I’m hungry. Which would be fine except that I’m also broke. Well, okay, not actually broke, but newly unemployed and therefore in my head I’m broke. Certainly I don’t want to be extravagant with my culinary expenses, but I’m a bit of a food snob who likes high quality, healthy food, the kind which is not so easy to come by in my neighborhood with its ghetto supermarkets and over-processed food choices. Obviously, eating out is not on my agenda. I love me some farmers markets and natural food stores, but those are harder choices to make when you don’t have an income, so I’m trying to formulate a plan where I strike a decent balance between cheap food and quality, local, seasonal organic products.
Obviously, the first step is to eat whole foods as much as possible, and do my processing at home — I can get a pint of white rice from the Chinese restaurant down the block for a dollar, or I can spend the same dollar on a pound of uncooked white rice. Same with beans — dried are way more bang for your buck than canned, and taste better since you can cook more spices and broths into them. But beans and rice gets old, fast (I know all too well) and since I have the time at present, I might as well make use of my wonderful cookbooks and kitchen. I just wonder about the breakdown of how much I should shop in my neighborhood (good for cheap staples like rice and canned products, middling on produce, and bad on things like organics) and how much I should make use of the plentiful farmer’s markets in the area (great for organic, seasonal, stellar quality produce, dairy and meats, but you get what you pay for).
I’ve got the most important staple I could have for this project, however — a beautifully stocked spice cabinet (yes, an entire cabinet, no paltry rack for me) and scores of bottles of various sauces (homemade and otherwise) to make any food more than the sum of its parts. I cry a little when I go to a friend’s place and find their spice collection consists of salt, pepper, and maybe a little garlic powder or oregano. I probably put a minimum of five extra ingredients in anything I cook, and that includes heating something from a can that is supposedly ready-to-eat.
For now, I think I’m going to stay in the neighborhood for basics — pasta, canned sauce that can be doctored into great sauce, canned most things (tomatoes, tuna, beans when appropriate), dried beans, rice, and vegetable basics that don’t need vibrant flavors, like potatoes and onions. For vegetables and fruits that have flavors that stand out, like tomatoes, carrots, asparagus, apples, or things that the local markets don’t seem to carry, the green market will be my source. I’m lucky enough to live in an area that has a vibrant farmers market culture, and I’d be stupid not to take advantage of it. Plus, being new in the area, it will be an adventure to find out what winter seasonable produce actually looks like after a decade of Florida and Georgia produce. When I get myself a job, I hope that this will change and I can go more exclusively to local, organic, and seasonal foods. But for now, I think this is a compromise my budget can handle that doesn’t totally compromise my demanding palate and conscience.
Now if I could just get my roommate to clean up his dishes piled in the sink, I would have a perfect night in the kitchen ahead of me!