Sunday, September 13, 2009

0 Guerilla Kitchen Tactics: Surviving the Recession By Going Grocery Shopping in Your Own Pantry

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What I'd like to know is this: How many other people, besides myself and a few of my friends, have gone into "survival cooking mode"?

Translation: I'm cooking on a budget at the moment. :)

So there you have it. I know it's probably not fashionable or even wise to publicly admit that on a blog (especially one that isn't anonymous!), but it's the bald, honest-to-goodness truth. Of course, I know I'm not exactly unique in this predicament. Due to the tight economy, many people are dealing with similar issues.

However, no worries, I won't be turning into "Frugal Frannie Fussbudget" anytime in the near future. :) To be frank about it, I absolutely despise that sort of downward-spiraling, penny-pinching mentality, where every action is dictated -- or rather, pre-determined -- by money stresses, and motivated by a "dearth" mentality, which usually results in poor choices in both the short- & long-term. Forget it. I refuse to participate in that attitude. I'd rather be thankful for what I have and focus on that, considering the long-term cost benefit analysis in terms of both one's health AND pocketbook.

So instead of stressing out about it, I decided that it was best to view the current situation as an opportunity. You know the old expression about "making lemonade out of lemons," etc., etc.? Yeah, I'm going to make the most of it, and have a d*mned good time doing it. :)

And while I'm currently very cost-conscious at the moment, I still believe that one's long-term health is never worth sacrificing for short-sighted, short-term gains. In other words, I won't be subjecting anyone in my household (including the cats!) to so-called "cheap food," which actually ends up being quite expensive after factoring in the heavy cost of medical bills caused by a lifetime of artery-clogging food choices. Yes, expediency and cost still do matter to some extent, but not at the cost of my family's health: I would rather make quick and simple meals using whole foods before giving up on all counts & just grabbing a Big Mac. :)

I think it's possible to make meals which are both healthy and cost-conscious. And right here, through this blog, I'd like to show you how you can accomplish all that on a budget.

A while back, some of you might recall that I blogged about how you can save money by buying your spices in bulk, either online or at your local ethnic grocery store. And just yesterday, I blogged about how you can find healthy & tasty, creative meal ideas by centering your cooking inspiration around coupons.

And today, I bring you yet another idea for how to cook a healthy meal on a budget: Take inventory of your kitchen pantry and fridge.

Now this isn't as daunting as it sounds. You don't need to lift or examine anything, or reorganize your entire pantry in the process. All you have to do is get a piece of paper and write down a list of items that perhaps haven't gotten a lot of use (or exposure to natural light!) lately but could perhaps be incorporated into a meal of some kind. In other words, try to find food items that you'd like to "use up" but that could still be made into a tasty meal of some sort.

Simply put, this activity is the food equivalent of going clothes-shopping in your own closet to find new outfit combinations you never even knew you had. :)

Before proceeding with this exercise, I have one word of caution: Make sure you're in a solid state of mind when you conduct this little inventorying exercise. What I mean is this: While I'm not about to send my sister, who happens to be a psychiatrist, to visit all of your homes to administer a mental fitness test :), it's of the essence that you do your inventorying when you're in a calm (read, "non-panic-button-pushing-but-still-conscious") state of mind. I cannot stress this enough. Make sure that you are not having one of those "moments," in which whatever ingredients you choose to combine in the kitchen won't be thoroughly regretted later at the dinner table by both you and your family. :)

Please note, this is NOT an exercise in "getting rid of foodstuffs" by way of inflicting them upon unwitting dinner guests. :) Using up items is not necessarily the same thing as getting rid of them!

As my mother & sister like to joke, many a calamitous cooking disaster has begun with five little innocent-sounding words: "What can I use up?" :) There have been many unfortunate tales of woe revolving around such dire kitchen miscalculations, several of which have been comically recounted by the female members of my family. Of course, I'm not at liberty to release any of the details, having been sworn to secrecy on pain of torture by spatula-beating (LOL!). All I will say is that the results weren't pretty.

Every cook, no matter how excellent or experienced, has had their fair share of culinary bombs and bloopers. Such is the sacrificial offering which must be made to the Kitchen Muse in the name of creative experimentation. :) But it is better for one to at least try to stack the cards in one's favor by starting out with a relaxed and natural state of mind, which acts as a primer, nay the foundation, for inspired cooking. Not surprisingly, a steady mind gives way to a steady hand and heart. :)

This reminds me of a certain hilarious incident from my past, one which has no doubt been comically retold by my mother on numerous occasions, in which I decided that I would take all of the leftover lipsticks in my bathroom drawer & combine them into a new shade. Yes, I created my very own shade of lipstick, and it should've been named "Vampira," because it was a not-so-lovely brownish purple color that, when applied, gave the impression that all of the color had been drained from my face. :) See, there was a reason those shades had been left over in the drawer. It would have been so much smarter if I'd have just chucked them in the bin instead of temporarily morphing myself into a cosmetical "Dr. Frankenstein." ;) Attempting to use up all the ingredients in your pantry without paying mind to their expiration date or actual originally-intended purpose is the culinary equivalent of this activity. :-D

Such impulsiveness is generally ill-advised. :) Rather, write down about 20 ingredients on a piece of paper, and then go online & search for a recipe based on a few of these ingredients -- feel free to search this blog if you like :) -- or use a recipe generator like RecipePuppy or CookThing.

That way, the exercise becomes a practical, problem-solving tool, instead of a "Rorschach" experiment. :)

Good luck!

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