As true New England Yankee, my mom preached “Waste not, want not.” If there’s some use left in something, hang onto it and make it work, was one of my credos growing up. I seem to have failed in the leftover food department.

Right now my refrigerator would rival any chemistry lab in the amount of penicillin being grown in one place. The only thing missing in the assortment of covered bowls and plastic containers is a petri dish.

I don’t know why so many of my leftovers become fur bearing in such a short period of time. I mean I put those four baked potato skins in just the other day. I was meaning to zap them in the microwave because there really was still a lot of potato in them – enough to take the place of a new potato – and already cooked.

When I spotted them in the outside refrigerator, I thought good, we’ll have them with pork chops Monday night. After work Monday when I went to fetch them, I was disappointed to find them sort of puffy, and coated with a skim of crusty green.

Well maybe it wasn’t just the other day. Lemme see, the kids arrived for the holidays the day after Christmas and we had the ham two days later . . . with extra large baked potatoes. Oops. December 28th to February 12th. 46 days. Humph. Well, it does explain a lot. Like the cauliflower that looked like it first cousin, broccoli, after only 31 days.

I decided it was time to clean out the post holiday leftovers. The quart-sized container that had been full of homemade pickles now had five thin little cucumber slices left and has been taking up considerable refrigerator top shelf real estate for two months. Into the disposal. Along with a full little container of rice pilaf that upon cracking it open smelled like a groundhog hole; three slimy slices of tomato left from a mid-January burger evening; and some mini cucumber that now resemble cooked okra. Oh well.

When I bought sour cream a couple of weeks ago, I knew we already had some – somewhere. I just didn’t move enough jars and boxes to find it or I confused it with the cottage cheese. The lost was found today. Aaaahhh, the variety of shades of green in my refrigerator laboratory is unlimited.

And what’s this white restaurant box? When I popped it open, a triangle of fried fish flew out. It was so dried out from our dinner in Erie two weeks ago that it skidded across the kitchen floor like a snowboarder. Not a candidate for tomorrow’s lunch.

I don’t know why we bother to bring home food from restaurant outings. Our memories are no longer capable of handling the challenge of those little white boxes. I either leave the box on the table, right where the server delivered it, or I set it down by the coat rack while I climb into my jacket and walk off without it. The next possibility is that the box makes it to the car where it remains on the back seat for a week while growing spores faster than in our fridge.

If I bring home a portion of a steak, and it actually makes it into the house, two weeks later we’re sniffing it as a botulism possibility. I hold the white box out to Dear Richard. “Whaddya think?” He sniffs.

“I don’t know – it doesn’t smell good or bad.” And we always do the same thing.

When in doubt, we toss it out. Like I said, why do we bring this stuff home? The pasta and the shrimp that were large in the restaurant have dried to little pink commas lying on the wooden angel hair.

When I was growing up leftovers were always an important asset, like an investment that pays off later in the week. Many dishes were much better the second day. That’s still true of soups and stews and meatballs, but Dear Richard does not want to see leftovers the very next night. He needs a breather and it’s even better if I can repurpose a dish so that it’s not the same as the original. Personally, I’d eat cold spaghetti for breakfast. He’s pickier.

When I was a kid and dawdled over a plate of leftovers, my mother would remind me of the starving children in China. One night, after many admonishments about the sad Chinese urchins, I blurted out, “Name one.”

She snapped back, “Ching Ling. Eat your dinner.”

So here I am, at this ripe old age, with a refrigerator filled with little covered dishes of dead mystery food and still feeling bad about Ching Ling.

And my Yankee citizenship has probably been cancelled.