Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Humble Lunch

I've been dreading the top shelf of my refrigerator. It's been haunting me like a creature out of an Edgar Allen Poe story.

Bags and bags of greens: the budding tops of tat soi, arugula blossoms, kale, collards, napini, cress--basically, all the stuff from our weekly farm subscription that's been piling up in there.

I didn't want to face it. I averted my eyes. I shirked the job I knew would have to be mine sooner or later. But today I decided to bite the bullet, pull all those Ziploc bags out of there and see if anything was still salvageable.

Well, it was. Pretty much. I hate to waste food. So I put a pot of water to boil on the stove and looked back in the fridge to congratulate myself on finally confronting my fears. With the extra bit of daylight, certain objects in the refrigerator now poked into view. A container of mashed turnips and potatoes, some seared Brussels sprouts. Another container of well-congealed cooking juices from braised lamb shanks.

It dawned on me that I was looking at the leftovers from Easter dinner that my wife had packed away and that had gone untouched in the intervening week. It was noon. I was hungry. Here, I thought with a bit of gladness, was my lunch.

I scooped the mashed turnips and potatoes into a bowl, made a depression in the middle, and plopped some of the jellied braising juices into the crater. The bowl went into the microwave. Three minutes later, voila! A piping bowl of taters with the world's richest gravy.

This humble meal needed just one more touch. So I grated some Parmesan cheese over the whole thing. I dipped the spoon, brought it to my lips, and suddenly I was reliving the whole Easter dinner experience. Visions of a melt-in-your mouth lamb shank danced in my head. All I needed was a glass of that fabulous Margaux wine...

I don't know what happened to the tradition of leftovers. Everyone is so busy trying to make up something new, something exotic (an asparagus chowder, perhaps?), when some of the best food is sitting right under our noses--or behind a bag of arugula.

My father used to designate Saturdays as leftover days. He'd haul everything out of the fridge, spread it out on the kitchen counter, then make great, groaning platefuls of food that brought back to mind every meal we'd had that week. The spaghetti, the fried pork chop, the mashed potatoes, the green beans...

Does mealtime always have to be an adventure? Do we really have to engage in an act of creation every time we put food in our mouths?

Sometimes I think simplicity is a surer path to sustenance. Maybe we should stop trying so hard to make things different and just eat leftovers.


Andrea said...

Fantastic post! I am also a big fan of leftovers, and I am not just talking about from Thanksgiving!

I like the "leftovers on Saturday" idea. Congrats on facing your fears, I know just how you feel. I see vegetable soup in your future. :)

Ed Bruske said...

Leftovres make life so much easier, don't you think Andrea. And most of the food I make tastes much better after it's had a few days to rest in the fridge and collect its thoughts...