The freezer is full and the whole place reeks of cumin and coriander. I have six bags of turkey curry in the bottom drawer. This was leftover turkey curry leftover from the Boxing Day dinner with friends. The 'How to Freeze' advise I sought on the web stressed it was important to put dates on the freezer bags. I could not find a suitable pen and thought: "Am I really going to forget when I stuck a leftover turkey curry in here?" I was not in London in December 2006. The buy-one-get-one-free bags of clementines have been peeled and bagged too (second shelf). Ditto the special offer smoked salmon (top shelf).
I had to let one of the sprigs of fresh brussel sprouts leave with my best friends. The sprouts were delicious, grown by my stepfather on his allotment, but I could not see us eating another 50 or so in the next few days. Weeks even. I have no idea what he put on them but they had stood in a corner and no matter how many I pulled off they seemed to reproduce. I have sent my mother off with some eggs, tomatoes and, very generously, a half-eaten chocolate Christmas log which was in any case her birthday cake and is dotted with candle holes and specks of wax. The foie gras my mother-in-law brought is still in the fridge. The French were going to take it with them when the left, but forgot. They also left the rounds of turkey and tomato sandwiches I made them to eat on the Eurostar. "Thanks a lot," I told my apologetic husband when he called. "Now cold turkey which could have gone into curry is sitting between slices of bread cluttering up another shelf and I'm going to have to throw them away." This always makes me feel guilty.
My mother-in-law, whom my husband considers to be "a saint", caught my hand hovering over the dustbin with a out-of-date loaf of sliced bread. The French have a quasi-religious regard for bread. In some homes they still make the sign of the cross with the knife over a baguette before hacking into it. (English visitors should also be aware of the sin of prematurely cutting or wrenching off the other end of a stick that is already started.) I looked at the plastic-wrapped industrial loaf in my hand. It was hardly worthy of worship but I shoved it back in the cupboard anyway. Then on Christmas Day she gave a 'there-are-people-dying-for-the-want-of-that' look as I went to shovel the leftover brussel sprouts into the bin. I have never bought into this particular parental guilt trip. Ever since I was a child and was asked to consider the plight of wide-eyed Biafran youngsters with their balooning empty bellies I have failed to understand how eating up something will help the starving of Africa or, conversely, not eating it harm them. Not buying it in the first place, perhaps, but not eating it? Saint or not, I gave my mother-in-law a look back that said: "Nobody on this continent is going to be saved from expiring by my soggy greens and they'll be green of a different kind by the time I despatch them to Africa."
Now I have to deal with the box of handmade Belgian chocolates my mother-in-law also brought over. I will not call them a problem - that would be spoiled and ungrateful - but while After Eights and Quality Street appear every December like the Ghosts of Christmas Past, hugely calorific Belgian chocolates made with fresh cream do not keep from one year to another. They barely keep from one month to another. I tend not to have chocolate in the place anyway on the basis that if I do, I eat it and wear it (I might just as well slap the praline straight on my thighs and be done with it). Like the soggy sprouts I do not think they are suitable fare for the starving but it seems too spoiled and wasteful to consign such extravagance to the dustbin. I am resigned to living with them in the fridge chorusing "Eat me, eat me" every time the light goes on.
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