The claim that sex is a necessity is false. One can go forever without it and not drop dead. Here I am.[rssbreak]
But the one thing that is crucial to survival, and virtually impossible for a gardenless Torontonian to obtain without money or kind friends, is good food. When I'm trying to fall asleep I fantasize - about food.
That a food-?bank diet is starchy, sugary and insufficient for healthy eating is news only to those who are fortunate enough to have the means to eat what they choose.
Eating properly requires a bit of money - a couple of subway fares spent on food instead - and a lot of ingenuity. Oddly, and encouragingly, the food conclusions I arrived at through decades of creative eking out coincide with the suggestions of a New York Times critic and chef Jamie Oliver.
Oliver's latest crusade to reform potentially fatal eating habits took him to West Virginia. Coal companies slicing the tops off mountains are obliterating the land of Appalachians whose grandmothers would have gathered wild edibles.
After initial defensiveness, residents there responded to the chef's sincerity. He easily demonstrated that the cost of fast food is much higher than homemade, and proceeded to teach simple techniques for nutritious cooking.
My recent exposure to cable TV left me gobsmacked that many of Oliver's methods are the same as my own. He does things directly. I often hack or grate vegetables right into the pan. He works very fast, and that's a major point.
Packaged crap takes time to open and makes waste. If Coronation Street is on in 15 minutes, that's more than enough time to scramble an egg with a few cheese scrapings in the oil from yesterday's pasta, whip a tortilla onto the gas flame to bring out the taste and squeeze lime juice into cold hibiscus or rosehip tea. Really, I prefer beer with The Street - just to fit in, mind.
I've gone years without a fridge. If the milk gets sour, I make potato soup or a lassi with chopped wild mint. If it's curdled enough, I can try hanging it in cheesecloth for homemade cottage cheese. Eating is a necessity. If it's not pleasurable, it can be a bore, and I have no patience for boring things.
A few quality staples are worth more than a kitchen full of cheap filler. A New York Times column recommended stocking dried mushrooms. I already had a bag - $5.99 in Chinatown for, I dunno, seems like hundreds. I give them away, but the bag never gets smaller.
I buy miso paste (from non-?MSG, GMO-?free soybeans) for $4.29/500 grams at Sanko. There are many kinds of miso. You put one tablespoon in a cup of water in a pot, crumble a dried mushroom in, grate some ginger, a clove of garlic, cook two to three minutes on high, then cover to make sure the mushroom is done.
Or do the same with a 20-?cent piece of cloud fungus - the best thing to have for or against a cold. Ten sheets of nori (sushi) seaweed cost $1.99 in Chinatown. In one sheet, toasted over the burner for a sec, you can roll your cooked, cooled food-?bank rice and tinned fish or slices of carrot or any vegetable.
A pinch of sugar in a beaten peewee egg ($.99/doz) becomes tamago when it's spread thinly in a hot pan, rolled up and sliced. Soy sauce makes everything taste better. A litre of aged, naturally brewed stuff is $2.99 on Spadina, but in a plastic bottle.
Condiments are important, and easy to make if you have the cooking channel or books. Jars of peach/red pepper or pear/anise chutney can be made by cooking local in-?season fruit with chopped onion, a bit of brown sugar, spices and cider vinegar. I'm no expert - just a survivor with good taste.
Herbs growing in pots cost $1.29. A few sprigs cut fine make sauces or soups. If the food bank gives you sprouted onions, sprouts are good. Make soup with them, miso and a bag of $1 vegetables from closing time at the St. Lawrence market.
I've been making croutons out of stale bread: a bit of hot oil, herbs, toss around in pan. French cooks never wasted a thing. They invented "French" toast and stuck stale bread under "French" onion soup.
Countless generations of robust Mexicans thrived on tortillas, having perfected a way to transfer all the nutrients of the corn into the human system. A $1.75 half-?kilo stack of tortillas from La Tortilleria near Kensington Market contains dozens to be peeled off one at a time. The "nixtamal" (hominy) flour is also sold and can be made into atole to drink. Food-?bank beans can be "refried": mashed into a paste with oregano while cooking the moisture out. Add stuff.
Remember, all the best posh nosh is just poor people's cuisine with rich man prices. Hmm, where to soak the salt cod?