Matthew Wakes Up
Unedited- be gentle
The story is of one man displaced from what he knows new job no friends no family losing his job and having to make do in a strange place with no EXISTING support structure or money.
There was nothing especially striking about Matthew Jones. He was a competent middle manager at a dull office complex where boring people do boring things. So it's somewhat surprising that when he saw the ad on Craigslist for a new career half the country away, he actually sent his resume.
He had found the ad quite by accident, by hitting the “get lucky” button on a Google search for something completely unrelated. But the job sounded “interesting” and Matthew's recent divorce had left him nothing in the area- besides bills.
The company replied enthusiastically enough that Matthew spent some time on Priceline, and was soon jetting to New York for an interview. Something about the woman doing the interview struck him as very phony, but not so much as a to scare him off from the job she offered.
A month later found him installed at a desk in New York doing almost the same job he had before with a different letterhead and logo on his card. It cost all his savings to move the meager possessions his ex wife had left him to a one-bedroom efficiency apartment on the outskirts of the city- more Bronx than Yonkers. But, in his mind, he was starting over.
The prices in New York were much, much more than they had been in his old town, but he had expected that, it was all of the new taxes and extra fees he wasn't prepared for. Luckily he had sold his car, figuring to rely on public transportation in the city, before he had left so he had a swiftly dwindling slight reserve.
When the New York County Sheriffs department showed up at his new office with a no-nonsense look and began putting everything into boxes and escorting the workers into a small room for questioning, Matthew knew that his job was over. Whether or not the company was still opening tomorrow, he sure wasn't going to be there.
It turns out he had nothing to say in the matter because after escorting all the employees out, including the upper management team in handcuffs, the Sheriff's Department placed a very large padlock on the door along with a bright yellow piece of paper that warned of dire consequences for trying to enter the property.
Matthew went the next day to try and file for unemployment, and was told that it would not be happening. He was not sure whether or not the woman who was “helping him” was right but he was so frustrated that he merely went home and searched the Internet for news on his company's demise. He found that they had serious tax issues and that either the city, the state. the US government, or some combination had seized their accounts and that there was mention of fraud as well with pending lawsuits from more than one client.
Although it was just past noon, Matthew opened himself a beer, plopped down on the couch, and tried to work out what he should do. He had $200 left in the bank, a check coming from the company (may be) for two weeks work, and some cold takeout in his refrigerator. The only upside was he was low enough on the totem pole that he didn't have to leave his office in new jewelry furnished by the Sheriff's Department like his phony speaking boss.
Matthew figured Craigslist got him into this mess maybe it could get him out. And he began looking for jobs. There weren't many. But, he began sending his resume around.
They say in New York City it takes one month per $10,000 desired to find a job. So, if you want a job that pays $50,000 per year it will average you five months to find it. $200 and some old Lucky Dragon Mushu were not going to last him five months, so Matthew signed up for food stamps.
The $200 a month food stamp allowance didn't seem like much but it was better than starvation or dumpster diving in his mind so he gladly took his new food stamp debit card to the local grocery store to see what could be done.
The prices at the grocery store for the food that he normally ate would have eaten his month-long budget in less than a week so he bought a can of ravioli for the night and left the store nearly empty-handed and two dollars down on his budget.
At this point Matthew wished his folks were still around, but that wasn’t going to happen, so he went to the library to use a computer without having to go all the way back home. When he got online to look up how to make $200 last month he found a wealth of information.
Things on frugality, making do, reusing, and much much more. A whole new world begin to appear for Matthews eyes. He found a wealth of knowledge had never been taught. There were whole aisles of groceries that he had never been down. He learned he could spend four dollars on a loaf of bread or four dollars on a bag of flour and get many loves for the price of one. Because he had never baked before, that led to getting a book on baking where he learned he didn't need a bread pan, but, merely a piece of stone or tile. Since this was the very first day of his frugality, he decided to move slowly so that he didn't waste his meager resources quickly. The first step, he decided, would be baking bread. For no other reason than it was the first item on a list on the web. He started out of the library armed with a printout of basic bread making instructions that read something like this:
6 Cups all purpose flour or bread flour
2 cups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon yeast
Mix all ingredients in bowl until too stiff to stir with a spoon, continue to mix with hand folding into the center of the bowl and pressing down with the heel of your hand until a smooth and consistent dough is formed. Cover bowl with towel until the dough has doubled in size. Cut the dough lump in half, and form into either round loaves or oblong; or place each lump in greased 8” loaf pan. Bake in pre-heated 400° oven for 15 to 20 min. or until crust is golden brown and bread sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom.
This was the simplest recipe he could find, and it seemed that even he could muddle his way through this. He began the 20-block walk home. On his way he passed a hardware store that specialized in redoing kitchens and baths, and offered condo owners and ambitious renters free classes in how to use the materials they sold.
Not wanting to have to buy pans with his meager cash he decided to go into the hardware store and see what stones sold for. He walked over to the tile section and saw many different kinds of tiles and stones for sale. An older gentleman with an apron on came over to talk to him and see if he could help.
“May I help you find something?” The gentleman asked Matthew with a smile.
“Actually, maybe you can, I am in uncharted waters.” Matthew replied.
“Story of my life working in a hardware store!” The man chuckled. “Let's see if we can get through this together. Tell me what you broke, and we'll get it fixed before she sees it.”
Matthew snorted “well, I didn't break anything at least. I'm interested in trying to bake on stone. I read about it on the Internet, but you have so many different kinds of stone and tile here that I don't even know where to start. And I'm on a tight tight budget.”
“two tights" the man nodded “gotcha! My wife uses a pizza stone we got from Williams and Sonoma for $700 billion so I have seen them, but I'm not a baker so let's just use common sense.”
“None of this is common to me!” Matthew stated “where should we begin?”
“Well, the stone she has is a natural stone but I suppose a terra-cotta tile would work as well they're both very similar. But since you're going to be cooking on it, and we don't know what these tiles are glazed with exactly since they are decorative and not culinary let's try to use a stone, so we don't we do not poison you.” With this he walked over to one of the aisles that were filled with boxes of varying sizes each with its own samples outside.
Together they looked over the various stone squares until they found a box of light color, brown stone tiles. “Well, these are a light color so I don't think they'll hold the heat too much and scorch the bottoms of whatever your baking. But there are also no flaws in them, flaws may be pretty but they're usually a separate kind of stone and may heat up at a different rate, which would probably break your stone. Why don't you just take one and let me know how it works out maybe I'll start selling them here individually for an increased amount as “Baker's Stones”
Are you sure”, Matthew asked.
“Sure am!” Said the man. “Individual stones are only a couple of dollars, and if I can mark them up by selling them as baking stones it's worth it may since I don't have to do the experimenting. You just make sure you come back here and tell me how works. If it doesn't,we will try a different one. Listen, I know that to two tights in a budget is really five tights! And this might help out both of us”
“Well you're right there!” Matthew said extending his hand. “And thank you. My name is Matthew and I will definitely let you know what I learned about our patented, handy-dandy baking stones.”
“Ben Johnson.” The man said shaking Matthews hand. “And if I were you, what I would do is wash that stone well, then heat it in your oven at its lowest temperature for several hours before I tried baking on it at high heat.”
“Why is that? Not that I doubt you, I'm just wondering.” Matthew inquired.
“Well, stones are porous. And when you wash the stone to get off any manufacturing residues- hint, hint, you're going to be introducing water into all those pores. So, if you were to boil that water quickly by baking something at high heat, that water would turn to steam and maybe break that stone, possibly quite violently and break your oven window, or do some other damage. Don't want you suing me over a piece of tile!” Mr. Johnson laughed.
“Makes sense to me.” Matthew said. How will I know when it's done?”
“Heck if I know!” Mr. Johnson said. “I would just give it a few hours.” Maybe just turning the heat up a little bit here and there. Who knows? Your the experimenter.”
“Great, I am glad that my oven does not have a window!” Matthew smiled and waved over his shoulder as he headed to the grocery store with his stone tile in his hands.
In New York no one looks at you funny no matter what you carry, so no one looked askance at Matthew for walking through the city carrying the 2 ft.² piece of stone.
When he got to the grocery store, a clerk asked him to leave the stone by the door, which Matthew gratefully did, Then he went to baking aisle and was amazed at the selection of different baking flours available. His first inclination was to just grab the cheapest bag and call it a day luckily an old woman took pity on him and said “do you need some help Hun?”
“I'll sure take some.” Matthew said trying not to look too relieved.
” Well then I will give it to you rather than seeing your picture in the obituaries because you brought home rice flour instead of whole wheat.” She smiled “that is assuming you're buying this for someone other than yourself.”
“Well, the one I have to answer to is myself for now. But, I sure would like some help anyway. Who would have thought there were so many different kinds of flour available.” Matt answered her with a grin.
“Differing flour bakes different things. What are you trying to bake?” She asked.
“Well, to begin with bread, and then maybe … some cookies?” He replied.
“Are you asking me or telling me?” She replied with a smile. “Because I sure don't know what you're going to make.”
“Well you said different flour bakes different things, can I use one flour to bake both bread and cookies?” He asked.
“Sounds like you want an all-purpose flour” she replied. “You should get an unbleached flour, and unbrominated. That is much better for you than the overly processed stuff. And there is no real taste difference to most folks. If you were just baking bread, I would have suggested a bread flour, also known as a high gluten flour.”
She pointed to a bag of flour on the bottom shelf in a 10-pound bag, and said “that is the brand that I use and I get the 10 pound bag because it's a lot more for the money. You see it's four dollars for a 5-pound bag and the 10-pound bag is only a $1. 50 more that is a huge savings. I have to pay attention to those things because I'm on a fixed income.”
“You're right! That's a big difference. Since I intend to be baking for a while now maybe I should just get the 10 pound bag.” Matthew said. “I guess I should just get a big bag of everything I need.”
“Not so fast.” The woman said “you have to do the math. It's not always a better deal for the bigger container. The store manager knows that people think that way and sometimes the better deals in the smaller container. Especially when it's a perishable item once the container is opened.”
“Tricky!” Matthew said.
“Hey, they are just trying to make a living. It's not their fault if people are too lazy to do basic math in order to save money. It amazes me when I see people I know are minimum wage workers wasting two or three dollars on a single product when I know they had to work half an hour or so for the difference. When I was younger we paid attention to those things, we had to. So young man, what else is on your list?”
“Salt, sugar, and yeast.” Matthew stated.
“Sounds about right for bread,” she said “but I would add a teaspoon to a tablespoon of olive oil to whatever recipe you're making.”
“Why do you recommend that?” Matthew asked.
“Well, homemade bread has no preservatives. By adding oil most specifically olive oil, you will get another day or two before the bread goes stale without significantly changing the recipe. Not that one can’t use the bread once it's stale, croutons, bread pudding, French toast, and my favorite twice baked bread are all delicious uses for stale homemade bread.”
“Okay, olive oil it is. But what are bread pudding and twice baked bread? And by the way thank you for all this information, I hope you don't charge by the hour!” Matthew said with a grin.
“I would if I thought you could afford my rate!” She rejoined “I'll just be happy if I can heal another useless man!”
“Ouch!!” Matthew said.
“Just kidding!” She smiled “the twice baked bread is simply using stale bread which has been crushed as part of the recipes flour. It makes the bread really moist on the inside and extra crunchy on the outside. The bread pudding is a mixture of bread and eggs and nutmeg and Brandy that is baked as a dessert. They're both quite good as well as being thrifty.”
“I will have to look up recipes for both of them when I get home on the Internet.” Matthew said.
“Well if you're on the Internet I can just e-mail you my recipes if you like. My kids always seemed to like them. If you have a pen I will write my e-mail address down for you.” She said with a smile.
“I don't have a pen but I have a business card with my personal e-mail address on it.” Matthew said “I'm surprised you're willing to give out your e-mail address in today's day and age and with all the things that have been going on,. Mrs..?.” Matthew said.
“Jane. And if society gets so bad as to make me worry about helping someone with something as simple as a recipe, I would head for the hills!” She said and began walking up the aisle pocketing his card. “Here is your yeast she said handing him a jar of dried yeast.
“I'm kind of on a budget, I need to check the prices.” Matthew said with an embarrassed grin.
“Aren't we all!” She replied “but this is another one of those deals like the baking flour, the packets have 3 tablespoons of yeast and for a dollar 50 more you can get the jar which has much much more. Of course, you can use a little of this yeast to start your own sourdough starter, but sourdough isn't good for everything."
The salt and olive oil proceeded much the same. Matthew learned the difference between kosher, sea, iodized, table, and pearled salt. He ended up with iodized AND kosher in his cart. In the olive oil department he learned that extra virgin cost much more than pomace. Pomace oil was cheaper than blended olive oil, and was usually 100% olive oil, while blended was often a mixture of olive and soy or vegetable oils. He nearly moaned when he saw the price of the oil- on sale at $14.00- but he figured he could make 96 batches of bread with it and it seemed more reasonable.
Jane promised him to send recipes along directly, and Matthew went home to ply his newfound hobby.
Since It was still early in the day Matthew started by rinsing the stone off in his bathtub and scrubbing it with water and a Scotchbrite dish sponge. He didn’t use soap because he wasn’t sure about the soaps residue affecting flavor if it were to get trapped in the infamous pores. He then dried it off well with his bath towel and put it in the oven set to 200 degrees. That done, he got out a mixing bowl and mixed his bread ingredients up in it. While at the Library, he had seen lots of instructions on kneading and not kneading. He decided to use the method his recipe called for-It seemed a good compromise.
When he had reached the point where the wooden spoon wasn’t working so well any more, he reached in with his hand and began folding the mix into the center of the bowl from the outside. After his fingers pulled the mix into the center he would push it down with the heel of his hand and turn the bowl a couple of inches, repeating the fold each time. In a matter of a couple of minutes he was rewarded with a smooth elastic dough. It was no where near the ten minutes of continuous kneading some experts maintained was minimum. But a little more than the No knead methods. He covered his dough with a dish towel and set it atop the stove to rise.
He peaked in the oven and saw that there were no more little puddles on his stone so he said what the heck and turned the oven up to 300. Then he hit the internet to see what else he could find on stones for baking. He found that he could just leave the stones in the oven, They would make the preheat times for some recipes longer, but would provide more even cooking, and allow him to shut off his oven earlier and let the food continue cooking- that meant he didn’t have to find a place to store a stone in his little kitchen area- that was a plus.
He also read he shouldn’t clean the stones with soap and water- or oven cleaner. Instead he could just scrape them off and they would become more and more non-stick with use. If they ever got too bad he cold wipe them with a damp cloth, or cook them by themselves at his ovens hottest temperature for a while and everything would just burn off. No dishes- another plus.
Looking at his watch he saw an hour had passed so he went to the kitchen to find his dough risen nicely. He checked the stone and his oven read 300 with no stone issues. And as it wasn’t sizzling, he turned his oven to 500 to preheat the stone for baking.
He turned the dough out onto the counter- which he had lightly dusted with flour. Using a steak knife he cut the dough into two chunks. One he made long and skinny like French bread, the other just kind of round-ish and flat. He laid his towel over them and let them rise till his oven sounded it’s buzzer- letting him know the preheat was done. He tossed his loves into the oven- nearly singing his eyeballs in the process- “good lesson” he thought “let the initial blast of heat out before jamming your head in!” He dusted the stone with a little flour – which instantly browned with a slight burned smell. Placing the two loaves on the stone, he shut the door, set his buzzer, and waited.
Fifteen minutes is no time at all for some things, but waiting for bread- t might as well be a million years. About halfway through- the smell of baking bread hit his stomach like a sledgehammer. It was all he could do to wait for the buzzer before opening the door.
He could not believe how good it smelled when he put his bread on the counter to cool. He decided to eat some right away, and let the other one cool. And learned another valuable lesson. 500 degrees is hot- and bread out of the oven is the temperature of the oven. Sucking in air around the bite of bread that was so hot it was bringing tears to his eyes, he still could taste the fresh bread taste that only someone who has eaten it straight from the oven can understand. At that moment he decided he would never not bake his own bread again- no matter how much money he had. The first loaf was gone, as was his day.
Matthew wrapped the remaining loaf in the dishtowel and went to bed, chuckling to himself about eating only bread and water- and thinking that was just fine with him.
The next morning when Matthew awoke his apartment still had a lingering scent of baking from the day before. Matthew lay in bed trying to decide how he would spend his day. He knew that he still had some shopping to do because after all “man does not live by bread alone”.
Having spent most of his adult life employed as a manager some sort Matthew decided to approach this as you would a problem at his office. So getting out a pad, a paper, and his pocket calculator, he decided to list is necessary tasks, assets, and bills to figure out what exactly he was going to do.
On his tasks list his first action item was “find employment!” Which he also underlined twice. Under that he listed “groceries”, “laundry”, “stop by hardware and thank Ben”, and “check Internet for recipes and hints”
On the asset side the list was short as well. His checking account had one dollar and and that had to stay so that they would not close his account. He felt very fortunate that he was still in the “free checking for six months” phase of his account or else the account would’ve been closed for lack of service fees.
Under that he listed “$182 cash”, “$174 food stamps”, and “change jar-amount unknown”. Because Matthew was not sure anymore money would be forthcoming from his job (which in his mind he now referred to as “Dewey, Screwem, and Howe”) so he did not list that as an asset. Matthew figured that if the money came it would be a blessing but if it was counted on and didn’t occur, it would be a tragedy.
Under bills he listed “rent”, “ electric”, “phone-Internet-cable-combination”, and “cell phone”. As his food was covered under food stamps, and the rest of his utilities were included in the rent these were the only bills that mattered.
For the first time Matthew was glad that as a condition of the divorce they had to settle and cancel all credit cards that were held jointly. Matthew had not gotten to signing up for new ones, because he had been busy with the move and his visa logo ATM card had been enough. For a panicked moment, he almost went online and signed up for a few of them, thinking maybe that they would give him a window of safety even if they were more expensive in the long run. But, ended up concluding to himself that he had enough problems without that worry.
Rent was not due for almost 3 weeks, and he had put down security, and last month. He thought that he could stretch those out to three months before they evicted him, but hoped he wouldn’t have to find out. The next item on the list was a letter via e-mail to the electric company explaining the situation. He had not even gotten his first electric bill yet, so he was not sure what the reaction would be. His next call was to Time Warner cable. The lady in customer service told him that since his cable had not been on for a month, and he had a month free trial on his Internet-cable-phone triple play, she would list his cancellation due to dissatisfaction. She explained that this would mean no charges would be coming to him, and that customer service would probably call and offer an even better deal to try and “win him back”. As Matthew hung up the phone, he was glad that he had not waited until the bill was months past due, and ended up with bad marks on his credit score, and interest payments for something as easily lived without as TV. The house phone also was something he felt certain he wouldn’t really miss, as he tended to give out his cell phone number anywhere it was required anyway.
Verizon wireless was his next call. He spoke with someone in the financial services department. She helped him drop his service to the minimum minutes, and noted to his account that he had called before a problem arose. She explained to him that this made him a lower risk and that as long as he called every couple weeks to keep them informed he could even avoid some of the late fees. As an aside, she reminded Matthew that if he knew the number calling, he could just let it go to voicemail and return the call from a landline. He could even check his voicemail from a landline, but since that was already a free call he did not think he would have to go to that extreme.
After hanging up the phone a great sense of relief washed over Matthew. Unconsciously his future bills had been weighing on him much more than he knew. He also wondered how much money he had wasted on his cell phone bill over the last year with unused minutes every month. Perhaps after he got back on his feet, he would leave his minutes at the lower level and see what happened, all of a sudden $100 seemed like an awful lot of money. He could not even remember the last time he used the Internet on his phone yet he was paying $45 a month for the privilege, plus tax of course.
Matthew started a pot of coffee, and went back to his list as it brewed. The first item jumped out at him “find employment”. Matthew decided to find some part-time employment at least until something better opened up. It would be easier to walk out on a part-time job that was supplementing his income than to live in a cardboard box under a bridge. He decided to look around in the area and see what he could find.
As the coffee pot chimed, Matthew got up and went into the kitchen area of his apartment. He poured himself a cup of coffee, and cut himself a generous slab of the remaining loaf of bread from the day before. Butter and jam completed his breakfast as he helped himself to a second slice.
Since he had eaten almost all his bread, he started another batch and loaded all his laundry into a basket. He then headed down to the laundry room in the basement of his building. As he loaded coins out of the jar into the washer’s greedy slot, he realized it was another way he spent more money than he thought. $2.50 a load to wash and three dollars to dry added up quickly.
Unconsciously he sighed out loud. A young man at a washer nearby chuckled and asked, “what happened? Wash your wallet? That’s life!”
“Not quite,” Matthew laughed. “ I was just ruminating that for the price of doing laundry, I might as well just buy new clothes!”
“If we had better thrift stores nearby you might be right.” The man said. “When I first came to America, everything I bought came from thrift stores. But here in New York city the thrift stores are well picked over, and comparatively expensive. Unless you find a good church thrift store off the beaten path.”
“Where you from?” Matthew inquired. “I don’t detect an accent.”
“Thank you very much, I worked hard to get rid of it. I am from Argentina originally. I came here when I was in high school with my folks. I’m in broadcasting and hope to be an anchorman someday so I practice “television English” unless I’m with my family and friends. When I first got here we had no money, it’s and it wasn’t much better when I was in college. If you like we can practice an old college money saver right now.” He said.
“What would that be?” Matthew asked with a smile.
“Well you’re about to push start on a half-empty dryer and I have a half-empty dryers worth of clothes.” Mann said holding out a half-empty basket with a smile. “Want to go Dutch”
“Heck yeah!” Matthew said opening the door and gesturing welcome with his arm.
The two men talked as the dryer tumbled their laundry. And Matthew found out the man’s name was John, which, Matthew suspected was another Anglicization, but refrained from asking.
John was currently working as an intern at a cable access station here in the city. And was looking in the area for a full-time newscasters job. “Jobs are few and far between these days,” he lamented. “ Things were much better when my father and mother brought us here years ago.”
“How so?” Matthew inquired.
“ When my folks came, my dad got a job in a grocery store meat room cleaning up. Within a few months he was an apprentice butcher. Now he is the head butcher at another store the chain. I used to think that an opportunity like that would come along for me if I just kept my nose to the grindstone and did my best. Now, I’m not so sure an opportunity like that will present itself. And now I have to resort to sharing dryers with a guy I don’t even know.” He smiled, clapped Matthew on the back, and said “not that I mind.”
“Be careful you don’t start a self-fulfilling prophecy my friend.” Matthew said. “And don’t jinx me either. I’m just starting a job search I’m in a hurry.”
“I feel for you, really. It’s tough out there for sure. What if you look around, there are people looking for honest hard-working people.” John said. “If you want my advice, you should look for part-time stuff that grocery, convenience stores, or a hardware. Those places are always looking.”
“Well I have to go back over to our hardware store this afternoon, and I’m going to be a hitting a grocery store on the way home from that, so I’ll make sure I bring along a pen and so couple of applications.” Matthew said.
“If you’re getting anything from the hardware store for the apartment, you can see the receipt and try to have them take it off your rent next month. They’re pretty good about that even for things like paint.” John informed him.
“Actually, I am just reporting back about an experiment that I did to someone over there.” Matthew said and related the whole experience up to gorging himself with white hot bread to his newfound friend.
“You can make bread?” John asked. “Is it good?”
“Sir, it is incredible.” Said Matthew looking very self-satisfied. “In fact I have a batch rising right now! Which, I might be talked into sharing.”
“After I saved you a dollar 50 on the dry cycle! I still have to talk you into sharing a measly slice of bread! Some people.” John joked.
“Seriously, want to try some, it should be ready in about an hour.” Matthew invited.
“Hot food not from a microwave? I am definitely in.” John smiled.
The two new friends made small talk while they waited for their clothes to dry.
Since Matthew and John polished off another loaf of bread and a full pot of coffee during their bull session at Matthew’s apartment, Matthew started another batch, and decided from now on he would make double batches until he rounded out his larder. It was either that or spend his days chained to his stove.
After John left Matthew checked his e-mail, and found a reply from Con Ed’s (Electric company in NY) customer service department about his electricity bill. The letter explained that service would not be interrupted for at least three months because it was a four-month Suspension policy during the summer. It also explained that if anyone in his house had any medical conditions that required electricity for treatment they would not cancel the service at all- but proof must be shown. And the final bit of information was that if he had food stamps, there might be further assistance available from state that were available without further approvals necessary, including the HEAP program in colder months. And the letter provided several agencies information as well as phone, web, and e-mail contact information. Although Matthew was not looking to be on the welfare bandwagon for long, he printed out the letter just in case and posted it with a magnet on the giant white steel bulletin board in his kitchen that also kept his milk cold.
His e-mail also contained a note from his new friend Jane the grocery store guru. She was inquiring as to the success of his bread making, and sharing a couple of recipes that she thought he might like to try. Each recipe was preceded by a sentence threatening his life should he share this culinary masterpiece with any unworthy individuals which Jane had not previously approved. Very tongue-in-cheek and actually quite amusing Matthew thought. The recipes included not only the twice baked bread, and bread pudding, but also, two cookie recipes, and a homemade Bisquick style baking mix which went something like this:
Jane’s Amazing Baking Mix -careful this one will get you married if you feed it to women who love good food!
▪ 5 cups flour
▪ 1/4 cup baking powder (get the Aluminum free Matthew!)
▪ 2 Tbsp. sugar
▪ 1 tsp. salt (try iodized for this Matt!)
▪ 1 cup butter, margarine, or shortening – don’t use lard!
1. Mix together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. (cutting is using a fork to mix it in until it is just little crumbs!)
2. Keep your mix in an airtight container or zip-lock bag with the air squeezed out as best you can for up to 6 weeks or in the freezer for longer storage.
• TO MAKE BISCUITS
Mix together 1/3 cup of milk to every cup of mix. Drop onto un-greased cookie sheets (you can use your stone!) and bake @ 450ºF for 10-12 min.
*you can put in other ingredients if you wish. Try cheese or herbs but put them in and mix up a bit before adding the milk.
* 1 cup of mix will get you about 6 biscuits.
TO MAKE PANCAKES:
Mix 2 cups of mix with 1 cup milk and 2 (large size) eggs. Cook on hot griddle.
• Just as with the biscuits you can add any other ingredient you would like, such as chocolate chips, strawberries, or blueberries. This is a great use for berries or fruit with bad spots that you can cut out and still have some fruit left- Waste Not Want Not!
This mix is much cheaper than actual baking mix. And if you want to, you can use buttermilk instead of milk. I just use the milk though! Let me know how your doing with these recipies, and if you have any problems or questions.
PS I shop on Wednesdays to get the senior citizen discount. If you want another lesson, I get there around 11 o’clock usually.
Matthew chuckled his way through the entire e-mail, thinking how she wrote exactly as she spoke. He was also very grateful that she had taken so much time to include so much detail. He could not remember a time when someone he didn’t even know had taken so much effort on his behalf. He replied with a thank you, and told her that she could be sure she would be seeing him the following week. He also informed her that people were coming from all over the neighborhood just to try his bread, or at least one man had. And the review had been stunning.
That being done, he put his remaining loaf of bread into a plastic shopping bag from his grocery trip and set off to the hardware store.
When Matthew arrived at the hardware store he found Ben helping a frazzled mother juggling two children, a small dog, and a pile of tile samples out of the door. The woman had balanced the tile samples on the awning of her double wide stroller. Matthew was sure that if he followed the woman home with a video camera, he would get some hilarious footage, but since he was sure that would freak her out, and he didn’t have a video camera anyway, he put it out of his head.
Ben recognized him, and put out his hand with a smile enthusiastically saying, “Bread man, what’s good!”
Instead of taking his hand and shaking it Matthew placed the bag he had brought into Ben’s outstretched hand.
“Uh-oh, Shards?” Ben asked with a smile. “Feels too light for that.”
“Well it was bread when I left home, but after 20 blocks it may just be crumbs, so you might be close.” Matthew said with a smile.
“ Hey! It worked? How does it taste?” Ben fired at Matthew.
“Well, that loaf is for you to find out, oh master of tile and grout! And now - baking stones!” Matthew rejoined.
“ Well now, let’s see how the boy did.” Then he smiled, taking the loaf of bread from the bag and breaking it in a half. He offered one half to Matthew and took a giant bite out of the other.
“No thanks!” Matthew said. "if I eat another bite of bread today I’ll probably burst. I am on the anti-Atkins diet plan lately it seems, and I am about Carbed-Out.”
“Say, this isn’t half bad! You sure you don’t want any?” Ben mouthed around a mouthful.
“I am completely sure, but I am glad you like it!” Matthew said. “You did me solid, and that is the least I can do.”
“Well, to pay me back completely, you will need to bring me a loaf every day for a year!” Ben said with a straight face and then winked.
The two men laughed, then Ben asked questions about the methods that Matthew had used, which Matthew answered as completely as possible.
“Make sure you save that stone Matty boy!” Ben said.
“I plan to, but why do you say so?" Matthew replied.
“Because it’s the first of many we are going to sell of the “Matthews Own Baking Stone Collection. I am going to type up what you just told me, and put them on an end cap with a sign and the sheet of instructions, and sell them for more than you can believe over by the register. If it works out, I will give you a cut. Maybe we can get a “tight” out of your budget.” Ben giggled.
“I don’t need a cut, consider it a done deal, but in lieu of the cut I don’t have to bake for you more than once every 6 or 7 months! What do you say” Matthew said.
“Deal!” Ben said.
After a few more minutes of banter, Matthew said goodbye and turned to leave. Then he had a thought. “By the way Ben, you guys wouldn’t be hiring?”
“We actually just hired this kid two days ago. But, he may not work out, he’s already been late. Why don’t you fill out an application, I will put a star on it, and if he goes your in. It’s only part time though… That what your looking for?” Ben asked.
“Anything is what I am looking for!” Matthew answered.
“Gotcha!” Well let’s see what happens.” Ben replied handing a printed application form and a pen to Mathew.
“Thank you, but I came prepared!” Matthew said, whipping his pen out and showing it to Ben.
“It’s good to be prepared, two stars on your application!” Ben replied and the two of them laughed as Ben went off to help someone match pieces of Travertine. When Matthew finished filling out the application he left it on Ben’s desk, and headed for the door. He caught Ben’s eye, and pointed at the desk and waved. Ben waved back and Matthew headed out the door and towards the grocery store.
As Matthew walked towards the grocery store, he was rolling his financial situation, as pertaining to food stamps, around in his head. He knew that food stamps did not pay everything, for instance he could not get cleaning supplies, toiletries or beer using them. He was glad he didn’t have any pets currently, because their food would have been his cash as food stamps did not cover them.
Since his shopping date with Jane was a few days off yet, he decided to only get enough food for the day. That way he could take advantage of spot sales, and it would give them a reason to get out of the house tomorrow.
He decided to get enough food to have a regular dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow, and to eat as little as possible (no pun intended) into his food budget so that he could do a big shop with Jane.
He also made a point of deciding whatever he got would be good for him. He made this decision on a whim, but he was also thinking that right now it wouldn’t do very well to be run down, or lack energy. And if there was snack food in the house when he had nothing much to do, he would just eat it all.
Matthew walked into the store, went to the courtesy counter, and asked for an application. He filled it out and gave it back to the woman behind the counter. She thanked him and turned to the next person in line. He supposed she wasn’t the one hiring anyway so he turned away and began to walk up and down the aisles trying to get an idea of what to make for dinner. In the soup aisle, he saw that Ramen noodles were still three for dollar. He picked up a package and read the ingredients. When he saw how many ingredients were in the package that were only described by chemical names, and that the product had MSG in high amounts, he put it back until he could learn more. Even though the package was quite inexpensive, it did not meet his nutrition requirements self-imposed though they were. As he was walking the aisles, he noticed that in the back corner of the store were two shopping carts full of scratched, dented, torn, or damaged looking packages and cans. They were marked down to half price.
Matthew decided to see what was in the carts, and perhaps just make selections from here to save money. A few of the cans had no dents or discernible flaws, so Matthew asked the store employee why they were in the cart, and if they were indeed discounted.
The woman told Matthew that if a product wasn’t moving well, or if the item was discontinued by either the store, or by the manufacturer, the manager would put them in the carts rather than have only one or two cans on a shelf.
In an undertone she also cautioned him not to take any cans that were dented badly enough to have a sharp edge. She told him that over time simple atmospheric fluctuations of temperature could flex the can several times eventually creating a pinhole big enough to allow germs in, or even botulism spores.
Matthew was surprised. He had often bought the dented cans back in college, and was unaware of this. The woman told him not to ever buy, or use food cans that were warm to the touch, bulging, or dripping. She said while store managers would not place items like that in discount carts, in somebody’s home pantry these conditions could develop. She also mentioned to push down on jar tops and make sure they did not flex. Flexing is a sign that the seal has been broken, and the same bad conditions could develop in the jar as in those cans she had warned him against.
She cocked her head and looked at Matthew, and said “I can’t believe you don’t know the stuff at your age.” Then she smiled and said “no offense.”
Matthew looked at her and said “no offense taken, I guess I just never needed to know so if anyone ever did tell me this stuff it went in one ear and out the other”
“My dad used to say ‘ there is no such thing as bad knowledge’, you never know what you need to know.” She wished him a good day, and moved on.
From the bin, Matthew selected a can of green beans, and one of white potatoes. He moved on to the meat department to find something to cook with them.
In the meat department, a man in a white coat was placing plastic wrapped meat into the display cases. Matthew walked over and asked him what was on sale.
“What do you like?” The man asked.
“I like cheap and filling!” Matthew said.
“I heard that!” The man laughed.
“Well, we sell “dog bones” very cheap. Those are bones that the meat has been trimmed off of for ground beef, or boneless cuts. They are just fine though for making soups, stocks, reductions, or just plain dog bones.” The man said.
“Well, yeah I don’t think I can do dog bones tonight.” Matthew laughed. “I’m not making soup, and I don’t even know what stock and reductions are. Besides the fact that they are called dog bones is a little bit much for me.”
“Don’t knock them, they are one a very nutritious ways to eat red meat they also give you a good amount of calcium. And they are quite tasty. Maybe some other time. Another way o eat meat cheaply is organ meat. A lot of ethnic dishes call for them but most Americans eat three or four common cuts of each kind of meat and ignore the rest.” The man said.
“Organ meat!” Matthew exclaimed “let me just say ewwww!”
The man laughed. “I’m not talking about spleens- although people probably eat them somewhere. I’m talking about things like liver, hearts, and tripe-which is stomach . There are other things like chitlins which are intestines, chicken feet, and kidneys for pie. Most stores carry them, but they are usually not in the display coolers. You just need to ask for them at the window. And they are definitely cheaper than most other cuts. With the exception of beef liver since it is popular.”
“ Hmmm, I’m not trying be judgmental, I just wouldn’t know what to do with any of that stuff.” Matthew said.
“Well then, you’re not on as tight a budget as you thought.” The man said. “Although some of those things, are very expensive in certain restaurants, they are usually quite inexpensive at the store level. But there are definitely other inexpensive cuts that are more conventional, but less sought after than say but T-bone or ribeye. Look over here. And he brought Matthew over to the beef case.
There are several different cuts of chuck. Chuck is a less expensive meat, but still quite good. These are called 7 bone chuck steaks, and they are the cheapest bone in steak. There are a couple of boneless chuck steaks as well, and these,” here he held up a package with five small steaks with a marble of fat through the center in a straight line,” are called Flat Iron steaks. They are actually the most tender cut of beef, and some chefs are catching on to them driving the price up. But we still sell them as chuck.”
He moved down the line, explaining the different cuts of roasts, steaks, and other items to Matthew.
Matthew was amazed at the wealth of information that this man he would have ignored a month of go was giving him. He was even more amazed he knew so little of the food he had been eating his whole life. He had seen beef shanks before, but never thought to buy them. They were cheaper than hamburger! Half the price in fact. So were the Flat Iron steaks.
Matthew ended up taking a package of Flat Iron steaks, and asking the man the best way to cook them.
“I am tempted to say with just a little garlic, but let me give you a quick hint on making any steak at home easily. Do you have any oil and vinegar at home?” he asked.
“ I have some olive oil, I don’t know about vinegar.” Matthew replied.
“well get some! Every kitchen needs it. Olive oil will work, but I prefer sesame oil for beef. Take a knife and lightly score both sides of your steak. Rub some vinegar (I use basalmic- but any will do) over the meat. It often will turn the meat brown, this is normal. Then tub your oil on to the meat- just enough to coat it. You have now tenderized your meat without beating it- and marinated it. The oil seals in the vinegar and makes the meat very juicy. You could put a rub on such as montreal steak, or just some salt and pepper, or even nothing more. The broil your meat. Easy as pie.” The man said.
“Thank you for your help.” Matthew told the man.
“No problem.” He replied. “Have a good dinner!” and he went back to stocking his case.
Matthew left the store down less than 4 dollars. Which he thought was an amazing price for a steak dinner in NYC. As he walked home, he vowed to find out more of the thrifty cuts of meat the man at the store had mentioned.
As Matthew walked up to the door of his apartment building, he heard somebody calling his name. Turning he saw John exiting a cab with a very excited look on his face.
“What’s the good news John?” Matthew asked.
“You’ll never guess, I am on a freelance website as a stringer, and an independent station has asked me to do an interview here in the city with some economist for them. Face time on a station out of state - but it is still face time, and I can add it to my reel.” Came John’s reply.
“Congratulations my friend!” Matthew said. “Just one thing what the heck are stringers, face time, and reels?”
“Ahh! Video news jargon!” John replied sheepishly. “A stringer is a freelance journalist, typically living someplace where news happens often. Smaller media sources, or big sources with no available reporters, use them to provide a coverage in an area on a one-time or time to time basis. Face time just means that my face will be on camera along with whoever I’m interviewing. And my reel is sort of my portfolio. Just a collection of clips of various face time. It shows how good I am on camera and the hard hitting reporting that I am capable of.”
“Well then that is indeed good news.” Matthew told his friend.
“It is "indeed" you nerd. But, you’re right about that and that is why we’re celebrating.” John told Matthew. “I have the beer right here.If you’re of a mind to join me.”
“Hey, what are friends for, if not to drink your beer.” Matthew said. “And I have my own contribution, how about a steak dinner?” Matthew held up his shopping bag for emphasis.
“Matthew! How are you buying steaks? You should be watching your expeditures!” his friend exclaimed, concerned.
“Not to worry my friend, I am becoming an excellent shopper. But do you have any vinegar?” I forgot to pick it up as it was a late addition to my list.” Mathew asked..
“I have some Apple Cider Vinegar that I used to clear up my athletes foot … will that do?” John asked with a smile.
“Not if it is the vinegar you were dousing your fungus in! But we could surely employ the unused portion of the bottle!” Matthew replied with a wink.
“Wise guy! Should I bring anything else? “ John asked.
“Just the beer I think.” Matthew replied.
“Well since I am the one who is celebrating, I am bringing a salad too- since I bought a big one for dinner for myself.” John said.
The two of them discussed the economist John was interviewing the next day as they walked up the stairs to Matthew’s apartment.
“I don’t know much about him.” Said John. “Other than he is a bit of a doom and gloomer. He has been all over the internet talking about a looming economic crash. He is giving a talk at a convention tomorrow over at Javits and I have an interview scheduled with him right after lunch.”
“What is Javits?” asked Matthew.
“It’s a giant convention center in downtown Manhattan. Wanna tag along. I have three press passes. One for me, one for the camera man, and one for a sound guy. But since our sound guy is getting married tomorrow. The camera man is taking over sound, and we have an extra ticket. Of course you will have to hold the mike.” John said.
“A-Ha! Ply me with beer, then talk me into slave labor. I’ve got your number now!” Matthew laughed. “ but it sounds like fun anyway. And since I have nothing better to do, you are on.”
“Did I mention you get paid….?” John asked. “Since your not in Local 1 it isn’t as much as it could be, but it’s a heck of a lot more than you will make sitting on your couch eating all day, which is what you do mostly as far as I can tell.”
“Oh really?” Matthew asked.” Better not leave me alone with your food sir.”
The two friends went up stairs where they prepared the steaks and canned goods.
“You’re a good cook Matthew. I have really enjoyed this.” John complimented his friend.
“Thank you John. I am just learning after all- but I will definitely take any encouragement.” Matthew replied. “What time should I be ready tomorrow?”
“We need to leave here around 8:00- need a wake up call?” his friend replied.
“I’m good- want to stop by here around 7:30 for coffee?” Matthew inquired.
“No thanks though. I am going to be working on the questions for this guy all morning till we leave. If I play this right, I will get more work out of it. I need to be on point. I will just show up at 8:00 and we will grab a cab.” John answered.
John said goodnight and went upstairs. Matthew checked his email by logging into his neighbors WI-FI. It wasn’t protected by a password, which made it legal to use, but Matthew had been trying to figure out whose it was so he could ask permission. It just felt wrong to use someone else’s service without asking. Almost like stealing.
No replies to any of his resumes yet, with the exception of a couple auto responders thanking him for his application. After surfing some news sites, he headed off to bed.
Is this something your writing? I don't have time to read now but I'll read it tonight.
Originally Posted by MacBestus
Sergeant, USMC 2007-2012
been working on it on another forum. But I read here and decided to share. this about 15% of it. If you want more I will put some more out.
Originally Posted by Tact P
Good read keep it coming.
Matthew woke up at 6:00 AM like always. He had been in the habit for many years, and it never occurred to him to change it simply because he wasn’t currently employed.
Since he had some time to kill, he decided to make a big breakfast. Since he had no eggs, he stir-fried half of the remaining steak with some of the leftover salad and potatoes from the night before. He just tossed it all in a pan with some oil. When it was finished, he dished up some on top of a slab of his bread and sat down to enjoy it. The salad dressing added an interesting and enjoyable flavor to the meat. And the bits of olive and onion were quite tasty.
As he helped himself to seconds, he chuckled to himself thinking that John was right, and he was eating quite well lately. In fact better than he ever had since he lost his folks. It had not reached the point where he felt he was eating as an Olympic event. But he decided to use discretion when he felt he was “sport eating”. It was amazing to him that it was cheaper than ever as well. He had spent more on take out a week in the old days than his new budget for a month. He wondered how much money he would have had in the bank if he had just started eating like this years ago. That money would have been handy now.
Finished with breakfast he grabbed his laptop, and a cup of coffee and browsed the net a bit. Checking his email, he saw that Jane had sent him a note. It was quite short, just checking on him. He replied and was just putting on his coat when John knocked at the door.
“Your five minutes early my friend.” Matthew ribbed him.
“Hey, were you cooking AGAIN?” John asked with mock incredulity. “It smells like a steak house in here! How are you so skinny?”
“Good Genes!” Matthew replied as they headed down to the cab waiting out front.
When they got to the taxi, John introduced Matthew to Luc, who would be the cameraman for the interview.
“We work together at the station, and try to share our freelance when we can.” John said. “Friends have to stick together nowadays.”
Luc was originally from Canada, but had been in New York for years. He was a joker like John, and Matthew could see why they got along.
“Canada.” Matthew said. “Isn’t anyone in New York City from New York City?”
“Certainly not!” said the cab driver in broken English. And they all had a chuckle.
The ride from The Bronx to downtown Manhattan in rush hour was longer than you might think, so the three had a long time to talk. John told Luc about the steaks Matthew had made the night before.
“You put vinegar on your steak?” Luc exclaimed. “I never heard that one before.”
“Well, I for one suggest you try!” John said. “It was definitely not the usual Hungry Man Microwave Meal. And I’m glad I have a use for that Apple Cider vinegar now.”
“You said you used it for athletes foot?’” Matthew asked. “I thought you had to get creams and sprays and powders for that.”
“Nope. Apple Cider Vinegar works faster. It’s also a whole lot cheaper. Besides, anything you can eat is better than putting something pregnant ladies can’t touch without talking to their doctor, on MY body.” He replied.
“John, are you pregnant?” Luc asked with a straight face.
“I don’t know if I can take both of you all day!” John quipped with a smile. “Seriously, it works amazingly. Garlic and ginger also work, but they can sting. No jokes from the peanut gallery. My mom is a big believer in Natural Cures. Most of them involve Apple Cider Vinegar. She even cleans the house with white vinegar.”
Luc pulled out his BlackBerry. “Let’s look into this. If it works so well, we should do a story. Things like that can save people money. And with things the way they are… well, it would be a good thing to do. And the “carbon based” will love it.”
“Who are the carbon based?” Matthew asked with a confused look.
“It’s a worn out Luc joke.” John answered. “Organic Chemistry deals with Carbon compounds- People who eat organic become "The Carbon Based", Lame I know, but he enjoys it.”
“Now who’s the wise guy?” Luc asked. “Look here-“ he whistled.” Your mom is onto something.” He showed a page to the other men. Displayed on the phone's little screen was a list of uses for apple cider vinegar. “This site even tells you how to make your own!”
John was suitably impressed, as was Matthew. “What’s the link Luc?” he asked. “I would like to show my mom.
“http://www.apple-cider-vinegar-benef...-remedies.html “Luc replied.
“Oh I’ll remember that- yah right!” John laughed. “could you text me the link? Maybe we will do a story on the station. At least for our reels.”
“Sure thing boss.” Luc replied.
“You have a reel too?” asked Matthew.
“Sure do!” Luc replied. “Mine isn’t to show what a pretty boy I am like what’s his face over there.” He almost dodged John’s punch in his arm. “Mine is to show how I handle difficult lighting situations, framings, and other set ups. I usually include a picture of John without make-up so that prospective clients can see the wonders I can do with my camera.”
They were just getting to Javits Center, a giant glass building. The taxi dropped them off by the Jersey Barriers in front and Matthew was glad that John was paying it. Taxi’s are convenient not cheap.
The three men gathered up the gear, and headed inside to register and find the economist they were here to see.