Archive for category housekeeping

On the Tyranny of the Refrigerator

© Jihyun Ryou

Awhile back, I posted some alternatives to food gathering.  In researching that post, I was pleasantly surprised to find so many alternative sources for finding groceries.  But no matter where your provisions originate, the question persists: what is the best way to store it once you are home?  Last year, we managed to successfully reorganize our dry foods storage, but the fridge can be a black hole.  So much so that there are times I open mine with trepidation over what is going to fall out onto the floor.

Artist Jihyun Ryou addresses this issue with her brilliant design project, Shaping Traditional Oral Knowledge, where she created five beautiful storage solutions for various foods that take into account the history of how they were stored before refrigeration was ubiquitous. It is a perfect blending of the oral history of food storage (i.e. the habits of your grandmother) with modern design.  In one example, she stores apples and potatoes in a symbiotic container: the potatoes in a dark box (as they like it), with a perforated top for apple storage.  Apples – like many other fruits – give off ethylene gas that hasten the ripening and subsequent over-ripening of certain types of produce.  However, their effect on potatoes is different: instead, they keep potatoes from sprouting.  Thus, Ryou’s solution is to store apples and potatoes together, but away from other foods:

© Jihyun Ryou

Another interesting food storage issue she addresses is that of the egg.  How do you store an egg? Most would say inside the refrigerator and, indeed, many doors come with a space made just them, but current wisdom dictates that eggs should be stored in the carton inside the fridge, not in the door.  Ryou, counters that eggs can and should be stored at room temperature and created a solution that includes a freshness tester based on the time-tested method of seeing if it will sink or float.  A bad egg will float, and a fresh one will sink :

© Jihyun Ryou

Unlike in Europe, where Ryou lives and works, the U.S. mandates that eggs be washed before being sold, which strips them of their protective coating and makes room temperature storage less reliable.  So, unless you are lucky enough to get your eggs straight from your own hens, this method might not be so viable here.  Still, I love the way it looks.

The point of this project is to get people to re-examine their assumptions about how we treat food and Ryou also keeps a Tumblr site where she invites people to post their anecdotal wisdom on how to store food – some intriguing (store a chili pepper in your rice to prevent bugs), some questionable (cover your eggs with vaseline to block the pores), but all fascinating. Her work asks you to consider the way each type of food wants to be treated, but also succeeds in conveying the visual beauty of food.  By displaying it on the wall, you can see what you have and are more likely to use it.  If these were for sale, I would be first in line.

In reconsidering food storage, there are number of issues to take into account beyond refrigeration:  Do you wash your produce when you buy it or wait until you use it? Do you use plastic or not?  Do you treat your herbs like flowers? Or wrap them in damp paper towels?  A quick trip around the internet will give you multiple answers to these questions, but here are a few sources I think are helpful:

  • Food52 recently ran a couple of useful posts on food storage, organized by counter, pantry and refrigerator.  It’s a good outline on what to store where, but relies heavily on plastic containers and bags.
  • The Berkeley Farmer’s Market was the first to eliminate plastic bags as part of their Zero Waste initiative back in 2009. They have published this handy guide for plastic-free food storage Berkeley Farmers Market Tips for Storing Produce .
  • Last but not least, the Zero Waste Home, has a lot of great advice on waste-free food storage, my favorite being freezing bread in pillowcases!
  • And if you are wondering how long something keeps, check out Still Tasty!

I am inspired to spend the next few weeks rummaging through the fridge to re-think what we are keeping in there. For full disclosure, here is how it looks today:

So let the excavation begin! For more fridge-related voyeurism, check out artist Mark Menjivar’s portrait series on people’s refrigerators entitled, You Are What You Eat.  It speaks volumes.


Attack of the imaginary chewdaddies.

"Bedbugs", by Esme Topcik, age 5.

Where has Domaphile been, you ask?  We were swallowed up by June.  The month that is both the torment and the joy of the working parent.  We have been going to pre-school graduations, recitals, publishing parties, end-of-year picnics, school plays, sleepovers, camp orientation, swim tests, more picnics… you get the idea.  This is the time of year where I feel like I have suddenly found myself trapped inside a complicated video game that has been set to a skill level far above mine.  You take your basic, work-life balance (or imbalance, as the case may be) and you add to it an unholy amount of commitments you can’t possibly all honor – except they are all important.  Sprinkle in few inexplicable ½ days of school courtesy of the NYC Department of Education (wtf?) – just to throw you off your game. Oh, and why not throw in some house guests and your husband’s 40th birthday party, just to make it interesting.  That’s got to be, like, level 7 already in this game I like to call “domestic bliss”.  If you think you just might be actually managing all this, let’s take it to another level  – how about adding in some bedbugs? Now you’re truly fucked (sorry mom, there really is no other way to describe it.) Game over.

A few Sundays ago, our eldest daughter started complaining that her back and shoulders were itching.  Lo and behold, it looked like a rash.  The next day, we took her to the doctor.  “Looks like bedbug bites”, she says.  WHAT???  Up until this point, my only experience with bedbugs was when Jack got them on 30 rock and no one would shake his hand except that robot (Season 4, Episode 4, if you are wondering).  I couldn’t find a clip of the show to share, but here is how it went:

Kenneth: Oh my sir. It looks like you got a bad case of the Chew Daddies. Ozark Kisses. The Woodsman Companion? Bed bugs. They’re a big problem in New York.
Jack: I don’t have bed bugs, Kenneth. I went to Princeton.
Kenneth: Sir, anyone can get them. Back in Stone Mountain even the mayor had bed bugs. And she…was a horse.
Kenneth: Mr. Donaghy’s got Blue Ridge Quilt Ticklers. Oh sorry, bed bugs.
Breckman: Bed bus? Can’t those live in your clothes?
Kenneth: That’s true, Mr. Donaghy. The mayor had to burn all her pant suits.

What do you do when you get that kind of news?  Well, I decided it would be appropriate to COMPLETELY FREAK OUT.   Wouldn’t you?  Not knowing exactly what to do, we turned to Google, which may have been our first mistake.  Don’t ever go there to learn about bedbugs – it will just leave you grossed out and despondent.  After some cursory research, we were told that the best course of action would be to have our apartment inspected by an adorable dog who would sniff around and determine if the bugs that bit our daughter were now residing in our apartment, waiting to feast on us, too.  The dog was, indeed, adorable.  He walked around and scratched on the sofa and the beds.  “Yep. You have bedbugs”, said the handler.  “They’re everywhere – you need to deal with this yesterday“.  He wrote down a phone number.  I called.  The calm man on the other end of the line said they would fumigate our apartment for $1700 (to start) and we would have to start by heat treating everything in it.  Whatever plans we had for the week were going to be replaced by the endless washing, drying and bagging of all our clothes and bedding while waiting for someone to come and firebomb our apartment with some kind of toxic chemicals. This is when the month of June truly started to suck.   My dear mother was visiting and she went into full-on commando mode: cleaning our mattresses (in fact, whole rooms) with rubbing alcohol, buying AllergyLuxe anti-bedbug mattress covers for everything, bringing in steam cleaners to treat the furniture (I’m certain they pulled about a gallon of yogurt out of the sofa – it’s never looked better!)

The odd thing was, none of us had any bites.  Vera had no new bites and her rash was fading fast.  There were no signs of any bugs in our apartment and believe me, we looked.  As I started talking to people (there was no keeping this to ourselves, Vera had already informed the entire 2nd grade) I found out that just about every third person has had some experience with the curse of the Blue Ridge Quilt Ticklers.  It’s big business in NYC. As in, it would behoove a shady inspector who was referred by an exterminator to give you bad news, and then kindly tell you to call the exterminator.  We called a few more people for second opinions.  One guy pointed out that we don’t have any physical evidence of bites or bugs and told me to call back when we actually have them.  So we waited, inspecting our children, heat-treating our clothes, and sleeping poorly.  Still nothing. Yet.  

The takeaway? Imaginary bedbugs are almost as unpleasant as real bedbugs.  Well, maybe that is an overstatement,  but they mess with you in their own special way.  Nevertheless, we did learn a few things that I wish we had known from beginning that I would like to share:

  1. If you look up bedbugs online, go straight to  They have all the information you need to know.  Avoid looking at images of bedbugs.  Trust me, it will just make it harder to sleep at night.
  2. It is not a bad idea to invest in bed-bug repelling mattress covers.  If they do make their way to your home, at least they will not be getting all up in your mattresses.  
  3. Bedbugs are everywhere!  Movie theaters, cabs, hotels, airplanes.  You can go nuts starting to digest the disgusting implications of this.  So don’t even try.
  4. That said.  If I were going to a hotel, I might take a look at the Bed Bug Registry.  I have a friend who travels frequently for work and always checks before making a reservation, to avoid waking up with the Ozark kisses.  And keep your luggage away from the bed.
  5. Since the most likely scenario for getting bedbugs is to bring them home after traveling, it is not a bad practice to wash and dry the contents of your luggage as soon as you get home.  If you are really paranoid, you could also spray down your luggage with rubbing alcohol and keep it in a sealed plastic sleeve (we just bought one at Bed, Bath, and Beyond because, yes, we are now that paranoid).
  6. If you do suspect you have a problem, your first challenge is to find a reputable inspector/exterminator.  If you live in a building in NYC, the management will hopefully help you with this (depending on their level of commitment).  I wish I could give you the name of the right people to call, but we never got to that point.  Chances are, you might have a friend who can give you a solid recommendation.

So, that was June.  Our own harrowing adventure in modern, urban domesticity – one we hope never to revisit, yet are now prepared.  To the bedbugs I say, bring it!  We will crush you.

Further Reading:  McSweeney’s Internet Tendency: Global War on Bedbugs, by Alan Good.


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