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What's in your fridge?

On the shelves with Pique's co-founder, Bob Barnett: Part two



Last week we started our tour of Bob Barnett's fridge in the Nesters Road home he's lived in since 1996. Bob, co-founder of Pique Newsmagazine along with his late wife, Kathy, was also its editor for nearly 1,000 issues. We left off on the top shelf with a couple of bottles of half-used maple syrup he never uses — symbols of more than a few things in his fridge that speak to one (or more) of these recurring themes: things he has no idea about; things he doesn't use; and things nicely past their expiry date. I was asking him how old those bottles of syrup might be...

"These could be years old, I don't know," says Bob. "There's no expiry date on maple syrup."

The reassuring thing is they can't be older than 1996. Although he did go through a cupboard last month and found all kinds of things he hadn't bought — canned goods and dried pasta — that were past their "best before" date.

"It was all stuff Kathy had bought, so it was at least seven years old," he says. "I put it all in a huge bowl and took it to the composter."

Seven years ago, the entire community was shell-shocked when Kathy was struck and killed by a car while she and Bob were on a cycling vacation in New Zealand in January 2008. It was their longest vacation together, and the farthest they'd ever travelled. As you can well imagine, it was the kind of moment that changes a narrative forever.

"Kathy did pretty much all of the cooking... mostly I just opened bottles of wine," he says. So Bob's had to learn a whole new kitchen story, plowing on all the same.

And that's what we do in his fridge. On Shelf Two we find Olympic no-fat French vanilla yogurt he has for breakfast on Bob's Red Mill muesli most mornings; some Claussen's dill pickles; and a couple of half-cartons of eggs, one already expired and the other about to expire the next day.

Granted, there are only three eggs between the two cartons. But the million-dollar question is, does he use food past its expiry date? Or does he even check expiry dates?

He might use the eggs... Then again, he might not.

"But I am checking expiry dates more," he says, laughing, "especially the past month or so, after cleaning out that cupboard and noticing the salt from France I'd been using for months had expired in 2008. "

Next is a box of baking soda with the mesh cloth on the side to absorb odors and keep the fridge smelling nice. I can't resist checking — has it expired? Yes! We both laugh again because my husband and I leave them, too, until long after their due date, finding them wedged in a corner, not really hurting anything but not doing any good either.

There's also a little piece of fresh red snapper that's cat food, not because it has expired but because Bob actually bought it for Tiffany — his "orange, short-haired, spoiled, princess, domestic cat" which he got from the animal shelter.

Tiffany, he explains with a long sigh, was already named and she has trained Bob to cook fish for her each night, rather than opening a tin of cat food. She also knows we're talking about her.

That's it on Shelf Two. Now it's his drawers. The produce one is empty because he and his visiting dad ate the salad stuff yesterday, before it expired or went brown. But the cheese drawer is full — with stilton, a chunk of parmesan he grates over pasta, kaltbach cheese (a strong Swiss variety he likes in sandwiches and on crackers), and a piece of Manchego, all of them from Nesters Market.

Now we're onto the door shelves and, again, a lot of this is "mystery stuff" he's not sure about.

First up is fig spread, which may or may not have expired. Then there's Babci Polish-style mayonnaise he prefers to regular mayonnaise; two jars of horseradish he has no idea about; butter he bought for chai spice loaves; three jars of stuffed olives his father bought for his martinis; oyster sauce he's not sure about; the whipped cream that's not his and is hiding behind six bottles of Pilsner Urquell, his favourite; Heinz ketchup; a two-litre bottle of ginger ale, now flat, left over from getting sick; pickled onions; ReaLemon juice; soy sauce; two mustards; Louisiana hot sauce; Newman's Own salad dressing; and some Nonna Pia's cabernet/merlot balsamic reduction for mixing with olive oil as a bread dip.

And that's it for Bob's fridge.

Since he doesn't cook many veggies, he has a salad almost every night, but he's not big on salad dressings. Instead, he'll mix grapefruit balsamic vinegar and tarragon olive oil from a cool little shop called Drizzle in historic Fairhaven, just south of Bellingham. His friend, Lauren, knows the Drizzle owners, who were going to open a shop in Whistler but have since nixed it.

Typically, besides the salad, dinner means, maybe, oven-baked chicken; Nesters' crab cakes; Mexican something; or pasta. And, as we can tell from his fridge, he likes to buy whatever he feels like each day, usually at Nesters since he can walk over.

Other than the Christmas-gift chai loaves and some energy bars he made when he just felt like trying some baking, whatever he makes has to be fast. Because after, say, 40 or 45 minutes Bob gets antsy. Are all those dirty dishes and mess worth it if he's not sure it's going to turn out?

"Forty-five minutes is kind of the point where I lose patience with a dinner recipe and start wondering if it's going to be worth it, if it's something new and it's just me eating it," he says. "But partly it's a lack of experience and not having experimented enough. I have a new recipe for fish cakes that I want to try but I need to get mentally prepared for it."

Besides — and many people can relate, I'm sure— there are lots of things he'd rather be doing. Cross-country skiing, cycling, reading a good book. He's just finished Doris Kearns Goodwin's Bully Pulpit and now he's into her previous one on Abe Lincoln. Called Team of Rivals, it's all about how you have to learn to work with those who don't share your views to achieve something major.

Sounds really similar to running a great newsmagazine.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who usually wants to get out of the kitchen.