The Leftover Gourmet


While mindlessly scrolling through Facebook the other day, I came across a post from a friend that literally stopped me in my tracks (no, it wasn’t one of the funny quarantine pregnancy announcements that are popping up all over). She posted her meal plan for the week. And she had seven recipes. For one week. My mind was blown. And my husband was jealous.

The recipes looked delicious. And complicated. Baked salmon with avocado salsa. Bruschetta and filet mignon. Santa fe chicken and homemade tortilla chips (should I tell her you can buy pre-made chips in a bag from the grocery store?). Pineapple chicken fried rice. Ground beef stroganoff and cucumber salad. Garlic-butter herbed pork tenderloin. Huevos rancheros. “You cook a meal EVERY DAY???” I commented. I was beyond impressed! I mean, I knew people who actually cook every day exist; but I figured they were people like Rachel Ray and Martha Stewart and inmates who have kitchen duty in prison. I literally make meals to get AT LEAST two nights of dinner out of each one—my favorite meal to cook is “leftovers.” And now that my oldest is learning to use a microwave, I’m not even sure how much longer I’ll have to do that (I mean, once she masters the difference between seconds and minutes on the microwave’s keypad, I’ll put her in charge on leftover night). 

I’m a Type A person, so it’s not like the concept of meal planning is foreign to me. And my Pinterest recipe board is just as aspirational as the next guy (why yes I do think that gluten-free, grain-free, savory tomato galette with greens and nut-based ricotta looks delicious…but you and I both know I’m never going to actually make it). I even have a white board in our pantry where, grudgingly, every Sunday morning, I pull out my dry erase marker and halfheartedly plan dinner for the week. But the meals that show up on our menu are things like tacos (sometimes not even on Tuesday #rebel), hamburgers, make-your-own-pizza, and… leftover tacos, leftover hamburgers, and leftover pizza. Sometimes I throw in some tater tots, just to mix things up. Before you call Child Protective Services on me, I do steam organic veggies every night, too. My kids and I have this cute thing we do, where I put vegetables on their plates, they push them around, and then I dump them into the garbage at the end of each meal (#ThrowingMoneyAway, #Organic). 

So back to my friend, the one with the kick-ass meal plan. She tells me that she enjoys cooking. She finds it relaxing. She pours herself a glass of bubbly (yeah!), pops on some tunes (who doesn’t like a little music?), and gets cooking (this is where she loses me). I’ve just never understood the concept of preparing food out of pleasure. Sure, I like to eat. In fact, I’ve been doing it pretty regularly for the better part of 35 years. But every time I walk in my kitchen, all I see are a bunch of ingredients that I have no patience to incorporate into actual food. So rather than mess with a recipe, I cook based on feel. Which might work out well, except for the fact that usually what I “feel” is impatience (and sometimes crippling anxiety). Which apparently tastes like I-tried-but-not-too-hard, and salt. 

Then, don’t even get me started on the dishes (but really, if I don’t get started on them, who else will?). A dishwasher to (over)fill, and pots and pans to scour and scrub. And then there’s always something crusty from the pot that boiled over, which needs to be scraped off the top of the stove.  

Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t always used to be this way. There was a time when I actually enjoyed cooking. In fact, I was in the kitchen almost every evening with a smile on my face. Of course, I was usually perched on the counter, glass of wine in hand, while my then-fiance slaved over a hot stove and I looked on lovingly…so it might be a stretch to say I enjoyed the cooking-part. But nonetheless, I was in the kitchen. And I was happy about it. 

Fast forward about ten years, add an immuno-compromised dog who tries to eat everything in sight, a husband with a home office just off the kitchen, and two “spirited” kids with early bedtimes. By 4:45pm, I’m frantically scrambling to get dinner cooked, keep the dog off the kitchen counter, and hush the girls’ bickering (#WitchingHour) so it doesn’t disturb my husband’s inevitable end-of-day-really-important-call. Not the best recipe for a calm, relaxing, meal-prep moment. Maybe someday I’ll enjoy “cooking” (aka drinking and watching someone else cook) again. But for now, I’ll settle for meals that are quick and easy…and live for leftover night. 

What are your best go-to mom meals on nights you don’t like to cook?

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