Budgets vs. Reality
by Barbara M. Barthelette
I read cookbooks and find it hard to believe when I see recipes for ‘cooking gourmet on a budget’. What these people seem to have on hand in times of limited cash, sure doesn’t match up to what I find available in my cupboards between paydays.
One recipe states that a simple dish of angel hair pasta garnished with tiny shrimp, bits of leftover clams with a dash of olive oil and freshly ground pepper will elegantly nourish any family. I don’t know whether I should start feeling inferior now but I don’t have any shrimp on hand! And the days we have clam chowder, the whole can of clams goes into giving the boiled milk and potatoes at least a taste reminiscent of our hard-shelled friend. Being on a budget means being creative in times of need. However, the tuna, corn oil and elbow macaroni just didn’t seem destined to become anything that had the remotest possibility of being eaten by my children. Spaghetti with spiced up tomato soup stood a better chance of acceptance.
Or, as another would-be-helpful recipe stated, you can stretch your meat with the addition of mushrooms, tiny onions, baby carrots and tofu cubes. Forget the fungus! Even if they are on sale, how many children do you know that will eat anything that even touches a mushroom? One chopped onion equals a dozen tiny pearl onions and is much easier to hide in a gravy. The best I could do for baby carrots was to carve them down to the appropriate size. Since only threats can get carrots eaten around here anyway, it really doesn’t matter how big or small they are, right? And I won’t even eat tofu no matter how far it might stretch my budget.
When it comes to salad, the books always tell us to be fresh and creative. My favorite idea was empaling bits of vegetables and greenery on toothpicks and then piercing them artfully into the flesh of a grapefruit. We are promised that our family will rave about this and happily consume our healthy arrangement. Between paydays, my vegetable bin will yield, perhaps, a couple of tomatoes, a stalk of wilted celery, a carrot or two and a forgotten branch of broccoli. I suppose I could substitute an old Styrofoam ball from the craft cupboard for the grapefruit but the result would be rather pitiful. Limp celery chunks do not stand up well on a toothpick, pieces of tomatoes tend to drip and carrots are almost impossible to stick on a toothpick. Besides, if memory serves me, my children probably found some creative use for the toothpicks weeks ago, leaving me with just three.
Dessert was my absolute favorite. When you don’t have a lot of time, according to the easy-does-it gourmets, and want to make an impression, just bring on a variety of cheese, fruit and crackers. I imagine many of you sport cupboards very similar to mine. Can you picture a platter adorned with slices of processed cheese, a lone apple arranged so the bite doesn’t show snuggled up against a couple of teething biscuits?
I am afraid that there are budgets and then there are budgets! I, fortunately or unfortunately, fall into the budget of total reality! Whatever pasta shape is available in the pantry gets smothered in creative tomato soup. We stretch our meat budget by cutting smaller pieces. Carrot and celery sticks get revived in ice water. And the one who took the initial bite out of the apple gets to read Genesis after dinner.