Food is at the cornerstone of any celebration or commemoration, across every culture. When we make plans with friends or family it often revolves around food and we use it to show generosity and thought. Cooking for somebody can be an act of love, seduction or service. It follows then, that leftovers act as a way of pressing a little piece of kindness into the palms of each visitor, as a departing gift. It is the adult equivalent of a party bag: we leave a loved one’s home with a small token of a day spent well, in good company.
It can look like this — carefully, cake or dessert is wrapped and handed over in a trusty Tupperware container, as everyone knows our family’s penchant for sweet treats. The following day, my children are excited: the prospect of a decadent dessert is a tantalising one and when the foil is removed from a piece of chocolate cheesecake, their eyes light up as the rich scent of cocoa hits us all. As they tuck in, I too bite into thoughtfulness — a reminder of the happiness shared yesterday, as a piece of lovingly crafted dessert floods my mouth with sweetness. Chocolate flakes cover soft, creamy chocolate filling and the crunchy, biscuit base perfectly rounds off the taste and texture sensation.
On occasion, we bring home huge hunks of birthday cake, fondant icing delicately placed over a tenderly baked sponge. After a child’s birthday party there are usually sweets or garish decorations adorning the top of the cake, a little something extra to ramp up the novelty factor and personalise the confectionery. I make a cup of tea the next afternoon and in the aftermath of a party I enjoy a moment of pause as I lift a comforting slice of familiarity to my lips, savouring the taste of celebration. With a mouth full of cake crumbs I could be four again, stuffing my face at a sibling’s birthday party. This is a flavour which will follow me throughout life. I wash it down with strong tea and the sugar and caffeine kick are a little luxury, allowing me to continue my day with more energy and enthusiasm.
It is heart-warming to be the leftover gift giver, too. A tiny act of generosity which I hope instils a sense of reciprocity in my guests, a nod to the appreciation I feel for them sharing meals with us. Even if it’s as simple as a sandwich or cookie, to know I have passed on a small offering makes me happy. I hope it provides a little bit of ease or pleasure to somebody the next day, that it can eke out the joyful memories just a touch longer. I hand them over with cuddles and promises of doing this again soon, knowing how we all treasure these days together.
We are living in a culture where being self-sufficient and incomprehensibly busy seem to be what we all aim for, with social media constantly praising the hustle and preventing us from living life outside of our phones. It often feels as though everyone is spinning multiple plates, with endless demands on our time.
Essay/Article commissioned by: TDLM Editorial
Written by: Ellen Clayton
[Bio – Poet; Lancaster University; Theatre]
‘The Joys of Leftovers’ First Published in The Daily Life Magazine on September 22, 2023