by Maria Ruiz
Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.
I was a young wife whose husband had recently graduated from the University. His first job in a coastal city of California meant we had to move. My husband, Bob, our five year old son, Barry, our dog Fuzzy and I moved into a typical middle class neighborhood. What had seemed like a fortune for college students, Bob’s salary at the new job, turned out to be just a bit short of meeting our bills. I was learning how to be a stay-at-home wife after working for the last five years enabling Bob to get his degree and new job. In addition to learning how to budget, I was learning to cook. Between the three of us plus the dog, our grocery budget strained.
Across the street Ava moved in with her four kids, a dog and a husband. Ava was a slim, bleached blond cutie and my husband was smitten with her. I was a bit dumpy, dark hair and always frazzled. One day Ava was bragging that she could feed her family on less than thirty dollars a week. How could she? My weekly costs were three times that.
Bob, listening to her turned an accusing eye at me. “Why can’t you be more like Ava?
I cringed, vacillating between jealousy and envy. I made up my mind. I was going to get her advice, do as she did and win my husband back.
The next day I asked Ava for her secret of cutting costs. “I’ll write down my recipes and things I do to cut costs.” she volunteered.
True to her work, she presented me a list the next day. I read it and promised to follow it without delay.
First, use powdered, not whole milk. Serve Kool-Aid instead of fruit juice.
Second, swap soda crackers for meat.
Third, use canned fruit and vegetables.
Fourth, look for sale items and use coupons.
Fifth, make a list of dinners for the week and only buy what was needed.
She included recipes for meatless dishes. I was going to do it and Bob would praise me. I made a list of meals for the week, checked the cupboards for buying and headed off to the grocery. As I passed the dairy section I resisted picking up a gallon of milk. Bob liked milk in his cereal and Barry was a growing boy. Instead, I picked up a large container of powdered milk. Reading the ingredients, I decided Barry would get everything he needed and Bob was already grown. I picked up the canned fruits and vegetables, the Kool-aid and a big box of soda crackers.
At home, I mixed up a gallon of milk and put it in the refrigerator. I mixed two different flavors of Kool-Aid and prepared a non-apple, apple pie. Using crackers instead of apples, I added the spices, sugar, and margarine and poured it into a pie shell. As it was baking, I started on the main meal. Tonight was spaghetti using crackers instead of meat. I crumpled the crackers, chopped onions and garlic, added an egg and molded the mess into small balls. I fried the balls and added tomato sauce while the pasta boiled.
By the time Bob came home, dinner was almost ready. We sat down to eat and I served the meatless dish. Barry was the first to shove the food into his mouth. And just as quickly spit it out. Bob took a mouthful, chewed once and spit it out. I just pushed the little balls to the side of my plate and ate the plain pasta with tomato sauce. They both ate the canned peas with a minimum of comments. Barry only said “These peas taste kinda mushy.”
Bob didn’t say anything.
It was time for the non-apple apple pie. It smelled great, the odor of cinnamon wafted through the kitchen. I cut three wedges and served. Barry managed to eat his, after all a five-year old boy will eat almost anything. Bob ate one mouthful and said “I’m sorry. I’m just not hungry tonight. Where did you get these recipes?”
“Ava shared her secrets with me. This way I can cut the budget by several hundred dollars a month.” Bob smiled and left to watch TV.
I scraped a lot of food into the garbage that night but reasoned that my family would get used to it in a couple of days. The next morning Bob poured his breakfast flakes into his bowl and reached for the milk box. “Where’s the milk?” he asked.
“It’s in the pitcher, the white stuff.”
He poured. His took his first bite, swallowed and asked me “Is this another Ava shortcut?”
“Forget it. Let’s not cut our food budget. I love you and your cooking.”
Smiling, I threw out Ava’s recipes. Suddenly I wasn’t the ugly duckling anymore.