Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dinnertime Frugality, Performed with Style and Ease


Allow me to assure you that I have a selfish interest in the recipe list I posted last time.  My spending this month has been a little wonky, between adjusting to a new grocery shopping routine, taking my bike to the bike doctor (in theory—it hasn’t happened yet!), and visiting San Antonio at the end of the month.  I’m especially excited about that last item, a trip that Matt and I have been anticipating for a good five months.  I’m planning to spend a boatload of money on the trip, so I’m pinching pennies before and after to make myself feel better.

But it’s not just about saving money.  To me, there is a certain virtue in kitchen frugality that goes beyond the wallet.  It’s about making the most of what you’ve got and being grateful for the time and skill that cooking requires.  I have a love/hate relationship with discussions about how to save money.  Growing up in a frugal household, saving money wasn’t about being trendy or practicing environmental sustainability; it was about keeping us out of poverty.  And that’s a scary thought for me—the idea that if we don’t pinch every penny so hard it squeals, we may slide out of the middle class and into the position where money determines our quality of life in painfully tangible ways.

Don’t get me wrong: I think fiscal responsibility is a requirement for a grown-up life.  But I like to temper my frugality with generosity, creativity, and a deeper sense of how our spending reflects our values.  Food and cooking perfectly capture the intersection of those qualities: I believe you can eat well, really well, on a budget.  But you gotta know what you’re doing to make it happen!

Tuesday night’s dinner was a good example of fiscal responsibility in the kitchen.  I decided to make mujadara, or something similar to it, but I thought I was out of white rice.  I immediately thought of going to the store to buy rice, when I remembered that I still had brown rice at home.  Even better, I remembered I had cooked brown rice at home, leftovers from last week.  So I took a deep breath, scratched the shopping trip from my list of things to do, and decided that I’d make dinner happen with the supplies I already had at home.

Caramelized onions are essential for the rich flavor in mujadara, but I was short on yellow onions.  I decided to make up the difference with other aromatics: a shallot, some carrots, a few stalks of celery.  And since I was already tinkering with the dish, I decided to substitute a splash of pomegranate-balsamic vinegar for the lemon.  This fancy vinegar (which was only about five bucks for a bottle) is so delicious that whenever I smell it, I want to take a sip straight from the bottle. 

The dish came together most deliciously: leftover brown rice, a rummage through the produce drawer for aromatics, a little fancy vinegar to add sparkle to the meal.  And the pleasure of spending half an hour putzing in the kitchen, making dinner?  That was my favorite part.  Money might make you a wealthy person, but I’m pretty sure it’s hearth and home that make my life rich.

Mujadara Sort Of

Poor mujadara, likely to be voted “World’s Ugliest Vegan Dinner.”  It tastes so much better than it looks, I promise.


Sarah said...

This is such a great post. I completely agree - being frugal in the kitchen is not about being mean with money, but grateful that you don't have to waste it on pre-packaged, pre-prepared food because you have the time and ability to cook for yourself. Your dinner sounds absolutely delicious to me!

Shannon said...

I always feel like it's a shame when delicious food doesn't look that pretty :) I'm about to look a bit more closely at my stuff, too, i just get caught up in other ideas sometimes... need to reign myself back in!

Rosiecat said...

Thanks, Sarah! I love the idea of being thrifty in the kitchen out of respect rather than desperation. And in these harried, stressed-out times, it is such a luxury being able to cook dinner for yourself from scratch.

Me too, Shannon, and especially now that I try to photograph food for the blog! You shouldn't be too hard on yourself for being so adventurous in the kitchen. If anything, I think it would give you even MORE ideas for how to make the most of your leftover and pantry items :-)

Happy Friday, everyone!

Chrissy (The New Me) said...

I love reading how other cooks tinker and substitute. Most of my substitutions stem from sheer laziness, so being able to pass them off as frugality will be much fancier!

Rosiecat said...

Me too, Chrissy! They say that necessity is the mother of invention, but I think laziness may be the older sister of invention :-) I have to tell you all more about that fancy vinegar--it's one of my favorite new ingredients, and it's totally delicious.