Comfort in a Cup

We have a few traditions when it comes to birthdays in our family.

First of all, we celebrate for more than a day–we have birthday weeks and sometimes happenings for our birthday month.  It’s all about the celebrating the lives of those we hold near and dear.

You get to pick what kind of cake (or pie or big cookie or whatever) you want for your birthday.  I spent years asking my Mama for a red velvet cake.  Only it was a brown velvet because she wouldn’t use all that red dye.  I think there was a study or something…..anyway, never mind the color, it was delicious.  For years she made me that.  In more recent years, I chose a Texas sheet cake.  Ooey, gooey chocolate goodness.  My mouth is watering as I type.

The birthday supper is a big deal.  The honoree gets to choose anything he or she wants.  And if you’re lucky enough to have your birthday on a weekend, you get to choose two meals.

And so it was for my girl.  She came home from college the day after her birthday, so we celebrated all of Saturday.  I knew she wanted Mexican food, so I had that planned for supper.  But for her birthday lunch, she asked for something I haven’t made in years.  Something my Mama used to make, and my new 19-year-old grew to love it sitting around the table with Mama and Daddy and whoever else happened to be at their house.  Easily among the best comfort foods ever.  The smell of it cooking.  I mean, y’all.  For real.  I was in memory heaven.

Mama was a good steward of what was in her pantry and refrigerator.  She rarely threw anything out.  Over the years she learned great ways to recycle leftovers in a new dish.  Her way of using leftover mashed potatoes might just be her most creative and best tasting effort of all times.

Baloney cups.

Pan number one of baloney cups....oh the smell of them cooking.....

Pan number one of baloney cups….oh the smell of them cooking…..

I grew up on bologna sandwiches.  I can remember being in my bed, waiting for sleep to come, and singing the O-S-C-A-R  M-A-Y-E-R song.  We loved our B-O-L-O-G-N-A.  I loved taking the red rind off and then making sure I had gotten every bit of goodness off it before throwing it away.  Delicious.

When Mama had leftover mashed potatoes to use, she used to pull out her biscuit baking pan and lay bologna slices out on it.  She’d put a scoop of mashed potatoes on top, and add a slice of cheese.  She put it in a hot oven to broil, and voila’ the house smelled amazing, and our taste buds were in for such a treat!  She served it with some fruit and we had a meal.

One of our favorites, though we didn’t get it very often.

I was surprised when my baby girl asked for this for her birthday.  Surprised and delighted.

Pan #2--who decided that 11 slices makes a pack?  Interesting choice, don't you think?  I mean a dozen or a baker's dozen, but 11?  Is that an Oscar's dozen?  :)

Pan #2–who decided that 11 slices makes a pack? Interesting choice, don’t you think? I mean a dozen or a baker’s dozen, but 11? Is that an Oscar’s dozen? 🙂

It was a special treat for all.  The Fella loved it and had memories of when we made this years ago.  I don’t think the littles had ever had it, and they were intrigued and not a bit shy about digging in.  (Suffice to say we went through a whole pack of bologna for the just the four of them.)

The way the house smelled took me back to a safe and happy place, and for a little bit I was home again and my parents were close, and oh–I think I might have gotten the greatest nourishment from those baloney cups, and I never took a bite–my soul was fed and my heart was full.

The only problem is I made the mashed potatoes from scratch.  And only used about half of them.  So now, I have leftover mashed potatoes…..and if a Mama has leftover mashed potatoes, chances are, she’s going to need some baloney to go with it.

 

Love and the comforts of home to all.

The Legacy of Leftovers

I cook like my Mama y’all.

Well almost.

She was an incredible cook.  She could whip up something out of nothing it seemed.  She knew what went with what and there were only two times I questioned her cooking sensibilities.

Chicken Chow Mein.   (Seriously, whoever thought that eating bamboo and those worm-like sprout things should be taken out behind the woodshed and given a good *ahem* talking to.)

Easter Egg Casserole.  (Y’all ever have this?  No?  That’s what I thought.  Mama used the leftover boiled/decorated eggs from Easter and put it with the Easter ham and cream of something soup and cheese and English peas and I’m pretty sure baked it with those fried onions on top.  The funny thing is that after ALL those many years of complaining about this thing that turned up EACH AND EVERY YEAR on or after Easter, the first year I found myself away from home living in Japan, I craved the blasted thing.  And so yes, I had to try to make it myself.  Sigh.  Isn’t it crazy what food can do as far as taking us home again?)

And–oh wait.  There were three times.

Each and every time she insisted on putting mushrooms in something.  Ugh.  Mushrooms.

Just say no, people.

And I’m not talking about the little squares that “occur” occasionally in the cream of something soups.  I’m talking she bought the cans of the really big ones.  Seems like they got bigger every year.  And when we all got out of the house, she started spending a little more and getting the fresh mushrooms and cooking them herself.

In chili.  Spaghetti.  On pizza.  In snap beans for goodness’ sake.  Why would anyone want to ruin a perfectly good cooking of those?

She and I resolved our issues in recent years though.  Every Monday was our crash hers and Daddy’s date at the pizza buffet day.  Mama and I would ask for a veggie with pizza spice.  We’d each eat several slices.  And my Mama let me pick off my mushrooms and give them to her.  Something that was never allowed growing up.  She wanted me to learn to eat what was put before me and be thankful.  And once I did that, I was allowed–no–encouraged to give her my mushrooms.  “Why do I want to waste good mushrooms on you?” she’d ask with a wrinkle of her nose.

All righty then.  I love you too, Mama.

But I digress.  So yes, I cook like her but not quite up to her caliber yet.

I cook like her in quantity.

She had a joke with my Fella–“Well,” she’d say, leaning closer, as if to share a confidence with him, “it might not be good but there sure is enough of it.”

Silly woman.  Of course it was good.  She’d given up making that chicken chow mein mess by then, and I was allowed to pick out my mushrooms.  It was ALWAYS good.

Quantity.  I have a family of five to cook for, and much of the time now, we’re down to four *sniff* with my oldest off at the Oldest and the Best–and I still cook like my whole extended family is coming over.  Most nights.  And most nights I have leftovers.  Lots of leftovers.

Can I just tell you how much I love leftovers?

A whole bunch.

And do you know that I’ve only in recent years discovered that there are folks who don’t “do” leftovers?

Y’all.  I’m for real.  I know, I was shocked too.  We were raised on sale with a coupon eating leftovers.  And I loved it.

(Except for those chicken chow mein leftover nights.  Okay, letting that go now.)

My Fella loves them too.  He is willing to eat “whatever’s oldest in the fridge and can still be eaten” on those nights when we’re cleaning out the Frigidaire .  I appreciate that so much.  I can’t imagine if he weren’t okay with them.

Leftovers do a couple of things for me.

First, they save me time and thought and preparation–it’s easy, we’re going to have this leftover with this leftover for supper for tomorrow night, done.  I do try not to serve something two nights in a row, but nobody really seems to mind or notice.  Except for my picky eater Cooter.  If it’s something he doesn’t like, then well, two nights in a row is borderline abuse in his book.

Second, I feel like I’m saving money.  I don’t mind paying a little more for the good beef if I know we’ll get two meals out of it.  It doesn’t always happen, but if I can have even just enough for the Fella to take for lunch the next day, I’m happy.  All about the bargains.

But there’s a downside to leftovers y’all, and please tell me I’m not the only one.

I get a case of LOSS every night when it’s time to put the food away.

Leftovers Storage Syndrome.

The struggle is real, y’all.

I have the hardest time deciding what to put my leftovers in.  I used to be really good at this when I lived with my folks.  I could nail what size dish down to the last drop of the leftovers.  It was rare that I’d misjudge and we’d have to wash a dish unnecessarily because something didn’t fit.  Very rare. It was kind of my thing.

Only now I don’t live with my folks.  And I stress each and every time I have to search for the right container.

It’s almost enough to make me stop cooking enough to have leftovers.

(Hush my mouth!  Did I just say that?)

Remember last night how I talked about my scatteredness?  It’s affecting my kitchen cabinets too, I’m ashamed to tell you.  I have dishes in this one and this one and that one, and something for real sho ’nuff is eating LIDS around here.  I will find the dish but no lid.  Time and again.  What is that about?  I think maybe the socks that keep leaving their mates behind are ganging up and kidnapping lids.  For what I have no idea.  But it’s the only explanation I’ve been able to come up with so far.

I have nice storage stuff too.  I just can’t get it together for storing.  So yes, I’m also embarrassed to tell you, that the other day when I had sloppy joes leftover, I grabbed what I could find because I was so tired of looking for the “right dish” and threw it in, snapped the lid and put it in the fridge. Done.

 

There was more in there, but yeah, it was an oversized choice.  I've lost my touch.

There was more in there, but yeah, it was an oversized choice. I’ve lost my touch.

And so every night when I go to have my yogurt, I have to double-check that it’s not my sloppy joes waiting to be eaten again.

Ah well, I’m grateful for clear lids.

Tonight I’m thankful for memories of my Mama in the kitchen.  She could work magic in there.  She showed us how much she loved us in that room.  So much laughter and teasing and  teamwork and storytelling went on in that kitchen, and it was all because of her.

I’m also thankful for the gift of leftovers. And folks who will gladly eat them.  That I even have dishes to put them in at all is also a gift, and I appreciate that.  I know how lucky I am, I do.  But I am also grateful for the ability to laugh at myself and shake my head and look at my chaos and shrug.  It’s just the season.  Fingers crossed “this too shall pass,” as my Mama used to say so often, and I will get organized, I won’t have LOSS anymore, and I will once again be the Queen of Sizing Up the Right Dish.

Until then.  Ah well, better to keep laughing, right?

Wishing you all just enough leftovers and love to all.