When I was a youngster, in the time before drive-through fast food and pizza delivery men and food courts and multinational takeout and microwave ovens, there were leftovers.
In a household with four kids, one paycheck and one car, menu planning included at least three nights a week when we ate the same thing for dinner that we'd eaten the evening before.
And none of us ever complained.
On Sundays, my mother made a roast, and on Mondays the leftover meat appeared in stew. Thinking back, I can't imagine how she fed six people on Sunday and had even a scrap of meat for Monday. Perhaps that's why I remember her stews as more potatoes than meat.
Spaghetti was on the menu at least one night a week, and it went over well enough. But, like love, spaghetti is so much better the second time around. Is there any more comforting comfort food than spaghetti sandwiches on white bread? (Perhaps the only thing to come close would be meatloaf sandwiches the day after meatloaf night.)
And when there was fried ham for breakfast on the Monday morning after a Sunday baked ham dinner, we felt as though we were the children of "Mrs. Gotrocks," the name my mother gave to the imaginary rich lady she repeatedly reminded us she was not.
All these years later, leftovers soothe my troubled self like nothing else. In addition to the memories it inspires, it is free food, appearing as it does without any shopping or cooking on my part.
So, you can understand my dismay when my children turn up their noses at leftovers.
Hungry as these two teen-agers always are, they will walk away from the table rather than eat anything that looks the least bit familiar. And they are sharp-eyed enough to recognize last night's supper no matter what form it takes tonight.
"No-o-o-o, thank you," my son says, sounding like a smart-aleck sitcom kid.
"Yuck. Used food," says my daughter, with the same sneer of distaste that appears when she tastes un-bottled water. "Yuck," she says. "Sink water."
"Fine," I respond. "More for me."
But their foraging for something to eat that has not been served before creates such a mess of pans, spoons, bowls and prepackaging that I am loath to make more supper than I can guarantee will be consumed.
It is an imprecise art, as you might imagine.
Add to this cast of characters -- a mother who loves leftovers and children who would rather starve -- a husband who is never home from work in time for supper when it is served the first time. Everything the poor fellow eats is left over -- even if only for a couple of hours.
However, when he arrives home too late to eat or leaves town suddenly on business, the leftovers accumulate in the fridge. Eventually, he comes home hungry and opens the fridge to look for his share of some past dinner. The dear man never makes his selection without first asking, "What's oldest?"
Today, leftovers have a place of dignity in menu planning. There are books and Web sites and weekly meal-planners in which leftovers play a central role. They are practically nouveau cuisine.
Not in my house.
I guess it is a function of affluence that children today have no understanding of what it means to stretch a paycheck or a food budget or a roast beef. They have come to expect something new each night at the dinner table, just as they do on each trip to the mall.
It is because my own have so soundly rejected leftovers, my precious family heirloom, that I have hesitated to expose them to my mother's other food economies, which hold just as cherished a place in my salivary memory. For example:
French toast topped with maple syrup and confectioners' sugar and with a slice of cheddar cheese on the side -- for dinner.
I am sure my daughter would say, "Yuck. Breakfast food." And my son would turn up his nose if I tried to serve the leftovers the next morning.