Minding the dressing, and other tips on Sellbydatus

janet's world

March 29, 2009|By Janet Gilbert | Janet Gilbert,Special to The Baltimore Sun

Someday, some unlucky family member is going to have to drive me to the emergency room, where my rapid-onset stomach pains and vicious headache will cause medical professionals to perform many tests to no avail.

Appendicitis? Meningitis? Encephalitis?

Writhing, delirious with fever, I will manage nonetheless to mutter an incongruous phrase that will prove instrumental in the diagnosis of my condition.

Maybe it will be: "Harry and David currant jelly." But it could just as well be: "pickled beets," "minced clams" or "cranberry muffin mix."

Only those in my immediate family will be able to decipher the clue. Because they know that the busier I become, the more my refrigerator and pantry transmogrify into a minefield of expired foodstuffs. Quickly, they will confer with the doctor.

"Give her a Tums," the doctor will conclude. "It's just a simple case of Sellbydatus."

Sellbydatus is the illness that results from gross inattention to the sell-by date printed on food packaging. All of my family members have received extensive training on picking the sell-by date furthest from today when selecting items from any department in a grocery store. This is because, in my job as a freelance writer, I am sometimes not very busy at all. Other times, I am so busy that I can only sprint through a grocery store for the "snowstorm four" - milk, bread, eggs and toilet paper.

This causes our family to experience short periods of normality when I go grocery shopping on a regular basis, interrupted by long periods of erratic home life when I do not grocery shop at all but remain transfixed in front of my computer monitor. During these periods, we in Janet's World are forced to forage in the freezer and cabinets for our sustenance. Sellbydatus thrives in these conditions.

But how does it happen, you ask? Sellbydatus rarely occurs with grocery staples that are replenished regularly. It is more likely to happen with ingredients used intermittently; items received in a holiday gift basket or purchased expressly for use in a new recipe. Let us explore the recent Janet's World Thousand Island dressing incident as an example.

Evidently, back when Americans were stockpiling water and canned goods for the looming Y2K national crisis, I felt the need to add Thousand Island dressing to the family's food supply. I had sampled an easy recipe for chicken at a friend's home - a dish that required only Thousand Island dressing and one or two other standard ingredients. I thought it might be a nice pick-me-up dinner for the family while we gathered in the basement awaiting the government's announcement that it was safe to greet the new millennium.

But as we know, the Y2K situation turned out to be a nonevent, so we all went about our lives. And no one in the Gilbert home uses Thousand Island dressing on a salad. I'm not sure anyone in America uses Thousand Island dressing as a salad dressing. It is time we admit that Thousand Island dressing makes a most unfortunate visual presentation on a salad.

Last week was a particularly busy week here in Janet's World, and I was digging deep in the freezer when I found some chicken parts and I suddenly remembered the Thousand Island dressing-based chicken recipe. I checked in my pantry, and to my delight, there was a bottle of Thousand Island dressing. I set it out on the counter, preparing to assemble the dish and pop it in the oven.

"Wow," my son said, picking up the bottle of dressing. "This one could be a record. It says, 'July 2001.' "

Thus, another case of Sellbydatus was swiftly avoided by the actions of my son, who safely enjoyed grilled chicken that evening. With a salad that expires March 31 and a glass of milk dated April 15.

To contact Janet Gilbert or hear podcasts, go to www.janetgilbert.net.

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