How To Make Leftovers Into A Meal

ratatouille kitchen restaurant

In some ways, my 20-year-old self treated every restaurant meal like a grudge match. I distinctly remember staring down a huge bowl of cold borscht in a now-vanished spot in the East Village and saying, “Look here, borscht—only one of us is leaving this table.”

This approach has its advantages (less food waste) and its disadvantages (among other things, that post-beet moment of panic we’ve all experienced). But growing out of my clean-plate compulsion didn’t make me any less waste-averse. I still doggy-bag whatever I’ve got coming to me.

The same impulse guides me when I’ve made just too much dinner for my family to polish off. Sometimes it’s enough for a meal on its own, but just as often I end up with just three-quarters or half of a meal: too much to eat over the sink, too little to work as a satisfying meal in its own right. Three options immediately spring to mind:

1 – Throw it out.

2 – Cobble together a meal of disparate leftovers and pretend it’s a tasting menu.

3 – Keep it in the fridge until it is definitely inedible, then throw it out.

But there is a fourth option! Several fourth options, in fact. Each one easy, cheap and delicious. NB: I am vegetarian, so these might not all work with meat. But they might! READ MORE

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USC MFA Students Quit En Masse; Art Institute Students Seek Student Loan Forgiveness

girls mfa program

My theater MFA program had two different directors in the three years I was there (and a third director who started shortly after I graduated). The second director decided to change the grading scale to reflect what he considered a true assessment of our work, and he considered us average.

“Do you think your production is as good as the best production on Broadway?” he asked me, when I went to talk to him about what I needed to do to not get Cs on my transcript in the future. “Your work is average. We don’t expect anything else. Average is where you should be right now.”

At that point, I was in the game with the idea that I would leave grad school and start competing for one of the tenure track jobs out there, and I knew that a transcript full of Cs would pretty much tank that idea. So I went to talk to another professor about the idea of teaching at private high schools.

“Everything’s changed so much, even in the past few years,” she told me. “We used to send our MFAs out to those kinds of jobs, but now you’d probably need to go back and get a two-year teaching degree and license. I can give you some resources on that if you want.”

So I sympathize very much with the two groups of fine arts students currently in the news: the University of Southern California MFA class that quit, en masse, after issues with funding and work opportunities; and the Art Institute students fighting for student loan forgiveness after the announcement that most of the for-profit Art Institute campuses would be shut down.

READ MORE

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Had We But World Enough & Time, Here’s What We’d Splurge On, Food-Wise

eleven madison park fancinessWorld = $$. Trust me, I studied poetry.

Had we but world enough, and time, the splurging on these would be no crime:

A box of Kellogg’s 19s every week. It’s my favorite cereal because it tastes like childhood and the red is so cheerful but at $6 a pop I can’t afford to indulge the nostalgia.

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Lunch at the Four Seasons before it’s gone.

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Massive chocolate bosoms from Brussels.

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Babbo again. Ben and I haven’t been to too many of New York’s finest restaurants and some have even been disappointing, specifically Craft, where, though the food was superb, we were treated like Fanny Price at Mansfield Park and had to watch other tables get treats that were denied us. But Babbo was special. We had to show up at 5:00 PM to get seated and be careful about what we ordered, because we had only managed to save so much money; and yet, everyone treated us, and fed us, like royalty. Bless you, Mario Batali.

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Guacamole at Chipotle every time.

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[phone ringing]

BEN: Hello?

ME: Hi honey. Where would you eat if cost were no object? READ MORE

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A Cupcake Decorator Gets Fired for Being a Hero

cupcakes in a box

For three sweet weeks in 2008 while the economy was on the brink of extinction, I decorated cupcakes. The job—froster at a cupcakes-only bakery—came from my roommate, who worked there on weekends. She was working part-time at the ACLU during the week. The decorator job opened up when she got a full-time spot campaigning for Death with Dignity.

“It’s fine,” she explained. “You don’t have to talk to anyone; you don’t do any actual baking—just icing. Sometimes you do special orders, but those are just different colors. We used to do custom writing. The policy changed after I did an order for a retirement party and had to put ‘Way to go, Yolanda!’ on six dozen cupcakes.”

“Yolanda?”

“It’s fine. And you get to take home a box of leftovers after every shift.”

“You’re giving up your ration of free cupcakes for full-time Death?”

And so I became a nightshift cupcake froster. I walked out the door to start my workday just as my roommate was coming home at the close of hers, dragging in boxes full of signatures and a trunkful of cheeky picket signs behind her: “LET ME R.I.P.!” My shifts ended at 3 a.m. Streetlights lit up nothing and no one in particular; the roads glittered. Seattle’s neighborhoods, little sprawls connected by pithy backed-up veins, smushed together in an 80 m.p.h blur while I sailed home along empty streets. Jittery from too many red velvet seconds, windows down and crusty-eyed, blasting “Don’t Stop Me Now,” trying to stay awake until I fell through the front door and crashed.

I had two co-workers, a pair of guys in their early 40s who did the baking. I worked in the front of the shop, patting frosting on the muffin tops in swoopy shapes and having my way with the sprinkles. They worked in the back; I worked next to the espresso machine in the front. They had their sweaty, hairy forearms elbow-deep in butter yellow batter all night long. They never ate the cupcakes. I practiced my palette knife maneuvering and slammed cupcake seconds into my gob at five minute intervals. We all made $9 an hour.

We were on our own; the managers never worked nights. The shop was empty and clean (the baristas got paid a dollar an hour less but had to mop before they shut the place down at night). Everything was quiet—lights off, gleaming counters crumb-free, chairs upturned and sleeping. A single pendant light illuminated my little workshop of buttercreams and sugar decorations. I was like Gepetto, tinkering alone in the workshop. I could wear headphones. Though it was technically food service, I barely noticed. Until I got fired. READ MORE

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Grocery Shopping Never Ends

nicole's refrigeratorRemember how I went grocery shopping last week and said “but it doesn’t feel like I bought any food?” Well, I was right on that count.

Look at that refrigerator! Nothing in there but a bunch of condiments, some assorted carbs, and half a pack of ham. (Nothing in the freezer either, except half a bag of brussels sprouts.)

I should also qualify that yes, I do keep my dry goods in the refrigerator. I have no cupboards, which means that all my food has to go into the refrigerator or hang out under my bed, I guess. (And that sounds just too gross for words.)

So I went grocery shopping again, even though it has only been a week since my last shopping trip. What did I come home with?

Breakfast:

—Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats, two 18 oz boxes: $5.00

—So Delicious Cashew Milk Beverage, two 32-oz boxes: $5.00

—California Giant Blueberries, two 6 oz packages: $5.00

Lunch:

—Oroweat Original Oatnut Bread, two loaves: $5.00

—Pacific Organic Tomato Soup, two 32 oz boxes: $6.98

READ MORE

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“Would You Rather?” Real Estate Edition

It’s Real Estate Friday! What, would you rather hear about how four sham “cancer” charities are being sued for bilking donors out of almost $200 million? I thought not. Real estate is emotional enough.

Screenshot 2015-05-22 10.10.19

First, an update on the Startup Castle, about which former inmates — anonymously — have much to say:

Imagine one day having your bed converted into a bunk bed without your consent. Being promised food to be included in the fee you pay only to be yelled at when the food runs out. Witnessing an ex-military dude marching around the house yelling at people who didn’t “keep their shit clean enough”. Beingchastised for not organizing events for the house. Being drawn in to long, inappropriately misogynistic, conversations about sex. Witnessing former room-mates being treated unfairly when they try to terminate their contracts and leave the house.

I think one of the house managers John and Katie hired last year put it best:

“This place is a prison. It’s like living in the Hotel California, except we can’t even drink wine.”

Yikes! That makes me want to have half a bottle, immediately, in sympathy, even though it’s only 10:00 AM and I don’t really drink.  READ MORE

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A Cost-Benefit Analysis of My Fortnightly Organic Food Box

now this is organic

 

When you can see a notoriously cost-effective supermarket that is open 24/7 from your bedroom window, subscribing to a fortnightly organic food box feels indulgent. Add in two freelancers’ salaries, and it’s bordering on financially reckless. But somehow, our twice-monthly Hello Fresh box feels like the most sensible spending decision I’ve ever made.

Hello Fresh is somewhere between an organic veg box and ordering really good take-out, where they send you three recipes and all the ingredients you need to make them. At $59 per 3-meal box, it’s $9 per meal per person, although I have found a way to game the system: everything goes further if you set the some of the canned tomatoes, hard cheese and zucchini aside for pasta sauce. It’s all good quality, certainly better quality than I would normally think about buying myself, even when we can afford it.

I live with my wife in Scotland, which gave the world the deep-fried Mars Bar, Irn Bru and macaroni cheese in a pie. Right now, we spend roughly $380 a month on food, of which maybe 50% is stuff that’s actually good for us.

Analyzing the actual figure, of course, would mean facing the problem head on. We both tend to comfort eat, which isn’t great when we’re trying to get our bank accounts and my body ready for a baby. For two people with fluctuating levels of mental health and relationships with food that can be best labeled as ‘it’s complicated’, cooking can sometimes seem like the most arduous task in the world.  READ MORE

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Friday Estimate

brooklynHappy Friday! Monday is a holiday, which means it’ll be a long weekend. Let’s do some estimations.

I’m finishing my cat-sitting stint this weekend (hang in there old cat!), and also plan to take Logan out for her birthday at a restaurant in the neighborhood. I don’t have specific plans for Memorial Day yet, but I’ll be back at my apartment and getting situated again. My estimate for the long weekend is $200.

What are your estimates?

Photo: OliverMj697

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I’m Not a Bartender, I’m a Bar-Back

This article was originally published on Feb. 5, 2013, but we are re-posting it here for Food Month.

 

I work in a bar. I’m not a bartender, I’m a bar-back, which is like being an intern. I’m also an actual intern, at an office, in the city. But that’s for the future, for experience. This is for now, for the money. The bartenders call me “NFG”—“New Fuckin’ Guy.” It’s mostly a term of endearment, except for when it isn’t.

The duties of the bar-back: Wash the glasses; refill the ice; get wine and beer and liquor from the basement; change the kegs. At any given point during the busiest parts of a night at work, two or more of these things needs to be have already been done.

Sometimes, if I’m lucky and all the bartenders are busy and there isn’t a manager around, they let me pour someone a beer. This is always very exciting. I’m not allowed to handle the money, cash or card, because that would be way too much responsibility for a 23-year-old. The bartenders themselves always take care of payment. They take the order, place it, ask me to pop a Budweiser for Tony or pull a Coors for Don and move on to the next thing. READ MORE

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