Go Back
Print this page

Food + Cooking

Extreme Frugality: In Cod We Trust

In this month of no spending, it’s the little things that loom large.
extreme frugality

As each day reduces our stock faster than we had planned, our cupboards do not runneth over. We did not go out and buy enough of what we consider to be essentials to carry us through the entire four weeks; that wasn’t the point. But I must admit, since each day seems to require more and more ingenuity to craft a tasty meal and provide the kids with what they need, I sort of wish we had. While we have enough protein—as well as fats, grains, and vegetables—to last much longer than a month, more than two weeks in, we’re losing the kids. They’re not complaining, but when they ask for something that we might usually have for a treat—squeezable yogurts, for example—and Lisa or I say they’re all gone, they go screaming from the room, tears flowing, raving something along the lines of, “I can’t stand it! This was the dumbest idea in the world!! I hate you! I hate you!”

Oh, wait, that was me, when I realized that not only had we run out of half-and-half, horror of all horrors, but the substitute—condensed milk—was practically gone as well. I can’t wait for October. It’s not just the h-and-h issue. I like variety, the spice of life, even the kind allowed on a frugal budget.

I guess that’s why the phone message from my friend George almost brought me to tears. Okay, that isn’t quite true: It did bring me to tears.

“Hodding, I’ve got a proposition for you,” George had said. “It concerns food. Lots of free food, and all you have to do is call me back. Come on, Hodding. I know you can’t pass this up. But it has to be now—not the usual two or three days it takes you for to call me back.”

Okay, so maybe I’m not all that prompt at returning calls. I used to be—before the kids got older and seemed to need my time even when they weren’t around, before we had two warring chicken flocks that were always trying to cross the demilitarized zone, before the new kitten took to waking me up at all hours with a flying leap to my blissfully unconscious skull, before ….

Anyway, I called him back immediately, and, ignoring his shocked demeanor, pressed for details. I was not disappointed. He had cod—almost 70 pounds—and he needed help in processing it. He knew I’d been obsessed with smoking fish a couple of years ago, and was up for anything when it comes to food.

While I’d rather George had caught a species less threatened than Atlantic cod, he did use hook and line, which, unlike other methods, doesn’t destroy fish habitat, lead to overfishing, or kill bycatch. Greenpeace, via an animated fish singing like Amy Winehouse, reminds us that, “The only fish that’s fine … is caught on a hook and line. They try to sell orange roughy, but we say no, no, no.”

With Mark Kurlansky’s Cod as our bible and A. J. McClane’s Encyclopedia of Fish Cookery in reserve, for the next 24 hours we smoked, chowdered, salted, and made pâté to our hearts’ content. It’s amazing, in fact, what you can do with a fish when you really put your mind to it. To celebrate our ingenuity (and ensure nothing was wasted), George also decided to host an impromptu cod fry.

But what does all this have to do with needing half-and-half for my coffee, you might wonder? Well, the chowder idea was mine. One of the essential ingredients—of the New England variety, at least—is cream, which is what I suggested when people started asking what they could bring. “But make it half-and half,” I added. “We don’t want to clog anyone’s arteries, right?”

So thoughtful.

Sadly, they brought too much. George suggested I take home the extra.

Now, we just need somebody to throw a yogurt party.

Frugal Tip of the Week

If you’ve gone way overboard (like deciding to spend no money for an entire month) and are using candles to read by at night, make them last longer by freezing them. Once this month is over, we’re going to make our own candles—yes, I’ll write about it—and then compare frozen ones to unfrozen ones to see how much of a difference there really is.