May 4, 2014

7 min read


I am obsessed with eating food that was cooked, at the very least, that week.

I really don’t like leftovers. And I’m not just talking about Shabbos leftovers.

Yes, I understand that this is the very definition of a “First-World problem”. (Another is, “I don’t like the taste of water.”) And yes, I understand that it’s a blessing to have too much food. But it’s not necessarily a blessing to have it all already cooked two or three times before you even eat it. It’s never as good. I have never once seen a recipe say, “Cook at 375 for two hours, and then again for another half-hour three days later.”

I don’t think I even know how to use my freezer.

When I was growing up, it seemed like all my mother served was leftovers. Every night.

Okay, so she did make fresh food most of the time. But for several years there, I was in yeshiva, and the only time I was ever home was Shabbos, and occasionally Sunday night. And what did we eat on Sunday night? The same thing we ate on Shabbos. So between that and going back to yeshiva and eating institutional food, I am now obsessed with eating food that was cooked, at the very least, that week.

My sister, on the other hand, has no problem with leftovers. In fact, from the way she talks, I’m pretty sure she serves nothing but leftovers. She makes supper every day, and then she puts it in the freezer and takes out something else that she made some other time and serves that. It’s kind of like my humor articles. I write one every week, but the one you’re reading I wrote like six years ago.

I don’t do what she does, mainly because freezing has never worked for me. I don’t think I know how to use my freezer. Sure, I can make ice cubes, although somehow the top tray always gets stuck to the bottom tray. But everything else that I put in the freezer somehow comes out freezer burnt. Seriously. I took a carton of ice cream out of the freezer the other week and it was freezer burnt. How did that happen? It’s ice cream! Where else am I supposed to keep it?

Also, my freezer is kind of like a black hole – things go in, but nothing comes out. I put things in and then forget that they’re there. Most of my freezer is just unmarked balls of silver foil, and it doesn’t help that if I want to use something that’s in there, I have to know the night before that that’s what I’m making for supper so I can defrost it, and I’m not organized enough to know that far in advance what we’re going to want for supper. I’m not my sister. So if supper isn’t planned the night before, it’s not going to be something from the freezer. As it happens, I live a block away from a grocery, and it takes way less time and planning to go to the store than to start defrosting things. So I usually end up eating a lot of severely burnt freezer food before Pesach. Thank goodness we also have a ton of sauces to get rid of.

I think the problem lies in cooking for multiple people and not wanting their input beforehand. When I cook for just myself, I never have leftovers. I make what I like and I eat it. But when I cook for my kids, who sometimes are not in the mood for a food they asked me to make by the time I’m finished making it, it’s very hard to figure out exactly how much each person is going to eat.

We’re also at a very awkward family size at the moment, between the ages of my kids and the amount of kids that I have, so that, for example, a few days ago we made chopped meat for supper, and we discovered that a whole package of chopped meat is too much for us, and a half a package is not nearly enough. Apparently, we eat three-quarters of a package. So what should I do? Freeze the last quarter of every package and keep track of how many frozen quarters I have so that every fourth time, I can dig out three blocks of varying freezer burn?

My wife, however, suggested the following: First we buy a package, eat three-quarters, and freeze a quarter. The next time, we buy another package, defrost our quarter, and freeze half of the new package. And then the next time, we defrost the half…

“Wait,” I said. “I’m going to go to the store AND remember to thaw a quarter package of chopped meat retroactively the night before? Since when am I that organized?”

It’s even harder when we have guests, because I have no idea what other people eat. The last thing I want is for them to walk out and say, “The Schmutters didn’t feed us. ‘You should come for a meal,’ they said. That was a light snack.” So I always overcook, and not even by a little. For the typical Shabbos dinner, for example, I assume that everyone will eat a whole piece of chicken, even though:

  1. I’m also serving meat, and
  2. There are three courses before the meat.

Because what if they don’t eat the previous courses?

But then, when I’m making the previous courses (I don’t always cook chronologically), I make enough for everyone to have a lot, because what if they DO eat those courses?

I think I should send out little cards when I invite people, so they can check off “fish” or “chicken”.

So yeah, we always end up with leftovers. We serve them on Mondays, though, because of my hang-up. And then we usually forget to serve something, and we don’t realize it until Friday, when we’re wondering what happened to the container. Or why there’s no room in the fridge for our new leftovers.

We always miss things in the fridge. I’m usually reluctant to crouch down and look way into the back for food that isn’t going to be that good anyway, or at least not as good as the fresh food at the front of the fridge. And also, someone always picks exactly that moment to open the freezer door right over my head.

Yes, our refrigerator is the kind with a freezer on top. We bought that early in our marriage, because I thought that was our custom. When we were growing up, most refrigerators were like that. I don’t know why, for a whole bunch of years there, all the refrigerators companies thought that the best fridge configuration was to put the things that you use the most below waist level. Maybe people were just shorter back then. Or maybe they thought it was funny when misshapen bags of frozen soup tumble out and land on your toe. Or on the guy under you, rooting around in the fridge for his missing containers.

Final thought: I think if people are coming to you for a Shabbos meal, you should be allowed to send them home with a percentage of the leftovers. Otherwise, what are they going to eat on Sunday?

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