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.

 

Mama’s Madness and My Own

My Mama had a saying.

Well, one among many.

“There’s method to my madness.”

That was her way of letting all know that she liked how she did things, organized things, and so on.  And asking folks to respect that.  It was interesting because she was the most organized person EVER.   Her liking her dishwasher loaded a certain way or clothes folded a certain way was a small price to pay for the fact that you could always find anything you needed anytime you needed it because–did I mention this before–she was the most organized person ever.  And not in an Ikea/Container Store/fancy basket for every little thing kind of way.  She made do with the simple and the basic and still had everything sorted in its proper place.  Even the toy closet organization made so much sense that the children never had any trouble putting things away.  Each and every visit.

Sigh.

I have found myself saying that exact same thing more and more lately.

Only mine has a little different meaning.

Mine is a near apology, a rationalization for how unorganized my things, my home, my life must seem to the outside world.

“There’s method to my madness. ”

As in–“I know you can’t tell it from looking at it, but I do have a system, and if you give me a minute or fifteen, I can put my hands right on what you are asking me about.  Be right back.”

I wish I had Mama’s knack for organization, but I don’t.  I’ve tried, and in the midst of organizing–squirrel–something comes up and it all flies out the window.

So no, I’m not super-organized.  I can be a bit flighty.  Ahem.  But I am particular in my ways.  “Set,” I guess some folks would say.  How I make my bed, load my dishwasher, fold the shirts and towels.  And after many years of living with the Queen of Organization not just once but twice and doing things HER way, I reckon I’m thinking it’s time I have folks doing it my way for a bit.

Even if my pendulum swings a little heavier to the madness, as opposed to the method, side of the spectrum.

Wishing you all a little more respect for your method and your madness.  Love to all.

Why I Don’t Say I’ll Never Forget and a couple of moments I hope I don’t

I used to say “I’ll always remember…..” or “I’ll never forget…..”

I don’t anymore.

Not since I watched as Alzheimer’s Disease tore away page after page of memories for someone I loved, slowly at first it seemed and then more quickly.  She covered well; I’m not sure how many could pinpoint what was going on exactly.  She was great at asking questions that you could ask over and over and it not seem very odd.  “Seen any good movies lately?”  “How’s the weather been back home?”  and so on.

And so I tuck away precious moments into my memory bank, and sometimes I wrote about them here, in the hopes that they will always be there for me.

But I know they may not.

Today was just such a day, one that I’d like to always remember.  I have snapshots in my mind of sweet moments that I want to keep.

  • Our Princess and her friends have been having a great time with the sand and water table on the back deck.  I originally got it thinking that Cooter and his friends would enjoy it more.  But his two buddies moved, and the girls have taken it over.  They flood the water side, and they pour just enough into the sand to make it the consistency of a nice “scrub.”  They are playing spa, y’all.  There are two chairs on one side–one for the person being served and the second for the next in line.  The other side has one chair that is rarely sat in, as the person giving the spa treatment is very busy.  They spread mud–ahem, excuse me, scrub–all over their feet and then rinse them a few minutes later.  They don’t know that I’m aware, I was peeking out of my bedroom window at this hustle and bustle of activity.  It was so wonderful to see their imaginations blossoming in a way that I never would have thought of.  It amazes me, especially since over the past few weeks it’s been a Ninja School back there, and our Princess was the instructor.  I just love it.  Who needs a pool when you have a SPA in your backyard?  Never mind, please don’t ask my children that.  I know what they will answer.  (We do.)
  • Cooter rode off on his bicycle with his Daddy and Miss Sophie for her evening constitutional.  I stopped and watched as he rode up the street.  And it occurred to me–I never tire of watching him ride his bike.  He is so graceful and smooth as his little legs pump the pedals and his hair flies out behind him.  And he always smiles the biggest smiles.  He LOVES his bicycle. (Has it really already been seven months since he gave up the training wheels?)  I nodded as I thought to myself, I could sit and watch him and his joy and movement for hours on end and never lose interest.  And then I was thankful that I feel that way.  In the busy-ness of life, it is so easy to get distracted.  But not when my baby boy’s making the wheels go round and round.  That’s good stuff right there.
  • I have been doing some cleaning and organizing and culling around here.  (That’s right, I said culling.  I will pause for a moment so those of you who know me and my tendencies NOT to cull can catch your breath.)

 

 

  • As I mentioned, cleaning up.  Straightening up.  And so on.  I found a basket with a couple of devices and several cords all tangled up.  *sigh*  That’s about par for the course around here.  As I started to untangle by grabbing the larger “outlet plug” end first, I soon became frustrated with how hard it was to push that big end through the knots of cords to disentangle.  And then it occurred to me to try the other end first.  To take the tiny little end, the one that plugs into a device, and work it through the knots.  So much easier.  So much quicker.  And the gravity pull on the heavier end helped me figure out how to work through the knots.  Win!  As I disentangled cords in record time, it hit me that this is probably a lesson for life.  To work through situations that are such a mess, maybe it would be easier and make more sense if I start with the small bits first.  Don’t dive in and tackle the biggest part of the problem first.  Take it slow and easy and work through it.  And the answer will present itself a little quicker.  I don’t know, maybe a stretch, but it was worth pondering over anyway.

 

Tonight I’m thankful for a napless day–and it’s not often you’ll hear me say those words.  I had the energy and the drive and the patience to make some things happen around here, interspersed with moments I hope to treasure for a long, long time.  Thankful for all of that.  It was a day of one thing leading me to another room where I saw something else that needed doing, started on it until it led me to something else.  And yet, somehow, a few things got done.  And I’m very thankful for that.

May your day be filled with moments to treasure and easily untangled “cords.”  Love to all.

Running Out of Stuff

I am out of eggs. And butter. Do you know what that means?


Besides the fact that I need me some chickens to babytalk to? And to pick up a cow on the way home?

I cannot make a pound cake.

That spells trouble around here.

Having the eggs and butter does not guarantee that I’ll make a pound cake.  But having everything I need to make one at any given time, that’s important to me.  I live in the South.  It’s what we do.  At any given moment, I might need a pound cake to take to Someone for Some Reason.  (It’s rare that one gets made and stays here for eating.  Ask my poor family.)  Thank goodness I had enough to make the one for my Neighborfriends who made their final move to their new home today.  But then that was it–I was completely out.  (And my Neighborfriend is the one whom I have borrowed eggs from, and canned tomatoes, and–oh dear, I am in trouble.)  Oh the shock to my system!  It is time to be getting myself to the store.  Post haste.

Mama made great pound cakes.  Daddy liked to have a thick slice for breakfast with a big helping of peanut butter spread across–you’ve got your eggs, your dairy, and your protein.  Win!  She even baked them in the summers, but only really early.  My Aunt reminded me of this today, and it made me laugh.  My Mama was “old school” about some things.  Even after we had central air conditioning, Mama refused to turn the oven on in the summer unless she absolutely had to.  She didn’t want to “heat up the house.”  So if she wanted to bake a pound cake, she’d put it in the oven before 7 a.m., and “well, if I’m going to heat up the house for one, I might as well bake two.”  And so she did.

And you know why Mama could make up her mind at 6 a.m. to mix up a pound cake? Or two?

Because she didn’t run out of things!

My Mama had a system that was just about beyond reproach.  She kept the sales papers for the week on the stool beside where she sat at the kitchen counter.   On the other counter, she kept a stack of calendar pages from her Mary Engelbreit Page A Day calendar.  She used these for all sorts of things, but especially for her grocery list.  And she didn’t play around at it like I do.  When she was almost (not completely, ahem) out of something, she wrote it down on her list.  She compared prices and, making them stay true to their word, had Wal-Mart price match for most things, saving herself numerous trips.  She had grocery shopping down to a science.  I wish I had asked her more questions and paid more attention.  But no.

I have gotten some better.  I do try to shop ahead.  Which often leads to three jars of Duke’s Light (the BEST!) mayonnaise in the pantry and no mustard to be found anywhere.  Sigh.  Or everything to make the Crunchy Corn Medley except the water chestnuts–hello, where do I think the crunchy is coming from?  Or the sour cream for the pound cake, but *sniff* no butter or eggs.  It’s kind of how I roll these days.

I thought maybe meal planning would help.  And it did, somewhat.  But Mama didn’t plan meals and then go shopping.  She shopped the sales and then planned what she would cook.  (Have I mentioned we were raised on sale…..with a coupon?)  And Wednesdays at Publix?  For the penny specials?  She was there.  And if it wasn’t something she could use, she found a good home for it–whether her church’s food pantry or the Backpack Buddies of Bare Bulb Coffee or the mission at Daybreak Shelter in Macon.  Nothing went to waste.  She was so good at buying meat on sale, packaging it so she could cook her meals later and then freezing it.   Her organization was something to be envied.  Oh, and earlier today? When I was lamenting my extinct gallon zip-loc bags, so I could freeze my sad bananas to make banana bread another day?  Never would have happened at Mama’s.  Pretty sure there’s some extras up in the top of her cabinet now.

Oh dear, I'm really not sure.  I'd better go check.  *sigh* I'm really not very good at this.

Oh dear, I don’t know.  I’d better go check. *sigh* I’m really not very good at this.

So I’m off now to make my grocery list.  I’ve pulled the sales papers and picked a spot to keep my list AND a pen.  (I do NOT need an excuse not to write it down immediately.)  I’m going to try to do this Mama style.  So I won’t run out of such things as butter and eggs again.

But if you see me on the side of the road trying to load a cow in my van, just keep driving.  You’ll know then that my efforts to shop ahead didn’t work out, and I need to keep the source around all the time.  Well that and the fact that I really want to babytalk me some chickens.  And hold baby goats in my lap…..and let my littles ride a donkey….. *sigh*  I like to dream big.  Head in the clouds.  No wonder I run out of stuff.

Oh you are a sweet baby, aren't you, little Sweet Pea?  Yes you are.  Oh my.

Oh you are a sweet baby, aren’t you, little Sweet Pea? Yes you are.  Oh my.  It’s already started.  And this is just a chick we met at the Fair last fall.

The Original Recycling

I finally got organized and stored my batteries in these rice jars.

I finally got organized and stored my batteries in these rice jars.

Those jars right there?  The ones holding the batteries?  Those make me very, very happy.  Recently I decided to clean off and re-organize my cookbook bookshelf in my kitchen.  I was especially tired of the batteries rolling around out of their packaging all over one of the shelves.  Because, you know, that’s where everyone stores their batteries–on the bookshelf with their cookbooks.

I was trying to decide what to do with them when I remembered the rice containers I’d washed up but had yet to recycle.  Perfect!  When I saw them sitting on my shelf like that, it made me smile.  Because I remembered this–

Multitudes of woodworking odd and ends stored in Daddy's building

Multitudes of woodworking odd and ends and hardware stored in Daddy’s building

That’s how my Daddy rolled.  Over the years, as one of these jars was used, Mama would peel off the label, wash it up, and pass it on to Daddy who used it for any number of things out in his building.  For those of you wondering, yes, peanut butter–Reese’s to be exact.  It was the best.  They had come a far cry from the days of Mama buying it in those big tubs with the plastic handles, the stuff that would separate so easily.  Ah, yes, over the years Daddy became quite the connoisseur of peanut butter.

It wasn’t just peanut butter jars Daddy recycled.  He had things in bigger quantities and things that were larger.  That’s what these were for:

This is not a paid endorsement--sigh--if only.

This is not a paid endorsement–sigh–if only.

This bookcase has had many lives too.  It originally sat in our living room when I was little and it was black.  When they moved this into the room I shared with my sister, Mama and Daddy painted it yellow.  That must have been industrial strength stuff.  It’s scary how well it has held its color over the years.  And yes, my Daddy loved his peanuts.  Just like with the peanut butter jars, Daddy would take the washed one out and use it for whatever he needed.

Our old lunchboxes and cookie tins used to store hardware and things he used in fixing cars and lawnmowers or building things with wood

Our old lunchboxes and cookie tins used to store hardware and things he used in fixing cars and lawnmowers or building things with wood

He even used our old lunchboxes and some old cookie tins.  I am pretty sure that horse one and the Charlie Brown one saw me through most of elementary school (we didn’t have middle school back then).  The Walker’s shortbread tin carries me back too.  Daddy loved shortbread.  He even made some one time.  Delicious. I loved picking up a box of it around his birthday or Christmas or just because.  I think that big tin must have come from Sam’s one Christmas.

It occurred to me the other day when my brother, my teenager Auburn, and I were out in the building that some folks might have kept the lunchboxes for the value they might have one day.  I don’t know that these didn’t have some dings or dents already, but regardless, I don’t think it would have ever occurred to Mama and Daddy to save something for later on like that.  One of the things they impressed upon us the most was being a good steward–of the land, of our belongings, and of the people around us.  Taking care of what and who we were lucky enough to have.  They lived simply.  If it didn’t have a use, they usually didn’t keep it.  They were very particular about what they hung on to.

When I was growing up, things didn’t go to waste.  Leftovers were eaten at the next meal or two.  Clothes were handed down to the next sister, and after that usually to a cousin or given to the Salvation Army in the next town over.   We had “give away” days to clean out toys and outgrown clothes and the like.  The pecans that grew in the yard were cracked, cleaned, sugared, and given as Christmas presents to teachers and friends.  I remember we had a spider plant that Mama took cuttings from and carried up to the school for the Halloween Carnival store that raised money for the PTG.  Mama patched our jeans when they tore in the knees.  (This was way back before folks started paying extra for such as that.)  When the jeans started high watering, they were cut off and turned into shorts.  Mama and Daddy were thrifty.  Very little went to waste.

Tonight I am thankful for parents who raised me to aim to be a good steward.  To look around at what’s here before I head to the store to get something new.  My Daddy once told me I only needed three pairs of jeans and dared me to get rid of the rest.  I haven’t gotten quite to that point, but I am trying.  Tonight I am thankful for a reminder of where I came from and who I want to be…..all from some batteries stored in rice containers, cleaned out peanut butter jars, and an old yellow bookcase.  The original recycling.