Mixed Feelings (Sentimientos Encontrados)

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m currently studying in Madrid, Spain! The culture is fascinating, the city is incredible, the people are wonderful, and the food is fantastic. In addition to offering delicious dishes such as paella and croquetas, the country’s food culture hinges on generosity and hospitality, best demonstrated by the customs of menus del día and tapas. Tapas are so famous that they probably don’t need explaining, but, just to reiterate: they are small plates of finger food that come free with any purchase of wine or beer in most Spanish bars or eateries. The foods can range from simple figs or pitted olives to croquetas (fried dough balls filled with béchamel, cheese, and/or ham) or patatas bravas (potato wedges in spicy sauce). Tapas are available basically any time after breakfast, whereas menus del día are traditionally lunch specials – though many places offer them at dinner, too, to appeal to tourists who are used to larger dinners than lunches. The menu del día (“menu of the day”) is a three course meal for €10-12 consisting of a starter, main course, dessert, and beverage. In addition to choosing the elements of your meal from a short list of options, you will typically receive bread and, if you ordered alcohol, tapas. All in all, Spain makes it easy to find a satisfying meal for a low price.

Spain mixedThe limited-budget college student side of me loves all of the free food that accompanies minimal purchases, but I cringe internally whenever I see a waiter take a way a platter of unfinished or wholly untouched tapas. You have to approach your meals anticipating to consume more than what you actually order, or else there will be a lot of leftovers. While I was happy to see one family doggy-bagging their dinner remnants on my very first night here, I think that taking tapas or bread home is frowned upon as greedy or desperate since the foods are so small and, technically, free. It’s a shame that there seems to be a cultural hypocrisy in this country that celebrates food as a social instrument but in doing so enables a lot of it to go to waste. Solidarity fridges have emerged in some cities to allow individuals and restaurants alike to make unwanted leftovers available to the public, but unfortunately that tends not to include plate waste, aka food that has been served and partially eaten. While I understand all of the health and hygiene arguments against sharing ‘touched’ food, I can’t help being frustrated by it.

DSC00779editI was able to get a little peace of mind from the fact that Spain only wastes 2% of the food it annually produces, according to Eurostat data from 2006. However, the fact that this waste still constitutes over 7,695,000 tonnes of food (44% of which comes from sectors other than households or manufacturing) is disheartening and says something about just how much food Western countries produce. I would also be curious to see data on what percentage of Spain’s annual food waste is solely tapas, but an investigation of that nature seems virtually impossible to administer.

Hasta luego,


Don’t Waste – It’s Thanksgiving!

The Spirit of Thanksgiving: Don’t Waste Those Leftovers

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 1.39.56 PMIf you’re American, live in the United States, or are aware of American culture to any degree, you know that Thanksgiving is a mere two days away. Distant relatives and friends are excited to come together to share a huge, delectable meal in celebration of the founding of the US (controversy aside) and, much more importantly, in recognition of what we have to be grateful for. Do we truly appreciate all that we have, though? I’m not so sure.

Somewhere between one-third and half of all of food produced in the US goes to waste. This translates to around 34 million tons of discarded food per year, in which each American is responsible for at least 200 pounds of annual food waste. Meanwhile, over 49 million Americans experience food insecurity: an insufficient or lack of reliable access to food. Not only do Americans not value all the food at their disposal, but heaps of food that is shamelessly, largely unknowingly, thrown away could be put to greater use feeding people in need. The sad truth behind Thanksgiving is that people feel obliged by tradition to express how thankful they are for their meal, but most are ignorant of humbling facts on food waste and insecurity.

The holiday teaches us that a way to show appreciation is through mass-consumption, buying and eating all that we can simply because we can. This seems entirely backwards, considering that value is derived from scarcity. But, on the other hand, at least the whole idea of reflecting and ‘giving thanks’ is emphasized. In other words, it feels wrong to celebrate humility with excess, but at least people are being reminded, albeit superficially, to be grateful when they might not otherwise count their blessings.

If this seems confusing, it’s because it is; Thanksgiving is quite paradoxical. So, rather than weighing the rights and wrongs of celebration, the easiest ethical way to approach the holiday is to minimize waste. Someone truly thankful for food should know better than to throw it out. The tradition of serving gravy already enables cooks to save meat drippings that would otherwise be wasted and put them to a tasty use. Vegetable juices and scraps can also imbue other dishes with flavors, such as when stuffing a turkey. What poses the biggest challenge to many families, however, is the notion of leftovers. I personally love mixing bits of all of the Thanksgiving leftovers together on a plate, but many people are put-off by the idea of eating ‘remnants’ or simply tire of having the same meal over and over again. In the same spirit as last week’s vegetarian post, I decided to compile another recipe list – this time, creative re-workings of some common Thanksgiving remnants.

Miscellaneous Leftovers

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 1.39.42 PM1. Sandwiches and wraps.
The simplest leftovers solution: pile as much as you want of whatever you want on a couple slices of bread or in a tortilla. For example, you could drizzle gravy on one side of a slice of bread, smear on some mashed potatoes, add a few green beans and some turkey, drizzle one side of another bread with cranberry sauce, and sandwich everything together. Feel free to also add other ingredients from your kitchen, such as using cheese for a turkey quesadilla.

2. Crostini.
Cut up some baguette and top the slices with whatever leftovers you like to make dainty appetizers.

3. Salad.
Pairing any leftovers with leafy greens will alleviate some of the post-feast guilt.

4. Pizza.
Swap tomato sauce for cranberry (or gravy) and toss whatever else you’d like on a pizza crust.

Mashed Potatoes

1. Loaded Mashed Potato Cups.
Use puff pastry or Pillsbury dough to make adorable tartlets filled with mashed potatoes and typical baked potato toppings.

2. Potato Pancakes.
Soft, fluffy, and cheesy latke variants. These are closest to American buttermilk pancakes.

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 1.40.10 PM3. Mashed Potato, Cheddar, and Chive Waffles.
Transform your potatoes into a comforting weekend brunch.


Muffins: Mix the remaining stuffing with an egg or two, fill it into a muffin pan, and bake at 300°F for 20-25 minutes to make a nice batch of snacks.


1. Croutons.
Cube the bread, drizzle it with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, or other desired spices (such as rosemary), and bake on a cooking sheet at 400°F for 15 minutes. They will keep well for a couple weeks and spice up any salads.

2. French toast.
Slice the bread and soak it in a mixture of eggs, milk, and any desired spices (such as nutmeg and cinnamon) overnight, then cook it in a pan the next morning for a sweet breakfast.

3. Bread pudding.
There are thousands of other bread pudding recipes that are also great for leftover bread, but this one will also help take care of those leftover sweet potatoes.

Let’s really show how thankful we are for our food by not wasting it!