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Food Porn: The true meaning of the holidays

Leftover Sammich

Yes, it's once more that time of year when we deck the halls, bust out the mistletoe,and prepare to trample to death our fellow human beings for a sweet deal on a flat screen TV.  Ah, the Holidays.  The prevailing sentiment of this season (or at least in theory), of course, is good cheer and charity and peace to all the people of the world.  Also, presents.  But for me, most importantly, the season is about food.  And not just any food.  It's about food that is designed for one very specific, express purpose:

Leftovers.

Take, for instance, my mother.  After raising and feeding three growing boys and my father (okay, so four boys), Mom never truly changed her sense of portion size, even once we'd all reached adulthood and sadly didn't have the metabolism and hence the prodigious appetite of high school athletes anymore.  The woman still cooks as though she's feeding a phalanx of starving boys, or in preparation for the forthcoming apocalypse, in which we'll have to rely solely on what food we have in the freezer.  So, for Thanksgiving this year, Mom prepared all our favorites: a trough of oyster dressing, a cauldron of mashed potatoes swimming in butter, forty kilos of green beans amandine, seventy-five hundred crescent rolls, an ocean of cranberry relish and, the coup de grace, a twenty pound roasted turkey.

There were four of us.  I think you can see my point.

And thus, there were leftovers, and thank the good almighty for that.  Whenever I think of holiday leftovers, I think to one of my favorite holiday movies of all time, A Christmas Story.  There are so many unforgettable moments in this film, it’s nearly impossible to choose a favorite scene.  For food purposes, though, A Christmas Story manages to provide elements of tragedy, comedy, and triumph.  In a movie moment that makes me cringe and shift in my seat, the family’s much anticipated and gloriously depicted Christmas turkey is knocked from the kitchen table and swiftly devoured by a marauding pack of neighborhood dogs. The mother weeps in shock, Dad lets forth a howling torrent of profanity directed at his next door neighbors and little Ralphie, our protagonist, experiences something close to existential dread at the thought of not just missing out on the Christmas feast itself, but also missing out on the myriad joys of leftover turkey:

The heavenly aroma still hung in the house. But it was gone, all gone! No turkey! No turkey sandwiches! No turkey salad! No turkey gravy! Turkey Hash! Turkey a la King! Or gallons of turkey soup! Gone, ALL GONE!

The paterfamilias won’t leave his family to starve on Christmas, of course, and takes his wife and children to the one place we Jews have long considered our Xmas refuge: the local Chinese restaurant. We watch as the family is hilariously serenaded by the waitstaff and presented with a beautiful, whole roasted duck. When father mentions that maybe it shouldn’t still have its head attached (“It’s…smiling at me,” he explains), the maitre de takes no time violently whacking the offending cranium off with a gigantic meat cleaver. These are fine moments not just because we identify with Ralphie’s loss – I still wince every time I see that gorgeous bird toppled over by slobbering mutts – but because it ends in the splendid, comedic joy of the family’s first “Chinese Christmas.”

That scene always gets me, but I've always identified most with little Ralphie's misery at the thought of not having any leftover turkey.  For me, the pinnacle, the ultimate apex of leftover dishes is, you might guess, the turkey sandwich.  With a little skill and effort, one can, in fact, have an entire Thanksgiving meal piled between two slices of bread, and it is a thing of such pure beauty and joy, I'll never in my life criticize my mother for cooking as though she's preparing a meal for a platoon of Spartan warriors on their way to the battle against incredible odds.  Who knows?  Maybe it was turkey sandwiches that really won the Battle of Thermopylae.

It wouldn't surprise me in the least.


Native New Orleans food writer Scott Gold, author of The Shameless Carnivore, has written for Gourmet, The New Orleans Advocate, Gambit, ThrillistEdible Brooklyn, Tasting Table, The Faster Times, and other publications. His Food Porn Friday column for NolaVie offers a weekly mouth-watering photo essay designed to start culinary conversations in the Big Easy. Find him on Twitter @scottgold.