Tag Archives: frugal cooking

The Best Things In Life Are Free

Some of the best things in life are free. Some of the best things also cost money.

This morning, Ali and I were hashing out some details about our upcoming road trip to GALESBURG(!) Ali said she’d pick up a 24-pack of bottled water to bring along.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I said. “Back up, moneybags! I’ll use my Nalgene.”

“Don’t even!” Ali replied. “The 24-pack is $2.49.

To which I responded, “$2.49? I spend that much each time I blink!” Then we LOLd for a bit about the thought of money shooting out of my eyes: how I could just quit my job and blink myself toward financial solvency. O, to generate eye money!

Taken on my last trip to Galesburg, which was, believe it or not, in January of ’08. #blasphemy

This conversation got me thinking: about road trippin’, for sure, but also about the issue of food costs relative to geography. Where I live, a single bottle of water can (easily) cost $2.49. (Sidenote: An ex and I once accidentally paid $10 for a bottle of Pellegrino: NOT EVEN JOKING. The watery Manhattan I ordered subsequently did little to alleviate the sticker-shock sting.) Where Sis lives, you can get a week’s worth of water for the same cost.

I’ve lived in the Bay Area for almost three years, and every time I  visit the Midwest, I’m surprised anew at the outlandishly low food costs there. Yes, the general cost of living is lower there; I just focus on the food. “Five dollars for a hamburger AND fries?” I find myself shrieking. “I’ll eat ALL THE HAMBURGERS!”

MIDWESTERN DINNER! Gotta love it.

I love my Adopted Homeland and can’t envision moving anywhere else, really, but the cost of living here has required me to get serious about savvy shopping. Where before I might let a pint of raspberries sprout fuzz, I now find ways to eat all the berries within a day or two of purchasing them. I use odds & ends of veggies as stir-fry fodder; I don’t eat much meat, except at restaurants. I purposely generate leftovers.

And I do still buy frivolous and expensive and unnecessary foods — just not as often as I hypothetically could. True, I do not need salt & vinegar chips, Pop-Tarts, or beer, but I enjoy these things and like to have them on hand.

Annnnnnnnnnyway, that backstory was a real roundabout way for me to introduce the newest addition to my blogroll: Frugal Feeding. I stumbled upon this blog today, dove in, and loved it. It has all my favorite attributes of a blog: gorgeous, simple photos; a modicum of snark; and recipes featuring peas. (Holla atcha, English peas!) Check it out!

I enjoy shopping — so much so that sometimes I have portraits made in fitting rooms.

As I see it, shopping and cooking frugally* aren’t about deprivation: they’re about using one’s resources wisely. It’s gross to think about, but I used to waste a hell of a lot of food, and why? Well, I didn’t plan meals; I’d let myself be lured in by bright endcaps and pseudosales; and I just like shopping, period. I’m not out of the woods yet, either — just yesterday, I tossed half a package of green beans that were growing shriveled and dark. I’m making progress, though, and taking pleasure in my craftiness.

I’m also taking pleasure in saving money for other things: traveling, records, crazy hair procedures!, all the red lipsticks, etc. etc. amen!

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*And being Just Generally Frugal.

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What I’m Reading: An Everlasting Meal

Guess what? I’ve been READING! That’s right: reading. Somehow, in the Taz-style whirlwind that is my personal lyfe, I’ve found the time to read. This pleases me greatly.

Last week, I finished Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal, which I received as a gift from my mom (hi, mom!). Unflattering truth: my initial impression of the book was mild dislike. Maybe dislike is too strong a word, even — the feeling was the intellectual equivalent of having the tiniest pebble trapped in your loafer, or making your toast just sliiiiiiightly too dark (not burned enough to toss, but burned enough to prohibit true enjoyment). I felt, reading those first few pages, that the author’s tone was somehow disingenuous — twee pretending not to be.

“Effing Christ,” I thought, “not another person who stores her farro in Weck jars.” BUT, as is often the case when one makes quick judgments, I was wrong. Adler’s work is not twee; in fact, it is resolutely practical. Notably quirky constructions aside, the book is rife with tips for making use of any/all food items, down to carrot greens and parmesan rinds and fish bones (should you have any). It is a book perfect for the collector: for the person whose reluctance to part with things can, at times, present difficulty. It is a book for me.

Adler begins at the beginning, with instructions on how to properly boil water. What at first seems like a no-brainer reveals itself to be a much more complex process. Water must be adequately salted to flavor the ingredients cooked in it; once the cooking is done, the water can be incorporated into sauces or used to water plants. The same goes for fats of all types: cooking oil seasoned with garlic, bacon fat, and so on.

Adler’s reverence for food is infectious; no scrap, it seems, is too lowly. Celery leaves can be used in place of parsley, adding brightness to a  hearty dish; the snub ends of turnips can be used to make vegetable stock. I’ve never been excited at the prospect of cooking dried beans — the soaking seems so involved — but Adler’s description of the process has me eager to browse the bulk bins at Rainbow. The care with which Adler describes each step in the process solidifies the necessity of each step; I’m particularly taken with the idea of using the bean-cooking water as a stew base.

Adler’s efficacy w/r/t cooking makes itself plain in her writing: each chapter is gorgeously descriptive but no longer than it needs to be — no wasted words here. Recipes are nestled among technical explanations and well-chosen anecdotes highlighting the merits of an ingredient or dish. This is the perfect book to read during your morning commute, as you consider what you might like for dinner, or as you’re drifting to sleep, your thoughts murmuring about a baking project for the coming weekend.

You needn’t be a masterful chef to enjoy this book. Adler’s writing addresses home cooks of all skill levels, and the author herself admits to using basic, functional tools: wooden spoons grooved by heavy use, battered pots, a few good knives. The reader must only possess a curiosity about and enthusiasm for good food: how to prepare it well and transform leftovers into equally lovely dishes.

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Image sources: [1], [2],