Dribs, Dollops and Drabs

My Dad used to keep everything, from short lengths of string to 4-inch ends of 2×4’s. He kept all sizes of jars, margarine containers, ice cream buckets and also egg cartons, which he gave to an Amish family who sold eggs at the local farmers’ market. He even managed to save things to put into these containers. Screws, nails, hooks, corks, keys, you name it, he saved it because “you never know when you’re going to need it.” If he couldn’t see into the jar or container he labeled it or even better, taped a sample to the top or side so that he knew what was in it.

I ended up with box after box of jars and containers as he downsized his home (yes he saved boxes, too). Of course I cannot throw any of these things away either–not only because “you never know when you are going to need it,” but also because they connect me to my Dad. One of these days I am going to sort through these things and organize them in my workshop. (Now I even sound like my Dad).

He also saved little dribs, dollops and drabs of food by freezing them, something that I as a chef totally relate to. In the kitchen, throwing something away that could possibly have some food or flavor value is the same as throwing money into the garbage. More than one line cook has watched me literally throw dollar bills into the trash, making my point as I pulled them out with the “product” they had just thrown away.

Dad always labeled and put the date on his leftovers. I admit, through the years I have been cavalier about that–too often simply putting the food into a clear plastic bag and placing it in the freezer neither labeled nor dated. “I’ll know what it is,” I tell myself. Well, I pull a bag out a month or two later and I don’t exactly remember what it is. But I do know that it’s good, so it gives me a chance to create something new with a tasty starting point.

I’ve gotten better about the labeling, and I do keep and freeze a lot of dribs, dollops and drabs myself. Little bits of reduction sauce, a few sautéed mushrooms, some greens sautéed in butter and shallots that were wilted but not rotting, chopped tomatoes sweated in butter and even a cup of cooked rice. It is amazing how often one of these tidbits is just what is needed to enhance a dish.

However, there comes a time when you have had a drib, dollop or drab of something around for so long that you finally resign yourself to the fact you will not be using it for anything, ever. So, you throw it away. And once you cannot retrieve it, once you cannot get it back without literally running after the garbage truck, you will have your epiphany. Then you will remember what I always say, “If you want to find a use for something, throw it away.”

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