Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cooking on a Budget Well and With Imagination

ah, money. it makes the world go 'round, makes you feel safe and would get us to Paris so my sons and i could be like Ratatouille (the movie, not the dish) and indulge our foody sides. unfortunately, money is not our current strong suit, so we get through from month to month, hoping for the best, cutting corners, pinching pennies and eating on a budget.

i do not like eating on a budget. let me put it a better way, i'm a bit weary of eating on a budget, but respect that i must and, therefore, we do. like tonight. we are just a few days away from payday, but a few days away from payday when it's once a month, is like a lifetime. and, so, you get creative on a budget. or, well, we do. i know, i could do things like buy cheaper foods and the like and, yes, i have begun to scrimp there in some ways. however, we have also begun to do some things on a regular basis that, if my calculations are correct (and, well, sometimes they are and sometimes they... you know), will make this month to month not be so month to month, but more like life in the slow lane.

we make our own bread ALL THE TIME now. i haven't bought a loaf of bread in over a month. we make our own tortillas, we make our own jam, we cook dinner every single night, not just for the blog's sake -- which is how that started, although we always cooked quite a bit, i didn't cook every single night -- i don't drive more than i REALLY have to, i bring my lunch every day to work and blah, blah, blah. my sons are being pretty good about it, quite frankly, and i'm very proud of them for it.

and, so, sometimes, because we are nearing the end of the month, but are not yet to payday, i improvise. at least i improvised tonight.

with three really great red potatoes, a lovely half of a red onion, some leftover taco meat, garlic, herbs, spices, eggs, fresh baked bread, some fruit, and cookies for a treat, i created dinner for us all. sauteing the potatoes, chopped, with the onion and garlic in olive oil, with salt, freshly ground pepper, rosemary, and thyme, until golden, caramelized and crispy, then adding the meat to get all yummy, the eggs, scramble all of this up, toast some of the bread, slice some fruit, nicholas and brandon were ecstatic. they chowed that stuff right down and clamored for more. that, of course, does my heart very good, because if i have to grab from just whatever we have lying around, then i hope i do right by them as i create for them.

you know my feeling about dining -- i want my sons to feel it, experience the joys of it and take it to heart. not just eat to eat, but immerse themselves in it, enjoy it, fuel themselves with good stuff, even if we don't have the dough for the GOOD stuff all the time.

i love my kids and i wish for the best for us, all of us. you, too. times are tight all around. i know that and this isn't some sort of "woe, is me" call to the masses. this is truly a way to let you know that if you've got to tighten your food belt, you can still create something great, luscious and full of flavor for your fam or yourself. how much more could i sound like a commercial? i mean, c'mon, right? but i do mean it. cuz it's hard out here sometimes, isn't it? hard to keep it going when you feel a little off kilter, as we all do now and then. but life is SOOO very short and whatever you can do to enhance your time here, even when the shit is hitting the fan, do it. i mean, i try to do it. a lot. more these days than ever before. i used to suck at it, unless everything was perfect or i thought it was perfect. but it never is. it can't be. it just is as it is.

positive thinking is a really good start as is a strong emotional state. doing tangible things is excellent when it's teamed with all of that and more. cooking instead of going out to dinner is one of those tangible kinds of things. and i know it can be a total and complete DRAG, truly, but if you can find a way to enjoy it, have fun with it, turn it into fun, even if just inside your own heart. make up a story about your meal, create an environment that is unique and different from where you are, if that's what's got you hung up, to make you feel better.

that's one of the beauties of cooking and dining, to me. you can create an ambience around a meal, set a mood that takes you out of your environment and puts you some place like Rome or Paris, Tuscany or, even, two state over. set the table as if you're having company and it's just you or your family. pretend to be plating in a competition, like Iron Chef. light candles, serve yourself buffet style or wait upon yourself. you can lose yourself in the romance of dining, even if it's Top Ramen and a bottle of water. splurge on cheap wooden chopsticks and pretend you're in a noodle house in Tokyo or Singapore. that, i think, is one of the benefits of dining out -- getting away from your day-to-day, escaping for awhile, with a friend or friends, family, yourself, a lover, escape and pampering. so do it at home, if you can't get away. and if you can't cook or fear it, then go into a book store, go up to the customer service counter, tell them you don't, can't, won't cook and you need one cookbook to get you started. one that will get you on the road. they'll probably point you into the Joy of Cooking direction, which i highly recommend myself. it's durable, has ever recipe known to man in terms the American cook can definitely understand and it answers any question you could ever have about food and cooking. but take a cookbook, grab it, feel it, get it dirty and stained and begin to play and allow yourself to build your confidence in the kitchen.
it saves money.
it makes you feel good.
it opens all sorts of doors inside yourself we all need.
my thing is learning how to be more fashionable and dress better. i see The Devil Wears Prada and cry every time. not cuz it's so deep, but because i wish i took more time and loving care to look good and, by definition, feel good. i could get behind wearing seriously cool clothes, but i, alas, do not have the closet to allow for it nor the bank account to go for it.
but, i digress...
go out there and cook.
and i'll go into my closet and accessorize and coordinate better.
and we'll all be happy.

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