My PhD is not in food science, so what authority do I have to write a blog called Creative Economy in the Kitchen? A lifetime of experience!
First, my parents had both been raised on farms, and they carried over the ‘waste not, want not’ ethos into our Midwestern US home. My sisters and I always helped in the family vegetable garden, and grew up knowing that food was the result of hard work. We had plenty, but you used what was available, and you made the most of it.
In contrast, my first husband had what his mother referred to as ‘champagne tastes and beer wages’. No matter how low the pay check, he expected interesting food. He was himself a good cook, and liked to make big, showy dishes. However, he also refused to eat leftovers, unless he didn’t know they were leftovers! This didn’t fit well with my own relationship with food, but I rose to the creative challenge.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was a single parent for 13 years (and full time student for 10 of them). For some of that time, my kids and I lived on student financial aid and food stamps. I discovered the world of government surplus ‘Food Commodities’: occasional parcels of large quantities of sometimes obscure ingredients, such as a sack of powdered eggs or a crate of chocolate cookie wafers, along with 5 pound bags of flour and maybe some butter. Gifts from my home were often edibles made from such bounty, with the help of my large collection of cookbooks.
Over the years, I was also the grateful recipient of seasonal garden gluts from friends and family. Repayment was in the form of helping whenever I could in their garden or kitchen, especially during canning season. In the meantime, I had to find as many ways as possible to use a bushel of football-sized parsnips before they went bad, or a grocery sack of zucchini or rhubarb.
Thanks to student loans, I was able to take my little family to France for a year as part of my studies. There, we explored new kinds of food, but the biggest challenge was the under-furnished kitchen in our cheap apartment. Cooking equipment consisted of a two-burner hotplate and a toaster oven. Somehow, I managed to make a Thanksgiving dinner for five with all the trimmings. Admittedly, the turkey wasn’t very pretty, but it was tasty.
Eventually, my personal finances improved, but my economical attitude has never changed: food is to be respected. So when I was faced with a cupboard full of exotic spices left behind by my new husband’s former lodger, I saw an opportunity to practise cooking with them, and decide which ones I liked enough to buy more of.
These days, we have our own vegetable garden, and we share the seasonal glut with friends and family, but I also still enjoy the challenge of coming up with new and interesting ways to use what we keep. Hopefully, you’ll find the ideas and recipes here helpful in your own efforts at Creative Economy in the Kitchen.