I don’t do leftovers. Every night I dutifully wrap up the remains of our meal, studiously scraping the bottom of pans to make sure I get every edible scoop. But then it sits, languishing in my fridge as all the tastiness seeps out of it and the color fades to a dull gray... except for the parts that go hairy and bright green. Yum.
What about the popular idea to “have it for lunch” the next day? Almost never happens. When the time comes, it never seems that appealing. The waste here is just staggering, not to mention the cost. And the time! The time lost preparing a meal only to then throw out half so that I can go spend MORE time preparing ANOTHER meal and so on— it’s just staggering. Especially for someone like me, who enjoys cooking about as much as laundry. It’s something that must be done but I’d rather someone else do it.
Considering that using my time more intentionally falls under my new year resolution umbrella, this problem calls for immediate action. Step One: Eat my kitchen.
While crunching on tasty cabinets does sound fun, what I actually mean is I went on a grocery freeze. Except for perishables like milk and veggies, I did a week of meals with nothing but what hid, forgotten, in my pantry and freezer.
I first went and made a list of every can, jar, box and foil-wrapped freezer mystery. Then I stared at it. After doing that for a bit, when my eyes started to cross, I walked over and stared at the shelves in the pantry. When I got a little light-headed from all that standing, I plopped down in front of the freezer and pulled out the Bottom Drawer, home of the Frozen Meat I Am Sure We Will Use Soon.
Here are some of the interesting things I discovered:
• Two dusty cans of water chestnuts (Huh? Who bought that?)
• One can of button mushrooms (I do not EAT mushrooms. EW.)
• A box of onion soup mix with one package inside that had been opened and half-emptied.
• Four opened and half-used bags of frozen peas. Many of these went sailing around the kitchen before I realized the packages were open. We are still finding peas in corners.
• One huge freezer bag of chicken thighs
• A half grated ginger root
• Two foil-wrapped mystery packages. Ground beef? Pork tenderloin? Leftover meatloaf? It’s like Christmas!
Most notable were the three jars of bouillon cubes. I have never in my life bought bouillon. I had to call my mother to ask what precisely one should do with it. I must assume it belonged to Kurt from before we were married and somehow ended up packed for the move when we came down to the Springs from Woodland Park.
Our 8th anniversary is this summer. Oh, dear. Does bouillon go bad? My mom says no.
Does it need to be said that I am not one of those imaginative cooks who can pull out a can of tomatoes, a bouillon cube and a paper clip to make a delicious stew worthy of Julia Child? At this point in my experiment I had a moment of panic where I had to fight off the urge to run to the grocery and get a rotisserie chicken.
Once that subsided, though, I think I managed to do fairly well. At least, no one complained. Much. And Kurt, stalwart husband that he is, ate it all and declared it fabulous. I love the way he lies. That week I pulled together a chicken stir-fry with (you guessed it) water chestnuts. There was a very boring casserole, chili with homemade cornbread (go me!), and chicken thighs with rice and peas. Lots of peas.
As for leftovers, I forced myself to eat those, too, since I couldn’t run to the store for something more interesting. Surprisingly, I'm learning to love a good bowl of leftover chili or pasta salad. Who knew?
All in all, I feel the experiment was a success. I used up a lot of the miscellany sitting around the house and made room for a more thoughtful stocking of my pantry and fridge. The end of the week left me with a sense of satisfaction harkening back to that clean-slate moment after cleaning out my closet and dresser.
I have to confess two things, though. One night we did order pizza. I just couldn’t face the mystery meat (which I have since simply thrown away). Also, I never used the bouillon. Approaching the jars left me nervous and with a slight twitch in my eye for some reason.
But I didn’t throw them away, either. If we ever move again, they’ll be packed up with the kitchen stuff.
Just in case.