European refrigerators are not like their American cousins. They’re much smaller, designed for a grocery shopping style that involves daily or almost daily trips to the market for fresh produce and fresh cuts from the butcher. Our fridge is less than half the size of my sister’s, an American behemoth that small children could use during games of hide-and-seek. Her fridge door dispenses not just water and ice, but your choice of crushed or cubed ice. I’m pretty sure it dispenses gin and tonics, too, but the programming for that is beyond me.
(An old ad illustration for an American refrigerator. They’re much taller and wider nowadays.)
Meanwhile, our fridge is so tiny that I had to take out one of the shelves to accommodate our gallon pitcher of iced tea. And I had to import that gallon pitcher, because I could find nothing remotely in that size range locally. Without exception, every Portuguese who sees our iced tea pitcher nearly falls over in amazement at its sheer size, at which point we explain that in the US, milk is sold in containers like this. (And then we pick them up off the floor.)
All of which is to say that when something stinks inside a European fridge, you’d think it wouldn’t be hard to find. There is only so much one can cram in there, and no real place to hide.
And yet…something died inside our refrigerator, and we couldn’t find it for days. Meanwhile, the stench got worse and worse, to the point where we were holding our breath when we opened the door, and only breathing again once the fridge was safely shut.
This afternoon, my wife and I prepared for battle. It was time to track down and eliminate the corpse.
We started with the vegetable drawers, emptying them, cleaning them, sniffing inside all of the bags, and putting it all back together. All veggies were cleared.
Next up was the top shelf, where we keep the cheeses and lunchmeats. Everything looked good, until my wife dangled a ziplock baggie in front of me. “Do you think this is it?” she asked.
It was the feta cheese. I couldn’t recall when we bought it, which is never a good sign. “It might be,” I said. “Give it a sniff.”
“I’m not smelling it! Let’s just throw it away.” She walked toward the trash can, but being the anal-retentive person I am, I couldn’t bear tossing the cheese without actual evidence of its demise.
“Wait! I’ll smell it.”
“Well, take it outside!” demanded my wife. “I don’t want it released in the kitchen.”
Sheesh. Here I am, falling on my sword for the sake of knowledge, and I can’t even do it in the comfort of the kitchen. I stepped out onto the veranda, unzipped the baggie, and took a careful whiff.
When my eyes stopped watering and I could see again, the first thing I noticed was my wife laughing it up in the kitchen. Hey, at least I had the courage to snort the cheese!
In the trash it went, and since we were halfway into cleaning the fridge now, we decided to finish the job. Shelves were washed and dried, food articles were sorted and checked, and everything put back neatly. It was on the last shelf that I noticed the Tupperware container of black beans. “Did you check this?” I asked. No, she hadn’t.
Since we’d already found one stinking horror, I didn’t take precautions opening up the beans. I should have. Upon peeling off the lid, we both peered into it and saw white slime where water should have been. Then the stench hit us.
“OH MY GOD!” we shouted in unison, and that was all we could say before gagging noises filled the kitchen. I rushed to the bathroom to pour the sludge into the toilet — and yes, I know you’re not supposed to use a toilet as a garbage disposal, but this was an emergency — and nearly passed out in the process. If merely taking off the lid was awful, actually breaking the skin on the slime and pouring it out was ten times worse. The whole bathroom reeked of decomposition, and it was nearly on the level of a dead body.
“Did you rinse it?” my wife called from the safety of the kitchen, while I was setting records for breath holding in the bathroom. “Don’t bring it back here until you’ve rinsed it!”
I watched the slime coat the bathroom sink — HER bathroom sink, mind you — and chuckled evilly. “Yes, I’m rinsing it!”
After that, it was easy. And now our refrigerator is sparkling clean. Best of all, when you open the door, you can smell — absolutely nothing.
But I’m not using that sink.