Reflections on a Refrigerator Soup

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Terrible things can happen when a wife leaves her husband alone for a day or three, particularly during the holiday season. Wild parties at the house. Roistering and carousing. Music night and day, strangers parading thru the house, trampling the gardens and breaking the furniture. Truckloads of wild young women, on the prowl. A never-ending bacchanalia of pagan celebration!

Worst of all, tho- and I confess myself to be deeply immersed in this strangest of heathen rituals- is the bizarre culinary experimentation performed in the stygian depths of deranged quasi-bachelor laboratories; i.e., the crockpot.

You see, it happens every year that Thanksgiving, seemingly the healthiest of main-stream religious and secular holidays, gives rise to untold horrors. No, I am not talking about dysfunctional family stories, how Uncle Ted got drunk and smashed the chandelier, or Aunt Susan and Cousin Meg wound up not speaking. These are relatively benign and trivial compared to the annual perversity which infects my poor fevered brain- Refrigerator Soup.

Don’t laugh. It can happen in the most decent of households. Just look in your own refrigerator. Do you not see the plastic containers with their partial loads of green beans, sweet potatoes, ham, onions, turkey, casserole, peas, carrots, dressing, etc? Surely you mean to do something with them, eventually, right? Give them to the homeless or something. Leave them there until they mold, at least. Right?

Well, let me tell you my own sad story, that you may avoid the road to culinary perdition that I have trodden.

As it happens, I am among the poorest of cooks. All of those wonderful dishes whose remains wound up on the shelves of the refrigerator? I did not create them. I have always been clever enough to insinuate myself into social circles which include wonderful cooks and chefs. It is a talent I am proud of. Take one look at me and you will realize I have readily managed to avoid starvation, in spite of my own lack of cooking skills.

However, sometimes my nefarious schemes fail, and I am forced to rely on my own devices. Fortunately, modern technology has provided the means for me to avoid malnutrition, as long as there are leftovers anywhere within scavenging range. I may be brutish and ignorant, but that does not mean I am wholly without resources.

In the first instance, there is the microwave oven. I take great pride in saying that there is no one who exceeds me in the ability to nuke leftovers. Certainly, some will denigrate this claim, saying that anyone can put a container in and push a button. This may be true, but I will point out that there is not a single soul on earth who exceeds me in this ability. Not one.

Of course, even this stratagem eventually gives out, leaving me to face the fact that I must resort to the basest of devices to stretch out my miserable existence on the planet- the Crock-Pot. Now, I am aware that a great many very good cooks use this tool as a part of their arsenal, but for me it takes on a twisted, depraved aspect. No roasts or creamed gravies for me. No, I must indulge my penchant for that lowliest of dishes, refrigerator soup. Readers of a delicate mien may wish to stop reading at this point; I warn you that graphic descriptions will follow.

Here is my recipe: first get out the Crock-Pot. It’s hidden here somewhere; that woman who comes around here and feeds me sometimes and cleans things up has hidden it somewhere. Aha! I always manage to find it, no matter how cleverly she has stowed it away in some secret cupboard or occult compartment.

Next, I open the refrigerator and take out all those little plastic containers with their oddments of leftover food bits. Using the largest, wickedest-looking knife I can find, I chop those hapless morsels into bite-size pieces. Then I slide them into the Crock-Pot, heedless of type, sort or proper order, and cover them with water. Add a few random herbs and spices- this is where it can get really weird- and turn on the Crock-Pot to high.

I must digress a bit. I have learned through bitter experience that there are certain things which will just not do. Cranberries and raisins do not belong in soups. Probably bananas and apples are a bad idea, too. Certain spices are dangerous, notable chili, cayenne and curry. Many liquids make bad substitutes for water; gravy is fine, but fruit juices, milk, coffee and sparkling ciders are not. A little bit of wine is OK. Live amphibians are to be avoided.

Now that this thoughtlessly-assembled mess has been carelessly thrown together into the cauldron- I mean Crock-Pot- it is time to practice that most unfortunate of virtues: patience. With a level of maturity befitting my advanced years, I am able to wait for long periods of time, sometimes up to an hour. It is fortunate that the various oddities with which I have concocted this soup have already been cooked, or I might lose patience and begin roaming the woods in search of innocent creatures to devour.

But no! That will not be necessary. In no time at all, the soup is done, and I can eat! I ladle some of the soup into a bowl and dig in. It is fortunate that they have recently taught me how to use utensils, as spoons work much better for this than fingers. You might think that what I have described would be a disgusting mess, but no, it is unerringly delicious! I take full credit for this, in spite of the fact that all of the elements of the soup were previously prepared by others who actually knew what the were doing.

So, now that the fundamental needs of animal existence have been fulfilled, the higher elements of consciousness begin to function. Dimly, I start to become aware of my surroundings, and to actually think. This is not as painful as it sounds. With a full belly, I can ratiocinate for minutes at a time, and learn from my environment, in a limited fashion.

For instance, I notice that year after year, there plenty of yams, or sweet potatoes, or whatever you call those yellow tuberous things, but the regular potatoes have all been eaten. Every Thanksgiving I hear people loudly proclaiming how much they love yams, and how much they look forward to them, but every year there are lots of them left over for the soup. Perhaps this is some sort of secret ritualistic litany, or perhaps it is indicative of widespread hypocrisy or self-delusion. I cannot tell.

At any rate, there are always plenty of yams. Likewise the green vegetables. But the ham, now, well, that’s a different subject. Ham is an important part of the soup, and it is always in short supply, but it seems I can always find a little bit of it, hidden in large plastic bags among the leftover turkey parts. Turkey, of course, is in abundant supply. Among my other incredibly astute observations is the fact that turkeys are really good to eat, and ought to be on the menu at other times of year, as well. Neither I nor anyone else ever follows up on this observation, but it annually penetrates even my dense cranium.

This Thanksgiving season, I have made another observation. This seems to be happening more frequently of late. Sometimes now, I notice more than one thing a year. There seems to be nothing I can do to prevent it. At any rate, what I have noticed is this: the plastic containers have multiplied! Apparently, they have also hybridized, and the hybrids appear to be fertile, giving rise to even more varieties. This is contrary to what I was taught in biology, but the status of knowledge may have changed since the Middle Ages.

So now there is a quandary; what to do with all these Tupperware and Rubbermaid and Whatnot brand containers. Each is apparently unique, unlike any other container in the cupboard. The do not nest together, nor stack properly. They are of infinitely varied sizes, shapes and aspects. This is true both of the containers which have emerged from the refrigerator and of those lurking in the hidden depths of the most inaccessible drawers in the house. None of them fit together! I cannot squish them into place, nor shove any more into the drawer, nor find any empty hidden drawers which are not already crammed with plastic containers.

For awhile, I was frantic. There seemed to be no solution to this problem. But then it hit me. Aha! I can take all of this soup- there is a great deal, more than I can eat- and put it back into the containers. Then I can put the containers back into the refrigerator, where they ought to fit, right?

What a clever fellow I are!

James Montgomery
James Montgomery calls himself a broken-down logger/garbageman who went back to school, got a law degree, and worked as a nonprofit administrator, before retiring. His interests include hiking, fishing, computers, kayaking, hunting and writing. He is now serving as president of the board of directors of Empire Recovery Center.
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20 Responses

  1. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    When left alone I would starve if not for McDonalds.

  2. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    I enjoy cooking and do the majority of the kitchen work under our roof. Last night the main dish was a relatively simple spaghetti with meatballs made from Italian sausage (Furnari), but I get credit for making the sauce from scratch.

    I’ve never mastered the art of cooking for one—even cooking for two, there are generally plenty of leftovers. So when my wife is out of town, I often fall back on a NY steak on the grill, some veggies in the grill basket, a dinner salad. It’s lazy, but at least I don’t end up cooking for four and eating for two.

    • Avatar James Montgomery says:

      I have never minded eating for two. Everyone should do what they do best, and I have always been particularly good at eating. When I was younger, I was considered a genius in the field.

  3. Avatar Eleanor Townsend says:

    Very funny, James, and well-written. Somehow, I suspect it’s also true, don’t think you could make up that much fine detail! And you’re right about the yams. Is anyone else fed up with people talking about sweet potatoes? I know I YAM! (a Thanksgiving joke. Every. Single. Year.)

  4. Avatar Milo Johnson says:

    James left out an entire paragraph about a major problem with all those plastic containers: the lids! Once a lid gets separated from its mate, they almost never find themselves together again. We have one full, low cupboard filled with containers and lids. Even pulling most of the contents out onto the kitchen floor is seldom successful in finding the right lid for the container that you have already filled with the leftover stew.

    I am pleased to announce that I have discovered an alternate solution. As a child of the 1950s, I grew up in the plastic generation. As we grew up, we got to experience almost every produced article in our lives as it was converted from some traditional material like glass, metal and wood, into some type of plastic. Plastic wrap, which we call Saran Wrap, regardless of who makes it, has been a staple in the kitchen ever since I was a boy. It is handy stuff. It works well enough for some tasks, and not so well for others. But I am sure that over the years most of us have used miles of the stuff.

    Now, here is my recent discovery that I am pleased to share, assuming that I am not the last person around to have stumbled on to this product. The Glad company has a product that is called “Press”N Seal”. It comes on a tear-off roll like other plastic wrap, but its performance takes plastic wrap to a whole new level. It has just a bit of stickiness to it that when applied over a container with just a little bit of stretch, it instantly and effortlessly creates an airtight seal and water-tight seal and grips the container with true tenacity. And it is approved to go straight in to the microwave for spatter-free nuking of your leftovers without melting the wrap. For me, this is a tremendous advancement over the traditional plastic wraps of the past. Dealing with leftovers has become much easier for me since I made this discovery. This product is actually fun to use. Bring on the refrigerator soup!

    • Avatar James Montgomery says:

      Oh, so that’s the secret. I have just been approaching it as one of those IQ puzzles, where if you push hard enough, you can make any lid fit any container, more or less. I have long realized that the square peg WILL FIT in the round hole, if you push hard enough.

  5. Avatar Richard Christoph says:

    James, though your cooking may be less than optimal, your writing is delicious. Thanks for a fine story and know that we miss having you in our neighborhood.

  6. Avatar Alice Bell says:

    James, you have somewhat diminished my appetite for eating which, at this point in the prime overeating season, is probably a good thing. My husband, who has similar cooking expertise as you seem to have, suggests adding Tabasco sauce to any leftovers makes them much more palatable, although he thinks he may try your recipe for refrigerator soup sometime in the future when I’m gone for a few days.

  7. Avatar Alice Bell says:

    …cooking…, not cooing although he does that too.

    • Avatar James Montgomery says:

      I also have quite a bit of cooing expertise, actually. That is one of my secrets of getting others to feed me.
      I love your word “dismished!” I am totally going to use that in everyday conversation. Too cool.

    • I fixed the cooing word, but left the other parts of the thread alone, because they’re funny.

  8. Avatar Dana says:

    Loved it! I can picture you in my mind doing it all! You’re right the containers do seem to multiple and without the right lids. The lids must go to where all of the missing socks from the washer go

    • Avatar James Montgomery says:

      When Darlene and I first put our combined family together, 3 kids and a new house, and us as formerly single parents, pandemonium abounded. We had a special cardboard box marked, “Socks Without Partners.”

  9. Oh, James, such a funny piece! Thank you.

    I confess, your concoction doesn’t sound very appetizing to me, but if you say it’s good, I believe you.

    p.s. I love yams!