Why I’m declaring 2019 the Year of the Leftover

An Irishman’s Diary: My wife is the undisputed queen of expiry dates

Since we all know that recessionary times are just around the corner, it doesn’t make financial sense to let a decent meal go to waste. Photograph: Getty Images

Since we all know that recessionary times are just around the corner, it doesn’t make financial sense to let a decent meal go to waste. Photograph: Getty Images

 

In our suburban Dublin home, my wife is the undisputed queen of expiry dates. Under her regal watch, no food item gets through our front door and into our presses or fridge unless it bears an exemplary “Best Before” or “Use By” mark.

When we were first married, I found this trait a bit quirky, probably because I’d spent the previous few years as a catch-as-catch-can single guy on Cape Cod.

But for some time now, I’ve been won over to the cause – and may even outdo my wife on occasion. In fact, when I finally get around to designing a family crest, I’m going to make Semper viriditas (“Freshness forever”) our official motto.

Of course, I was well schooled before my wife ever arrived on the scene. During my college days in Boston, I worked part-time in the fruit and veg department of a large supermarket just up the road from Harvard University.

My campaign is motivated by practical as well as culinary considerations

My boss back then happened to be the craftiest produce manager in the chain, constantly swinging deals with local growers and distributors and then recording negative shrink on the transactions.

So I came to understand the importance and necessity of placing the oldest product on the top of a vegetable or fruit display.

As a result of this valuable lesson in stock rotation, these days I enjoy a good root around if I’m looking for the freshest bag of spuds or the crispest bunch of celery. (And yes, I’m shocked to find that Ireland’s largest retailers often fail to oversee their workers in this practice.)

Despite my pedigree, there’s no denying that my wife’s influence has turned me into a new man.

We’ve been married for nearly 30 years, and in that time I’ve developed a remarkable knack for detecting the relative freshness of anything from broccoli to biscuits. For instance, I can now spot a surplus stock sell-off from outside the store. (Clue here: The bigger the sign, the more likely the product has maybe 48 hours of shelf life remaining.)

Freezer

And alarm bells instinctively ring when I see a huge freezer case filled to overflowing with premium ice cream at a cut-rate price. (Chances are an equipment failure rendered the stuff undesirably mushy for a brief spell, resulting in the unadvertised bargain.)

Individually, my wife and I are formidable shoppers, not easily fooled by clever marketing or showy displays. Together, we’re dynamite.

When our talents are combined on shared trips to the market, we’re able to summon a Stephen King-like sixth sense where food freshness is concerned. If we’re in the neighbourhood, it’s caveat venditor.

The seasonings in a stir fry or an Indian dish are brought to dizzying new heights after a day or two in the fridge

It’s very simple really. We like our food to be fresh – and our 21-year-old son is similarly inclined.

So it might come as a surprise to find out that for the past few weeks I’ve been lobbying to have 2019 – what remains of it, anyway – declared The Year of the Leftover in our house.

Waste

My campaign is motivated by practical as well as culinary considerations. We’re a small family, just the three of us, so on those days when we eat our evening meal together there is often a single portion or more of some delicacy remaining, even after my son and I have wolfed down our share.

Since we all know that recessionary times are just around the corner, it doesn’t make financial sense to let a decent meal go to waste. (For the record, when it comes to discarding food I’m swayed by moral arguments on a secondary level. My stomach gets right of first refusal over my conscience.)

Plus, who can argue with the convenience of having a home-made meal ready to go in the fridge, with only a brief blast of microwaves needed to bring it to table.

But I also believe that leftover food is delicious. The seasonings in a stir fry or an Indian dish are brought to dizzying new heights after a day or two in the fridge. And Italian food might well be the Gina Lollobrigida of leftovers: va-va voom!

My wife remains unconvinced, however. She needs to see her food coming hot off the cooker, first time around. I can respect that. But despite her reluctance, I’m unilaterally declaring 2019 The Year of the Leftover in our house.

The occasion will be marked by a brief ceremony, followed by some light refreshments.

All of them leftovers, of course.

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