These pandemic restrictions and uncertainties of late are bringing up a lot of memories for me. Growing up, I never realized how impoverished we were. Don’t get me wrong, cousins referred to my sister and I as “welfare” and “food stamps” on the regular, and I was unrelentingly tormented on the bus about my Walmart clothes on the ride to and from every new school I attended. Even so, it never really resonated in my heart that we were poor. I just thought kids were mean, and did my best to defend myself and my kid sister. Usually, I just carried the bullying around with me like a shield of armor, while pretending my bike was Swift Wind, my glitter baton The Sword of Protection, and I was the gallant hero saving Whispering Woods from the evil Horde. My imaginations kept me entertained and helped me feel strong enough to stand my ground at school the next day. Plus, I knew I wouldn’t be hanging around any one recess playground for too long anyway. My hardworking father bounced from one low paying, back breaking job to another trying to make ends meet, which often there just wasn’t enough money to go around no matter how hard he worked. Subsequently, we moved around. A lot. My mother was frugal and severally organized, however, and even when we were sleeping over on the floor or couch or spare room of an Aunt’s or church member’s house, in between my parents looking for trailers for rent, we never went without a home cooked meal. My mother could take a whole chicken and stretch it out for days to feed a family of four. Nothing ever went to waste, because we couldn’t afford for it to.
Not wasting food, utilizing leftovers, and cooking creatively with whatever’s on hand is a skill set I feel very fortunate, especially these days, my mother, unwittingly, passed on to me. Growing up poor had its hardships, but I credit it as one of the main reasons I’m a stronger woman today, and it is why I taught myself how to cook, grill, smoke, can, and preserve food. Independence was the one thing my parents valued most, outside of religion, that is. They might not have had money for rent and name brand clothes, but they were self sufficient in every other aspect of our lives. My father was our plumber, electrician, mechanic, farmer, and carpenter. My mother was our accountant, gardener, chef, and nurse. Way back before homesteading became a cool series on cable TV, my parents did it to keep us alive.
History tends to repeat itself, and I’ve struggled with poverty as an adult, like my parents before me. To survive, I dropped out of college and bounced from one minimum wage job to the next just trying, unsuccessfully, to make car payments, rent, and utilities. I’ve slept on many a generous friend’s sofa as a young adult, which was the only reason I wasn’t sleeping in my car. Nowadays, I have an extremely fortunate lifestyle, and because of how little I had prior to my current way of life, I am overwhelmed with a need to always remember where I come from. It’s a very rare occasion that I toss out leftovers, and I will even throw bell pepper, carrot, and celery trims into my stocks. There’s a catchy hashtag now for the way my mother had to cook for us out of necessity. Leftover makeover is trendy and I absolutely love it, as it is one of the few positives connections I feel to my upbringing, and food culture is about the only family tradition I feel comfortable embracing.
Leftovers are a blessing, for a lack of a better term, and I am grateful beyond measure to pay respect to the hardcore lessons on surviving, with very little, my upbringing provided me. If I am never in the same position as my parents were during my childhood, with having to rely on nothing but my bare hands and willpower to put dinner on my family’s table, then at least I know how to truly appreciate everything I do have, because, whether they intended to or not, my parents taught me true perseverance and how absolutely essential gratitude is for even the smallest of things, like leftover food.
The easiest leftover makeover recipes for me usually involves my smoker. Since I’m firing up for slow and low anyway, I might as well throw on enough grub to last throughout the week ahead. This last batch, I smoked a whole chicken, portobello caps, and asparagus. The chicken was utilized in this recipe, a big batch of stock, and a pot of dumplings. There’s just two of us so one bird will easily stretch out for at least a week’s worth of meals. Don’t have a smoker/grill or just not that into it? No worries! Your favorite roast chicken and veggies will work just as well in this recipe. Gratitude is so easy to forget, but it is, in my opinion, the very heart of happiness. These leftover recipes brought me a little happiness, and I hope cooking with or for your family feels the same for you.
2 servings leftover smoked or rotisserie chicken of choice
1 celeriac root, trimmed and skin removed
1 bulb garlic, top trimmed off and discarded
1 – 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 bunch leftover grilled or roast asparagus
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp dijon mustard, or to taste
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp EVOO
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cut celeriac (celery) root in half and place in a casserole dish, along with the bulb of garlic. Evenly coat each in olive oil and generously season with salt and pepper. Transfer to the preheated oven and roast anywhere from 25 – 45 minutes, until the celeriac is very tender and the garlic is golden brown. Remove and allow to cool. Once cool enough to handle, remove the garlic from the skin, discarding the skins. Cut the celeriac into small chunks and transfer to a Ninja or blender, with the roast garlic cloves, and about 1/2 cup of stock. Puree in batches, if needed, until the celeriac is very smooth. Transfer to a saute pan, adding additional stock, if desired, and heat over med flame until just warmed through. Taste and adjust seasonings, as needed.
Meanwhile, in a nonstick pan, heat the maple syrup and mustard. Add in the asparagus and saute until the maple mustard has reduced to a thick glaze. Taste and adjust seasonings, as needed.
To serve, reheat the leftover chicken, per your preference, then serve with the celeriac puree and asparagus.