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I've been living frugally for almost a decade now, grew up in a family that was frugal even when we lived in what I now understand to be upper middle class. That was passed down from my grandparents on both sides, who were children during the hard times between WW1 and WW2, and parents during WW2, on opposite sides of the war.

My mom's family is from Alberta, and I'm just 3 generations back from farmers on that side: my grandmother grew up on a farm, and remembers her mother, smeared with blood and feathers, telling her never to learn how to clean a chicken, or she'd be cleaning chickens for the rest of her life.

My dad's family is from Vienna, Austria, and our farming roots go at least another generation back, to what's now Czechia, and was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Empire. During the war and after, the family would visit and summer in a rural village, working for their board. It was hard to get fresh, good food in the city, and a much nicer life in the country, so nice that one of my aunts married a local boy and lives there still, a grandmother.

I could go on, but my intended point is that I was raised frugal but urban post-agricultural, a city boy, and want to share/swap some cheap feast recipes.

But first, a few guiding principles:

1-I buy local when I can, am willing to pay a bit more to support small local business, eg Farmer's Markets.

2-I buy organic as I can afford, eg Fresh Fields and My Organic Market, but only for things that have a reasonable price point.

3-I buy close as I can: close to the production source. Honey, not processed sugar. Potatoes, not potato chips. The closer to the source you buy, the more likely that the money you're paying is going to the person who did the work.

4-I buy bulk as I can, to cut down on packaging and shipping. That usually has more to do with what I buy, then where I buy, because I don't have a Costco card, nor do I like Walmart/Target. But if you shop on price per pound or ounce, you realize that you can save enourmous amounts by just not buying marketting/packaging.

5-I think seasonal - I try to buy within the seasons. 2 generations back, before next-day international shipping, and refrigerator trucks from California, and hot-houses in Canada, and so on, people lived seasonally, harvested and smoked and stored and canned and pickled and preserved to get through the winter.

They didn't have papaya for breakfast in February or ever but they got through, and while I do like papaya occasionally, I also like thinking seasonally, which means feasting in summer into fall on fresh local produce and then switching to root vegetables through fall and into spring - potatoes, yams, onions, garlic, cabbage, and so on. Fresh produce is usually cheap at times for all the right reasons.

6-I accent with luxuries. Red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, blue cheese, bacon, olive oil, balsamic vinegar...all have a strong presence and a small amount can make a big aesthetic difference

7-I pack my lunches. I bring food when I know I'm going to get hungry. I do a lot of manual labor, and I've learned to carb-load on brown rice, and cook feasts that will get me through a few days. 2 tupperware containers, a frozen bottle of water, and a cooler storage bag, mean that I feast happily when I'm hungry, wherever I am.

Caveats:
1-I cook with fats/oil. That's just my metabolism - I can't get fat. I don't eat diet food, it feels like I'm being ripped off. I think that fat is healthy - I collect the fat from frying bacon and smear it on my toast as a luxury.

For those who don't, I've found that it's almost always possible to cook with water instead of oil, it just takes more attentiveness. And upping the vegetable percentage of the meal will reduce the carb/protein component, to your advantage, with negligible aesthetic diminishment.

2-I cook sequentially. There is a hierarchy of cooking which means that it's almost always possible to cook a great meal in 1 pot, 2 tops. You start with onions and add as you chop, slowing or spiking the heat as needed. Gas cooking is optimal but electric just takes a bit more forethought. So when I say "fry onions/garlic/ginger.." it means fry in that order, at the pace that with experience becomes appropriate.

3-I buy cheap, I cook big, and I freeze what I can't eat right away. Works best for pork and other meats, and cooked meals.

So here we go:
Basic:
Brown Rice: 2 cups rice, 4 cups water, salt and oil, (add for accent fresh mint, curry powder, half of a squuezed lime, and so on) bring to a boil, then simmer covered for 20-30 min. Ready when no water tips out. The smell from the pot changes when the water boils out. Let cool, then store in a closed container.

Raw Peanuts and Yogurt: Mixed with honey drizzled on top. You are now unstoppable.

Cabbage Salad: Chop fine one large onion and soak in a cup in the fridge in vinegar overnight, to remove the bite. Alternatively, microwave for 30-60 seconds in vinegar on high. Add to salad.

Chop fine 1 cabbage, 1 cucumber, several carrots, several tomatoes, and your preference of additions. Mix with vinegar/balsamic or rice vinegar, squeezed limes, oil/olive oil, hot peppers or hot sauce, spices, honey/molasses/brown sugar.

Salad will last in the fridge for weeks, covered and with adequate vinegar. Stir occasionally. Mix with brown rice for meals.

Chapati: I'm likely doing this wrong, but a 20-lb bag of chapati flour goes a long way. Mix with water to a dry doughy consistency, cook in a pan or over a gas flame, freeze and toast when needed.

Pasta sauce: Fry one large-3 small onions/several garlic cloves/fine-chopped hot peppers. Add spices, zuchinni, tomatoes, basil, frozen corn, tomato sauce, and so on, and simmer while stirring. Mix with rice or pasta.

Potato curry: Fry in a large pot one large-3 small onions/ 4-8 potatoes and/or yams (or add later, if boiled or microwaved)/several garlic cloves/fine-chopped hot peppers/ginger/spices. Add 1 can coconut milk and anything soft that's going to cook while simmering. A beer if you can spare it. Simmer covered, stirring for over an hour, then let cool and freeze the surplus to thaw in the future.

Angry Cabbage: Fry onions/garlic/ginger/hot peppers/sliced cabbage and accent with aesthetics like bacon, sun-dried tomatoes and red pepper. This should be so hot that while cooking it you get hot peppers in your eyes and become angry.

Oven vegetables: On broil or maybe lower, cook
-Corn on the cob still leaved (corn on the cob tastes best when the leaves are roasted/charred imparting a smoke-sear scent to the corn as it steams.
-Potatoes & yams
-Sundry squash split in half with the seeds scraped out and something interesting simmering in the void. Also you can cook the seeds. Spaghetti squash cooked and cooled makes an awesome addition to salads (don't let it soak into liquids) and acorn and other squash slip well into curries.

-Country-style pork ribs - broiled/bbq'd in a mix of molasses/brown sugar/hot pepper/curry spices/honey/garlic/ginger. Pretty much any meat cooked in that is going to be awesome.

There's way more but I want to hear what you all are feasting on!

Originally posted to erratic on Wed Jul 27, 2011 at 08:21 PM PDT.

Also republished by Living Simply and Community Spotlight.

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