As my daughter was designing at attachment for her team’s robot project, I had a pretty good food conversation with one of the other parents. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I am supposed to be a coach on for the team. Since they are one of the older teams and have been doing this for a few years, my services are more along the lines of asking them questions “why?” rather than being there to keep them from losing focus.) After the other parent told me of her younger daughters refusal to use cake mixes out of the box because making it from scratch was so much better, we talked about a couple of things we make for dinner. (Her same daughter who is home-schooled will search out recipes on the internet and give her mother shopping lists. She makes dinner 1 or 2 times per week, and she rarely watches anything other than Food Network on TV.) When it came to the portion of the meal remaining on the table after everyone has eaten their fill, I received a temporary blank stare when I used the term “warm-ups”. Not sure if it is a Midwest term, but maybe it is an attitude. Sure I know what she means when she says “leftovers”, but it set me to thinking….
I am proposing the use of “warm-ups” or “leftovers” is an attitude. In our house, we rarely if ever use the word leftover. Leftover sounds like something you tolerate. (Although, the Caribbean beans and rice did fall into this category. Our “rice-lovers” had a hard time accepting the coconut milk taste in the rice.) Leftovers are something that are the last thing picked when the foods on your table were picking teams. It is an unwanted thing your refrigerator needs to be bribed to keep alive for the few days necessary before the container is either full of mold or too sloppy/stiff to be able to believe the microwave could revive it. Whoever the chef is on any given night (chef is used loosely, but is much more complimentary than, “person charged with cooking and responsible for all of the blame if the meal goes horribly wrong”. We make every effort to be flattering, but the number of second servings speaks louder than, “Great job. I really loved it!”) usually pulls from something they know will be good. (If our exchange students, they either call or email their mothers to get ingredients and/or ideas. For the “natives”, we build on things we know will be eaten and expand from there.) When I hear “warm-ups”, I think of taking a glazed donut out of a box from Krispy Kreme and putting it in the microwave for a few seconds. A warmup is something to look forward to. It is something to be savored. The term implies good (possibly slightly decadent) eating ahead!
In our household, warmups better describes the dining remaining for these reasons:
- Warm-ups is a much happier term in our household. Since my daughters and exchange students all pack lunches everyday, the ability to rapidly consume the warmups allows us to view any food left over after a meal as only a temporary contributor to refrigerator clutter. Each girl usually has 2 – 4 plastic containers at the end of each meal. It depends on the individual night (they pack the night before because cross country demands a very early wake up call) how frustrating their towers of protein and veggies are to navigate when something is needed at the back or bottom shelf.
- Taste better warmed-up: This is a possible lie we have cultivated to improve the enthusiasm for “maturing” meals. The argument does have some validity with a couple of our meals. The jambalaya has been accused of being too hot on day one. As the rice mixture matures, it tends to become a little less potent. It still tingles the tongue, but it doesn’t rattle the tear ducts.
- Kudos and praise: When the warmups pile up and it is one of those summer lunch meals, the counter top is covered with lidless plastic containers. Bounties are placed on certain containers, and rewards are offered for emptying a container. Special rewards are offered for those who are capable of consuming the contents of two or more containers at one meal. If necessary, peer pressure is placed on the potential diner who refuses to consider any of the offering and claims, “I am not hungry.” When they reluctantly pull out a plate, choose a warm up and take their place in line at the microwave, they are again embraced and accepted as a fellow soldier in the battle to exterminate the warmups and admitted leftovers from the household.
Despite the bickering over what is a warmup or a leftover, I will fully agree with the title of “leftover” being assigned to anything that remains in the refrigerator for over a week. Once the criteria is met for disposing of the “aged” food, we ask ourselves what we could do different so we don’t have to throw the food away next time. Do we need to make it differently? Do we need to make less? Do we need to find a new way to repurpose a warmed up meal? (We will often make roast and carrots in the crockpot. The roast does not usually get eaten well as a warmup, but it usually does pretty well as beef and noodles. While breathing life into a pork roast as pork ‘n noodles does not seem to be quite as winning of a plan.) Do we need to make LOTS of something and just freeze the balance knowing its reception will be much warmer if the intended diners believe it is fresh (assuming the taste it not too badly compromised) rather than a “revisit”?
We do realize less cooking would help us have less dishes to wash. The table is a place to cultivate belonging. It is a time where the grunting/chomping that goes with oral consumption is blended with the chatter of school, work and relationships. When we pray over a meal, it is like we are making the table and everything that transpires around it sacred. When we arise and clean up, the sacredness is broken. In the spirit of this mood, why would anyone want to introduce anything to make the experience less than the bonding/coaching/parenting experience it should be. If you are ever hear on a warmup night, you are allowed to sit at our table and refer to the items eaten out of the plastic containers as either leftovers or warmups, but one needs ketchup, and one needs a good appetite. Which do you want to eat?