The neurotic obsession with leftovers marches on

I can’t throw things out. I just … can’t …. do… it. We don’t have a garbage disposal, so I scrape my wife’s unfinished plate (mine’s always clean) into my mouth instead of the trash can. She sighs… and maybe winces. I’m not sure. I’m too busy eating.

It’s so bad that last week I launched a poll with my family. I asked if they’d eat a carton of cottage cheese that had an eight-day-old sell date. The results were mixed, but I knew before I started what would win in my mind:

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I crushed that cottage cheese.

So this time of year is especially challenging. My kitchen was absolutely full of rapidly declining shelf-life foods. My neurotic need to consume, not trash, this food heightened. Still, I live for this. I approached my fridge like a Sherpa attacks Everest. With confidence. Bigger the challenge, the better. And this year, was a big one. Consider:

We celebrated my birthday the day before Thanksgiving. My daughter’s new significant other launched himself into the heights of family favorites. He gave me what I immediately pushed into the top five of all-time best gifts:

fish

Ain’t it beautiful!

But it didn’t make my after-Thanksgiving mountain of leftovers any easier to scale. Because this wasn’t all he brought. Seven red crabs, two dungeness, this little salmon beauty and an even bigger, nastier more beautiful steelhead. I died and went to Atlantis.

So consider the leftover artiste` at work here… turkey smoked (with no idea what I’m doing), salmon filleted and smoked (my filet skills are worse than my smoking skills) all while making the massive Thanksgiving meal, and … crab, gutted and cleaned and all the carcasses made into stock, which is now happily in the freezer.

Not to mix my mountain-scaling metaphor here, but what the hell… this was my Picasso of hoof-to-head cooking … all with the single of goal of “thou shalt not waste.”

A first key move was buying a freezer off craigslist the day before Thanksgiving as a birthday present to me. One man’s trash and all that. Soon, the freezer was up and humming in preparation of my good buddy Dinner, set to be picked up next week. This key move set the stage for all that was to follow. Like my base camp at Everest (back to the old metaphor again…) or the canvas to my brush (using the Picasso one, for those keeping track at home).
Next, I stuffed that freezer full of fluff in true Poohian fashion. Nothing makes me happier than a stuffed freezer. It’s like yoga… “nowhere else to go, nothing else to do or undo…” just frozen in the perpetual present, not spoiling, not demanding attention, until I can use it properly. Zen.. karma… bliss…If it could be frozen, it froze. The turkey neck, wing tips, and a few parts I didn’t use in the stuffing went in, awaiting a chance when I want to make stock rather than have to.That was just step one. Here’s the litany of what followed:

– Turned the salmon into a decadent omelette. Turned the crab into Asian Won Tons. Turned the leftovers of both into the single best bowl of soup — crafted on the spot, flying without a net — that I have had in… well… since the last time I trekked down I-5 to nowhereville for Anderson’s Split Pea!

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-Turned the crab into stock, which went into the aforementioned chowda. Go Sox. (For the sports fans, wasn’t Johnny Damon enough… Ellsbury, a yankee… really? FML!)

-Turned the turkey into traditional sandwich, followed by warmed-up plate with warmed-up fixins (love the Green Stuffing!) followed by the first quiche I’ve ever made in my life (it only took nearly half a century to get over the whole real men don’t thing…) that my parents (noted quiche eaters) lauded. The quiche used the leftover pie crust, half the leftover fresh spinach, the leftover heavy cream, some of the leftover cranberry sauce (really liked this… painted it on the crust for a savory pop!) more of the leftover turkey and plenty of the leftover cheeses.

– Turned the leftover quiche into breakfast. Turned the leftover cucumbers and tomatoes and Romano cheeses and leftover salami into a couple of antipasto plates, which are a staple around here.

– Turned the leftover spinach and basil and ricotta into a vegetarian lasagna, which I then turned 2/3 of it into the freezer for future dinners, perhaps a side dish to Dinner someday soon.

– Turned more of the turkey and peppers and onions into a smokey Asian stir fry that turned into lunch the next day.

– Tonight I’m turning the leftover sausage into an Italian meatloaf and the leftover sweet potatoes into a risotto, served with kale chips from the frozen garden if they aren’t doomed by this ungodly cold snap (says the very cold native Californian).

– I still have a little more smoked salmon that along with leftover bacon and leftover pepperjack cheese will become an EFFin delightful grilled quesadilla for lunch today or tomorrow.

That leaves: spinach, peppers and basil, which will become a vegetarian something or other Thursday night… likely employing some of the leftover cranberry sauce. Cranberry bran muffins tomorrow will polish off the cranberries and use some of the extra cream cheese. The remnants of the turkey will snacked upon impulsively, dipped into pesto, until finished. No worries there.

So far I have only had to throw out three stalks of celery that turned a sort of doughy color, two rolls that turned the color of the celery and half a bushel of Italian parsley. The leftover potatoes and root vegetables are looking like Benjamin Button… at the beginning of the movie sadly and may find their way into the trash instead of the oven. Overall, not bad.
Whew… I’m tired. But full. I gained four pounds. I’ll be out this afternoon in the frigid air on my bike to punish myself. I’m buying a 12 pound bag of organic brown rice from a gal off Craigslist who said she bought way way too many (don’t ask, she said… so I didn’t). So I’ll lug the rice in my backpack and pedal the frigid hills around here to burn the calories. Notice I had no worries about leftover desserts. I killed those, hence the four added pounds.

I love leftover stories. Drop me a line with your hoof to head adventures any time!

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