The Story of Leftovers


If I have learnt anything about home management from my mother than that is the most important, most tiring and most baffling job of a home manager is not keeping the maids happy but it is to take care of leftover.

Unfortunately we homemakers don’t have the special vessel of Draupadi which used to cook the exact amount food to be consumed by the whole household speculating the hunger and gauging the mood of each member on that day. In absence of that magical vessel the intricate estimations and calculations about mood, hunger etc we do in our mind and then decide what to cook and how much to cook.

But just imagine, if the estimations made by hundreds of economists and statisticians about economy can go wrong where do a single home manager’s estimation stand. Then economists and statisticians don’t have to deal with picky eaters, moody eaters, sudden party invitations, sudden cravings for Chinese by a family member etc. along with the catastrophe – when one fine day suddenly a member decides he no longer likes chhole although till last night he loved it. Then on some days as a cook of the household you feel like taking a break the next day by cooking a large batch today, especially if you are cooking something special. On first day everyone eats the special food with enthusiasm but next day no one wants to even touch it.

So we end up with leftovers almost always. There are few days when there are no leftover but there’s little deficit. On those days we are so elated by that fact that we give up our portion of Biriyani happily to whomever had the deficit. The world calls us mothers super sacrificing because every once in a while we sacrifice our portion of Biriyani but that’s only our efficient PR department. In reality we are just in blissful no-leftover heaven and don’t realise the reality of forgoing our portion.

You must be thinking what’s so terrible about leftover. Well the most obvious problem is our refrigerators, not being made in Gallifrey, are always of limited in size from inside. How much leftover can be crammed into it? For keeping everything in a system you need to repackage all food items and store using super maneuvering skill or everything may fall out next time some one opens the refrigerator door.

This problem increased by manifold when guests come over for a meal. The worst part of a dinner party is not cooking or serving but packing the leftovers and fitting all those in limited sized refrigerator. Instead of bringing a gift to dinner party, it would be really thoughtful of the guests if they offer to take away all leftover after the party. Or a law can be passed making it compulsory for the guests to carry along leftovers while leaving for their homes.

The second obvious problem is most leftover start tasting worse and worse as each single day passes. After two days no one wants to touch it. Or even if suppose the taste remains intact as they show in few refrigerator commercials, no one wants to eat tinde ki subji five days straight. After second day they want parwal ki subji which I personally feel is quite inconsiderate of them.

The only way out is giving away the food to homeless people. But the homeless people near my building told me once “we cook fresh food everyday. We never eat leftover.” I then asked them their secret to the “correct estimation of quantity to be cooked and zero leftover”. They gave me nasty looks and never divulged their precious secret.

The last resort is to throw away the food of course. But that’s a big no-no. If you have grown up in a practicing Hindu household then only you would understand the burden of throwing away food. All food represent Goddess Lakshmi so if you are throwing food means you are insulting the Goddess. Not only you feel bad about insulting her but also there’s fear of her taking revenge on you by withholding food from you. One can only hope she withholds food from you in the old fashioned way that is, by making you poor. Just imagine what would happen if out of spite she resorts to the other available way to make you starve, that is, by making you REALLY fat!

I would happily look the other way if someone else takes the responsibility as well as the sin from me and throws off the food. But for some reason every member of household becomes self-righteous when there’s question of throwing the food. Although they never think of helping out in avoiding leftover discarding by eating more of it.

I strongly feel finishing leftover should be more democratic. Hence some days I force feed my children and husband not because I am the proverbial caring and loving mother/wife but because I want them to make contribution towards finishing leftover. And to think I was getting mad at my mother because on some days dropping on all pretenses she used say “finish the daal” not “eat the daal”. As a resistance I never used to “finish” now others are resisting me exactly like that.

Somehow as the mother/home manager it is OUR responsibility to finish the food. So after two days everyone eats parwal ki subji but we stick to the tasteless tinde ki subji. The taste itself makes even thinking about eating revolting but we eat like we finish a chore.

Some days there would be just a little leftover. So you would think “there’s just one serving of friend rice leftover. I can finish it by stretching my eating quantity a little”. You eat a little more than you should and then no leftover and you are on seventh heaven. In your elation you forget this is the greatest trap to become fat. One day it is fried rice, next day it is just half serving of Daal and so on. There’s no end to it till you become REALLY fat without any contribution from the Goddess.

There’s another way to get rid of leftover which I have learnt from my genius mother and her sisters. They used to make a different dish using the leftovers. For instance they used to make Sambar or Dalma from leftovers of Daal and Santula. Santula is a simple mixed veg dish. Hence it is feasible to add leftover of it to leftover Daal and make the dishes whose chief ingredients are Daal and vegetables, i.e., Dalma and Sambar. The other one was mixing leftover mutton curry with santula and make a dish called mutton-aubergine, typical to my mother’s side of family. Generally I used to eat these mongrel-dishes grudgingly except the mutton-aubergine dish. Back in the days when I used to eat meat, it was the only meat dish which I did not hate absolutely. But these mongrel-dishes are quite dicey. Sometime they click, sometimes they don’t. Moreover you can’t make new dishes of every leftover.

If only we were living in the animal kingdom. The lion haunts and kills then Mr and Mrs Lion eat to their fill then they just leave the leftover as it is. One by one different animals come and eat the leftovers. First come fox, jackal, then hyena, then vultures and this goes on till some insects finish off last trace of bones. Mrs Lion never has to worry about leftover. When human beings were leading a life of foraging and hunting; our turn used to come after the hyenas. We used to eat the quantity we wanted then used to forget about the leftover because there were others to take care of it.

This makes me wonder the point of domesticating animals, starting farming, making homes, industrial revolution, digital revolution et al when we have only gone backward in leftover management.

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