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I am the next Food Network Star!

I’d like to think that I have the potential to be Julia Child, or Paula Deen, or Bobby Flay, or… (I could go on for awhile).  But, the hard truth is that I’m a single girl with a paltry income who simply can’t afford to cook like the celebrities can.  Maybe I’ll go nuts in the kitchen once every week or so .  After a day or two, all the good leftovers will be consumed, and I’ll be stuck with a fridge full of leftover rice, soymilk approaching its expiration date, a variety of condiments, and half a bag of baby spinach or salad greens.  I’ll come home from work on a Wednesday, not wanting to cook anything, but thinking that another PB&J might just send me off the deep end.  Creativity, I remind myself, is my strong suit!  Let’s make something up!

I’m going to confess this now:  I’ve always had a strange obsession with making meals out of available items, regardless of what they may be.  I recall working for a company that supplied certain pantry items such as canned drinks, instant oatmeal, soup packets, Swiss Miss, various crackers, and, occasionally, fresh fruit.  Nothing fancy, mind you, but over the course of those three years I was able to make coffee, breakfast, lunch, and even the occasional dinner (when softball or bowling seasons required a pre-game trip to the bar) out of those rather uninspiring ingredients.  My mocha java was legendary.

I’m remembering quickly how many leftovers just one meal generates when you’re cooking for one.  When you live with a guy, you could cook enough food for four people but have absolutely no leftovers by 9 pm.  A man’s appetite will save you from ever having to clean your fridge.  When you live alone (and have the bird-like appetite that I do), there are leftovers for no less than six meals.  The question is what to do with those leftovers:  Eat them right out of the plastic container, or give them a second life in a whole new meal?

I am always trying to make something delicious from leftovers, and the results are always edible and tasty, but rarely impressive.  Yesterday, however, I made a leftover concoction that I expected to suck but turned out to be one of the most delicious things that ever came out of my kitchen!

[Photograph unavailable because I ate it too fast.]

I had leftover rice, which I’d made with mostly water, some chicken broth, and a touch of lemon juice.  I’d thrown in some frozen peas/carrots/corn/beans/limas for color.  Added my house seasoning, which is salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, and just a touch of cayenne.  On its own, it was destined for the disposal.

I also had a partial bag of wilting-and-no-longer-salad-worthy baby spinach.  I also had a few small yellow onions in my vegetable bin, and half a bulb of garlic in my spice cabinet.

I threw the rice in the microwave.  Then I sliced and cooked a small onion, because I love the smell of onion cooking in olive oil.  I added a big clove of chopped garlic, a splash of broth, and a splash of lemon juice (all in my fridge and probably near – or past – the expiration date).  I put the spinach on top to wilt for a minute or two, and put that all on top of the leftover rice.

For the next few minutes, I basked in this strange creation.  It became the first time I’ve ever actually WRITTEN a recipe for some fridge-cleaning pile of garbage I’ve put together.  It was so unbelievably flavorful that I actually made the same thing for dinner tonight.

What’s in your fridge?  Do you have seemingly non-cohesive leftovers that are going to get thrown away?  Try me.  I might be able to suggest a recipe.   Maybe I’ll start a TV show.  Watch out, Paula.  Dana’s coming!  Well, maybe not.  I don’t use enough butter to hold a candle to her.  And if the only thing in your fridge is a case of Miller light and some ketchup packets, I probably can't help you.


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Part 1: College Submission

Alice stepped onto the dock in the backyard where her daughter sat, feet dangling into the creek.
“Maddie, help me with dinner, please.”
“But I need supplies for my presentation board.”
Alice inhaled tightly. “It’s almost curfew, Madison. Why didn’t you remind me earlier?”
“It’s just stuff from Target. I can go myself.”
“No. Write down what you need. I’ll go right now.”
“Seriously, mom, it’s okay. I’m 18. I can sign.”
Alice was firm. “Inside now, please, and make a shopping list.”
Madison rolled her eyes, but obeyed. Arguing was futile.
Alice grabbed Madison’s list in one hand, purse in the other. No use getting frustrated. College applications were treacherous; the private schools made it nearly impossible. If Madison’s project didn’t astonish the enrollment board at Elmwood, her acceptance could be revoked and she’d end up at State.
State was a good school, but it didn’t have the budget for security. Outside the ivies (which no longer accepted applications from non-legacy candidates), Elmwood…

Part 2: Campus Tour

Alice looked impatiently at her watch. Five more minutes until her daughter Madison and the other four candidates would present their high school theses to the Elmwood University enrollment board. 
“Shouldn’t we head to the lecture hall?” Alice asked the tour guide. She didn’t want to miss Maddie’s presentation, a discussion about the Constitution. "The Bill of Negative Rights", she called it.
“Oh, that’s a closed event, ma’am. We’ll finish up the tour in time for you all to retrieve your students.” The tour guide didn’t even pause before continuing. “Next we are going to walk through the residential quad. Naturally, we will not be going inside any of the residence or dining halls for security reasons.”
“Are the dorms co-ed?” asked a parent.
“No, they’re all gender-segregated. Each entrance is equipped with a fingerprint reader and laser counter to ensure only authorized residents have access.”
Well, that’s overkill, thought Alice. What fun is college if you can’t sneak boys into…

Part 3: Life After Curfew

“Do I need to bring TP?” Madison whispered into her phone to her best friend, Grace.
“Nope! We’re stealing it from the school bathrooms,” replied Grace. “Hurry up and get down here!”
Madison slid open her bedroom window and climbed down the leafy trellis to the bushes below.
“Welcome to life after curfew!” Grace said in a loud whisper.
“Shh!” Madison reacted, scanning the darkness. “Don’t get us in trouble before we’ve even left the yard!”
“Relax, Maddie, there is NOBODY out here. Not even Curfew Officers. It’s been hours since twilight. Come on!”
Grace led Madison through a labyrinth of yards, avoiding streetlights. It took a few minutes for Madison’s eyes to adjust and notice that Grace was toting not one, but two rifles.
“Is the extra one for me?” Madison asked sarcastically.
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