Chicken GUTS & Author GLORY: Tales From My Cheapskate Book Tour
Editor's note: Wise Bread blogger Jeff Yeager is promoting his new book on frugal living with the cheapest book tour ever! He'll bike instead of drive and couchsurf instead of staying in hotels. This is part 2 of his story. Read part 1 here.
Having been an author for all of three weeks now, I admit that I still get a definite ego buss whenever I’m introduced as such. “Author” is one of those occupations that gets people’s attention. It conjures up images of busy book signings, thought provoking lecture series, and a glamorous life of penning deep thoughts in far off places.
It was 5:15 in the morning, and I just couldn’t get the second chicken into my saddlebags. I’d managed to cram the pre-roasted bird in among the vegetable scraps, cooking utensils, and whole potatoes I’d brought with me from back East the day before, but the second chicken – the raw one – just wouldn’t fit. I fumbled around in the dark, not wanting to wake my CouchSurfing host, but I knew I needed to get that slippery yellow fryer stowed pronto or I’d never have time to bicycle the 12 miles across town for the “cheapskate cooking” demo I was scheduled to do live on San Diego Living that morning.
With the stance and determination of an Olympic shot-putter, I grabbed the bird in my right hand and pushed with everything I had. The plastic wrapper snagged on a metal rivet on the inside of the saddle bag, and a geyser of cold, gelatinous chicken juice squirted over my hand and ran down into the pack, the same compartment that would carry all my clothing and other gear in the days and weeks to come. Ah, the enchanted life of an author ...
Despite the trickle of chicken juice seeping from my saddlebags as I bicycled through the empty streets of predawn San Diego, I was plenty psyched about doing the cooking demonstration on Fox Channel 6. I love to cook – in large part because I love to eat – and I’ve written a lot in my book and elsewhere about the beauty of cooking and eating on the cheap. My contention is that when it comes to food, like so many other things in life, the best options also happen to cost the least.
In fact, one of my rules of thumb is that I’m hesitant to pay more the $1 a pound for foodstuff when I go grocery shopping. That may sound impossible, but as I discuss in my book, it’s actually very practical and steers you toward a healthier and more enjoyable diet. It forces you to eat more of the types of foods we should be eating the most of (according to the USDA Food Pyramid) since they tend to cost the least, buy fruits and vegetables that are in season, and limit your consumption of fatty meats, dairy products, and processed foods. It also forces you to shop smart, and actually think about what you’re going to eat rather than rely on the same old tired recipes.
The show’s producer had asked me to come prepared with all the ingredients to “stage cook” (i.e. “fake cook”) a three course cheapskate menu, hence my “before” and “after” chickens. I vowed to cook using only ingredients costing under $1 a pound and, as an added hook for the Channel 6 viewing audience, I promised to incorporate creative ways to use up those little packets of condiments we all seem to take too many of whenever we get carryout.
Here’s what I cooked that morning and a link to the Channel 6 website where you can find the recipes. Trust me, these are really tasty, economical, healthy dishes, despite their gimmicky names/cooking techniques:
- Tomato-Garlic Bisque with Fresh Egg and Stale Bread (using ketchup and half-and-half packets from the carryout)
- Compost Pile Roast Chicken (marinated in soy sauce and spicy mustard from your last Chinese takeout, and roasted with fruit and veggie scraps otherwise destine for the compost pile)
- Hobo Potatoes (cooked in recycled aluminum foil)
- Pineapple/Bananas Foster on Bicycle Spoke Kabobs (an old long-distance cyclist’s trick)
With the cooking segment and a couple of other local TV spots successfully under my belt, I’d almost forgotten about the spurting chicken juice as the sun began to set and I bicycled back toward my host’s house for the night. Why not celebrate with a quick beer? I was parking my bike by the door as two professionally dressed young couples entered the inviting little neighborhood pub. Seated next to them at the crowded happy hour bar, they politely asked, “Are you a bike messenger?”
“No,” I said. “I’m an author.”
Their expressions, even their posture, were immediately transformed. They reached over each other to eagerly shake my hand. I gratefully obliged, only hoping that they didn’t detect the residue of the chicken juice from that morning.