I think I have a bit of a reputation.
I’m not sure what it is, but it results in people giving me food I haven’t asked for. Often, it is leftovers following a visit to my mother-in-law. Sometimes, it is a cleared-out fridge when the neighbours are going on a long holiday. I understand these. My mother-in-law is widowed, and doesn’t believe she can use up all the leftovers from a family gathering by herself (and she seems to think my husband still has a never-ending teenager’s appetite). The neighbours know they can’t consume their perishables while they’re away, and since we’re looking after their house plants, it’s a nice gesture. Other donations, however, make me wonder what people think of me.
Recently, I’ve been on the receiving end of all sorts of kitchen goodies from a random friend. I don’t know why, but a bag appears, and it’s a lucky dip. Half of a BOGOF, unopened cupboard stores nearing or past their best-by date, an open but barely used sack of flour or packet of spice, a nearly empty bottle of extra-virgin olive oil. Occasionally, there’s a theme, and I can see that they have experimented with some kind of food, such as Asian cooking, but decided not to pursue it.
Regardless where the donations come from, I say ‘Thank you’, sort and incorporate the new things into my kitchen. There is almost never something I can’t use from any of my sources, although there is often something I haven’t used before (such as gram flour) and frequently there are things I wouldn’t have thought of (such as bottled fish sauce) and convenience foods, which I don’t normally buy.
I think of these donations as opportunities.
First, I decide what is most perishable, and plan its use into my menu for the next few days. If nothing else, I might be able to use extra perishables in a lunch. Spices past their best-by date? They won’t hurt you, but they won’t have maximum flavour; I give them a sniff test. Anything else past its best-by date I open with care and use my own judgement–if in doubt, throw it out. (Much as it pains me!)
Next, I make a (literal) note of things that can be used for a last-minute meal, when a day hasn’t gone according to plan, or when I know I won’t have much time. This goes on the fridge, where I can see it all the time. Once we’ve used them, I make a (metaphorical) note of what we liked and might buy for ourselves another time.
Finally, I look for inspiration from anything else. That collection of Asian ingredients? I’ll be attempting onion bhajis in the next week or two.
Maybe my reputation is exactly what I’d like it to be.