How to Eat Poorly
When you are quite broke (and pray tell, when you are wealthy, too) it is good to eat slowly. The food seems to be more plentiful, probably because it lasts longer. And no matter how sunk you are, nothing seems so grim if your head is clear and your teeth are clean and your bowels function properly. I find that during times of particularly feeble means, by inviting friends to dine with me, the larder multiplies like on the shores of Galilee. So when I say to eat "poorly" I mean "in the manner of the [ ]."
First, make a list of your personal staples. Buy two of everything. For me it's almost always: vegetable stock, chicken stock, coconut milk, a pound of walnuts, a pound of rice (white if I think I'm in the pan-Asian mood, brown if I'm a wholesome American), 12oz wild rice or quinoa, a dozen eggs, whole peeled tomatoes, black beans, kidney beans, spinach, kale, carrots, onions, garlic, lemons, good coffee to last me two weeks. I almost always have a couple cans of wild-caught salmon for making patties. What I have constantly in the cupboards, using little by little, is salt, pepper, paprika, dill, cayenne, cumin, turmeric, curry, and bay leaves. Also: soy sauce, vinegar, mustard, honey, butter, good olive oil, herbs growing on my window sill. On a whim I might add to the list: a fresh beet, three potatoes, butternut squash, asparagus, whole milk, a hunk of fancy cheese, oatmeal, a lamb shank, white fish, oysters, a can of Jyoti saag or curry dumplings. I never spend more than eighty-dollars a month on basic groceries, though of course there are always the late night runs for beer, gin, and ice cream. That's up to you though. Some needs exceed means. For instance, at the bodega last night, the man ahead of me in line asked for his Colt 45 and a pack of cigarettes on credit. "I get paid on the 18th," he said, and the clerk said OK.
A trick is to never buy snacks, not really. And avoid juices, sauces, and spreads except where the desire burns hot. Same for crackers and bars and chips. It makes a great deal of difference. Decide on a few non-perishable versions of things, like what to buy canned or frozen. I buy mostly organic, and it's often only a few cents more per item. A nice hunk of beef can be a great friend in tough times. Ignore specialty vegetarian products and go straight to the basics.
Then learn the simple tricks: a whole baked onion with goat cheese and rosemary, eaten with a fork; egg-drop soup; double-garlic greens; Spanish black beans; red beans and rice; hot-and-cold salad; a heap of of everything sauteed in a pan (burger, veggies, coconut milk, spices) into what Chanelle calls, "rubbish"; huevos rancheros; honeyed carrots; lettuce wraps; fritatta; kale and white bean soup; mashed potatoes; salmon cakes; a simple sauce of a couple peeled and squashed tomatoes, with onions, garlic and lots of olive oil, stewed slowly and put on anything--though the tomatoes are best if you squash them while stewing. Carry nuts in your pockets. Don't forget to peer in dumpsters or ask your local grocery store for expired things. My stepmother spent a weekend once teaching me how to make soup that would last until next Saturday, lasting twice as long (I swear) when you invite someone over to eat it with you.