Art is the Handmaid of Human Good

i guess i was punk once

Lowell Sun Article

Laid-off marketer’s blog chronicles creation of gourmet meals on $60 a week
By Kathleen Pierce, kpierce@lowellsun.com

Shopper Marianne Gries picks up a cucumber at Market Basket on Broadway Street in Lowell. SUN/BILL BRIDGEFORD

Shopper Marianne Gries picks up a cucumber at Market Basket on Broadway Street in Lowell. SUN/BILL BRIDGEFORD

LOWELL — It started as a necessity. Now it’s a source of pride.

Marianne Gries got laid off from her marketing job in December and realized her three-night-a-week dining out budget needed to be cut — drastically. Her partner, who is still employed, crunched some numbers and decided $60 was all they could spend on food each week.

“At first I was scared. I thought we’d be eating Hamburger Helper,” said Gries, rounding the corners of Market Basket last week tossing mushrooms and leeks into her cart.

Instead of looking at her new reality as a grim life sentence, the crafty Connecticut Yankee, who now lives in Pawtucketville, turned it into a positive and The $60 a Week Project was born.

“I take the money out on Monday and it has to last me through Sunday night,” said Gries holding an envelope with this week’s kitty.

On her blog, Art is the Handmaid of Human Good, she shares recipes in mouth-watering detail with step-by-step pictures. Hamburger Helper, it is not.

Her mushroom-leek pizza, taken from the Fields of Green cookbook — we watched her shop for the ingredients — was a tasty, thrifty success. Because she is a semi-vegetarian, the savings from meatless meals are huge.

“Cheese is important, but can be a big splurge,” she says snapping up a wedge of Gruyere for three dollars and change. “That’s not too bad.”

By letting the public in on her quirky quests, the 35-year-old is winning over fans in cyberspace quickly. “My friends say they love it and they tell their friends.”

After living in San Francisco before moving to Lowell, Gries was so impressed with the prices at Market Basket that the chain’s bright lights and old-school Linoleum floors no-longer bother her.

“The ambiance might be nicer elsewhere, but I don’t know what I would do without it. I love Market Basket,” she said.

The plus side of being laid-off is the gift of time. Gries has rediscovered her love of cooking and can’t underscore enough the financial boon that comes with DIY meals.

“The more things you can make, like cookies, instead of buying, the better,” said Gries, who also bakes her own pretzels and bread.

The recipes on her blog (mariannika.wordpress.com.), for lentil soup with caramelized onion, rice, and spinach and creamy lemon pasta, is proof one can eat like a gourmet goddess for a few 20s.

“Everyone keeps telling me it would make a great book,” she says with a shoulder hunch. “I’m really happy that people seem to be finding it interesting and helpful.”

How to shop on $60 a week

  1. Start with good menu planning.
  2. Shop with a list so you won’t get distracted and succumb to impulse buys.
  3. Cook with leftovers in mind.
  4. Find multiple recipes to go with every ingredient you shop for, so no item is wasted.
  5. Check circulars and shop where the sales are.
  6. Don’t be wedded to certain meals. You must be flexible to be frugal.
  7. Cash is key. Don’t charge your groceries; you’ll be inclined to go over.
  8. Think of things you can make versus buy, like cookies and bread.
  9. Buy in bulk, especially popcorn kernels.
  10. Freeze anything extra like vegetables from a farm share. They last into the next season nicely.

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