Friday, July 24, 2009

In Defense of Leftovers

My usual weeknight cooking routine involves making recipes that we can eat for two days in a row. I work full-time and my husband often works in the evenings, so I'm usually solo with Dora, trying to juggle pets, dinner, bath, and bedtime. The every-other-day cooking routine means a couple of nights per week of leftovers, easier nights when I can focus on spending time with Dora and relaxing. We can sit down to eat together, instead of her snacking on Bunnies while I try to cook.

This week, with a fridge full of vegetables waiting to be used, a new food blog I'm excited about, and because I'm so happy to be back in my own kitchen, I ambitiously planned to make something new every night. Garlic rosemary eggplant, pasta with homemade pesto, potato and chard frittata, carrot fennel soup. I made it through the first three recipes, faithfully taking pictures and making notes so I can post the results to my blog (which I will do soon!). I had planned on posting last night, but then Dora refused to go to bed until very late, so by the time she did go to bed I was too exhausted to write.

So, with half the frittata still looking lovely (and tasty) in the fridge, that's what we had tonight, along with a little fruit salad I threw together.

I remember as a kid hating it when my mom would answer the "what's for dinner" question with "leftovers". It was just so uneventful, especially if dinner the night before had not been one of my favorites. When I was little, my mom wasn't really that into cooking. I liked her food, but it was not really very sophisticated. On weeknights we ate what I would call middle class, mid-western food - things like rigatoni with red sauce, spaghetti with clam sauce, grilled cheese and tomato soup, macaroni and cheese (called yellow noodles in my house) with tuna fish patties. Mom would make fancier things for holidays and other special times - pot roast, leg of lamb, roast chicken, oyster stew.

And even though my mom probably wouldn't have called herself a great cook, she definitely made some meals that I still remember fondly. In the summer, my mom would make cheese sauce and serve it over toast and thick slices of tomato from our garden. This was my absolute favorite meal that she made. We would also have fish from the pond - sunfish, bluegill, and the occasional trout. Dad would fillet the fish in the backyard, and mom would dredge it in cornmeal and fry it. With that we would have corn on the cob. My brother and I would shuck the ears and feed the silk and husks to our donkeys. I was always a little afraid of getting bitten by one of them, but they would gently take the husks out of our hands, brushing our skin with their soft lips, exhaling sweet breath on us as they ate.

My mom was a good baker, and I think her interest in baking was probably what first got me interested in cooking. She always made a yeasted sweet bread for Easter that was cooked in an old coffee can. She would ice the top and decorate it with sprinkles. The rule was the oldest child got to eat the top, which I always thought was unfair because I would never be the oldest child. I remember making homemade cinnamon pastries with her - it was basically a soft bread dough, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, rolled up, sliced, and baked. She would let me sprinkle on the cinnamon. We made many cookies at Christmas - always with her old copper-colored cookie press. She would count each cup of flour out loud - she would say, "onie, onie, onie, two-ey, two-ey, two-ey", etc. I really loved baking with my mom, and I still make the same cookies she always made at Christmas.

When I was in college, my mom and I started getting interested in cooking at about the same time. We both loved Martha Stewart's Food magazine (I still have a subscription). We each got a copy of Molly Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook, and together we tried out her recipes. We had really great meals on vacation - fresh seafood from Carawan's market, fresh vegetables from Grandy's. I have a photograph of our dinner table on the deck at one of the beach houses we stayed in, before dinner, chilled glasses of white wine beading in the heat. I love to imagine us all together, sitting down at that table, listening to the ocean sounds while we ate.

So, even though many of my mom's cooking routines were simple, not sophisticated or fancy, I have wonderful memories of them. And together our cooking evolved into something really special that we both enjoyed. I wouldn't say that any of the food that I make is all that fancy or sophisticated, either, and certainly the leftovers we have every other day aren't exactly revolutionary. But I think it's good material for Dora's memories of childhood. Someday she can look back fondly on my cooking (I hope) and recall that we had leftovers every other day. And even though in a few years she might not enjoy my leftovers as much as she does now, perhaps someday she'll think back on those patterns and find comfort in them. After all, what's more comforting than mom's home cooking times two?

1 comment:

  1. I love the stories about your mom's cooking and how you came to love food together.

    I also like your "leftovers schedule". It looks like I might be flying solo with Silas most evenings pretty soon and I'll defintely be checking out your blog for ideas!