I’ve found that leftovers differ by generations. My mother’s leftovers scare many of my senses; fear through sight, taste and smell. They seem more random, questionable and often inedible. Yet, to her, it’s clap-your-hands delicious.
I’ve discovered leftover sandwiches complete with soggy bread. When creativity strikes, the waterlogged shell is exchanged and sandwich innards are transplanted onto fresh (frozen) pieces of bread. My mom eats a lifeless salad before composting it. Large stainless steel bowls holding half-eaten produce and skins are “saved for the horses... they love them!” Although I’m disgusted, they’ve grown accustomed to her version of crudités.
It’s no wonder she has an iron constitution. Seeing food forgotten on the counter become a snack later on leaves me speechless. My silence only humors her.
Over the years, between my family and my husband’s family, I’ve witnessed all forms of food recycling. There’s the large express coffee cup in the fridge, left with a remaining gulp (or two). I’ve learned to never throw it out. Hearing frequent inquiries of “Where’s my iced coffee?” is a route I’d rather not take.
How about the incognito leftover? We grab what we think is a Dannon blueberry yogurt; only to be surprised by a half serving of last night’s dinner. Instead of immediately placing it back in the fridge, we bury our nose in it and mumble nonsense.
There is the opened, half-empty carbonated beverage that’s lovingly returned to the refrigerator. “Who wants the remaining soda in the fridge?” What’s funny is the lack of volunteers and enthusiasm for the flat liquid syrup. Forgotten servings of gravy or homemade salsa sit alone and forgotten on the back shelves of nowhere. Want to make some space in the fridge? “Don’t throw it out, I’ll freeze it and cook with it.”
The amazing thing is they do remember! My mother-in-law pre-prepares basil and garlic. She freezes it in recycled cottage cheese containers and then labels it with masking tape and a marker. When it comes time to cook a meal, she takes it out, spoons out a serving and throws it in.
What resides in my freezer is a crapshoot. It fluctuates from frozen chicken breasts and Costco ciabatta bread to Trader Joe’s edamame and Friendly’s Xtreme Mint Cookie Collision ice cream.
I understand their appreciation for leftovers. In their day, many mouths needed to be fed, money was tight and food was never wasted. Growing up, leftovers were a part of our weekly menu. I remember sighing after asking, “What’s for dinner?” Mom was always too enthusiastic with her response, “Leftovers!” It’s my token excuse for not being a leftover connoisseur.
In our house, leftovers are saved for a few days. Anything pasta, meat or raw fruits and veggies makes the cut. Homemade soups are also a keeper. When it starts looking funky, no questions asked, it goes down the garbage disposal or in the trash. If it’s still safe, but tasteless and mushy, Tuff eagerly wags his tail and donates his services.
Once the mass of family visits is done, the refrigerator is inspected and wiped down. Hidden treasures begin to unfold. Everything from the half-squeezed, dehydrated lemon to the last sliver of meatloaf is discovered.
It’s like hitting the refresh button in your browser window – it’s a fresh, clean slate. There are no doubts about food identification and recognition. The questionable leftovers will only be a memory, packed away in a recycled yogurt container.