Mom’s Scary Answer to “What’s for Dinner?”

One sure way to strike fear into the hearts of my kids when they utter their usual five-o’clock whine, “What’s for dinner?” is to respond, “I won’t know till the frozen blob thaws. Let’s cross our fingers for something good.”

I’ve got to start labeling my leftovers.

We’re in the middle (or is it the end?) of a recession, and food prices are rising. Even without all that, I’m frugal by nature. Unless a meal is inedible by one and all in my family, leftovers will be saved for another day. There have been a few unfortunate meals that have gone from table to trash, even before completion; however, usually no matter how disagreeable an entrée is to most, chances are someone will like it and that person, at least, will get all servings over the course of several days. What won’t be consumed within that timeframe gets frozen.

That’s when the trouble typically starts.

Last night I thawed the container marked “the good chili.” It was an important distinction, because I also had previously frozen leftover bad chili (as in, reviewed by my husband and kids; not as in, “spoilt.” I thought it was half-way decent chili, and didn’t warrant the trash can.) It being chili with its accompanying side effects, however, I wasn’t prepared to eat the entire batch daily for upwards of a week. The labeling, done as a necessity in this case, was also a rarity.

In addition to being frugal, I’m also a bit sloppy, with a lousy attention to some details. That doesn’t bode well for freezing leftovers. When I’m spooning chili, or spaghetti sauce, or Beef Stroganoff into a gallon-sized zip-lock bag or a Tupperware-knock-off container (remember: frugal), I’m certain I’ll remember what’s in it as I place it oh-so-carefully on that shelf right there, beside the months-old ice cream and the three packs of hamburger buns (I always seem to forget I have plenty already). No need to put any kind of label on it because surely I’ll recognize its contents when the time comes.

Not.

One evening I was all set to serve spaghetti, and had the garlic bread prepped, the Parmigiano-Reggiano freshly grated, and the pasta on standby as I patiently thawed the sauce, only to discover it was a batch of sausage and lentil soup my husband had made a few months earlier. Luckily it went quite nicely with everything (except the noodles).

On those nights when we’re stuck guessing what’s for dinner till the unlabeled block thaws, I tell my kids it could be worse. To keep the odor of rotting meat from stinking up her kitchen, their grandmother freezes some of her garbage till trash day.

And she doesn’t label her leftovers, either.