Payday arrives every other week here, and the check that’s closest to the first gets a big chunk taken out for rent. (Too big, frankly, which is part of why we’re moving.) That leaves us with one week or so per month, between having paid the rent and waiting for the next payday, that ends up being a pretty lean week. This week is one of those weeks.
Enter Wally, the handsome man on your right.
He’s 11, which is not ancient for an indoor cat, but it’s not youthful either. Sunday afternoon was spent in the vet’s office trying to diagnose what’s making him have a runny nose and keeping him from eating. [Short answer from the vet: “uh, I ‘unno.”]
After leaving the vet’s office several hundred dollars lighter than when I went in, I immediately started thinking about the week ahead. While my pantry was already pretty well-stocked with my usual staples, I started to think about what else I might need for the week… and I realized I have a handful of go-to ingredients that are cheap and would to brighten up boring food (like beans and rice) without spending a lot.
1. Limes. In the lemon vs. lime debate, I am always firmly Team Lime. Less bitter, less sour, slightly floral — what’s not to love? In my neighborhood, a dollar will get you between 3 to 12 limes, depending on the time of year, but even just one lime will liven up a lot. A wedge squeezed over black bean soup? Perfect! Lime juice + mayo + cumin? Instant salad dressing!
2. Herbs. First off, if you’re paying more than a buck for fresh herbs, chances are they’re already less than ideal. But a dollar spent on, say, a good-looking bunch of flat-leaf parsley will enhance dishes for at least a week — possibly even more, if you follow this tip for keeping the herbs in your fridge fresh.
3. Fresh garlic. This tip is not for everyone… it’s for you with the jars of pre-minced garlic in your fridge. You know who you are. Honey, please. Just throw it out. By the time it’s been processed into those little jars, it hardly even tastes like garlic anymore. Not only is a head of fresh garlic tastier, it’s cheaper and probably better for you.
4. Fire-roasted canned tomatoes. I love these canned roasted tomatoes from Hunt’s — they impart a fantastic smoky note to whatever you’re cooking. Open a can, throw in some old bread, maybe a cucumber and a clove of the garlic I insisted you buy, and you’ve got amazing gazpacho.
5. Cream (or even half-and-half). Not a lot, mind you, but even a little half-pint will go far in making things taste better. Jar of not-especially-great tomato sauce you bought on sale turns into a light tomato-cream sauce. A bag of frozen corn and a couple of potatoes becomes a chowder.