Zombies' Guide to Cooking like Normal People
Zombie Guides: Volume 1
I was going to call this book 'Apocalypse Cooking', but that sounds like we're living in the apocalypse, doesn't it? Of course we're not living in the actual, dyed-in-wool end of days. If it were a proper end, like the ones we think we'd enjoy, surely there would be zombies and Rick from The Walking Dead, or Tom Cullen (M-O-O-N) from The Stand, or at least a nice toasty nuclear Armageddon with talking dogs.
It's not as though we're in the middle of the Holocene extinction event or anything.
Worst. Extinction. Ever.
I'm a writer, in case you didn't know (I wrote this with my fingers). I write horror for preference, and fantasy when I want to sell a few more books. But I really like apocalyptic fiction. It's a fascinating concept, isn't it? We get a start over - a reload, maybe. Survival on the edge has a certain simple attraction. Isn't that what we do each day when we check the bank and realise that all of our money isn't, in fact, there? 1% of the world's population might well be entirely disinterested in saving money because they already have all of it and more than they'll ever need - but the other 99% of us have to put some effort in.
I saw a Denzel Washington movie a while back and when he's asked what it was like before the end of the world, he said, 'We had more than we needed, and we didn't know what to do with it'. I'm paraphrasing there, because I'm an immensely lazy researcher. The film was 'The Book of Eli'. I enjoyed it.
That's an anecdote, I guess, and not entirely relevant. Either way, you might be thinking, 'You're a writer...what do could you possibly know about being heroically skint?!'
More than plenty. I was a student and skint. Then I lived in Japan and was skint and ate nothing but tofu, eggs and ramen noodles for weeks. I didn't have a God-damned penny (or Yen). I came home from Japan and worked for a while - then I had more than I needed, for a time. After that I was diagnosed as bi-polar (which explained the ramen) but I've been diagnosed with all sort of stuff except pregnancy and I'm not overly worried about any of it so far.
The long and short of it is that I'm not on footballer's wages anymore (never was, but it's all a matter of perspective). You get used to making do with what you've got, don't you? That's the wonder of humanity. We're adaptable, inventive, creative...but mostly, we're belligerent.
Have I got more than I need? Maybe. Probably not. But you'll be surprised how much you think you need is simply what other people think you need.
But this series is only partly about doing things cheap - it's about being on a budget, sure, but it's also about living until you die without being more miserable or happy than you have to be, and not cutting off your entire head in a silly chainsaw accident. This edition right here is a cookery book. Sort of. I'm not Jamie Oliver or Ken Hom. I'm more of a roadkill chef. If it's not moving you can eat it. You can eat stuff that's still moving, but anything moving slow enough to let you eat it isn't going to taste good...but good luck.
Survival; It ain't pretty...but it doesn't have to taste like shit.
Hands down, easily the most repulsive thing I've ever eaten.
A SEA SLUG or SEA CUCUMBER is not your friend.
Something to cook food on, or in. Like, you know...a cooker. The most basic requirement is heat, though. If it's hot, you can cook on it. I cooked on top of a wood burning stove in a power cut. People cook heroin with nothing more than a disposable lighter. Barbeques are cool (but, erm, hot). Plutonium gets quite hot, I think, as do your car's brake pads and exhaust.
You might want to be a little adaptable about the heat rule.
PICTURED: NUCULAR STEAMER!™
Great for healthy chicken, vegetables, or gyoza!
You probably want to cut things up, and stir, and move them to your mouth (do not use your fingers for stirring hot things. That is the wrong thing to do). Ancient people invented spoons first because you can do everything with a spoon, even remove an eyeball.
I think. What is anthropology anyway? Pfft. Get a spoon.
Pots and pans
You can cook any kind of sensible food in a pot or in a pan. If you need something else to cook it, you're in the wrong place. That's called 'baking'. If it's food that never needs to see fire, it's called 'salad' and you should burn that to spite it and then throw it out. People put potatoes in salad, but this is wrong. You can perform potato'ing correctly by roasting them. You can roast stuff in a pot. Therefore, this is still 'cooking'.
Ha. Really? You can eat straight from the pan. Or, pot, if you have company. What is crockery? I mean, really. It's just cooked dirt.
PICTURED: Crockery People.
Food is very useful for cooking. If you're really, really hungry, you could theoretically eat yourself (and who hasn't thought they look tasty at some point in their lives?) but it's a limited diet - really, you want some variety. And a more sustainable source of nutrition. Also, when you've eaten both hands, preparing yourself will become very difficult.
Either way, meat's great. But if you can't get meat, there are other foods available, such as VEGETABLES. Vegetables are things which grow from the ground and need sunlight. Bread is a vegetable. So is pasta. Salad is not a vegetable because it can't be cooked or killed or stopped.
Try vegetables if you can't get meat.
Very handy things
Somewhere to preserve food for longer. For food you're planning on eating soon, a fridge. Just ignore the sell-by date and the best-before date. If you don't get sick, it's fine. Like eating stuff you find in the forest or Lidl - it's trial-and-error and nothing more.
Hard liquor is a pretty good preservative and a decent antiseptic in the event you decide to eat your own hand instead of that suspicious leftover prawn bhuna.
A freezer, or the permafrost layer of the Russian tundra. A freezer is probably easier.
Exhibit #1: HAIRY ELEPHANT.
Frozen, well-preserved mammoth remains have been dated to around 40,000 years old. You've got this picture and not that one. Frankly, the other picture was really gross.*
*But not as gross, or old, as some of the things my mum has in her freezer.
If you can be bothered to make preserves or pickle things, or have home canning equipment, can tear flesh from spear-caught fish, know which mushrooms are safe and which mushrooms are good for tripping, have no queasy roiling gutsache at the thought of roadkill or insects, or know how to salt and sun-dry strips of meat...well then, bully for you. You can live through most things and have shining, sweaty arms the opposite sex probably go crazy for but all those things are for the Zombies' Guide to being an Actual Survival Nut even though the WORLD HASN'T ENDED (Yet).
Some people call it a 'Masher', but I like the name 'Squisher', or 'Hobo Food Blender'.
Seasoning and Flavours
If you're cooking on a budget, these things are a panacea you could really use. It's just snake oil, a folly - because you're eating cheap and cheerful and probably not the best cuts or quality ingredients. Also, a bit of food colouring (or paint, in a pinch) and hey presto! The meat is not longer bluey-green.
If you forget what you're eating, that's for the best. Then, follow the children's eating rule: Everything is chicken.
RECIPES. SORT OF.
For anyone who hasn't noticed until Chapter Two...this is not a recipe book. You don't need a recipe book, because everything you make is going to taste almost exactly the same. This is like changing the bed. Under the quilt and sheets, the bed is exactly the same. It's just putting a different quilt cover on it (and sheets, if you're expecting company with friendly hips).
Later, you can eat nice food for cheap, but when you're better at cooking. Do that. Getting better at cooking is a GOOD IDEA.
Another GOOD IDEA, if the first one fails, is to learn to be a lot less fussy about what you eat.
Salt and Pepper
Just take it as read that everything has salt and pepper in it. 50% of making food palatable is seasoning. The rest is just how hungry you are.
Anything with mince. It is pretty high in fat, but you're freezing and hungry. You'll get over any quibbles about squashed animals, and if you're frantic about fat content you can fry the hell out of it first and drain the fat. Unless you're making burgers, because if there's one thing I've learned from Lethal Weapon movies it's 'cut the fat, you cut the burger'.
You can freeze it. I'm sure there's some sort of rule about freezing, cooking, and refreezing meat. I've been refreezing stuff since I learned you could do it and not die. I haven't died for 43 years at the time of writing and when I do you can bet the God damn bank it'll be from food poisoning. But after that, I'm getting myself frozen.
A stew is basically a casserole on a hob which you haven't used a squisher on. Here is the only recipe you will ever need to live. Not to eat, or enjoy your life. But to live? Yeah, sure. Why not?
Mince, salt and pepper, stock, carrots, peas, whatever you've got - you've got 'Hobo Stew'. Look at a hobo. Hard life, on the run from bad memories with nothing but a mangy dog and a bottle of rotgut for friends. They all look like Keith Richards...and they're still alive.
PICTURED: KEITH HARRIS.
Kidney beans, tomatoes, some kind of leftover mix you say wrong (FAGEETA!) and some peppers. This is called 'Mexican Hobo Stew'.
Tomatoes, garlic, oregano (or basil)? 'Italian Hobo Stew'.
Curry powder? Well. You get the idea. Although this isn't 'Indian Hobo Stew'. This is Granddad Curry. It's edible. Really.
Unfortunately, you can't do CHINESE COOKING with mince. You need bean sprouts for Chinese cooking. These are a sort of elongated Brussels sprout, but they only turn into Brussels sprouts at Christmas and as they are a Christmas vegetable they're acceptable to eat. The Chinese don't celebrate Christmas, or something, which is why we get Brussels sprouts cheap in December. The rest of the year, bean sprouts are one of the cheapest things in the vegetable island* of the supermarket.
*Island, not aisle. Vegetable Island ceded from the Meat Union a long, long time ago. I think. Is that true? I don't know. Sounds true.
PICTURED: The National Flag of the Union of Brussels Sprouts. Logo Inspired by Brussels Sprouts.
If you can't figure out how to roll a lemongrass joint and you think Massaman is a type of Reggae, Hobo Stew is for you. And if you've got the willpower to make anything more than Hobo Stew? You're not really hungry and you're just pretending. Get out.
Meat with eggs or some kind of glue, non-squeamish fingers - burgers. Technically, if it's hot meat in a bun, it's a burger. Semantics really aren't important to hungry people. No one should die just because they're inclined toward pedantry. Or, very few people.
Cook most things too long, they get dry. Eventually they catch fire. This is why cooking wet things is wonderful. You can put a casserole the oven and forget about it for hours and do something more interesting than cooking while you wait.
You don't need a blender; use the squisher. Chunky soup, done.
General rule: Alcohol is seasoning, whether you've got food or not. It is a vegetable. Or a fruit. Gin is a kind of fruit, right? Hmm.
Tray bakes, pot roasts, and miscellaneous things no one cares about
These are like casseroles, but less wet, and more effort.
If fish is the Princess Daisy of foods, pie is Crom (the God), and an unforgiving one at that.
Pie is stew with pastry lid and base. A pie with just a lid is not a pie. It is a stew with a lid. Make sense? Good.
Use lard. Pastry is better with lard. Don't be scared of lard and suet - it's not like you eat them every day.
You might think this is baking because pastry is involved. It's not. It's PIE.
This is what milk becomes when it grows up. Casu Marzu, below, is what it becomes when it's really grown up, and does taxes and goes to bed at 9pm.
You can cover up a taste. You can shut your eyes when you eat something that looks like baby shit. But you can't shut your mind.
When you're expecting chicken soup and get gristle...your mind screams, you're appalled. Get out the wobbly bits because some things can't be wiped from experience.
Oh, and temperature, too - you won't notice the fat in proper food when it's hot. Eat it cold and you'll feel like something covered in lube, and just as apprehensive.
Sometimes, and at some time, you are going to make something that's technically edible, but so fucking awful you can't eat it. Don't cry. It gets better.
Worst thing I ever made? Fly soup. Literally, a soup with flies from the onions I used which I didn't check. I didn't eat it. My family did though.
Ah, halcyon days. I still laugh about that.
Cookbooks are brilliant. They have pretty pictures, glossy covers, advertising budgets. They teach you how to cook just like a TV chef, and how to spend more money on ingredients from their sponsors.
If you're really tight, and want to figure out how to make a chilli, or a korma, or cottage pie, though? Read the ingredients on the pack you buy from the supermarket. You'll figure it out.
You do not need one level teaspoon of anything in a casserole. Baking's different. You do need accurate measurements, cooking times, temperatures, windage, the correct load in your ammunition, and then 32ml of the Devil's own luck because if you don't get those things right, your cake is a new sentient entity and thus subject to the uncompromising will of the Elder Gods.
Whatever. I don't care about cake, so I'm not going to talk about it anymore. It's making me uncomfortable. If you're skint and want something sweet, just eat a load of sugar.
You'll find a ton of cookbooks in charity/thrift shops because so many people died hunting for the right kind of Korean cabbage before they could cook. Then, there's this thing called 'Google'. It's pretty cool. But, with regard to all of the above? Anyone can make something very tasty with a load of money, great ingredients, a cookbook, time, practise and patience.
That's not cooking, though. Proper cooking is making a meal from what you have in the cupboard, and when you can make a lasagne from three rusty flathead nails, a pipe cleaner, a tin of value tomatoes, chip shop vinegar, a sardine can (minus the sardines) and some carpet off-cuts? Then, and only then, will you be a MAN.
Dead, of course. But still...good effort.
HEALTH FOODS, or 'MUG VEG'
It's cheaper to buy Coca-Cola than fresh fruit juice. A huge bag of Milky Way or Snickers knock-off bars are cheaper than a punnet of grapes. The simple fact is that it's healthier being wealthier.
Is that a motto? Doggerel? Whatever.
'Whole Foods' are the things you eat if you take up yoga. Otherwise, just eat and take a multivitamin and you'll probably survive. If you're reading this book you're not going to make it to your centennial year anyway. Don't sweat it. Plus, the quicker you die the less chance there is you'll have to do yoga.
This guide isn't really about eating healthy, though. You're poor, so you just do the best you can and hope to avoid the Rickets fairy. Any food is health food if you're starving hungry.
If it's wet it's good for freezing. Hell, you can freeze pretty much anything if you really put your mind to it. Living things, probably best not to. I make a big batch of cheap, wet dinners on the same day, stick 'em in tupperware pots and freeze the lot. I eat pretty well until that runs out, or there's no other food around apart from salad.
Have some vegetables in the freezer, too. You might not like them, but cook anything for long enough and it'll be just fine. Fresh vegetables are brilliant if you're having something which really matters, like when you're hoping for sex.
Otherwise, get a bag of carrots in the freezer and have a night in. No one cares if you cry when you're on your own.
Of course, this is assuming you have somewhere like a freezer to store things. If you live in a bedsit on your own and spend 90% of your time on conspiracy forums and wear tinfoil underpants, do throw some things out. Dude, the way you're living? It's unsanitary.
No...I decide. I'm decisive. Manly. Gonna eat bacon. Me, man.
It'll taste like Babe. Pig in the City, but in my belly instead.
I stick the kids in the car because they're 5 a.m. people, too. They're happy enough, I'm happy enough, and we go for a trundle to the shop. It's raining a little, but I'm in the car. I get wet from the house to the car, the car to the shop. No big deal. The kids don't grumble, either, because we're on an adventure - it's dark, it's raining, and the reward for the successful completion of our quest is...BACON!
There may even be a fanfare.
But, bacon is the star of this chapter, not the kids.
Bacon's on special at the shop and this is suddenly not just 5 a.m., but our shining moment.
We get home, and I stick the bacon under the grill before mooching around. Maybe I make a cup of tea, or smoke a cigarette while I wait. I don't really remember, but this isn't a police statement. It doesn't really matter. I notice, though, that something stinks and stinks really, really bad. It stinks like a dead pig's hairy arse.
It's the bacon. It's not just a bad smell. I'm more complex, more heinous. Smells like Babe decomposed. Of course it did. It's dead. I check the date on the pack. The bacon's in date. What's the hell? Something's rotten in Denmark. Shitty Danish bacon...that must be it. They keep pigs in cages, treat them like carrots or potatoes, like pigs are unfeeling beasts farmed for meat and nothing else. I don't really care, but I do think, 'Should've bought British'. I should have bought meat with a decent standard of living before someone killed it and butchered it so I could eat it.
But, nope. It is British. It says so on the pack.
Also, the pack says, 'UNSMOKED'.
Twat, I think, and throw the bacon in the bin. After a while, I wonder if I meant the bacon, or me.
Anyway...matter of personal choice, or not? I don't know. I eat meat. I like meat. Meat probably doesn't like being meat. Meh.
You need hours to cook if you're trying to follow a recipe for Beef Wellington. Maybe, one day, you'll have forty quid spare for a huge lump of topside beef. Then you can have friends round for a dinner party and Cards Against Humanity with your Prosecco. Whatever. You don't need it.
The general gist of it is this: if you've got a crappy bit of meat, cooking it slow and at a low temperature is going to make it palatable. Possibly. If you buy a cheap cut (like neck of lamb), you're going to want to cook it for around ten hours to make what you get edible. Then, use that to fed the neighbour's cat, because I sure as hell wouldn't give that shit to my cat. I haven't got a cat and I wouldn't even give the ghost of my cat neck of lamb.
Buy fresh, buy local?
Sure. A good bit of fish from the local fishmonger or the van on the market (as long as it doesn't smelly funky - fish is not supposed to smell like that girlfriend you had when you were on that caravan holiday one time), but fish is expensive. Buy local? I'd love to, but it's a load of effort and Morrisons is just so much easier. So, you know. That's that, then.
This is anything you can only buy in Sainsbury's. Really fancy, like if the Queen's coming to visit, you'll want to brave the Range Rovers and Waitrose.
Get used to shopping in Lidls and the bins and get a hell of a lot better with a bow. Until then, if a recipe calls for oysters, langoustines, Jerusalem artichokes (it should never do that...surely?!) it's going to be expensive and not be pie.
PICTURED: GHOST BALLS.
Non-indigenous plant life is imported, weird, and therefore expensive. It's a trick. If a recipe calls for lychees, you have been duped. Just put balls in it. Same deal. Done.
A cookery book is a pain in the arse as you have to double check everything because you're not confident it looks, smells, or tastes right. But it won't look, smell or taste right because you're not a professional chef and you've never eaten it before...so how would you know if it tastes right?
Stick with sausage casserole. Or, long pig. Wait...long pig is sausage, right?
I've put this in right at the end for a reason. Because it's a myth. It's the Wendigo of eating. It's just one of those things that doesn't exist (like the Chupacabra, the Grey Man, Democracy), and if it did is entirely indifferent to us.
Nutrition can be broken down quite simply: Proteins, Carbohydrates, Fats, Sugars. Your body needs these in differing proportions depending on your genetics, your chemical composition, your background, what you do that day, whether you're ill, or exercising, or...frankly, it's a crap shoot. Why bother playing a game with no rules at all?
But it is surprising what the human body can do. It can't do certain things, like create its own Vitamin C, or fly (and land safely afterward, which is the more important part) yet if you're hungry and haven't got a lot of money, you don't really give a shit about superfoods or antioxidants and toilets were invented for the bits your body can't process.
Yoghurt and blueberries and yoga are no doubt 'good' for you, but you can't afford any of that. You just want to survive, and to do that, you need proteins, carbohydrates, fats and sugars. There are other things, of course, like VITAMINS and MINERALS. But they'll take care of themselves.
PICTURED: A VITAMIN
PICTURED: A MINERAL
However, if you start to get scurvy you should probably think about getting a cheap vitamin supplement. Otherwise...don't sweat it. Just eat it.
Hmm...well...if you learned anything, it's this: the true value of life insurance. Thanks for reading.