Saturday, April 18, 2009

Cooking for Freaks

I don’t want to talk about the economy.  I really don’t.  I am an accountant by trade, if not by nature, and I just hate talking about money. Especially now, when tax season is finally, blessedly, over, and I can get through a nice sunny weekend day without being involved in (or, ahem, overhearing) a conversation about deductions and capital losses and all of that other dismal nonsense.  And I am pretty good at ignoring the business news these days.  I have to be, so that I can avoid going completely mad.

But here’s the rub (and there always seems to be a rub with me, doesn’t there?): the economy has just gone too far now and it has been affecting my grocery list

There is just so much that is wrong with that sentence, not the least of which is that I don’t like my obsessions to collide in such a grotesque and vulgar manner.  And, you know, I don’t like to talk about personal financial matters.  Food is my little escape, you see, and it is the lone area in which I try to give myself a little leeway.  I scrimp and I save in almost every facet of my life, but please, for goodness’ sake, can’t a girl spend a little at the grocery store?

A few months ago, when it became clear that I was going to need to trim the budget a little, I did my best to rein myself in, to not jump to extremes, to find my inner middle-of-the-road personality.  I failed, of course, because I am of the all-or-nothing ilk, and I practically specialize in extremes.  And so it was that I suddenly found myself in the inner circle of Hell, of all places, burning holes in my grocery list.  Oh, how I slashed.  We went from the all-organic, local-where-possible, ingredients to the mass-market, conventionally-grown items.  And even that might have been tolerable, had I not decided to loll about in the nether regions of the rock-bottom.  

I purchased regular old processed white sugar instead of the gorgeous voluptuous raw sugar crystals we had become accustomed to, started cooking with water instead of broth, and began making my morning fried egg sandwiches with dollar-a-dozen eggs that tasted flabby.

I still bought olive oil, whole-wheat bread, and organic milk (albeit store brands, all), but I scrutinized the cost-per-ounce labels to get the best value, and within a matter of weeks, I had reduced our grocery bills by about half.

Sounds laudable, you say?

Well, sure, I’ll take a little credit for making the equation balance.  But only a little credit, you see, because it wasn’t just the bills that were cut in half, it was our enjoyment in meals as well.  Bit by bit I began to lose interest in cooking until I found I was doing it by rote, forgetting even to play music in the kitchen.  And, as you may have noticed, writing about food wasn’t even on my radar.  

Tonight was the final straw, I hope.  I made a mozzarella-stuffed arancini recipe that we have always been a little head-over-heels for.  But, and this is a little embarrassing to admit, I thought this would be the perfect recipe for an experiment.  I decided to see just how cheaply I could make it, and instead of using fresh mozzarella, I bought the Great Value brand.  And for the final insult, I used  store-brand parmesan-in-a-can instead of Romano, and cooked the rice in water rather than broth.

I’m sure you can guess how it turned out: with us pushing the bland food around on our plates and The Carnivore expressing his dismay that I would take my penny-pinching to such an ill-conceived extreme.

Something is clearly going to have to give around here, and I suspect it is me who will need to whip herself into submission.  There is some obvious middle ground that I could choose, and I know which ingredients I can scrimp on without sacrificing the dinner table entirely, but out of all my faults, this is probably my biggest.  I’m just not a middle-of-the-road believer.

And so I think I will try to trick myself.  If I were to give myself a goal of, say, increasing our current grocery bill by, oh I don’t know, maybe 17.5%, which is still lower than our previous height by 32.5%, then the mathematical challenge may be just the impetus I need in order to make some compromises here and to part with the extra penny or two to buy the better-quality ingredients that actually matter like, say, cheese.

For the love of all that is sacred.  I don’t try to be a freak.

It just comes naturally.