“Mom, I promise I’ll eat the bananas.” Declan put two large bunches in the cart.

“Are you sure? That’s a lot of bananas.” He’s a picky eater, cycling through egg whites one week, apples the next, scoops of peanut butter–not sandwiches–alongside slices of home-baked bread. I vowed not to be one of “those moms” whose kids eat like freaks. The universe had other ideas.

“Listen, you vegetarian clean-eating no processed food eater…” it said, “Have I got the boy for you.”

That’s how I got Declan.

I gave him the benefit of the doubt concerning the fifteen bananas. Then the bananas sat, waiting to spawn fruit flies.

“That banana’s no good,” he said, returning it in his lunchbox. Fighting was futile. I was facing a banana emergency.

I’d just lost a half a bottle of Two Buck Chuck* to a recent fruit fly invasion. Flies swirled all over my fall harvest before I could eat the last baskets of bounty. I suspected I’d eaten several swarming flies instead. Experts say humans consume nearly five thousand bugs a year while sleeping…or is it fifty spiders? I’m not sure. Since election season’s over, there’ll be no fact checking. Just know I hate fighting fruit flies.

I put out ramekins of cheap wine covered in hole-punctured cellophane. Soon, they were teeming with dying insects too stupid to climb out. I watched them suffer and die, bumping their head against the plastic over and over until they got tired and drown in booze… a pleasant death, I suppose.

It’s the American can’t-escape-the-rat-race-bumping-your-head-against-the-glass-ceiling-lifestyle played out in the insect world. Depressing.

I had to get rid of the bananas.

Bananas freeze well for baking. I peeled and put a ton in freezer bags reserving three for “healthy muffins.”

I searched for a recipe. There’s never a recipe I like entirely. Baking is a science, not an art, yet try as I might to leave chemically balanced recipes alone, I fail.  Homemade oat flour instead of wheat? Something to make them rise? Substitute B-grade maple syrup (local, that is, if I were Canadian) for sugar? Vanilla? Eggs? Liquid–I’ll use home-made yogurt instead of milk. A bunch of flax and chia seed for good luck? Leftover apples going soft? Why not?

I called these “Leftover @#$# Muffins.” What started as banana muffins ended up as “Anything that won’t make you vomit” muffins. What’s more, they were paleo and gluten free, meaning I could have charged a ton for them. I scoured the kitchen for ingredients. Anything about to rot is fair game–fruit a tiny bit past its shelf life, excess homemade yogurt, any oil I have on hand. These types of recipes start as one thing and end as something else entirely.  Cooking like this can be five-star or flop.

No matter, it’d be me responsible for eating them all week, so if they went stale, I’d recycle them again–they’d be dessert croutons or bread pudding.

I recycle food all the time. Excess salad can transform into tacos. A bowl of veggies might be quiche or frittata, and anything could become into casserole faster than you can say “Crock Pot.”

There’s a trick to this. Combine ingredients that sound gourmet. For example, “smoked tomato, spinach, and feta quiche” sounds delicious. It really means this: “I ran out of kalamata olives, there were a ton of smoked tomatoes in the freezer, and the spinach was wilting, otherwise I’d’ve made a salad.” It’s what the chefs do. You’d never pay twenty-five dollars for something called “excess of” or “wilted.” I eat locally when possible and in season. This means there’s a point when I’m assaulted with so much kale and swiss chard I need every skill in my knife kit to fend them off.

I’d say these muffins were A+. Too bad nobody else said that.

I saw a little nose pop up over the counter.

“Mommy, are you making my blueberry muffins?” Declan smiled. “I want to help make my blueberry muffins.” I thought about passing off my muffins. He’d never go for chia seed and dead banana muffins.

“No, these are banana. I saved making the blueberry for you.” That sounds so much better than, “I baked without you, kid.” He climbed up on the stool and got his ingredients–the ingredients he always gets for chocolate chip cookies, pushing the basic Fannie Farmer muffin recipe away. “I know the ingredients.” He bakes like me.

He measured, added, and stirred, licking batter with unwashed hands.”Get that Lego guy out of the batter!” I said. I didn’t want to choke like Mama Cass. He smiled, declaring his goop ready for the stove.

At a time when YouTube videos, video games, and iPad compete for his allegiance, I try to do as many fun activities with him as possible. He likes to eat baking ingredients and make a mess, then lick the bowl. Mission accomplished, he commanded me to serve him a muffin as soon as possible, and went off to better things.

I moved on to the next dish, more recycled food, “Leftover @#$# Soup.” What started as sauteing a mirepoix of onion, celery, and a three-rooted carrot that looked very much like it developed male genitalia evolved into a minestrone comprised of leftovers,  a few things I grew myself, noodles, and a handful of frozen corn.

Americans waste so much of what we put into our refrigerators–up to 25% of what we buy get thrown in the trash. As I sat down to a simple gourmet meal, made from ingredients that thought they’d never have their chance to shine, I thought of the farmers that grew the food, our grandmothers who’d have been able to whip it up into something tasty before frozen meals were invented, and the people in the world without. I was grateful.

And as everyone “No thanks-ed” my dinner, I said, “Fine. That’s more for me.”



*Charles Shaw wines, aka “Two Buck Chuck” is wine from Trader Joe’s vineyards priced at a wino-fordable $2.99. It cannot be purchased in Rhode Island which has archaic laws prohibiting a beer/wine aisle in the supermarket, but we stock up in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Two Buck Chuck is very good for making fruit fly traps and deglazing beef pans.