Growing up, I ate a lot of leftovers. My parents both worked two jobs so it was much more efficient to make a few big meals and then eat leftovers on off nights--especially since I could heat them up myself. Since you can't always eke out a full meal from a single leftover, you often have to combine things or eat separate dishes. My mom referred to this as "Grab 'n' Growl", a term passed down through the generations in my family's unique (read: very bizarre) lexicon, which posits a family as a bunch of Neanderthals scavenging the fridge for food, battling over the best bits. Closer to the truth, perhaps, than we'd like to admit.

With Amy in Budapest, it's officially grab 'n growl week. This is sort of weird, since it's just me, but I feel less lonely if I growl. Since I tend to do most of the cooking, the swingin' bachelor life doesn't necessitate eating cold beans out of cans, scratching my crotch, and drinking whiskey straight from the bottle. I may prowl the house growling, but I can still drink whiskey from a glass. What the bachelor life does invoke, however, is my occasional need to purge the refrigerator of leftovers and about-to-go-bad food. On a small scale, this is best accomplished in a single meal. But with Amy gone--taking her need for delicious, inventive cuisine with her--I'm free to do a major purge, using up everything in strange and sometimes wonderful/sometimes not combinations.  In other words, this isn't generally the kind of food I'd foist on other people.

But from the ashes doth arise the phoenix! Behold these Curried Potato Everything Cakes aka Poor Man's Pakora:

These puppies used up mashed potatoes, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, kale, and a scosh of raw sushi filling, as well as some leftover Chik'n Almond Bake and crushed crackers for the breading. For combining so many different--and somewhat disparate--ingredients, these were actually pretty awesome. The cracker/Chik'n Almond Bake combo was the key.

I enjoyed this with leftover Avocado Wasabi Salad ala Vegan Yum Yum:

Remember that Roasted Poblano Chili? The leftover beans (I still haven't mastered the exact yield of dry beans when you cook them) were a perfect base (along with rice, obviously) for beans and rice.

On Saturday, I made a green Thai curry out of a small smattering of frozen veggies (ack! I know), tofu, and the leftover raw Siamese Dream Soup.

And finally, last night I made a version of Zuppa Toscana, using up the rest of the mashed potatoes; some dilapidated turnips that didn't make it into the Potato, Turnip, & Rosemary Soup; and the unused tempeh (we get it in bulk) from the Smoky Tempeh Hummus Wraps.

That's a lot of food! As I've chiseled away at out leftovers (and this post), it's become clear to me that we both cook and shop for our palettes, not from our resources. Forgive me if I'm stretching here, but this, in a general sense, is one the key problems with the American food industry. You can get as much of anything, from anywhere, at any time, as you want.  The variety comes from the store, not from your kitchen and brain.

Equally problematic is the amount of time between trips to the grocery store. Like most Americans, we tend to go once a week, if that. We task ourselves with predicting what our future selves will want to eat--based on what? How can we know what we'll want to eat 3 days from now? This means that as the week wears on, we become less satisfied with our choices and less likely to cook with what we bought. Scanning our half-full fridge, nothing looks good. So we either (a) settle on something merely "acceptable" or (b) give up completely and go out for dinner. I'm not against going out to eat, but I think it should be a deliberate choice--because you want to, not because you need to. But (a) is a bit of a crapshoot; on nights when I'm feeling creative, it's a fun challenge and usually turns out pretty tasty. On off nights, it's a burden and "edible" suffices.

One solution to this is to shop more frequently and buy less. This also helps ensure the freshness of your food. The other solution, I'm afraid to say, may be getting comfortable with "pretty good" some of the time. Maybe it's been a good week for culinary creativity, but I feel like I've eaten pretty well with nary a thought of hitting up the grocery store (okay...that's not entirely true...when I ran out of soy sauce, I felt a ripple of panic). This may owe, in part, to the very fact that I've used up almost everything in the fridge; my choices have dwindled as the week wore on. While some choice is certainly good, a lot of choice, it turns out, is actually rather bad (think about your occasional trip to an all-vegan restaurant--it's almost paralyzing; you're not accustomed to so many choices). The problem with too many choices is our tendency to weigh any single choice against the combined best parts of all the other choices. While this doesn't actually change how good any single choice is, it does change how satisfied we feel.

So my final thought, in this lazy cognitive meandering, is that our enjoyment of our food is often based on our frame of reference. Given my limited options, what I came up with seemed really good--as soon as I'd eliminated the other possibilities. This is the fulcrum on which "leftovers" become "leftover surprise".