It seems that menu planning is never far from my mind, recently. Perhaps it is because of the change of season and the foods coming into their best, the anticipation of apples and pears in abundance, or perhaps it is because there have been several lovely new cookery books, magazines and tv series recently. Whatever it is, I have been thinking more and more about What To Cook.
It is a tricky balance for me, as I am working long hours, and it is very easy to fall into the trap of having no time to plan, so you end up having to get something on the way home from work, which really isn't very satisfying. Somehow it seems impossible to come out of a shop with change from a £10 note, but then again, perhaps part of the problem is that we so rarely pay with actual money nowadays.
This time last year we were adjusting on living mainly on one salary; the spectre of another restructure and another possible redundancy beckons. The idea that there won't be as much money seems very real again. Even without that, I found myself walking out of the shop the other evening, tired and worn to a ravelling, having paid money for food that wasn't particularly inspiring, but was easy and quick, thinking 'surely, for the money I have, I can do better than this'.
For the budget I have for food, I should be able to provide tasty healthy seasonal meals. I can, I know I can, from experience. But it has felt a bit more of a struggle recently. And then in a timely way, I came across this post over at The Quince Tree:
I quickly totted up how much I would have to spend...there are two of us, so two times four is eight, seven days in a week, seven times eight is fifty six, which isn't bad at all, and isn't that different to what I have in my budget now. Until you realise that is dollars not pounds, so I would actually have £34.58 which really isn't so very much after all. I don't want to throw myself into doing this right away, I want more time to think. But the seeds are planted, and I am thinking away, ideas bubbling.
A few months ago, I noticed that a food bank had just been started, and was appealing for donations. I had a tumble of feelings - good that something is being done to help people who need it, sad that there are people who need it, and vaguely horrified by the list of foods requested, tempered by the realisation that when the wolf is at the door you will of course eat whatever there is. It isn't that I wanted to donate caviar or lobster, but UHT milk, instant mashed potato and tinned meat just isn't very inspiring. I pray that I will never have to find out what it is like to need a donation of food just to keep going, and I know that if I did I would be grateful to have something to feed my family with, but reading through the shopping list, I couldn't help but think surely there is a better way of feeding your family cheaply, than this? And just because people are in straightened circumstances, that doesn't mean that you stop liking nice food. And nice food to me doesn't necessarily mean expensive food. I had a thought flitter through my mind that it woudl be lovely to get together with some of my friends to share our favourite thrifty end-of-the-month recipes, that are so tasty you would be happy eat them any time of the month, even on payday! And then I thought that we could print that little booklet and put donate it with the food boxes. But then I thought, surely that would be a bit patronizing. Yet then again, if you haven't been taught to cook from scratch, it must be bewildering to suddenly have to do it. And it never fails to amaze me how many people don't know. Just the other day, we walked through the park, round the pond, and noticed a couple who were feeding the ducks with entire flatbreads, bagels, and fresh from the packet Kingsmill bread...hopefully they will never have to cut back, and maybe I am judging them harshly, but I can't imagine that there is a lot of cooking from scratch in their kitchen!