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My favorite ingredients are the little bits everyone else throws away

Using the last bits — even the stuck on stuff — is infinitely satisfying. (Deb Lindsey /For The Washington Post)

“I saved this in case you want to use it for something,” my husband, Braeden, says multiple times a week. Sometimes he’s holding a jar of honey, empty save for the sticky bits clinging to the sides. Other days it’s a bottle of barbecue sauce with an infuriating amount left at the bottom that refuses to squeeze out. Sure, we could rinse and recycle the jars and bottles, like normal people, but instead I’ll add a dab of mustard, a little oil and some vinegar to the honey jar, shake it all up, and voila: I’ve made salad dressing. That barbecue residue? When combined with some vinegar, it makes a mighty fine glaze for chicken.

I love to use the last bits of things. In a kitchen with cupboards crammed full of random spices and obscure mustards — plus a refrigerator whose shelves are organized mostly by condiment type — finishing an ingredient is my version of an Olympic sport. (Bonus points if multiple things are combined into one meal, obviously.)

But it’s not only the satisfaction of finally kicking a jar of sauce; it’s also the feeling that I’m using what I’ve got to its fullest potential. To that end, my freezer is full of zip-top bags stuffed with kale stems and mushroom scraps and chicken carcasses. It’s like I’m channeling Tamar Adler in her 2011 book, “An Everlasting Meal,” (“Meals’ ingredients must be allowed to topple into one another like dominos”), but also Carl Weathers in “Arrested Development,” Season 1: “There’s still plenty of meat on that bone. Now you take this home, throw it in a pot, add some broth, a potato. Baby, you got a stew going.” This squirreling away feels at the same time exhilarating (I’m saving money and have a well-stocked pantry!) and ridiculous (I’m asking the waiter to pack up the chicken bones!). But love is love, you know?

A few months ago, Braeden came home with a catering-size tub of tortellini salad. It was leftover from an office function, and had he not intervened, it was destined for the trash. We snacked on some that weekend, picked out all the arugula so it wouldn’t go slimy, and stashed the rest in the freezer. Every time we break off a chunk, we marvel at our resourcefulness and the fact that warmed-up tortellini salad is actually really delicious when it’s smothered in sauce or nestled in tomato soup. “And just think, this would’ve been thrown away!” he says.

True love.


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