My son and I are cooking tonight. I’m nervous. We’re working with onions, a massive bag of potatoes and 24 eggs (our group caved and bought a tray of factory-farmed eggs for $3–hunger trumped ethics).
We peel the potatoes at home and grate most of them in a food processor, then we carry them in a heavy pot of water for the 25-minute walk to Kensington Market, where we’ll all eat. I worry with an intensity disproportionate to the chances of it happening about dropping the pot. And we’re trying a new recipe–adapting it too. What if the dish doesn’t taste good? What if we burn it and everyone starves?
We make crispy, salty, hash browns, glistening with fat and loaded with caramelized onions for dinner.
Those get divvied up and topped with tiny fried eggs, over easy, and a sprinkling of chives from Amy’s garden. After eating rice nine times in three days, I’m glad to take a break from the grain.
We’d gathered dandelion leaves in the garden, but they taste bitter and we’ve no money left for vinegar or citrus to make a dressing. They don’t make it to the table. We could have done with something green on our plates.
For tomorrow’s packed lunch, we do Spanish omelettes with onions, sliced potatoes and chives. I’ve saved our potato peelings to serve on the side, sauteed with salt, pepper and fresh oregano (God bless Amy’s garden).
* * * * *
The night after the hash browns and eggs, I fall asleep at around 11 (early for me, but as the weeks go on, we’re all getting tired and spending more hours in bed). But then I wake up at 3 with a terrible dull headache and insatiable thirst. I drink several glasses of water and toss and turn for the next few hours before drifting off again.
In the morning, my son and I are both down to plain white rice for breakfast. The last of our snacks have gone too, save a smear of peanut butter hummus, with nothing for dipping.
Once he’s gone to school, I dress for a morning jog, but end up just taking the dogs for a longer walk to avoid feeling any weaker. My vision is getting blurry and I feel a little faint as it is. Later, another group member tells us she over-exerted herself at the gym and yelled at a texting pedestrian on the way home. (She admits it felt good.) We’re all tired and testy.
* * * * *
Our saving grace is the communal dinners at 7 pm each night. It is wonderful to sit down together, talk about our days and share our experiences and reflections on the challenge.
Extreme budget or not, the more heads there are at a table, the less what’s on your plate reflects your personal preferences. But as I’m drinking cheap tea and chatting on the deck at dusk after our group meals, I realize I’d sacrifice customized dinners in a heartbeat to experience the warmth of dining like this on a regular basis.
One more night to go. I’m going to miss these people.