I’m taking the San Francisco Food Bank’s Hunger Challenge – trying to feed my husband (the Bottomless Pit) and myself for just $4 each per day. And, newsflash! Thanks to thousands who twittered these hunger facts, Tyson is sending 100,000 pounds of food to the San Francisco Food Bank!
It’s really a no-brainer. Quality ingredients make a huge difference in the final result of a meal. But when you use good ingredients all the time, you just tend to forget how crucial they are. The BP and I each had a slice of bacon ($.14 per person) for breakfast. That bacon should have been a treat – but instead, it was our cheap Hunger Challenge bacon. “This tastes like a piece of paper dipped in oil and rolled in salt,” the BP said. Well put. Fortunately, we each had a perfectly good bowl of oatmeal ($.10 pp), with a shared banana ($.13 pp) and pear ($.12 pp). Total $.49. I should throw in an extra $5 for how annoyed I was at that bacon, though.
Since we both worked at home, we had a bowl of leftover chili ($1.20) for lunch. My general grumpiness toward food today made me decide it was just too much trouble to make carrot sticks to accompany our chili. But we did split a pear ($.12) later as an afternoon snack and I had a piece of not-so-Special Dark chocolate ($.08).
I make Ruth Reichl’s spaghetti carbonara all the time when I need a quick, satisfying meal. I’d been plotting to make that on the Hunger Challenge for a sure-fire success. Those chicken breasts the BP had already grilled on Day 1 would be perfect with it. I put a half-pound of whole-wheat fettucine (oops – mistakenly grabbed that instead of spaghetti at the store, $.75) on to boil and cut up four strips of bacon ($.56) then set them to rendering in a skillet with two cloves of garlic ($.06). I beat two eggs and tossed everything together, along with the rest of the bargain Mexican Parmesan-ish cheese ($1.00).
Yes, that was a lot of cheese – more than ½ a cup, I’d say. But I kept hoping adding more would also add some much-needed flavor. Instead, the tangle of pasta just got dry and gluey. We hadn’t used much of our one stick of butter during the week, so I lobbed a tablespoon of that in. Butter helps everything, right? I took a taste and got an immediate flavor-flashback to a packaged side-dish kit my mom used to make: Betty Crocker Noodles Romanoff. It was the 70s and they were the height of sophistication.
I piled what shall now be known as Noodles Pissedmeoff onto our plates with the chicken ($1.10 pp) and some broccoli ($.15 pp). By the time it reached the table, the pasta had managed to suck up any vestiges of moisture or butter and once again was dry and gluey. Factor in chicken breasts – not the juiciest meat on the planet – and we had to gulp a lot of water to wash this meal down. So the dinner I’d thought would be a sure-thing turned out to be a dud.
What went wrong? The cheap bacon didn’t add that smoky depth of flavor the dish needed and the cheap cheese lacked the complexity of Parmesan. The whole-wheat pasta likely absorbed more moisture than regular pasta, which didn’t help either. A simple dish that normally sings with the right ingredients came out like a drunk slurring at a karaoke bar.
On the plus side, we did have a large quantity of mediocre food. There were even leftovers! Total: $2.43.
What would it be like to work with cheap ingredients all the time? You may never realize how good a dish could actually taste. Or what if you had to leave out herbs and spices because you couldn’t afford to buy a pricey $4 bottle? It’s a culinary ghetto.
A few bites of Extreme Moose Tracks ice cream made me feel better ($.25), until I looked at the truly frightening array of unpronounceable chemicals in the ingredient deck. Well, at least no moose were harmed during the production of my delicious treat.
Total: $4.57. My most expensive day so far, and perhaps my least satisfying.
♥ Learn about the San Francisco Food Bank.
♥ Read the blogs of people taking the Hunger Challenge. There’s a blogroll here.
♥ Follow the Hunger Challengers on Twitter. There’s a listing here.
♥ Follow the San Francisco Food Bank on Twitter to see how they’re fighting hunger every day.