Friday, 20 February 2009

Back to frugality!

Well, back from holiday - er, my long working trip - and back to reality. The odd thing is that there doesn’t seem like there’s a credit crunch in Argentina. It’s sunny all the time for a start which always helps but it’s mainly that the Argentinians are so used to economic crisis they behave exactly as normal in any downturn. One woman I spoke to said that so many people had been stung in 1991 when the government devalued the peso (now 5 to the pound) and restricted access to their accounts that they are no longer prepared to entrust the banks with their savings. If they have money they spend it. Sound familiar?

What else have I learnt (apart from how to judge a good Malbec)? That frugality is relative. Whatever you have in abundance and on your doorstep is cheap. In the Argentinians’ case that’s beef, corn and wonderful fruit and vegetables. I didn’t have to go there to find that out of course but it’s a lesson we tend to overlook.

While I was away some of my students were posting on the Beyond Baked Beans page on Facebook that cucumbers had gone up to £1.20. (I checked and it was actually worse still - £1.28) Simple lesson - don’t buy cucumber at this time of year. It has to be imported and it’s pricey. Also it doesn’t excite people the way that more popular ingredients such as strawberries and tomatoes do so it’s never going to be discounted.

If you live in the country there’s a chance that local food like game and locally grown vegetables will be relatively inexpensive. In town you’re more likely to pay less for herbs and spices. We’ve got so used to gratifying each and every culinary whim) that we decide what to make before we go shopping and actually see what’s cheap. It should be the other way round.

Anyway enough of these jet-lagged ramblings. The urgent need is to shed the 3 kilos or so I must have put on while I’m away without making myself utterly miserable. Quitting the Malbec habit for a week or two will certainly help. Any other tips?


verity said...

Sounds like an interesting trip.

I think you're right about cucumbers being less exciting than strawberries, plus as in some ways they are a "staple" people are more likely to just throw them into their trolley without thinking (which is what boyfriend would have done (he has since admitted that plain tuna and butter sandwiches are perfectly bearable).

Something I was thinking about this week is kitchen equipment - we've been eating a lot of mashed potato recently, but it is quite often lumpy as I'm still using my Sainsburys Economy (pre-basics) masher, which sort of does the job but not quite. Is it worth scrimping on kitchen equipment, or not when it can last for a while or is used a lot? And are there things which are worth splashing out on because they assist with being frugal (I'm thinking of my stick blender for soup making...).

Fiona Beckett said...

You could always try adding a bit of finely chopped celery, Verity. Gives the same crunch as cucumber but cheaper!

Doing something on kitchen equipment is a good idea. You can actually make perfectly good mash with a fork. The trick is not to add any milk or butter before the mash is smooth. Just roughly cut up the potato, mash with a fork then add milk, butter or whatever. Then beat it like mad.

A stick blender is great for soup (but not for mash - makes it gluey!)

robert said...

A frugal tip is to look out for kitchen equipment in the charity shops in wealthy areas. There are still some around as I bought a Lakeland potato ricer which was only £3 which makes superb mash. Stick blenders makes disgusting mash as fiona says

I hope you enjoyed your trip and have some new recipes to try!

Fiona Beckett said...

Good point Robert. I love scouring charity shops for bargains and you're right you sometimes come across some great kit. A ricer will certainly help you achieve perfect mash, Verity if you're prepared to spend a few more minutes making it.

Not much culinary inspiration from Argentina apart from barbecuing offal of which you'll be hearing more in the months to come . . .