Gathering the Fragments
I recently bought yet another cookbook, on the recommendation of several readers at my regular blog. The book is Extending the Table. It follows the same format as an old family favorite, The More With Less Cookbook, by Janis Longacre, whose husband wrote the forward for Extending the Table. Although I disagree with some of the theology, most of the politics, and much of the nutritional advice sprinkled throughout the books (they call for reducing fats and proteins, and substitute margarine for better and suggest pulling the skin off the chicken), I really like these books, very much.
The recipes in Extending the Table are gleaned from missionaries and their friends from around the world. They are adapted where need be to fit the ingredients, kitchens and customs of North American cooks. Most of the recipes include stories. As the author says in the introduction, telling children stories and involving them in food preparation may pique a child's interest, and it helps to open up both their minds and hearts to trying new foods. If you are preparing an Indian dish and you know an Indian family, the introduction might be as simple as, "This is the sort of food Mr. and Mrs. Singh's family in India might eat." Or if you have recently watched Anna and the King of Siam, you might prepare a Thai dish and say, "This is the sort of food that the King of Siam's great - great- grandchildren might be eating today."
Some of the stories within the pages of this book are sad, others are amusing, most are thought-provoking. One contributor (of a recipe) tells of a church service attended, where the lesson was on loving your enemies. At the conclusion of the sermon, a member of the congregation stood up and explained the lesson in context. When your children are crying and sobbing at your feet because they are hungry, and they have tied tight bands around their empty bellies to reduce the hunger pangs, and you walk to your garden a few miles away to pick the last mangoes off the tree, and discover somebody has stolen them, that is when you must remember to love your enemy, this stranger who has stolen the food from your children.
Another story is about the custom of the cooks in Honduras, when they buy pineapple, they do not just eat the succulent fruit in the center. They peel the pineapple and then simmer the peelings with a bit of rice and some spices. After simmering it for a while, they strain it and chill it, having it later for a filling and refreshing beverage made from ingredients we throw in the garbage. Another story tells of a missionary who thought she and her children were good at not being wasteful. They were served a chicken dinner at a friend's home in some third world country, and she felt they did full justice to the chicken. Later, she passed through the kitchen and saw that her hostess's children had taken her family's leftover bones and sucked them so clean of all meat and fat, that they were white. Possibly the next step would be to break them apart and simmer them for hours for a rich, nourishing bone broth soup.
Meanwhile, I read an article this week about why serving our own children leftovers is second-best, they ought to just be thrown away. I understand the frustration with being told 'there are children starving in AFrica, so clean your plate." I don't consider it productive to sink beneath the burden of guilt over the fact that I was born in a rich country full of blessings, and most people in the world weren't. I don't really believe it will make a lick of difference to starving children in Haiti or the Congo if I save the onion and garlic skins from those root crops and simmer them with broken chicken bones and bits of wilted cabbage, green beans, and a handful of well scrubbed carrot tops or if I just toss all those things in the garbage.
I do believe, however, that throwing away food is bad for my character and for my children's. I do believe that taking our abundance of food for granted to the point that we throw away perfectly edible foods because we don't do leftovers is not the best way to show gratitude for those blessings we have, or to show kindness towards those poorer than us.
Jesus, as I have mentioned before, performed the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, creating abundance where there were only five small loaves of barley bread and two small fishes. There was plenty more where that came from. And yet, when it was all over, he had his disciples gather the fragments and report to him how much was left. I don't know what he did with those 'fragments (there were bushels full), but I doubt he just threw them all away.
Here are some fragments you might gather:
The leafy greens of beet and turnip tops are edible. Beets and turnips are in season right now (in my hemisphere, and possibly it's cool enough in early spring on the other side of the world that they are ripening now). When preparing these vegetables, slice the top part off (just about 1/8 of an inch thick), and put it cut-side down in a shallow pan of water in a sunny window (it doesn't really need to be that sunny). The greens will grow further, and in a week or two, you can cut them off, steam them and serve with butter and salt. You can also cut them up and fry them bacon grease, or cut them small and have them in green smoothies or soups.
Stir leftover corn into cornbread- add some cheese for extra zip, and some green chiles for even more zing.
Save leftover vegetables in a container in the freezer and add them to soup. We recently had a pumpkin dish for lunch that wasn't the greatest success. It wasn't awful, it just wasn't that great. I put the leftovers in the blender and stirred them into a lamb rag-out in the crockpot- it was a wonderful combination.
Leftover mashed potatoes- can be used for bread dough, or make potato noodles:
combine 2 cups mashed potatoes with one beaten egg, 3/4 cup of flour, and salt to taste. Mix well. Roll dough out about 1/4 inch thick and cut it into strips about an inch wide. Fry them in about half an inch of hot oil, drain, and serve as a side dish, or with a meat sauce over them.
Add leftover meats to stir fries or quiches
Make melba toast with the last few slices of home-made bread- slice the bread and put the slices in an oven on very low temperature until the bread is thoroughly dry- essentially, you are dehydrating it. This dried bread is good with spreads and meat salads, and toddlers love to chew on it.
Leftover oatmeal can be kneaded into whole wheat bread or mixed into muffins.
Leftover cream of wheat or farina can be put into a greased loaf pan and chilled until firm, then slice it the next morning and fry gently in hot oil, turning when one side is brown and frying a minute or two longer. Serve hot with jam or top with a cheesy white sauce.
Freeze leftover coffee in ice cube trays and use them in you blender to make coffee flavored drinks.
Fry leftover spaghetti or linguini noodles in this Thai style pork noodle toss.
Reusing leftovers isn't a punishment or a shameful thing. It's a privilege. Get the most out of your food dollars with joy and an attitude of thankfulness for your circumstances and compassion for others. It's also a chance to be creative.
What are some of your favorite ways to gather the fragments?