Early on, my husband and I discovered something we had in common, something which had had a profound impact on each of us as we grew into adults, something which, once discovered, tethered us with an immediate bond: we both had been born to a set of packrats.
Though our parents were not exactly the same age, they had both been young during the Depression, which is the event we like to blame this affliction on. Growing up, I heard plenty of stories of women saving tinfoil and pantyhose "to help the troops." In the 1930s and 40s, my parents liked to remind me, food was never wasted, clothing never discarded: there was a second or third life for every single possession. Of course, by the time I was a kid, it was the 1970's, and the Depression had been over for quite some time. Yet I grew up in a household where no broken appliance was discarded (our garage was a graveyard of telephones, irons, and electric mixers), I wore all of my sister's and cousin's hand-me-downs, and used wrapping paper and gift boxes were squirreled away in closets, awaiting reuse. But the most precious resource not to be squandered was food, and once a week we had what my dad called a hodge podge dinner.
The hodge podge was all the leftovers from various dinners throughout the week: the odd bit of sunday's flank steak and black bean sauce side by side with tuesday's mashed potatoes and wednesday's spaghetti. While each dish may have been downright delicious in its first appearance, and even its second, by the time it showed up in the hodge podge, it was no longer welcome in my eyes. I dreaded these dinners, although my parents both seemed to find a sense of satisfaction, if not enjoyment, in them. I promised myself that as an adult, I would never serve my family this kind of mix-and-match meal. Every night would be a brand new dinner and any leftovers would be tossed. We wouldn't need a microwave to reheat old food, or tupperwares to store it. My kids wouldn't need to cobble together an unappetizing plate of beef stroganoff and stuffed peppers and call it dinner.
Now, of course, as an adult, I appreciate my parents' thriftiness, and my husband and I, while vehement non-savers in all other regards, are both pained at throwing food out. I don't like to think of these dinners as hodge podges, and they happen rarely. But a few weeks ago I was rooting around in the refrigerator on a Saturday, trying to rustle up lunch. I found some decent sourdough, which went just fine grilled with ham and cheddar. As I swung the door shut, I spied some sauteed brussels sprouts with bacon from a few days earlier, and some roasted potatoes from a separate dinner. They were all on their last legs. I thought of the hodge podge of my childhood, little dishes with awkward amounts of leftovers, laying unattractively in various states of reheatedness, and I shuddered.
Ultimately, though, you can't fight your nature, or maybe it's your nurture. I fried up the sprouts and potatoes into its own little hash and served it as a "new" dish alongside the sandwiches. My husband looked at the plate, recognizing the new incarnation of these old ingredients. He nodded, not thrilled to see their return, but somehow appreciative, and ate every bite. We are perfect for each other.