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What to Do With Those Thanksgiving Leftovers? Look to the French

Food
What to Do With Those Thanksgiving Leftovers? Look to the French

VeselovaElena / iStock / Getty Images Plus

It's the day after Thanksgiving, the tryptophan has worn off, and there are towers of Tupperware filled with turkey, stuffing and potatoes in your fridge.


If you rely on your microwave, you might simply resign yourself to eating the same meal, over and over again, until the leftovers run out.

But you don't have to get stuck in a cycle of nuke and repeat. This Thanksgiving, take inspiration from the French, who saw leftovers as an outlet for creativity.

My research on the history of French home cooking reveals how restyling dinner scraps first became fashionable more than a century ago.

Reheating 'With Art and Discernment'

In 19th-century France, leftovers were a way of life for the lower classes.

In the countryside, the broth from the evening beef stew would become the basis of breakfast the next morning. In cities, street hawkers known as "arlequins" purchased dinner scraps from restaurants and rich households to resell them to the poor. For these Frenchmen and -women, repurposing previous meals wasn't about style but survival. Because of their association with poverty, leftovers were stigmatized up until the late 19th century.

But by the turn of the 20th century, it had become hip to whip something up with the remains from last night's meal.

In 1892, French chef Alfred Suzanne wrote that "there are dishes which, when reheated with art and discernment, transformed with taste and presented in an appetizing manner … can be as good as, if not better than, the first time they are served." In the preface to his encyclopedic cookbook, "150 Ways to Accommodate Leftovers," the former chef to British royalty declared that the "deep-seated prejudice that many people have" against leftovers was "an error."

Suzanne's colleagues and culinary connoisseurs concurred. French food critic Fulbert-Dumonteil praised the chef for explaining "all the ingenious and charming ways to restore mutilated bits and pieces from epic feasts" and turn "cumbersome remains" into something that delights the palate.

Marketing to the Masses

Why did "leftovers" make the leap from insipid plates peddled by "arlequins" to inspired dishes perfected by culinary artists?

In 1882, France's new republican government passed legislation mandating education for all children ages 6 to 13. Many public schoolchildren came from the lower and lower-middle classes, and educators designed home economics lessons with this in mind. Girls learned how to preserve and prepare their leftovers safely, nutritiously and economically. They were also taught that their talent for accommodating leftovers was a reflection of their thrift and resourcefulness – the markers of middle-class French femininity.

As the percentage of literate females spiked in France, the publishing industry pounced on this potential market. The late 19th century saw more and more domestic manuals aimed at "ménagères" – wives and mothers from the working and lower-middle classes. Many guides featured a chapter on fixing leftovers, while some, such as "100 Ways to Accommodate Leftovers" and "The Art of Accommodating Leftovers, Dedicated to Those of Meager Means," made revamping remains their central focus.

France's Top Chefs Join in

In the 1890s top chefs also started to contribute recipes to domestic cooking magazines. This genre of culinary literature proliferated in the late 19th century during a period of rapid growth for the popular press.

Chefs wanted to appeal to a wide audience, and their contributions ranged from columns on economical cooking to instructions for assembling "pièces montées," which are elaborate edifices made of confections. Many of these journals designated a special section for accommodating leftovers, with titles like "Utilizing Leftovers" and "Delicious Ways to Accommodate the Scraps."

The repetitive nomenclature belies the range of the recipes printed under these rubrics. Some were simple and modest and reflected the original rationale for leftovers, which was economical.

For example, a July 1907 recipe for "Lisette's Cake" in the magazine Family Cooking offered a sweet solution for yesterday's bread. The cook needed only to soak the loaf in sweetened milk, strain the mixture through a fine sieve, add two eggs and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

But some recipes got complicated and costly. Family Cooking also published a leftovers recipe for "Veal à la Russe," which required, in addition to veal chops, a quarter pound of butter, anchovies, tomato coulis, jus and truffles for garnish. The Cordon Bleu Magazine suggested repurposing leftover pheasant in a way that required an hour of boiling in fine demi-glace and two hours of cooling on ice, before being pureed by hand, seasoned, molded and fried.

Such recipes would hardly qualify as time- or cost-saving. But practicality wasn't the only point anymore. Scholars have shown how women at the turn of the century read popular and prescriptive literature as a "form of escapism" that encouraged them to "fantasize" about what modern domestic life could be.

By turning leftovers into an art form, early home cooking magazines inspired a modern generation of home cooks to be creative and think critically about cooking. And they left their legacy to us and our leftovers.

So this year, instead of scraping together another tiresome turkey sandwich, try a turkey recipe adapted from Alfred Suzanne's "150 Ways to Accommodate Leftovers."

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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