waste not, want not

My kids (read: son John) still make fun of me for my ways with leftovers.  He laughs because he thinks I freeze salad.  Well, I did once, when I was living up north (16 years in Muskoka), but he’s right, I do use leftover salad.  I went on TV with it once, when my first cookbook was published (Encore: The Leftovers Cookbook, McClelland & Stewart, 1979). I was demonstrating how to make gazpacho with leftover salad.  Food processors were pretty new then. I took my own Cuisinart to the television studio and set up my display before we went on - live.  I noticed a technician crawling aroiund on the floor but didn’t pay much attention  Once on, I went ahead as planned. I dumped a bag of leftover salad into the container followed by a couple of cups of tomato juice (with some appropriate seasoning) and turned on the machine. Nothing happened.  

“And there,” I said, “you have a very wet salad!”  Soggy, in fact.

The techie was on the floor checking the electric outlet; he had changed  the position of the plug to a dead receptacle. He changed receptacles.  So I did get gazpacho, eventually.

That was funny, but not for the reason that John thinks I’m funny.  He breaks up at the movie Mother (Albert Brooks and Debbie Reynolds, 1996), especially recalling Reynolds, the mother, when she explains how the crystals that form on freezer-burned ice cream form a protective coating that keeps it fresh. I never keep ice cream that long. (I eat it.) 

But it is true, I do use up leftovers; I do not throw out food.  It must be my Icelandic roots. There was a saying that the Mennonites (or Amish, if you live in the States) use every part of the goose but the honk. Well, the Icelanders go further than that and people make fun of them, too.  If it were only recognisable food, you might not laugh. I know, I know, there are people who eat grasshoppers and various types of edible bugs and so on.  If such things lived in Iceland I’m sure they would be eaten, but it’s too cold for them.

“I don’t eat no rabbit food.” You may have heard that line, attributed to a stubborn man who won’ t eat salad.  It had to be an Icelander who said it first.  In the early spring, Icelanders (women, I guess) would go up on the hills/mountains to gather tender new lichen,  green and edible and very good for scurvy. 

I actually have a recipe for lichen custard, which I included in some 30 pages about food in one of my books (Letters to Icelanders, CGI Books, 1995). It’s a collectors item; I’ve never made it or eaten it myself.  Nor have I eaten ram’s testicles or fermented shark (it smells like urine so I have had no desire to taste it).  But I do like hangikjört - hung meat, usually lamb, so  named because in the olden days, before refrigeration, meat was hung from the rafters in the cooking room and got smoked, and thus preserved, from the fire below.  

These examples are asides, perhaps serving as some explanation for my pathological need never to throw out food.  I have a drawer in my (upright) freezer section devoted to bags of vegetable parings, celery tops, portobello gills, cheese rinds, chicken carcasses, lamb bones and so on - accumulated until I have enough to fill a stock pot.  You notice I don’t mention roast beef bones, partly because I can’t  afford roast beef very often and also because I do devilled beef bones before they go into soup. 

I’m still dealing with generalities.  Leftovers are all about specifics. They are a way of life. I would have to give you a sample food diary for a week or so to illustrate fully what I do with leftovers.  I make discoveries every day as I improvise on whatever food has to be used.  I’ll tell you one thing: I get really annoyed at recipes instructing you to use ONE tablespoon of tomato paste, for example, with no concern for what you do with the rest of the can. Diets are notoriously unfeeling about this. You have to plan ahead with leftovers.   But I digress.  I do that.

So does food.  I may have more to say.