From Stock Markets to Stock Pots

As I'm gearing up to do a third installation of my month-long grocery budget diary, I thought it a fitting time to re-share this post from the old blog about the value of frugality in life and specially in the kitchen - complete with old pictures, some of them in awfulbad lighting. ;) I know that Trader Joe's stopped selling Wild Japanese Scallops for a time after I wrote this blog because of the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, and I haven't checked to see if they stock them anymore these days, but the rest of the piece still holds true for me. 

I was born in 1973, year of the ox. Oxen folk are supposed to possess the steadfast, workhorse, practical nature of this tireless beast of burden.  And, being a water ox, I'm supposedly more flexible, adaptable and affable than my wood, fire or earth counterparts. Predictable or coincidental, the general characterizations of my sign suit me quite well. I've always loved to work, I like to think I'm pretty friendly, and changes in plan and scenery generally don't phase me too much. (And yes, I can be quite stubborn as well.)

But if any of these attributes suits me to a tee, for good and for bad, it is that I am a practical kind of gal. So practical that it hurts sometimes.  So practical that I strongly dislike holidays, carnivals and parades. So practical as to make me wonder if I didn't spend some part of another life in the Great Depression or the Great Potato Famine (and just what makes these things *great*, anyway???)...

Parmesan Polenta W. Roasted Pork Ragu &
Fresh Mozzarella - $2.50/serving

And when I say practical, I don't mean that high-rolling, free-wheeling, spend-thrifting practicality of the past two decades when people bought 8 seat, 40-gallon Suburbans because it was *impractical* for a family of 4 to have to squeeze into a Camry the 6 days a week they don't have soccer practice. Not the kind of practicality that tells a girl she has more credit limit than hours in her day, so she would be wiser to drop 25 bucks every 4 weeks to have someone else push back her cuticles and shellac her nails than do it herself while she watches Real Housewives (The irony kills, I know. :P). And definitely not the kind of practicality that tells someone it makes more sense to fatten the coffers of Starbucks by paying 2 dollars every morning for a cup of the best or the worst coffee ever (depending on who you ask) instead of brewing their own for odd change...

I'm talking the kind of middle class practicality that was the order of the day before not-so-cheap but easy credit hijacked our sense of proportion and frugality to the point that we've overextended ourselves individually, and as a nation, and turned our micro and macro finances upside down. The kind of practicality that told us it's OK to feed our toddlers a bit of our 15 dollar entrees instead of buying them a 7 dollar kid's meal they weren't going to put a dent into. The kind of practicality that told us it's perfectly fine to tell our children that 200 dollars is a LOT of money to spend on that DS and that if they were so lucky to get that DS for their birthday, it would be the ONLY thing they get.  The kind of practicality that reminded us that certain things in life should be considered privileges no matter how our sense of indulgence (and the banks) want us to consider them rights.

Caldo de Pollo - $1.25/serving

Living in an upper middle class Stepford during the 90s and early 2000s often left me feeling a fish out of water, trying to reconcile my innate sense of old-school practicality to my relationships with the not so similarly practical people around me - other middle class people who tipped 40%, couldn't sleep on low threadcount sheets, bristled at the mere idea of using coupons and would rather die than admit that something, anything, was beyond their middle class budgets. 

But something good can always come from something bad, and it seems the ruins of the wild financial excess and oblivion of the past decades have indirectly brought about a return to a healthier, less disdainful attitude toward frugality and practicality. If credit cards and credit lines at one point made us all but forget that we were living well beyond our means, the financial industry's kneejerk reactions to their own shortsighted strategies by way of sudden reductions in credit limit, usurious rates and fees, and outright refusal to lend, have served to remind us that our actual middle class dollars are actually limited and should be spent humbly and wisely. 

Where credit momentarily allowed many of us the fantasy that we had more money than time, the credit debacle has forced us to deal with the reality that we probably are not rich folk. And that as not rich folk, it doesn't make much economic sense for us to pay other people, on a regular basis, to do what we can quite reasonably be expected to do for ourselves.

Antipasto Salad - $1.50/serving

And so despite the misfortune of this economic downturn, I find myself in a time and place that feels much more my element. I love that a bag of Trader Joe's Wild Japanese Scallops, some rice, some produce, a couple of bottles of Kirin and an hour's worth of elbow grease can turn out a really delicious Sushi and Ceviche date night for under 20 dollars. The fact that a 6 dollar chicken will make dinner for 4, feed the pup for 2 or 3 meals and give me a quart of chicken stock excites me probably a little more than it should. And when nothing goes to waste, I feel I've put my sense of practicality to a good, humble and respectful use of the precious resources I share with my children, my neighbors and the world at large.

Cheap Date Night... :)

I realize cooking isn't everyone's idea of fun. Neither is dusting, doing the laundry, scooping dog poo, or washing the car. But of all the domestic activities borne of necessity, it has one of the highest rates of return. When, even in this tight economy, dinner for 4 at a crap chain like Applebee's can easily come to 60 dollars or more, and a really tasty meal for the same number of people could be made with 10 dollars' worth of fresh ingredients (and a lot less processed crud), it makes increasingly more sense to start cooking if you don't already, and to hone your skills further if you do. You might find the joy of wonton cooking far outweighs the thrill of wanton spending.

GET IT??? Wonton cooking??? Wanton spending????


I kill myself.

Who says cows don't have killer comic instincts...




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