Before Thanksgiving, starting sometime in October, I noticed a marked uptick of questions sent into my “Ask Amy” advice column regarding leftovers.
It started, as these conversations often do, with a gripe.
A person wrote to me, vexed about a practice that one group of her Thanksgiving guests engage in every year. With the pandemic easing, and knowing that she would be facing this problem again this year, she wanted to gut-check her reaction.
This particular family cluster would arrive at her Thanksgiving feast, pull out their “take out” containers, proceed to fill them, and then take the containers out to their car.
This would happen before the meal, mind you.
So, these people weren’t taking leftovers; they were hedging their bets on the meal by taking pre-overs. Foundovers. Flyovers. What have you.
I know how challenging it is to counter obnoxiousness when it takes you by surprise, especially if you are basically polite. Often you only think of what to do or say later that night, when you are tossing and turning and doing what I like to call re-write. As in … “Get me re-write!”
But this host had advance warning. This year, what should she do?
I told her to stop them and … just ask them not to do that. As in, “Would you mind not doing that?” or … “Thank you in advance for NOT doing that thing you always do.”
Or, “If you take that Gladware out of your bag before we eat, the turkey isn’t the only thing that’s going to get carved.”
This started a lively discussion about leftover etiquette, a subject readers seemed surprisingly passionate about.
Of course, there were some people who were like: “It’s Thanksgiving and in the spirit of the day, I always make more than enough to share. If people want to take it beforehand, that’s fine.”
I dismiss this fringe group entirely, because they are either liars or — worse — pushovers with their leftovers.
There was also a lively subset of people who obviously arrived at the feast straight from the parish workhouse of “Oliver Twist.” These are the “Please, Sir, I want some more” sad sacks who want to bring leftovers home, but don’t have a container. They let their host rummage through the Tupperware drawer in the kitchen, desperately trying to find the lid that matches the container so they can scrape some turkey drippings into it and get these guests out the door.
Sadly, that is the group to which I belong. I’ve brought home more stuffing in cottage cheese containers and squash puree in Mason jars than I care to count.
Then there was the group who admitted to bringing their own containers in the hopes of leftovers, but leaving the containers in their bags, out of deference to their hosts.
I liked these people. They are leftover planners, not scammers.
My family seems to belong to the Methodist Church Supper school of leftover etiquette. My cousins, who traditionally host the meal, seem to perform a sort of loaves and fishes alchemy with their leftovers. While the bulk of our large group are still at the table, overstaying our welcome and getting quietly and serenely drunk on box wine, my cousins clean their kitchen. When they’ve finally managed to urge their guests into the leave-taking process (this can take hours), a guest will be handed their coat and a container, to fill however they please.
My cousins’ name is written on a piece of masking tape on the bottom of the container (this must always be done on masking tape, for some reason).
You are to take the container home, consume whatever is in it, and then return the clean container to their porch.
If you haven’t returned it, Christmas is around the corner, when my cousins would be hosting yet again.
One very generous hostess replied to this conversation saying that she didn’t mind doling out leftovers at all — but she just wanted her containers back.
Which got me thinking: It seems to me that a perfect host-gift for the next feast meal would be a bottle of wine and a set of new Gladware.
Just in case.
Railey Jane Savage’s JUNK FOOD: Primo, Secondo, and Kummerspeck
“Dear Readers: Hi, my name is Railey and I have food issues. [all: Hi, Railey.] These are compounded by trauma and loss I’ve been trying to process for the past ten years. For the first five of those years (and much of 2021) I used food to soothe my sad brain and weepy heart, and my body embraced this tack and very happily clung to the extra hundred pounds with which I was insulating myself. So, yes, I felt “better” but my coping mechanism clearly wasn’t a secret. Food was my comfort, and my shame.
My years-long deep depression took years to manage, and I am still trying to establish a healthy relationship with food that is separate and distinct from my mental state. I’m proud to report I had lost all that kummerspeck (German: “grief bacon,” or, mourning weight) pre-Covid, and have only backslid about 30 pounds from my svelte winter 2019 bod.
But the past two years have not been easy or kind to the 99% and these days my junk food movies are often accompanied by actual junk food, albeit homemade. The comfort and shame I’d felt from food in my deepest depression has morphed into pride, and anxiety over filling my house with artisan bread, pasta, and pies; I make all these things and make them super well and then eat them. Even my gorgeous boyfriend and his hulking frame has had to say, Thanks but No Thanks, to yet another treat delivery, so I’m “forced” to eat the homemade pop tarts, or biscuits, or tagliatelle.
But the satisfaction of making the simple and delicious food is cut with the complicated emotions that surround actually eating that food. Thanksgiving, of course, brings these issues to the front of my brain but this year I resolved to pepper my dishes with gratitude. Even though managing my mental health is extremely challenging, I have tried to cook and bake and eat the food with intention, and love; I no longer season with disappointment.
I will let Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub say it better than I ever could in the dialogue-less final scene from 1996’s Big Night.
(And, for those interested in hearing me talk about something other than movies and my issues, please join me at Buffalo Street Books, in Ithaca, when I will read from my new book, A Century of Swindles: Ponzi Schemes, Con Men and Fraudsters.)
Sunday, December 12, 2PM
LAURA LIKES: Where my friend Laura recommends great things:
“Holiday cooking can be a massive undertaking, and figuring out what to do with the leftovers can be kind of daunting on top of post-feast cleanup. My magic solution to this is to make soup stock.
One of the few things I shelled out for as a grad student, cookware-wise, was a giant Chantal stock pot. I thought, "I will never find one of these at a better price. Now's the time," took a deep breath, and made the commitment.
This pot has been with me through many cities and different homes, and I love it as much today as the day I bought it. You don't need a fancy one. Cooking supply stores are always a good bet for a piece of cookware that will outlast you at a good price. Mostly, you want it durable and heavy enough to hold heat for a good long time, and big enough to hold a poultry (or beef, or whatever) carcass plus a bunch of vegetables.
There are those who will tell you that stock is a great place to put vegetables that are about to go bad, and it is, but I find in general it's better if you don't put in anything you wouldn't eat after you roasted it. My favorite stock involves some sort of meal you ovenroasted. At the end of the meal, pour in a bit of water into the foil you lined the pan with, and let it sit. After you've gotten what you can off the bones of the bird, stick it in a stock pot, then dump in any of the non-bitter vegetables that no one ate, then pour the slurry of goop and water from the foil in as well. Toss in a couple of onions and cloves of garlic, maybe a couple of stalks of celery, a carrot or two, some peppercorns, and a bay leaf. Put in whatever you like. I like dill tossed in if it's a poultry soup.*
After you're done, let the pot cool down to a manageable temperature, then strain out the solids and return the stock to the pot. Set it in your sink filled with water and ice to cool it down quickly. I always put a couple of chopsticks in the bottom of the sink to prop it up -- better circulation, cools faster. Then I portion it into ice cube trays and freeze it.
Then, when you make soup with your stock later, you can remember your holiday gathering, how much you enjoyed the meal the first time, and feel good that you're getting to have it again, in a different form, only a bit later, when it's cold and soup's the only thing that sounds good on a blustery day.
(Old Reliable, 28 years young and likely to outlast me)
* If you're vegetarian, I like making a stock out of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rinds in place of the carcass. Same principle. It has a great depth of flavor and it freezes very well. You can also boost the flavor with a little nutritional yeast.
TARGETED UPSELL: Consumer Correspondent Emily Mason reports on products the Internet wants her to buy.
Recently I was introduced to Stasher. Stasher bags are reusable plastic bags. (Stasher! Get it? Get it? Good!) Perfect for stashing leftovers!
Unlike normal plastic bags, these are designed to be reused again and again.
And they’re cute! They come in cute colors!
(Storage should be cute all the time — always!)
Hooray to saving the planet, one cute plastic bag at a time!
For a price, of course! A high, high price!
Why am I seeing this?
Like so many, I was inundated with leftovers post-Thanksgiving. The internet took this information and ran with it, and now I am inundated with ads for reusable plastic bags.
Did they sell me?
I think eliminating plastic waste is a really important and great goal.
...I also think that going zero-waste should be affordable and accessible to consumers.
As far as I can tell, Stasher is NOT sold in stores, and a pack of 7 reusable bags is almost $100. You know, the opposite of affordable and accessible!
Mainly, Stasher seems to have invented a place to stash a lot of my money!
So that’s a big no for me. Stasher bags may save money in the long-run, that doesn’t change the fact that I could buy 100 plastic bags for less than $7, instead of the literal opposite. And I can (and do!) reuse the plastic bags I have.
I take this buzzy product’s presence as a good sign that many less expensive alternatives will soon be readily available, if they aren’t already!
I will buy one of those instead.
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For the next issue: I’m excited to present a conversation about Christmas movies with movie critic Ty Burr, who has his own WONDERFUL newsletter about movies.