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Economy. Class.


Today it became official. For those lacking a keen grasp of the obvious, the feds have issued a decree that we have formally entered A Recession. (This is not to be confused with a recessional,  which is the part of the wedding when one is rather closer to being able to go to the bathroom, remove ones stiletto heels, or stop pretending not to be sending and receiving text messages). For those of us living in Michigan, the land where the Big Three teeters on the brink, and we top the nation in home foreclosures and unemployment, this is really not news; we have been receding for some time.

Money is tight on Forest Street, too. Nothing dire, although a plumbing emergency just wiped out much of the Christmas savings. We are safe and warm and clothed, we have weekends in Cleveland rather than weeks in Mexico, one (cheap) meal out a week instead of four, library books instead of book store books, and Netflix instead of first-run movies in the theater. In the cooking department, some rigorous stewardship of resources is required. I have always worked my menus based on what was on sale, and rarely buy expensive proteins, but when cash is flowing with relative freedom, I can buy the best extra virgin olive oil, the “good” vanilla and Caillebaut chocolate from Williams-Sonoma, and a little creme fraiche to complete a recipe. I can, without thinking about it, buy the organic vegetables, the imported jam and the imported, steel-cut oatmeal. Often, during periods of relative economic bliss, I can start out planning a mostly sensible menu, become obsessed with a recipe for, say, a salad with pine nuts, jicama and gold leaf, and I can say to myself “go ahead.”

The recipes I favor, of course, although I am not exactly into molecular gastronomy or cooking the Julia Childs canon, tend to involve exotic ingredients, and lots of them. These ingredients are, axiomatically, never on sale. Anywhere. I have yet to see a sale (in my Midwestern grocery emporium) involving Arborio rice, fresh Tarragon, French cheese, Greek yogurt or truffle oil (okay, I have yet to see any truffle oil). Sale prices exist only for food purchased by normal folks, like ground beef, canned soup and Corn Pops. I buy those things, too, but it’s difficult to come up with the ingredients for a recipe from “Bon Appetit” or a decent cookbook without buying at least one non-sale priced, budget busting item of culinary exotica. I understand that there are places in this country where meat approaching it’s “use by” date is deeply discounted, and I would be thrilled to pick up a package of short ribs or a pork shoulder on the cheap in exchange for using it (or freezing it) quickly, but I have never seen that practice in my neck of the woods.

So, in these lean times, what’s a cook to do? The most important part of the answer is that it’s a damned good thing that I can cook, and that I actually like to cook. It’s a challenge to confit duck legs, or make pasta from scratch, but it’s also a good game to figure out how to make something interesting and satisfying using what fits in a categorically inflexible food budget.Of course, I must also work around what these people (my family, that is) will actually eat, spicy for my boys, not-spicy for my parents, meaty for Mr. Annie, not-so-meaty for me, and indentifiable-ingredient-oriented for Sam.

This week, I got good deals on both ground beef and pork loin, and loaded up on sale-priced russet potatoes and broccoli. The result is that we had meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and half of the ground beef was turned into meatballs which will be served with spaghetti and homemade marinara. The pork loin was cut in half; 50% is becoming a Thai version of fried rice, and the remainder will become pulled-pork sandwiches. A homemade broccoli-cheese sauce topped baked potatoes for one “veggie” night, and we’ll have macaroni and cheese for another. I’m also making cookies and bread like a mad fiend.

I’ll get better at this; I’ll start to find recipes in my own collection and in the interworld that make the most out of the cheapest. I still have a turkey carcass just waiting to become soup, and a strong will to tame the cheapest, toughest meats with careful cooking, and get maximum mileage out of my remaining treasures such as truffle oil, bottarga and fleur de sel. You may get sick of hearing about this, but hey, if you were coming around looking for cutting edge recipes and mouth-watering photographs…well, you are probably not even reading this. Stick with me, and we’ll navigate this recession thing – one great dinner at a time.


About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

5 responses »

  1. It’s tight here too, although we’re so fortunate compared to some I can’t even complain. We eat meat — ‘nough said. I know where you’re coming from though. You can’t eat meatloaf seven nights a week. I have found that our Giant Eagle often runs a BOGO on meat and I’ll buy two packages of boneless pork chops or round steak or chicken breasts and get three meals out of them. Use them for stir fry, or other Chinese, or pound them for scaloppini or another cutlet dish — it looks like much more even though it’s thin, or put it in a sauce with vegetables. You can really stretch a couple whole chickens, too.

    Keep it up — I’ll be anxious to see some budget recipes.

  2. Ann,

    Never thought about it, there being places that don’t “Manager Special’ out the meat when it starts to age. Dont think we have ever paid full price for beef or pork, not as long as I can remember.

    Shari draws the line at discounted shimp, Im not allowed to bring them home.

    Grandma claims she did not even know there was a depression in the 30’s, affected her life not. So I guess its gonna be about our expectations. You strike me as having aleast a small frugal bone.

  3. Yesterday at Meijer I got 40% off the ground chuck as it was on it’s last day. . . I made chili and froze the rest. Not what I would have done a year or two ago so we are all feeling it. Even all the way over here , way north from you 😉

  4. Great piece, Ann. Money is tight everywhere. The kitchen seems to be one of the few places we can pinch pennies-so more veggie nights for us (also, doctor’s orders–cholesterol levels were creeping up). I’m coming back here to see what you’ve recommended we do for dinner this week. We’re counting on you.

  5. Barbara, I’m sure that you can identify – you are feeding many more mouths than I am! So far, I am not finding great budget recipes; just making regular recipes fit the budget based on what’s on sale. I will keep looking, though….

    Robert, they may do that where I shop, but if they do I’ve never seen it. I’ll have to ask them. (Or ask Michelle, below)As for the frugal bone, I absolutely have one, although it is easily obliterated by a windfall check and a strong desire for a purse….

    Michelle, okay, where in Meijer’s was the 40% off ground chuck? I swear that I’ve never seen discounted meat there, and if I’m going to buy it and use it and/or freeze it, I’ve got to be there when it’s out. Is it a regular day of the week? Is it right in the regular meat coolers? I feel like such an idiot/

    Eric, thanks! I’m afraid my budget-friendly meals may be a little low-brow for you Bay Area foodie types. but maybe there will be something that appeals to you. I’m also not sure I’ll do all that we;; on cholesterol, although I should since we have a high cholesterol-er here, as well.


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