Once again our country has found itself in one of our cyclical financial quagmires, and the word “frugality” has been disinterred and put in everybody’s mouth. The truth is that for our ancestors this would have been a laughable thing. Most of them lived a frugal life, not because, as us, they have just noticed that we are depleting the environment, or running our lives on credit, but because they had no choice.
So what shall we do? Learn to live with less, says I. Is there any other choice?
1. Make a shopping list
Plan the week’s menu (or at least have a rough plan of what you will cook), and make a list of the ingredients that you will need. Do check that you don’t have in your kitchen what you’ve listed, sometimes we forget what’s in the cupboard.
2. Buy bulk
Some items don’t spoil with time. Those are worth buying bulk. Toiletries and some foods can be bought from distributors at much lower price and stored. The toilet paper you buy today will be just as “soft and absorbent” in a month or two.
3. Do it yourself
Sure it’s easier to use chicken broth cubes, but try this: Boil chicken bones (or beef bones), add a bit of seasoning, herbs and spices. Pour the liquid in an ice cube tray and refrigerate. It is healthier and much cheaper. Learn how to prepare your favorite dishes and prepare them at home. Leave eating out for special occasions. Make your own seasonings and condiments.
Use the leftovers to prepare other dishes. Leftover meats will make an excellent filling for a casserole. It’s better to cook arroz blanco for a few days and refrigerate every day’s servings, if you want to prepare a locrio or moro just add the rice as you’d normally do but only use 25% of the water the recipe calls for. Use “fillings” when cooking meat (eggplants, christophines, pasta), remember that a portion of meat is equivalent to the size of a deck of cards.
5. Eat healthy
Funny enough the most expensive foods usually are the ones the doctors warn us about. Fruits and vegetables fill you up, are more nutritious and are generally cheaper than processed foods. Instead of a snack, why not eat an orange, or a slice of pineapple (or whatever fruits you have available)? This is even more important when feeding your children. Serve smaller portions, your waist will thank you.
And speaking of our ancestors, this is a dessert I saw my grandmother make, then my mother. Called Maíz caquiao (cracked corn) and “Chacá” in the south of the country, this is traditionally prepared using dry corn, the skin removed by mixing the corn with hot ashes, grinding the corn in a big mortar until the skin loosens. The corn is then washed and boiled for a few hours until it is tender.
Needles to say, that takes a great deal of time. I simply use cracked corn that I buy in the supermarket. I may be all about frugality and doingitmyselfness, but I am sure my neighbors will not appreciate my starting a fire to obtain hot ashes.
Maíz caquio or chacá, somewhere between sweet soup and pudding, might take a long time to make, but this is dish worth trying.
- 1 cup of cracked corn
- 4 cups whole milk
- 1 cup of brown sugar
- 1/4 cup of rice (optional)
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 1 tablespoon of cloves
- 1 tablespoon of butter (optional)
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- Soak corn overnight.
- Boil corn until it is very soft. For this I highly recommend you use a pressure cooker (it will take 45 minutes in a pressure cooker, 2-3 hours or more in a regular pot).
- In a thick bottom pot add corn, rice, 1 1/2 quart of water (better if it is the water in which you boiled the corn, add fresh water if needed), milk, cinnamon and cloves.
- Cook over low heat until the liquids reduce to half and the rice is cooked through. Add the butter, salt and sugar to taste.
- Chill before serving.
The consistency of this dish is a matter of taste. While purists will aim for a thick, creamy one, my taste is for a less-thick (more like soup) one. My solution is just to add more milk and adjust sugar once it's chilled.