Food for Thought: Leftovers Galore!

This is an open invitation to all my friends and those who want to join the clan.

You are cordially invited to attend a dinner in my home at a time to be announced.

The menu? Leftovers!

A recent dinner party we hosted went out of control with more food prepared than you could imagine. What started out as a small committee gathering could have worked for an entire auditorium of people who attended a recent commemoration in my community.

It wasn’t enough to offer platters of chicken kebobs. On came the losh (beef) kebobs to offer a choice. Rice pilaf worked but did we really need the wheat as well? Corn on the cob would have sufficed, only to share the table with a string bean medley with almonds, eggplant, okra, and peas, too.

The salad would have fed a forest of deer for a week.

After a surge of appetizers, wine, beer, and what not, who could possibly be hungry? By the time dessert rolled around, people were wobbling in their chairs.

When it came time to leave, we tried pawning off the leftovers to our departing guests, only to get a cold shoulder.

“We’re on diets,” they said. “Better off if it stayed right here, especially the rum cake.”

I have this impulse to fill a couple trash bags, rather than let it rot inside the refrigerator for a week. In case you don’t know, our refrigerator is a place where we store food until it’s ready to be tossed out.

For that reason, I’ve come to expect that the best way to serve leftovers is to someone else.

People in Armenia are on the right course. They invite anybody they see to the table, whether they know you or not. To refuse would be discourteous. If you want to see tables sagging with food, go there.

You can’t tell me they prepare the meals that instantly. They must have it ready to serve. We entered one stranger’s home and on came the cured beef and cheese, the yogurt with cucumbers, the bread and veggies. They know how to eat in that country, but more important than that, how to win you over with hospitality and kindness. No leftovers there, just circulating food.

Quite frankly, too much chow turns me off. I dine at restaurants where the plate comes with heaping portions. What usually follows is a doggie bag and unless I place it in front of my refrigerator, I’m inclined to forget it.

My doctor tells me to cut my portions in half.

“Eat less and exercise more,” he suggests. “Learn to push your chair away from the table.”

He’s got a point. One night recently, I went overboard and ordered chicken broccoli alfredo. I paid for it later with indigestion. The more I ate, the more I craved. Then, a guilt complex crossed by mind. Had I digested only half, I would have been in better shape.

I hate wasting food, I really do. If every cook in the world used common sense and exercised moderation, we could feed a nation. If hunger is such a concern as they say, we can help curb that problem with restraint.

If every home in the universe cut back some, such a plight would be alleviated and we wouldn’t have to look at pictures of decimated children in third world countries.

I attended a wedding reception where the choice was prime rib, chicken, or fish. There were 200 guests seated in the hall. The majority ordered beef.

When dinner had ended, I could see the leftovers being shipped back to the kitchen for disposal. One woman at my table didn’t touch her meal. I asked her why.

“It’s too rare,” she uttered. “I like my steak well done.”

She asked the waiter for an end cut to no avail. It arrived ready for some carnivorous animal. What’s more, nobody ordered a doggie bag. What do you suppose happened to all that food? I’ll tell you what. Right into the disposal.

With most every meal in my home, the preparation exceeds the appetite. It used to be different when the three children were at home. The same ingredients exist for two of us.

Into the refrigerator goes the leftovers and here today, here tomorrow, here until the moon turns blue.

Much of this mentality is due to my parents who owned a restaurant in their day. Both were immigrants and genocide survivors. Food to them was a precious commodity especially after the death marches they encountered at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. Bread and water meant survival.

What they wouldn’t have given for a bowl of leftover rice and chicken.

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Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
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