Okay, babydolls. Before Broke-Ass starts cataloging more yes-we-can recipes, she feels called on to supply a little background. So, herewith: Broke-Ass Background (abridged).
Lo around the time that the economy tanked in 2008—and Broke-Ass’ income plummeted at roughly mach five—she smacked, also at roughly mach five, into a revelation: A decent loaf of bread is fucking expensive!
The velocity of this impact lurched her forward, and smacking into revelations took on the gestalt of smashing through plate glass window after plate glass window in a brake-less Batmobile: Decent granola is expensive, as is decent tea; any kind of sauce or dressing; paraben-free cleaning stuff; cosmetics!; and on and on and on and on. And on.
At the end of this brutal psychic gauntlet came the penultimate reality-check: Broke-Ass could not afford any of this stuff anymore. She actually could not pay for it—and would not be able to pay for it for an indefinite period. But she still had to take care of her three children.
Now, Broke-Ass is hardly the first mother in the world to have been sucker-punched by such realities. Most of the world’s mothers are continuously sucker-punched thusly and a whole hell of a lot worse. But—call her privileged, call her spoiled, call her entitled, call her a lot worse—Broke-Ass was utterly unprepared for it.
Broke-Ass had been raised by upper middle-class intellectuals among upper middle-class intellectuals to be an upper middle-class intellectual. And while Broke-Ass had certainly known hardship and hard work in her life, she had never known grinding poverty. She sure as hell knew it now. But she still had to take care of her three children. And Broke-Ass was unwilling to give up the decent loaf of bread, the decent granola, tea, cosmetics. And so on.
That’s when she turned a corner and had an encouraging—rather than a brain-goring—revelation: The companies making all these natural, healthy products that she used to buy couldn’t be that much smarter than she was. Shit, poor schlubs in the middle-ages who used grass to wipe their asses made stuff like this. She should be able to figure it out, too.
So, she began. She did not enroll in a cooking class (no money); she did not have a fancy kitchen (she lives in little house in the ghetto); she did not have fancy knives or tools (she went to a few of those kitchen supply places in the Bowery and hoped for the best). Recently divorced and with no money even for a damn cookbook, Broke-Ass got free recipes from Epicurious.com. She followed the instructions. After about two weeks of doing this every day, Broke-Ass had learned how to cook.
Pretty soon, she realized that it is not necessary to follow every recipe to a T, particularly if the recipe is asking for some expensive item. For example, if a recipe calls for red wine, you can use diluted balsamic vinegar—or even apple cider vinegar and a wee bit of honey mixed with water. If the recipe calls for saffron—which costs as much as a human pancreas on the black market—use tumeric, which is cheap as sure as Bob’s your uncle and kills cancer. If Cornish game hens are called for, fuck ‘em: use a chicken and just use your head to tinker with cooking times. And you should always add twice as much garlic to everything.
Same thing went for baking. Broke-Ass felt totally shamed by baking recipes and their bourgeois instructions, i.e. use the paddle attachment on your mixer. Fuck you and your yuppie paddle attachment. If you asked someone for a paddle attachment in my neighborhood, you’d be in for an ugly surprise. A big old spoon—or plain old hands—mushed everything together just fine. Scones, muffins, biscuits; even crackers. No big deal. At all. And it was money in the pocket.
Making bread with active yeast? What’s the problem? Yeast, as many women know, likes to grow in warm, moist places and eat a little sugar. Gross, hell yes, but it made sense. So, Broke-Ass put the quarter cup of warm water in the bowl; mixed in a tablespoon of honey and dry active yeast; let it get all foamy; then put in the flour and whatever else (sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, and so on); kneaded; let rise; punched down; let rise; punched down; let rise; rolled into a couple oiled bread pans; baked. In between punching and kneading, she wrote her book and magazine articles. And when all was said and done, her house smelled delicious, her kids thought she was a genius, and she had saved another five bucks a week.
Broke-Ass’ biggest revelation in terms of self-sufficiency was: There was no big deal about any of it. You just had to do it. Since Broke-Ass had been raised in a household that stipulated memorization of Shakespeare sonnets and Donne sestinas as allowance chores, she had never learned shit about the finer, or coarser, points of domestic life maintenance. But arriving in middle-age dead broke with three children, she had learned that feeding a family on Nathan was easily as complex as a sestina—and just as revelatory—but not symbolic.
Which made it better. It was real.