"The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for 30 years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found." —Calvin Trillin
"If we can eat like this from our leftovers," Mel observed, "I'd say we're doing pretty well." He was looking at the New Year's Day breakfast he'd improvised out of the stuff in our fridge and on our countertops.
The bottom layer (invisible here under subsequent strata of deliciousness): the previous night's skillet cornbread, from a recipe in The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook.
Next: a layer of shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Then: eggs fried in fat that Mel had patiently rendered from a smoked duck breast. The fat had languished unloved in the fridge for a few weeks, because it took us that long to figure out its irresistible resemblance to smoky, extra-silky butter. (Some of it went into the cornbread batter, too, replacing half the melted butter. We later agreed that we should've substituted it for all the butter.)
Finally: a scattering of diced smoked salmon on Mel's serving and crisp bacon bits on mine (left over from our New Year's Eve feast of oyster & benne-seed stew, also courtesy of the Lee Bros.), plus some chopped scallions. Oh, and a few shakes of hot sauce over the top. On the side: leftover mustard-roasted potatoes, recipe courtesy of the fabulous smittenkitchen.com.
Improvisational cooking has always been tough for me—I'm a recipe-follower through and through. Mel has taught me to loosen up a little and follow my instincts, to read recipes as inspiration rather than gospel, and to work with what's in the kitchen instead of racing off to the store for an incidental ingredient. More improvisation in 2009! Also, more duck fat.