘hace frio’ takes on a welcome connotation when used to describe, say, a refreshing beverage or an ice cream sandwich.  That’s what I’m talking about.  Refrigeration.  A modern convenience we routinely take for granted.  I certainly did until a few weeks ago when our ‘refrigerador hace frio’ no more.  Pardon my pathetic Spanish.  I took French in high school.  In layman’s terms, our underappreciated refrigerator is now irreparably broken.  Worse yet, it’s not just the fridge that went kaput, it’s the freezer too.  How do I know?  The GE repairman told me so.  Calling it a tragedy would be a tad melodramatic but the news certainly isn’t cause for celebration.  The only reason I pulled out the bubbly was that it was no longer chilling in there anyway.

     r.i.p.  ‘you miserable piece of crap’  2006 – 2011 

This sorry situation did not unfold in a fortnight, rather, it was a long drawn-out process.  Also known as, we were slow on the uptake.  That and my 6-year old had taken up a fascination with freezing water in plastic baggies, silicone candy molds, doll-sized cups; you name it, she froze it.  Because of the sudden increase in freezer activity, we assumed that the influx in overly soft ice cream, melty ice cubes and generally squishy frozen foods was the product of our inquisitive child’s frosty misadventures.

On Christmas morning, as I spat out a spoonful of cold cereal laced with sour milk, I chalked it up to the grown-up version of a lump of coal in the stocking.  On subsequent sour-ish milk encounters, I self-diagnosed a sinus infection.  When I cracked open eggs for a batch of brownies and turned up a rotten one, I noted it was a different brand than the ones I usually buy.  I won’t be buying those eggs again, I said to my husband as I dumped the bad egg in the compost bin.  These incidents were not consecutive which rightly explains the fuzzy paper trail. 

When at last it came to light that our freezer was intermittently shutting on and off, we tried banging on the fan cover because, you know, maybe there was ice stuck in there.  And because, when all else fails, just hit the dang thing.  It worked on VHS players and old TV’s with bad signal, didn’t it?  No dice.  The time had come to call in help.  Or in our case, a guy named Jim who charged $87.50 to tell us it was time to buy a new fridge.  Our failed fridge was just shy of five years old with a one-year warranty.  “Was it something we did?” I hopelessly inquired. 

“Nope,” said Jim, “Some fridges just don’t last that long; but I can give you a coupon for $87.50 toward your next fridge when you buy it on our website.” 

Thanks Jim.  Thanks a lot. 

That was two weeks ago.  I have since mourned the loss of frozen homemade pizza sauce, pesto, pea soup, chili, chicken pot pie and a whole lot of of other good food gone bad; yet I remain staunchly in denial regarding the fridge itself.  It hasn’t budged from its usual spot.  There it stands, an empty facade, a carcass, a useless piece of stainless steel.  My daughter’s artwork, spelling tests and school pictures still adorn the outside, as do the bright-eyed gazes of smiling babies on announcements I can’t bring myself to discard.  “How on earth do you manage without a fridge?!” you ask.  Now there’s a question.  Fear not, good people, we are not fridgeless over here.  In our basement, we have a vacant mother-in-law equipped with a stout under-the-counter refrigerator.  Bigger than a hotel mini-bar, though not by much, it doth suffice.  And by suffice, I mean it actually gets the job done. 

   euro-style, baby

Three things I loathe about our predicament: 

1. Schlepping up and down the stairs for whatever I didn’t grab the last time I was down there.  2. Come morning, it’s downright cold in the basement when I retrieve the milk for my bowl of cereal.  3. The freezer is the size of a glove compartment and can’t even handle a piddly pint of ice cream. 

Three things I love about our ‘euro-fridge’: 

1. I have noticeably slimmed down due to the aforementioned stair climbing and lack of quintessentially frozen treats.  2.  Nothing gets shoved to the back because the back is the front is the back is the… 3.  I get to pretend I’m French.  They get by just fine with comparably pint-sized cooling units, non?

It’s not only the French who rely on smaller refrigerators.   My Dutch in-laws have a similarly scaled-down model.  Whenever we visit them in Holland, I am amazed at their ability to efficiently cram it all in.  This mainly necessitates purchasing smaller quantities at more frequent intervals.  In addition, it is considered perfectly acceptable to store eggs, fruit, jelly and some cheeses at room temperature, thereby freeing up additional room in the icebox.    Personally, I draw the line at unrefrigerated eggs and cheese.  You say lukewarm eggs, I say salmonella.  Some things just don’t translate.

IMG_1414   ‘to market, to market’  paris, france

In the United States, small fridges are associated with college life or that first shoebox you affectionately called an apartment.  It’s all fine and good when you have but one mouth to feed.  The question becomes, how can a family rely on the same?  The very idea is un-American and terribly inconvenient to say the least; but it can be done.  Call it a lesson in moderation and restraint.  Turn a blind eye to those buy two/get one free sales, bypass coolers in wholesale grocery stores and forget about frozen convenience foods altogether.  We live in a spread out country.  Shopping for groceries is a hassle.  Why make it harder than it already is?  Now there’s some food for thought.

Eventually, we will purchase another behemoth refrigerator and when we do, I will no doubt have newfound respect for my freezer.  I will spend less time driving to the grocery store.  I will occasionally indulge in a late-night dish of ice cream.  And I will gratefully acknowledge the luxury of taking a pan of homemade lasagna straight from the freezer and placing it into the oven because sometimes, convenience really is bliss.

When all is said and done, I hope to retain the spirit of simplicity I’ve experienced during this temporary inconvenience.  I’m also hoping to retain my pared down waistline.  The day our fridge died, I could have ordered takeout.  Instead, I channeled my inner Frenchwoman and headed to market, though the meal I fixed was decidedly American.   Rather than dwell on our loss, we feasted on roast chicken with mushrooms and greens, oven roasted potatoes and whole wheat buttermilk biscuits.  And we didn’t have ice cream for dessert.

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