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Saturday, March 16, 2013

S.O.P.

There are a lot of words and phrases that have negative connotations. For example, traffic jam. Personally, I'd prefer some strawberry jam, or maybe a not-too-tart, not-too-sweet orange marmalade. I think one of the most evil, insidious words used regularly in the American home is leftovers. This word conjures all kinds of negative images. It might be the food you brought home from a restaurant to eat for lunch the next day. It sits in the refrigerator for an insanely long time. You find it when you are looking for something else, like ketchup. You wonder aloud what is in the container. When it is opened, the smell assaults your nose. You see colors you never expected to see in nature, much less your refrigerator. You can't even tell whether it was originally chicken or beef or some sort of mutant fish. It ends up in the trash, and you end up washing your hands for five minutes, with an antibacterial gel chaser.

Leftovers sounds like something that wasn't eaten at the original meal because it, well, sucked. After all, if it had been super tasty, it would have been eaten with gusto, right? Another thing that seems to happen with the lefties (not you left-handed readers, but a shorter way of saying leftovers) is the not-enough syndrome. You put a little portion of an absolutely mouthwatering dish into a container in the fridge for eating within the next couple of days. Lunchtime rolls around the next day and you scan the fridge for tasty, viable foods to fill your tummy. You see the super-delicious right there in front. It fairly calls out your name, asking to be reheated and eaten. But it's so...small. In fact, it's so tiny it could be used on Top Chef as an amuse bouche, a one-bite appetizer-type dish. Poor super-delicious gets passed over for something more substantial. This continues until it becomes yet another science project. More amazing colors and a container that ends up being tossed in the trash because you're afraid you will die if you ever eat anything out of it again. 

Enter SOPs. There are times when I like to make a big batch of something. Maybe ground beef was on sale, or needs to be used before it's too late. Or maybe I have a whole chicken begging to be turned into a delicious soup. Or sometimes I just want to make extra for those days when I just don't feel like cooking, but of course we will still want to be eating. So I might whip up enough spaghetti sauce to make three or four meals, or a vat of soup. Before we even begin eating, I package some in sturdy freezer containers. I have my methods almost down to an art form, so there is little opportunity for icky stuff like freezer burn to set in before they are defrosted, heated and eaten. Since they never hit the table in the first place, they are not classified as leftovers. No, we have christened them SOPs, because that is what they are. Cooked foods that we have Saved On Purpose to be eaten on another occasion. Sometimes they are so good that they get eaten within the next few days. And sometimes they may be in the freezer for a few weeks. But the SOPs generally do not get wasted unless they get sucked into the black hole located in the left rear of the freezer.

I can tell you that my SOP chicken noodle soup has delighted my body and soul when I have not felt well enough to cook. And on days when I just don't feel like making anything complicated, I have thawed out and heated my spaghetti sauce while the pasta was cooking. Heck, I even used to make SOPs for our sweet little Paris the poodle. She sure did love Mommy's chicken stew, a dog-friendly recipe which I made just for her. I certainly wouldn't serve anything less than freshly-prepared food for any guests in my home. But if I have some SOPs for lunch or dinner, I won't be complaining to the chef. After all, it's not like they are tired old leftovers!