Soothing the Savage Beast

It's no secret that LB and I are always running out of money, especially at the end of the month (we only get paid on the 1st). We're grad students, we have debt up to our ears, we aren't allowed to be "gainfully employed" aside from our meager stipends (but thank goodness we at least get stipends!), but we do get by. Now, with the up-and-coming wedding, the big move to Hawaii looming in the background, and new student fees that I didn't used to have to pay for, we've had to confine our spending even more.

The most important thing that I've realized with this new spending stringency is that it's incredibly difficult for me to be on a food budget!! And it makes me Grumpy. Up until now, I've gone to the grocery store, bought a few things I needed/wanted for the recipes I had been recently inspired by (within reason, of course, with only the occasional luxury thrown in), enjoyed my strolls at the farmer's market picking out unique produce and whatever struck my fancy, and just made my sacrifices by way of no beer or spendy activities, or sometimes yummy food, at the end of the month. Thus, my pantry, once stocked and full so that almost any recipe I found could be made mostly from ingredients already available in my kitchen, has become more and more bare as time goes on. We've even begun to barter our larder and the blackberries in our backyard for fresh vegetables from other peoples gardens. Basically, this means that I will most likely starve to death in Hawaii due to the cost of food and everything else or LB will divorce me because I will be so Grumpy (and/or bald).

So when I went grocery shopping recently, I had a set myself a strict budget this time. I picked my food carefully, only taking the organic choice if I was totally grossed out my eating the conventional (ie. milk), carefully not purchasing the larger cuts of meat or anything extra, and trying to choose veggies that would either go far or could be used in a variety of cuisines. I still overspent! Granted, I had to buy things we were out of and had been out of for the last week or so (end of the month) like toilet paper (don't worry, we stole a roll from the roommate!), butter, milk, dog food (don't worry, we still fed the dogs!), flour, etc. And yet, I still went over my budget, forcing me to realize that there would not be a shopping trip the following week and we would have to get by on what we had and stretch it as far as possible.

For some, this happily forces you to be creative. For me, this is occasionally the case and can be quite enjoyable. However, when I am craving some kind of particular food and cannot have it...out comes the Grumpy Beast inside. She can be mean and nasty. She doesn't want you in the kitchen with her. She might growl at you if she doesn't like what you have to say about what she's come up with. Worse, if she doesn't like it, she might refuse to eat it and return to her lair to sulk, leaving you feeling helpless and alone and wondering where the Nice, Happy Cooking Girl you used to know went. This is doubled if she's stressed out about something else too (huh, LB?).

One particular weekend morning, my cravings for "real" food were especially bad...I woke up craving cooking, and craving something delicious for breakfast and NOT what we had been having all week. I went out into the kitchen with a dire need to start cooking to quell my inner Grumpy Beast. And I already knew we didn't have much left...no cereal, no milk, only a single egg. I could feel the Grumpy Beast inside me begin to rise up from the depths...

I scoured the cupboards, the drawers, the fridge, and the recipe books. By this time, I was growing frantic, as the Beast was already crawling its way out. LB poked his head into the kitchen and, although my memory is a bit foggy of the interaction, I either bit his head off and stamped on his body or growled at him and laughed as he scampered away terrified. After almost tearing the kitchen apart, I finally found a recipe that began to appease the Beast: Brown Sugar and Toasted Hazelnut Scones. I tore into cooking it like a woman gone mad. I yanked out bowls and spatulas, flour and sugar, sieves and cinnamon. I grabbed the last egg, and decided we didn't need to have half and half for our coffee for the rest of the week. I mixed and stirred, kneaded and patted and finally got the scones in the oven. By the end of it, I could feel the savage Grumpy Beast begin to relax its hold on me.

I poured a cup of tea, and took a first bite of the scones, and the Beast receded. Ahhh...no more cheap, packaged food. No choosing a single vegetable, excluding others from a dish that desperately needs more than one, just to make them last. No need to make a meat dish meatless. No compromises on taste; just rich, luxurious food, full of flavor and not missing a thing. And so, until the next paycheck, or the next meal at least, the Grumpy Beast rested.

These scones aren’t low fat, but they have a light and airy texture instead of being heavy and dense. The hazelnut and brown sugar topping lends a nice crunch on top and added sweetness.

Brown Sugar and Toasted Hazelnut Scones.
Adapted from The Big Book of Breakfast, by Maryana Vollstedt
Makes 8 Scones.

2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
3 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg
1/2 cup half and half

3 tbsp. packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
a dash of nutmeg
3 tbsp. toasted hazelnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 425oF. Sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Add the cold butter and cut it into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. This can be done using 2 knives, a pastry cutter, or a food processor. In a separate bowl, whisk the half and half and egg together. Add the egg mixture to the flour/butter mixture and stir with a fork until just moistened.

Gather the dough into a ball and put on a lightly floured surface. Knead a few times, then pat into an 8” round, being careful not to work the dough too much. Cut into 8 triangular pieces, then place 2” apart on an un-greased baking sheet. Sprinkle with the topping, pressing it down slightly onto the surface of the scones. (Hazelnuts can be toasted whole in a 350oF oven until toasted. Skins can be removed by placing all of the nuts into a clean kitchen towel and rubbing gently between your hands before chopping.)

Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden.

I've been off on a much-needed trip home until this past Sunday. I will try to post more often as I'm planning on getting back in the kitchen in the very near future. Thank you all for coming by even though I've been mysteriously absent! I hope you've had a wonderful week and are all doing splendidly and cooking up a storm with all the late-Summer produce and Fall just around the corner.

10 comments from you:

Karina said...

Oh I know that beast well!

Interestingly, scones were first tossed together for the same reason. Thrift. And bannock, too [the first bannock was just a little flour, salt and lard fried in a skillet]. Your scones sound a little more appetizing. ;-) Nothing beats cinnamon!

Cyndi said...

So glad that savage beast is soothed. Nice recipe - think I"ll borrow it!

ilva said...

Michelle-I have never had much money to play around with, we're in the wrong type of work just like you so I have had to become a creative cook! But in the long run it's far cheaper to make simple food on your own than buying cheap packaged food so go on cooking and enjoy yourself! I'm so happy that you're back, I was going to shoot off a mail to you to check out how things are going!

Dianne said...

Hi Michelle

Nice to see you back! I've also been where you are now ... my chosen area of work keeps me there from time to time too. Most of my food tends to be simple with fresh local ingredients that are in season! You'll be amazed how easy it is to keep the beast away, it just takes a bit more inspiration


UnGourmetGal said...

I can certainly sympathize, when I was interning away from home meals usually entailed P&J, grilled cheese, or scrambled eggs. Now I am thanking the stars that my parents are letting me live at home while I finish college.

.shaun.marie. said...

this definitely made me laugh. whenever i'm hard up, food is the one thing i hold on to... and when things get really rough, all sorts of strange casseroles and unlikely combinations get made.

michelle said...

Karina, that IS interesting! Many foods probably were, come to think of it! And I agree - especially Penzey's cinnamon!

Cyndi, please do! I hope you like it!

Ilva, I agree! It's good to be back; though it was good to be home too - and to take a much needed break.

Diane, Yea, I need to figure out how to get more inspiration just from the ingredients that are in my cupboard...it's just so hard when I already know lots of lovely things I would like to make and DON'T have the ingredients for! :)

Ungourmetgal, yep, I remember those days too!

Shaun.Marie, Yes! There have been lots of strange concoctions in my kitchen too...too bad many of them don't taste worth a hoot! Luckily, some have! Thanks for coming by!

Natalia said...

Mmmm, scones are the best! No matter how low the money is, I've got to be able to cook. I just couldn't survive.

vlb5757 said...

Hey! I have time and now you're gone. We are like ships that pass in the night lately! Just came by to see how you are doing and see what you have been cooking up. I will check on you again soon. The scones really look good! I love "goodies" with my hot tea. Yummy.

michelle said...

Me too! I need to be cooking regularly or else I just don't feel like me anymore!

I'm back. Thanks for stopping by! Even if we miss eachother here and there, I'll still be around eventually. I always think of you when I make something that goes well with tea - you're the tea queen in my book!