Mostly Vegetarian

I consider myself “mostly vegetarian.” I have heard other terms for similar diets such as “flexitarian” or “weekday vegetarian,” but both of these are probably too generous for what I do. Most of the time, I don’t eat meat, but sometimes I will. Despite many of my lifestyle choices being defined as absolutes, avoiding meat entirely is just too hard. I started this maybe 2 years ago around the time I started cooking for myself, and it mainly came from 2 reasons. Continue reading “Mostly Vegetarian”

Why I Ate Cake for Breakfast

Julie’s birthday was last weekend, and I made her a chocolate avocado cake as part of the avocado potluck birthday party. Since Julie had also received a chocolate cake from her mom, I kept the leftovers of my cake at home and ate it over the next weekend, and I finished it for breakfast this morning*.

I haven’t done it for awhile, but I am very familiar with eating cake for breakfast. My earliest recollections of breakfast are Flintstones yellow cakes with with way too much frosting. Since then, breakfast for me has included all types of cereal, waffles, waffles with a pile of ice cream on it, ramen, steak, sausage, fried rice, hot pockets, buttered toast, toast with a layer of brown sugar on it, bagels, pasta, yogurt, and anything else you would have found from my fridge, pantry, or last night’s dinner. Thankfully, my breakfast has evened out to oatmeal on an average of just under 5 days a week. I’m surprised that a mother-endorsed diet of ice cream for breakfast led to a pretty healthy outcome.

I’m not really sure if this was her intent, but my mom’s genius in allowing me to eat this way is that I always eat breakfast. Long after many of my friends stopped eating breakfast during high school or college, I will always arrange for something to eat shortly after waking up. Popular nutrition says that eating breakfast is very important, and though their advice probably wouldn’t include ice cream, it seems I ended up in the right place.

I maybe didn’t eat ice cream for breakfast as often as I’m suggesting here. I actually mostly ate leftovers, which I still happily eat for all meals. I had always assumed that this was another food preference I may have inherited or been stuck with because of the rest of my family. For example, my grandpa doesn’t like garlic, so my mom didn’t make stirfrys with garlic, so I don’t either. My sister Lisa didn’t like eggs in fried rice, so I didn’t discover it until college. And my mom doesn’t like green bean casserole, so it never appeared on our Thanksgiving dinner table. Given that I did eat leftovers often, I assumed our family was a leftover loving family.

I was understandably shocked, then, when my mom revealed to me over dinner 2 weeks ago that she didn’t like leftovers. When I pointed out that I had eaten lots of leftovers growing up, she looked up from her bowl of chow mein straight at me and said with complete sincerity, “Yeah, you ate the leftovers.” In the ensuing conversation, it started to make sense. My mom really did cook 7 days a week when I was growing up, and the only leftovers I actually can remember her eating was ground pork and tofu with rice and turkey sandwiches. Everything else in the fridge was mine.

I was a little miffed to find out that my mom was using me as a garbage can. I had grown up assuming that I was the beneficiary of all food choices. The classic example is that when we had chicken, my mom would let us have the meat while she would gnaw at the bones, and when my grandparents were there, my mom would pass those bones onto them and enjoy more of the meat herself. That was just a good parent-child relationship.

Now, all of my mom’s parenting choices appear to have worked out, though some weren’t perhaps as thoughtful and selfless as I may have once believed. Apparently, a common misperception that first-time parents have is that they have brought into the world a beautiful, perfect child, and unless they do everything just right for their child, life is just going to chip away at that innocence and potential. Clearly, my parents lost that notion by the time they had me, the last of three children, but it seems like they might have gotten things right, at least on a few of these points.

And now that I have grown up and see my own friends having kids, I’m starting to see that parents aren’t all-knowing. They’re people just like me, with their own foibles and needs, so many parenting choices aren’t made strictly for the benefit of their children. But it’s okay: a few of those maybe thoughtless choices led to me eating my oatmeal for breakfast while amused about having once, long ago, eaten ice cream for breakfast for an entire week.


* Not really this morning. The perspective works better from when I came up with this post in my head on my bike ride last Thursday

Making Porridge Like My Mom

The week before Thanksgiving, I made a Thanksgiving dinner for my coworkers and used it as a small housewarming event. The menu was traditional and mostly new for me, especially the turkey. The only large piece of meat I cooked before was corned beef slowly on my stove, so I consulted various sources in advance. The expected cooking surprise came when I discovered that my cooking thermometer was dead, so I didn’t know how well the turkey was cooked. It turns out that it was overcooked, but expectations are low, and people are generally so gracious about a home-cooked meal that it doesn’t really matter.

Then came the leftovers filling my fridge. I knew to save the turkey carcass for some purpose, and a few days later, I made rice porridge (congee) with it. That also required a phone call home, and although my result was much thicker than anything my mom ever made, I thought it turned out quite well. I also threw together a breakfast hash with potatoes, brussels sprouts, turkey, and more. There were the beloved turkey sandwiches, and the plates of reheated Thanksgiving meals as a whole as well.

The porridge remains the most remarkable leftover, however, because I now realize why my family always ate it the day after Thanksgiving: there’s a carcass to use as a base. My mom would likely make some vaguely patronizing sound were I to mention this directly to her, but I’m still impressed by the pragmatism of this tradition that I didn’t realize was a tradition. Every Thankgiving, there is a turkey. Every turkey will leave behind a carcass. Every carcass can make porridge. Tradition established.

A few years ago, my then-roommate Ben and I were talking, and I said, “Tradition and convention could just be the wisdom of many generations, refined towards best practices.” This gave Ben pause, since I think he bucks convention as he sees fit, and it gave me pause, because I was really thinking about what I was saying.

At least as often as we honor tradition, we also make light of it, like methods of courtship or the number of candles on a birthday cake. Traditional foods, particularly, get a lot of attention, like lutefisk or mooncake. Some traditions do start on a whim and perhaps don’t deserve any special respect.

Other traditions perhaps do have more to them to have lasted so long. For example, turkey is a common target for traditional foods: cooks claim it’s bland and dry and only remains on the menu in place of better meats because of Thanksgiving traditions. What’s best about a turkey, however, is its size and value. For a holiday meant to bring families and friends together, we just want a lot of food, and a turkey can serve much more than a chicken. Without breaking the bank on steak for 20, turkey is easy to do as a home-cooked meal to share with others. And when we’re stuck with a 12 pound turkey and not enough people around, it encourages us to reach out to fill seats.

So maybe it seems odd that Thanksgiving should lead to a full table with a not-so-beloved bird in the middle, but at least there’s a full table. Even the biggest turkey-haters (or vegetarians) can’t dislike a gathering. In fact, maybe the biggest turkey-lovers just have positive associations about the company, not the bird. Either way, enjoy the turkey, porridge, or whatever else and believe in the old ways.

My Life in Sandwiches

Last week, Julie and I got around to visiting The Melt, a startup grilled cheese restaurant. Well, the “startup” claim might be a stretch: I think their claim to the title is their fancy grilled cheese making machine invented especially for this purpose that makes their preassembled sandwiches a breeze to prepare. And having tasted 2 of their offerings (Julie and I go halfsies on all meals), I have determined that it was probably all just a bunch of hype. If you want a grilled cheese sandwich in the Bay Area, the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen is in SOMA and is far better.

I have actually ended up at a lot of sandwich places in the area. For a summer, George and I made a dedicated effort to try the pizza places in Palo Alto. For a few years, Julie and I have made a dedicated effort to try the sandwich places in Palo Alto because she’s always excited to try and never forgets the opportunity for a new sandwich.

Not to say I’m opposed. In some ways, I feel like my life was destined towards sandwich enjoyment. For 12 years, my regular school lunch was a sandwich packed by my mom. In retrospect, the offering was somewhat simple: it was usually a single thin slice of some cold cut and a piece of romaine lettuce between 2 slices of bread, once homemade but then store-bought once we moved to Houston. On good days, I would also get a slice of cheese, usually havarti. In that time, I became a huge fan of corned beef, but came to dislike turkey (since it was often kind of slimy).

The summer after my freshmen year, I became aware of other sandwich methods as George would use more meat and sometimes put Kraft singles in his sandwiches, too. I became a fan of the former, if not the latter, but more importantly, I realized that sandwiches could have more variety than I had eaten before. The summer after, Leland added cured meats to his sandwiches in addition to the primary meat, which added another dimension. Last summer, I started making vegetarian sandwiches, and tomatoes, which I had once disliked (probably why my mom’s sandwiches for me were so simple), became a mainstay. And this summer, I started regularly adding mayo to my sandwiches. After 12 years of almost daily sandwiches, I think I’m far beyond ever getting tired of them, and clearly there are always new things to change up the experience.

In case you’re ever on campus for the day, or maybe if you’re tired of Stanford Dining, I made a map of the sandwich places I’ve tried. Most are heartily endorsed, so let me know if you ever need a companion to go along!

View Sandwiches around Stanford in a larger map

A Dessert for the Indecisive and Inquisitive

In general, I don’t think I’m very good at making desserts. I have had many disasters with oven temperatures that cause burned cookies, tough cupcakes, liquid-y banana bread, and more. Fortunately, most things turn out well enough when enough sugar is added, and because I’m usually willing to stomach my own mistakes, food usually gets eaten.

Although I may not have the precision and conscientiousness necessary for baking, I still appreciate the magic that it sometimes yields. This past weekend, I happened to try a lemon pudding cake recipe, mostly because I had a lemon picked off a tree and a new carton of eggs. If you’re not already familiar with it, I would like you to take a minute to consider this recipe: it requires 4 separated eggs, and the baking dish is half-submerged in a water bath in the oven. What do you think will happen?

If you’re scientifically-naive like me, you might think that you’ll end up with a wonderfully fluffy and moist cake. The eggs will probably be whipped up a lot, and the water will create a steamy oven for the cake. Unfortunately, that was wrong, but fortunately, the result was far cooler. Forgive me for cheating on the writer’s directive to “show, don’t tell”:

Note the 2 distinct layers

Note the 2 distinct layers of the cake: the bottom of the pan is still delicious lemon pudding while the top has developed into a fluffy lemon cake. While Julie, Joe, and I were eating it, we discussed the secret of the cake, which actually wasn’t very tricky at all.

Although the water bath did generate a lot of steam, that wasn’t the point: instead, it kept the bottom of the pan closer to the boiling point of water (212 degrees F) while the rest of the oven, including the pan and cake above the water, at 350 degrees. One of the few facts I remember from high school chemistry is that water will remain at the same temperature until it completes a state change. In this case, the water, although in a very hot oven, will stay at 212F until it turns into steam. It’s left as an exercise for the reader to determine how long it would take for the steam to reach 350F.

So the bottom stays cooler than the top, and apparently, the transition between pudding and cake is between those temperatures. Also interesting is that the cake and pudding happen to have the same recipe and just need to be cooked differently. If you look at a recipe for lemon pudding and angel food cake (a close relative being another meringue-based cake), they’re not so different. The cornstarch in the pudding is substituted with flour to thicken the pudding, and the cake has milk over water and the egg yolks mixed into the batter as well. Amazing.

One final fun thought about this dessert. It turns out that the pan I was using was a little small, and the batter came right up to the top. Without a leavening agent like baking soda or baking powder, I figured it would be okay, since the cake wouldn’t rise and overflow the pan. I was half-right about that.

In the picture, you can see that the cake is below the rim, but when I pulled the cake out, it was well-above the rim, but the cake still had the perfectly rectangular shape from the pan. Apparently, the cake had set before spilling over, but it wasn’t really rising: instead, I think the pudding and perhaps air in the cake itself had expanded from the heat and pushed the cake up before settling back down after cooling.

Anyways, I hope you’re as amused at this cake as I was, and I hope you make it sometime sooner to enjoy it as much as I did. In the meantime, I expect the high school science teachers out there to be using the lemon pudding cake in homework questions. Science is all around us.

Potlucking Like It’s Your Job

My friends and I have a lot of potlucks. We haven’t had as many recently, but last summer, we had them weekly on Friday nights, and I thought it was a great way to hang out. It’s cheaper than going to a restaurant, exposes you to interesting creations, and hopefully gives you something to be proud of. Having done a few, I have a few suggestions for potlucks, both in planning and cooking.

In terms of planning, I think the most important thing is to have a theme. This might range from something conventional, such as “Chinese food” to something quirky, such as “food that looks like other food.” Great potlucks often involve a lot of discovery, and constraints often generate very creative results. Otherwise, potluckers may fall back onto their tried-and-true recipes and not take advantage of the opportunity to explore their next big dish.

Second, it helps to either assign or publicize choices for courses. Horror stories of potlucks usually involve little diversity in food, and unless you were planning a lasagna cook-off, you might get tired of lasagna by your 4th serving. My friends and I used a Google Spreadsheet, where we could record location, time, theme, attendance, and dishes in advance to help out with organization. Other than the token amount of trolling that must come with the internet, it worked well to keep the meals diverse.

Once the logistics are out of the way, you can focus on your personal contribution to the meal. Although you might be shooting for creating the perfect meal, potlucks have unusual constraints that make some meal choices better or worse than other. Specifically, you want to serve food to many people after carrying it to the desired location. Depending on your choice of dishes, these constraints may be detrimental.

First, you need to be able to feed everyone who attends. You might have a great recipe for creme brulee, but when you only have 6 ramekins, you might end up a little short. On the other hand, remember that everyone will be bringing food, so you actually don’t need to contribute that much. The rule of thumb to make as much as you could eat personally doesn’t really work, since at least I don’t have a good sense for how many a meal’s worth of cocktail shrimp is. It all depends on what the distribution of courses is, but factor that into how much you make.

Second and furthermore, your meal should be easily distributable to those who like your meal more and less. Even if you have enough to feed everyone, personal-sized portions may leave many bread bowls half-eaten and burger-loving stomachs partially sated.  In general, food that requires a serving utensil are good, and food that is taken whole is suspect.

Third, your meal should be okay if left to sit for an hour or more. Between transportation, late arrivals, and general merriment, it can often be a long wait before your dish gets eaten, and that shouldn’t be a problem. I myself have failed this test many times, and although I feel industrious cooking while others are chatting, it’s a bummer to not be involved in the party that a potluck is. So, things that can get cold and can’t be revived by the microwave, such as most things crispy or a lot of meat, may not turn out very well by serving. You’ll get sympathy for your meal, but wouldn’t you rather have a delicious dish. The rules here obviously vary, depending on what the kitchen situation is at the potluck location. Most salads are fine if plopped in the fridge, it’s usually not a problem to bake something on the spot (as long as it doesn’t require too much checking), and soups can be kept at a simmer.

So those were a lot of rules, and I haven’t given you many good choices. Here are a few that I think work well:

  • just about any cold salad. Leave the nuts, other toppings, and salad dressing to mix in just before serving
  • soups and stews. You’re supposed to let them sit anyways, and most can be warmed on the stove or nuked at the last minute
  • cookies. I’ve found that by dessert, most people are usually stuffed, and cookies are a small enough offering that everyone will take at least 1
  • do it yourself foods of any variety. Offloading cooking to the consumer makes your life easier, allows everyone to customize as they desire, and usually means that the components can be left to sit for awhile beforehand

Happy potlucking!

Appreciating the Best

This past Friday, I went with the Zanbato team up to San Francisco for a sendoff dinner for Mark, who will be headed off to Africa. Partying isn’t quite my domain, much less heading up to the city to do it. The real lure for me to see Mark off instead of just being extra-nice to him on his last day at the office was the opportunity to go to Tony’s Pizza Napolenta. Tony himself is a world champion pizza dough tosser several times over, and Tony’s Pizza is among the contenders for the best pizza in the country. They have different ovens for different styles of pizza, get their ingredients from the most authentic sources, and feature the Neapolitan pizza, the pinnacle of pizza-ness for the pizza connoisseur.

It was good. With a large party, we got 6 different types of pizzas and got to sample some of each. Our order included Neapolitan pizza (Margherita), New York pizza, St. Louis Pizza, California pizza (“Fear & Loathing”), classic Italian pizza (“Cal Italia”), and the “original pie with cheese”. The styles were unmistakably different, and I liked some better than others. My favorites ended up being the simplest pizzas, which is somewhat surprising given my usual preference for loading up American, delivery-style pizza with every possible topping. Having never had a Neapolitan pizza before, however, I now wonder whether I was appreciating the “country’s best” or the “Neapolitan” part of it.

It’s natural for us to seek out the best, most acclaimed in everything that we can get, assuming the opportunity cost is small. I would rather see “The Producers” on Broadway instead of by the local high school drama club. I would rather drive a 2010 Camry instead of a 2005 Camry. I would rather eat at the 4-star Thai restaurant instead of the 3-star Thai restaurant. In all of these cases, there appears to be a better choice by general consensus. Even more, I don’t know if I would really know the difference in any of these cases.

In any domain, general or specific, there’s a learning curve to the details, and many subtleties are only learned through experience. Over time, whether through explicit or implicit learning, we gradually acquaint ourselves with the domain, and that opens us up to a different kind of experience. Even so, we often are attracted to things beyond our understanding at the time. Let me give a few examples in different circumstances of what I mean.

Last year I went to a public lecture by Terence Tao. He’s a Fields Medal winner and therefore one of the most talented mathematicians today. His lecture happened to be about the history of our understanding of the universe, which was very interesting, but frankly had nothing to do with his professional career (he admitted that it was just a side interest for him). Although the content was very interesting, it didn’t take a foremost mathematician to give the lecture, and yet, I’m certain I have missed many other opportunities for similar material by someone far less prominent. He actually also gave a separate lecture to the math department, where he explored ideas within his specialty: there’s no way I would’ve been able to make anything of that.

I have also gone to see the San Francisco Symphony on a few occasions, which I am able to appreciate slightly more from my musical history from high school. On those trips, I would gone both with long-time classical music buffs as well as very non-musical people. For them, it was an enjoyable experience with some exciting, not obviously flawed music. It was fun. For myself, I could hear the things that went well and not so well for the performers and could appreciate the talent of a professional orchestra above my high school orchestra. I’m not sure that everyone could’ve made that distinction.

I play racquetball fairly regularly, and I have also tried to introduce the game to many of my friends. I have my own racquet, which is fairly good: it doesn’t vibrate too much when I hit the ball, and it can deliver a pretty good amount of power. Although I’m happy to lend it to others to others to use, it doesn’t really help inexperienced players to even up the game. Without the skills learned through extensive play, the racquet performs roughly as well as much cheaper loaners that they can get from the gym.

At this point, I’ve gotten fairly far from my original point about pizza, but I think it’s a curious paradox about how we orient ourselves to these situations of inexperience. On the one hand, it inevitably leads us to preferences beyond our understanding to appreciate, but that itself a product of our reliance on others in situations that we don’t understand. Put more concretely, I can figure out what are the better Chinese restaurants around without someone else telling me: with a stomach large enough, I can find out for myself, eventually. I do, however, need someone to tell me what the best sushi place in town is, because of and despite my ability to tell a difference.

So what does it matter? I can think of a few upsides to this confusing situation. First, we can be attracted to new things because of the prominence of the best. I was excited to hear that “Avenue Q” was being performed at the Orpheum up in San Francisco and probably wouldn’t have been about Palo Alto High School doing the same. Add that as one more step in slowly learning about the world of theater. Second, it overcomes more pragmatic concerns about the breadth of discovery, even for the knowledgeable. Although I could play every computer role-playing game released in the past 10 years to find out which is the best, I can rely on reviews to find out which are the best ones to actually spend my limited time on. Finally, it gives recognition to excellence in a field, presumably by those who understand it.

Bringing a lot of rambling thoughts back to pizza, I wonder whether I’ve ruined Neapolitan pizzas for myself forever by having one of the best in the country first. Were I to know notice the difference, I won’t ever be able to find anything as good anywhere else. I hope that instead, I gorge my way through many more pizzas to come, enjoying each as I slowly develop the sense to appreciate the delicious subtleties that I can’t miss for having never experienced them.

Christmas Cooking with the Leungs

Merry Belated Christmas, Happy New Year in advance, and Happy Holidays as a catch-all! Here at the Leung family estate, being all together means a few things: whining, bickering, accusing, and, most importantly, cooking. Often all at the same time. Over each other. It’s quite an enlivening experience once you get used to it.

But Christmas is extra-special, because we put extra planning into everything: my mom coordinates all of the gifts, my mom determines what we’re going to cook for her birthday (often celebrated along with Christmas since they’re close and we’re all home), my mom makes sure that the house is organized for all of our arrival, and we all dredge up old stories to jab each other with. This particular Christmas, we all have our own kitchens to stock, so my mom appears to have amassed a huge pile of on-sale kitchen gadgets from which we can all snatch what we need. My haul was particularly good:

But moving past my obsession with containers and random gadgets, let’s focus on what we actually cooked up on Christmas. And all pictures are credited to the Zanbato iPad, which at least takes better pictures than my phone.

When it came time for planning our contributions to cooking for my mom, I was politely asked, “What are you doing?” I shrugged and offered up my services anywhere they were wanted, but my mom threw me a bone and said, “I liked the bagels you made last year.” That might make her the exception, as they were universally regarded as too salty and a little small and not fluffy, but I accept any low standards that I manage to set for myself. It makes it more difficult for people to be disappointed in the future. At the recommendation of Lisa’s Jewish boyfriend Matt, I looked specifically for a kosher bagel recipe, which I found here.

The recipe called for far too little flour, and I ended up adding close to another cup of flour to get the consistency of the dough right. It also calls for very large pieces of dough for each bagel. I made them much larger than last time, but not quite as big as recommended. I think I got the size just about right.

This recipe said to put the bagels in hot but not boiling water as well. I’m not entirely sure if this is correct, but at least they floated this time. The dough also rose more at each stage (resting, boiling, and baking).

The tops of the bagel browned up quite nicely after setting the oven to broil for the last 2 or 3 minutes of baking. The consistency is a little funny, which I think has to do with how I rolled out the individual bagels. You’ll note that there aren’t any toppings on it. In my excitement, I somehow ignored the etymology of “toppings” and got the notion that the bagels would work better if I had the toppings on the bottom where it would be pressed into the bagel more.

The bottom looks a little gross, but it ended up being delicious. They got a crispy side that beats any baking I’ve ever done, and it ended up being quite a success. Like many of my creations, they don’t look perfect, but the usual criticism ended there. We fortunately had some lox in the fridge, and they made a nice lunch before we started baking.

The menu for dinner ended up not being nearly as extensive as it has been in the past, but we didn’t need more food with stacks of leftovers in the fridge and more in our tummies from bagels and snacking. Nicole headed up the shrimp ravioli made entirely from scratch. I beheaded some of the largest, ugliest shrimp I had ever seen, and she made and rolled out the pasta by hand. It sounds like it was a lot of work.

The ravioli were quite large, but Nicole managed to dole out all of the shrimp filling, so it worked out. I guess this is preferable to ravioli without enough pasta around the edges that might burst. The recipe didn’t make a lot of sauce, but it made enough to coat all of the ravioli, of which it was difficult to eat more than 1 or 2 because of the size.

We had about an extra 1/2 pound of shrimp, so Lisa used that to make some Greek shrimp. Unfortunately, mint didn’t quite make it onto the shopping list, but it still ended up being pretty tasty, even if there wasn’t quite enough shrimp. She ended up slicing them in half, which worked because with the huge shrimp we had, this meant that we still had 8 pretty meaty halves.

To fill out the rest of the meal, we also had a few crackers with some very ripe brie and leftover cranberry sauce:

some asparagus:

and a simple salad. The most exciting part of the salad, from my perspective, was the avocado we used. I carried it back with me from California in my luggage after Julie and I picked it off of a tree at Stanford. We were worried that we picked it too soon, but it ripened nicely. The inside was bright green, soft, and juicy:

The other big effort was in making the birthday cake. My mom wanted something not too sweet and relatively light so that it wouldn’t languish in the fridge for a long time like the rest of our leftovers. It took a good portion of a car ride for her to describe a fruity cake, which was essentially the fruit tart we had always done, except with a sponge cake on the bottom instead of a crust. Why we couldn’t have just done the crust we’ve always done is beyond me, but I don’t do any planning.

The recipe we found for it turned out to be a vegan recipe, which we only realized after Lisa made the cake, and we started the custard, all without using eggs. Quick tip: if there aren’t any eggs in it, it’s not custard. Anything pretending to be is suspect, and by suspect, I mean probably bad. While I was stirring the custard, we tried a bit, and it wasn’t very good. Lisa made a game-time decision and tossed that custard down the drain and started again with a real custard. Better success followed.

Although it’s probably not the fruit cake you’re thinking of around Christmas time, it ended up being pretty good. The cake had an interesting (but not bad) consistency and definitely held its lime. The custard was as delicious as you might expect, and the array of fruit all worked pretty well.

I hope you saw something that you liked!

Dealing with Green Bean Casserole Leftovers

While most of you are likely coming out of food comas the day after Thanksgiving and trying to figure out what you’ll do with the uneaten parts of your feast, I have a headstart eating my leftovers before Thanksgiving. Since most of my friends were heading home to do traditional Thanksgiving dinners, we decided to have a “mixed-up Thanksgiving” potluck last Friday where we took traditional dishes and reallocated them. The menu included a fruity cider, cranberry salsa, Turkish pumpkin soup, turkey wraps, bread pudding, chocolate chip cookies, cranberry pumpkin cookies, and Julie’s and my contribution, green bean casserole pie.

I recently discovered how much I enjoy green bean casserole. I don’t remember it ever being on the family menu, but tender beans, creamy mushroom sauce, and crispy fried onions are just perfectly delicious. Putting it in a pie may sound strange, but in retrospect, it’s similar to a very similar chicken pot pie, where you replace all of the chicken and vegetables with green beans. We ended up scrambling to get it baked in time, but Julie showed off her pie-making skills again and made a flaky crust for the casserole.

Well, most of it. Unfortunately, the recipe for casserole made far more than fit into the pie, and without another Thanksgiving dinner for me, I needed to figure out how to down the rest of it.

The first night just mixed it with leftover rice, but the next, I found some inspiration online for creative uses for leftovers. The green bean casserole pasta sounded good, so I got some water boiling for spaghetti, then took a look in the fridge for the rest.

Fortunately, I had gone to the grocery store earlier that morning and picked up a few roma tomatoes. I had intended to get a beefsteak tomato for my sandwiches, but they were in awful condition: maybe it was a sign. I chopped one of those, a large garlic clove, and some onions as the extra kick for the casserole.

From there, it all kind of came together. Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil with some red pepper flakes, toss in the casserole and tomato to warm it up, and top it with some parmesan.

In retrospect, this also should’ve been a pretty easy call. Lots of casseroles have egg noodles or pasta, and pasta is delicious with cream sauces.

I mentioned earlier that my friends had left town while I didn’t, and you might be wondering how my Thanksgiving went. It went very well, thanks. I sat here on my couch, watching Texas-Texas A&M and eating macaroni and cheese from a box with peas, carrots, and avocado, just like my Thanksgiving last year.

You make your own traditions.