When the Fino fug finally clears and I rise to blue skies, I’m all excited-like. January 1st! A new beginning! A fresh start! The chance to plan 365 days of explorative feasts! Or not. The response to my Most Excellent Guide to necessary noshing is not the irritating-but-tolerable’out-of-office’. Worse. A panicky text informing me a particularly gourmet guy has a £10 weekly food budget’till payday.
Radical rethink required. Said friend is not easily satisfied- runs like a maniac; eats like a horse; and prefers to dine like a king. But they don’t call me the Parsimonious Princess for nothing. Through careful application of scrimping, sampling and shopping, that basic budget will know no bounds. Project Sustenance is go- though I’ve got a feeling my tips will yield pretty sumptuous sustenance.
A big chunk for staples, the rest for daily needs. Be strict. Stick to it. The odd packet of crisps or chewing gum seems trivial, but it tots up. And if you don’t have cheese powder all round your gob from the former you won’t need the latter to freshen up. Weekly savings are a Lotto Rollover- not for splurging till there’s a VERY credible amount. Playing Flash Harry got you here in the first place.
You aint getting a fix in a fancy be-logo’d cup. Or M&S sushi, or a post-toil curry-and-a-pint with colleagues. It won’t kill you- try spending scoffing time pounding the pavement and see it, indeed, making you stronger. Pack a lunchbox and flask; spend evenings odd-jobbing, catching up on telly, becoming Employee of the Week… or just getting tomorrow’s food sorted. No one has fun in January. You’re not missing anything.
On our increasingly diverse isle, supermarkets are twigging people want home comforts for what they might pay at home- and won’t be sold their favourite grub as if’twere a rare truffle. Don’t be fooled by the fancypants Old El Paso/Blue Dragon aisle- visit’World Foods’ and discover Sri Lankan country rice, Polish cheese, and tubs of Tahini. Feast on Philippeno, Caribbean, German… or even Irish. Those Kimberly biscuits are good.
Go Big Or Go Home
Don’t fanny about with big-brand Basmati, or spaff your cash on a pathetic pack of a’gourmet’ grain. Press your muscles- and several pulses- into service. Red lentils and their ilk are versatile and nutritious- buy by the kilo. Teamed with rice- the less refined the better- they’re a complete protein source. Top up with tinned tomatoes and pulses, and smugly grab grains like kasha, barley couscous, and Yotam’s beloved moghrabieh at sensible prices.
Y’know that tin of Patum Peperium, or that unopened packet of Persian dried limes? They’re having a moment. As are storecupboard lurkers like that ominously sulphurous black salt or mysterious jar of condiment with which you were’gifted’. Dicover what they actually DO. Don’t guess, stoopid- that’ll waste resources and sap morale. Get ye to t’internet and let you smartphone enlighten you.
I’m not eating that!
Confrontation with a pluck or an entire, goggle-eyed head renders you as sheepish as the animal of origin. Yet if a hotshot chef plonked it down and commanded you feast, you would. And feast you will, provided you man up.’Forgotten’ cuts like oxtail have’forgotten’ their own humble roots, now premium-priced- but offally good offal’s still next to nowt. It’s bloody good for you, too.
International stores are your buddies for fresh goods- the bigger the better. If you’re near a branch of miracle mini-chain Turkish Food Centre, a lavish loaf of pide will set you back just 60p. A kilo of thick yogurt? Around a pound. Snap up bushy bunches of herbs, leafy veg, and essential flavourings like ginger, garlic and chillies for pence. Plus spices in quantities that put Schwartz to shame.
Get your hands dirty
Ready meals? No. Expensive and unsatisfying. See your plight as the chance to master covetable skills- a 5kg sack of flour could perfect your pasta-making, bread-baking and roti-rolling. A tin of soup’s pretty cheap, but realising a stew-pack of root veg will do a week of lunches for the same price as a single can brings perspective. And a few more pennies to splash on the odd KitKat.
The frozen aisle aint all chips. Frozen ginger cubes are a godsend.’Value’ ranges yield decent fruit and veg- ready-prepped and waste-free. Some are a bit soggy, but fine for blitzing into soups and smoothies. Being similarly’canny’ with tinned goods can produce gooseberry crumble or decent mushy peas. Steer clear or stir-fry in either form, though.
Local fruit’n’veg markets
A cheap banana is just as super as the latest’wonderfood’. Similarly, the £1 Wholefoods apple is not superior to a 10p market specimen. And nor are you for thinking so. Go trad- a trillion tiny tomatoes, cabbages big as your’ead, a bonny bunch of beets; or branch out- winter squash, avocados or fat aubergines. Go for filling varieties, and add flavour in the prep. You won’t be satiated by a pound-a-bowl of celery- but one of yams’ll fill your belly nicely.
Hitting the supermarket at 3am delivers ridiculous reductions- and no queue. Braving the braying hoardes near closing on a Sunday, you’ll see similar price slashes- but the trauma may outweigh the triumph. A daily dash round the yellow-sticker section might nab you a rib of beef for a couple of quid- but even a 30p bag of stirfry or a wedge of’whiffy’ cheese will pimp your pilaf.
Till next time, tightwad- when I’ll have you determinedly dining out and looking out luxuries for less. Happy scrimping.