The Leftovers Lowdown

“Waste not, want not” applies to Thanksgiving leftovers, too.

You’ve planned and shopped for weeks to get ready for Thanksgiving. You’ve cooked for two days, maybe even three. You’ve polished Granny’s Grand Baroque silver, gotten out the good china — the bone-colored Lenox with the gold band, not the bone with pink flowers because that’s too summery — and starched and ironed the napkins into perfect rectangles.

You’ve arranged the flowers in the vase Mama bought you, “scaped” the table (remember when we used to just “set” it?), hung a wreath on the front door and put the good towels in the powder room. You may or may not have spent an inordinate amount of time creating place cards, lovingly tracing every guest’s name in a flourishing script. 

All the food turned out beautifully if you do say so yourself, even the gravy (thank the sweet baby Jesus). The relatives ate till they were full as ticks, and no one got in a fight, not even … well, you know who wants to pick a fight every year. The dishes were done and nothing was broken. You counted the silverware, then took out the trash.

It was a great day.

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But you’re always amazed that after so much preparation, so much work, so much anticipation, it’s all over in the blink of an eye. 

And once again, you’re in the kitchen staring at the picked-over carcass of a greasy, dead bird. Its gaping body cavity is devoid of its dressing heart. You knew you should have gotten the 14-pound turkey, but the 25-pound one was just too enticing, too Norman Rockwell. What were you thinking? It sure was good, though. But what in the cat hair are you going to do with all this meat? All these leftovers?

Here’s what you do. Send go-plates home with anyone who wants one. Pro-tip: ask your guests to bring their own containers. Then slice the rest of the meat off the bone, pick off all the good dark meat bits and get ready for sandwiches! 

My favorite sandwich is plain ole white bread, lightly toasted and smeared with Duke’s mayonnaise, just enough to cover both slices of bread to the edges but not enough to squish out. Add a few nice pieces of turkey and some freshly ground black pepper and you’ve got yourself what may be the most perfect sandwich there is.

If you have a cold biscuit, you can use that instead of white bread, and it’s just as good. Maybe add a little cranberry; it is a biscuit after all, and biscuits just yearn for jelly. And I’ll admit that I have, in years past, gobbed a little extra dressing on my sandwich. It’s the concept of trying to capture the perfect bite, only instead of on your fork, it’s between two slices of bread. But I always go back to the simple goodness of unadulterated white bread, mayo and meat.

If you want to get a little fancier, you can make creamed turkey to serve over toast or the aforementioned cold biscuit. Make a white sauce (béchamel is the fancy name), add in chopped turkey meat and heat through. If you’ve got leftover green peas, throw them in there too. Maybe add a jar of sliced mushrooms. It’s warm, creamy and comforting, especially if we get a rare cold Thanksgiving. Wait! Who am I kidding? It’s never cold on Thanksgiving, but creamed turkey is always good! 

And since we are all lovers of Creole food, how about a pot of turkey gumbo? You’ve already got all the ingredients on hand from your Thanksgiving festivities — the trinity (just in case you don’t know, that’s onion, celery and bell pepper), boxes of broth and stock, and flour. Why not?

As you can tell, I love a leftover. But my favorite thing about leftovers doesn’t really have a thing to do with what’s on my plate. The best part is that once all the visitors have gone home with their go-plates, once all the dishes are dried and back in the china cabinet, once you’ve slipped out of your fancy clothes and into your stretchy pants, and once things are quiet, relaxed and twilight, you can sit down with your nearest and dearest, take a moment to really (I mean really, seriously) count your blessings and savor the last moments of the day.

Born and raised in Citronelle, Atkins shares stories about growing up and living in the South in her book, “They Call Me Orange Juice,” and at her blog

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