Art is the Handmaid of Human Good

Life in Lowell, Massachusetts, USA

Hey big spender…



…Or, the post where I justify spending one-sixth of my grocery budget on asparagus.

On Friday I spent $10 on two pounds of asparagus.  I’ll admit that is not something I’d normally do but I don’t regret it.  The reason for my splurge – Gist.  See, she doesn’t like asparagus (or so she thought…) I’ve been trying to convince her to try it for years with no luck.  Until last year.  Last summer she read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  I haven’t read it yet, but at some point Barbara must wax rhapsodic about the joys of fresh asparagus because Gist came to me and said “I’ll try asparagus if you can get me some that has just been picked that day.”  Well, she told me this sometime in July or August and it’s been a long wait for asparagus season to come ’round again…

I headed over to Springdell Farm in Littleton after verifying that they were indeed harvesting asparagus.  When I asked for two bunches and the farmer said “That will be $10, please.”, I won’t lie, I was taken aback.  And in that moment I realized that even though I’m on a pretty tight budget, I was going to spend double what I would at the supermarket.  Why?

Well, first of all, I promised Gist that when I made asparagus for her it would be super-fresh – that was the main reason.  I also decided to spend the $10 for a few other reasons 1. I had the money – we’d been frugal and the extra $10 wouldn’t put me over my self-imposed $60 edge.  2. I like family farms and am happy to have my money go to someone in my community. 3. Although asparagus is in season and the stuff from Market Basket would probably have tasted good, even great, there’s nothing like the flavor of a vegetable that was harvested that very day.  and finally 4. Because the balance between eating well and eating cheaply is what this whole project is all about and I value eating well very highly.

When I was first laid off and the budget was re-tooled I freaked out a bit.  I honestly didn’t think that $60 was at all reasonable, and most of my family and friends that I spoke to about it agreed.  I honestly believed that we were going to have to eat things like Ramen and Kraft Dinner and Tuna Helper.  (That is not meant to imply that I do not eat either Ramen or Kraft Dinner – I kind of love both of them – they are salty and tasty and they always have a place in my house.  I do however draw the line at Tuna Helper, and at eating food from a box every day.)  I had an idea in my head that fresh food is more expensive and that I wouldn’t be able to afford it.  I don’t know where that idea came from, but I am so happy that the opposite is actually true – fresh food is cheaper if you have good time-management and planning skills.

Actually, I lied in the last paragraph.  I think I do know where the idea that fresh food costs more comes from – I think that cooking and eating fresh food has become a  status symbol in our culture.  It’s also something that is perceived as fussy and a lot of work.  And while I think that cooking and eating good food can be elitist, fussy and a lot of work I also think that it can just as easily be simple, quick and easy – it’s all in how you approach it.

I am a budget conscious home cook who compares prices, shops the circular and brings a calculator to the store with me.  I am also someone who values good food, which means that I won’t hesitate to spend $10 on two pounds of asparagus, buy a CSA share and use imported cheese with reckless abandon.  At one point in time I would have said those two things were mutually exclusive.  Obviously they’re not.

That’s why I am incredibly grateful for the fact that I was forced into this project – it’s honestly been one of the best things to ever happen to me.  I eat better, I’m a better cook, I’m much more comfortable and efficient in the kitchen, and I just appreciate every single meal I eat a whole lot more, whether it’s one that I made for myself or one that was made for me.  I’ve also come to believe and live something that my brother Eddy, a professional chef, once said to me when we were talking about buying ingredients.  I was making something special and therefore was going to be going to Whole Foods to buy the ingredients.  He laughed at me and told me that I could find good ingredients anywhere and probably for a better price, what was important was knowing what was good.  I have a much better sense of what’s good.

Okay, I’ll get off of my soapbox now 😉  The $10 asparagus was amazing and made my best pizza yet – Roasted Asparagus and Portabella with Chèvre.

Roasted Asparagus and Portabella with Chèvre Pizza

That sucker was amazing AND Gist liked it and is willing to eat asparagus again – $10 is a small price to pay for that!

Here’s the grocery list:

  • Asparagus – $10
  • 1/2 pound of portabellas for $1.69
  • 1 small wedge of Parmesan for $4.33
  • 3 oz. of goat cheese for $2.99

Total – $19.01.  Total for the week – $35.14 – under budget even with the asparagus but we did go out this week and attended a BBQ, so it was a lighter cooking week for me.

Here’s what I did:

I preheated the oven to 450 F and, once it was hot, roasted the asparagus and mushrooms in some garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper until I felt they were done, maybe 10 minutes.  Once the veggies were done, I cranked the oven up to 550 F.  I rolled out my pizza dough and spread the roasted asparagus and mushroom mixture on top.  I plopped the goat cheese on top and grated some Parmesan on top as well.  I stuck the pizza in the oven for maybe 10 minutes more until it was all cooked and delicious.

In other exciting news, my CSA starts in just two weeks!  I can’t wait for the bounty to begin.  I’ll of course be taking pictures of and writing about all of the things a make.  You can look forward to a lot of salads – we get at least a head of lettuce a week throughout the season 😉

* Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, I wrote this post this afternoon and am just getting around to clicking “publish” now.  In the hours between writing this post and publishing it, I headed over to Amanda’s for our usual Tuesday-evening potluck.  (We had amazing Mulligatawny Stew, delicious homemade rolls, wine and pudding – yum!) While there, we got on the subject of junk food and Katy told us about something called “Cheese Fix”,  in Katy’s words “…it has Cheetos and Sun Chips and Doritos…”  We all swooned at the sound of it.  Anyway, on my drive home I was inexplicably drawn to Market Basket where I bought Munchies Cheese Fix.  For $2.89. *ahem*


2 thoughts on “Hey big spender…

  1. It’s interesting what you say about the idea that fresh homemade food costs so much more–I think there is a lot of debate on this topic, and I’ve seen it said that oftentimes the fresh food is more expensive than processed, because of the subsidies involved in corn, etc. I also find it somewhat ridiculous that eating food straight from the earth, without all those intermediary steps that are a relatively recent phenomenon, and only in wealthier countries, is elitist. I agree that perhaps within this country it’s can seem that way, but in the world over, most people are eating a large portion of their food made from scratch!

    When you said time-management skills, the first thing I thought of was beans: cheap, super-healthy, but you really do have to think ahead–even if you are of the philosophy that no soaking is needed, hard to get home and just decide to make them. I am trying to get in the habit of cooking them up on the weekend for use during the week but can’t say I’ve been good about that just yet.

    • Thanks for the comment!

      It’s so true about people in other countries eating fresh, made-from-scratch food. It reminds me that it’s only in the past 50 years or so that we started eating from boxes in this country. I often think about the fact that if my great-grandparents could read this blog they’d think I was a fool for writing about food the way that I do.

      I keep canned beans in the pantry as a backup. That way if I don’t go through the rigamarole of making beans I can still make supper. If you have a slow cooker, it’s amazing for beans – I’ll soak them overnight right in the crock pot and then turn the crock pot on in the morning – it really helps. I also always make extra and freeze them.

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