Wednesday, June 29, 2011

We'll focus on my failures shortly...

...but tonight, I am sick and congested (call 911!), deeply whiny and just in general a delight to have around. So, while you are due an update on the budget project, and it is coming forthwith, it won't be tonight. Tonight I made this:

In case it's not immediately obvious, it's homemade chicken noodle soup and buttermilk biscuits, both of which are awfully easy to make, and make one feel like death may not be lurking around the next corner.

There's no real recipe for chicken noodle soup in my book, really. I just sweat a couple of onions, some celery and carrots until tender (or teetering towards brown, as someone got too involved in playing Words for Friends...damn you, iPhone!), dump in a quart of stock, a quart of water, some shredded chicken from the failure of a beer-can grilled chicken I attempted this weekend, and let it go for about 20 minutes on a low simmer. Salt and pepper, and if you've got some handy, toss in some shredded Swiss Chard and parsley, and some egg noodles. Continue to simmer until the noodles are the consistency you covet in your soup. Some want mushy, I lean towards a bit more toothsome.

I have to rein myself in when I make this, as the over-the-top foodie in me wants to add wild and crazy dollops and flourishes. Self, I say sternly, that is NOT what chicken noodle soup is for. It is for gentle eating on a tender tummy, or a bowl of comfort when a combination of congestion and fatigue sneak up on you. Step away from the micro-greens and creme fraiche, woman, and calm right the hell down! Now is not the time.

And then you open a cookbook and make some biscuits. I am FAR too ill to type up what I made here now (did you not hear me when I said I was congested?? I need professional medical attention, or at least some tea.), but believe me when I tell you that delightful biscuit recipes abound, and if you pester me, I'll write mine up later when I'm less booger-y.

Now that you've done all that (and taken a semi-arty photo of it, to boot), eat the stuff, read a few chapters of a novel, and then go stuff yourself into bed with a lot of Kleenex and a heaping dose of self pity. Bourbon here is optional, but recommended.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Strawberries and Scapes...early summer!

This past week has officially been a frigging ZOO. While I'm fairly used to running full tilt from job, to home, to job and so on, adding onto that routine trying to squeeze in contractors stomping through the house for estimates and a disaster recovery team ripping out my upstairs has made me a bit bug eyed. On the plus side, my house no longer has that delightful "molding Sheetrock/wet insulation" smell so sought after by home owners. However, for the past 4 days my house has been filled with more than a half dozen industrial fans on every floor in the house, slowly (and loudly. Oh, so very loudly.), drying out my walls, floors and ceilings. It's a bit like an airport with planes taking off...all bloody day and night. Very soothing. least things are moving along towards having a livable home again, which can only be a good thing. And I have indeed been trucking along faithfully with the Food Stamp budget. Some notable inclusions towards that end have been making a ludicrous amount of pesto, thanks to being given a huge bag of garlic scapes, and stuffing my freezer full of more fresh picked strawberries than any one person could possibly need. I baked a few of them into this wonderful strawberry cake (so easy, and so, so yummy), ate a LOT of them, and froze the remaining 8 lbs. And yes, I do pick fruit like I'm an Amish mother of 8, thank you for noticing. Just wait for cherry season...I tend to come home with upwards of 12 lbs of the things. Thank goodness I've got a table top cherry pitter.

Wondering what the heck garlic scapes are and what to do with them? Here's the exact recipe I used to make the most wonderful, bright, garlicky pesto. I made one batch of straight scape pesto, and another which was about 50/50 scape and kale. Both are fantastic, and I am thrilled to see them stacked in my freezer, where they will be a welcome taste of early summer all year. I also planted about a half dozen basil plants in my little garden, so there's a good chance I'll have a total pesto tasting explosion in my freezer this year! In addition to tossing the stuff with pasta, I recently discovered that smearing some under the skin of a chicken prior to roasting makes for a nice change to a staple dinner.


As the month progresses, my $200 budget is dwindling alarmingly quickly. Necessary staples have begun to wane, and have needed to be replaced, which hits the budget harder than expected. Prior to hitting the Farmer's Market yesterday, I checked where things stood financially, and gulped. It was the 18th of the month, just barely over halfway through, and I had just slightly over $50 remaining. Admittedly, I do have that weekly influx of veggies from my CSA share, but still. Gulp. I bypassed the bakery stand at the market, and walked wistfully by the cheese guys. No way was any of that happening at this point, which made me far sadder than perhaps it should have. It also meant that when I got home, I set about baking some bread for the upcoming week. I opted for a very straightforward whole wheat bread from a Williams-Sonoma cookbook, to which I added some molasses for depth and interest. It turned out quite nicely, and one loaf will get frozen for next week. You could doubtless get bread very cheaply from the grocery store, but I deeply loathe the cheap stuff, with it's utter lack of both flavor and nutrition, and since the wonderful artisanal sourdough I favor was out of wallet's reach, it was best to just make my own.

I'd promised a friend that I'd make his favorite spinach and sausage lasagna this week, which is the epitome of great cheesy pastas, but not terribly economical to make. It does make an enormous amount, though, so it should, with supplements from the farmer's market and such, last pretty much the whole week.

With this week's grocery purchases, we are now at...

Balance: $22.67

This is a frighteningly small amount of money to get through the remainder of the month with, and I'm a bit tense about it.

I'm also kicking around the idea of continuing this project on a bit longer than one month, to see what sorts of patterns and habits might become more helpful to me in the longer run.

Meanwhile, with my house in utter chaos, I've been retiring to my yard a lot these days, with a book and the dogs for some much needed quiet. If anyone has a tent to loan me, I think I'd rather sleep out here for the foreseeable future.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Mother Nature? You're kind of a bitch.

I'm going to apologize in advance for what is quite sure to be a profanity laden post. Turn back now, oh ye of delicate sensibilities, for we are heading straight into F-bomb land.

This week was supposed to be a continuation of my food challenge, with some scrimping to fit in a Five Guys visit, and perhaps a soup or two. Well, the trip to Five Guys happened, and was a delicious grease-fest, as anticipated. However, upon my return home from that little jaunt, I pulled into my driveway and saw this:

In case it's not clear, that's the neighboring property's fence, which normally resides in an upright position on the perimeter of my yard. Stepping into my back yard, my Adirondack chairs (solid wood) were tossed to the other side of the lawn. And the laundry that I'd hung on the line to dry during the heat of the day? Was fucking EVERYWHERE. T-shirts were strewn along the driveway. Towels decorated the fence. Work shirts on top of the garage. And the rest? Mostly in trees, upwards of 30' in the air.

Oh yes, and the majority of my roof shingles were scattered throughout the yard, road, and god knows where else. Apparently, we'd had quite the gale while I was gone.

The next day was spent hauling the downed branches to the end of the driveway for pickup, and making multiple calls to my insurance company. Also? A trip to my next door neighbors to see how they'd fared. Bear in mind, I've lived here for 8+ years, and have met my neighbors time. They're very nice people, from what I can tell, I'm just a bit of a recluse, and keep to myself when at home. After touring their yard, and the downed 40' catalpa tree, they asked if I needed help with anything. And I did, as fetching my laundry out of trees was stymieing me. So my poor neighbor got his surveyor's pole and proceeded to pick clothes out of trees. Including my...undergarments. There's nothing that bonds strangers quite like handing them their muddy, storm-tossed panties. And not at ALL awkward.

But the epic continues, as not a single roofer in the area could come to tarp my roof until...this morning. In the ensuing days, we got a LOT of rain. Which, when you basically have no roof, leads to a bit of water damage. Much like this:

So, that's a long way of saying that the food part of my life got a bit sidelined, what with my bedroom turning into a FEMA site. I haven't deviated from the project, but have definitely been on autopilot. For those wondering where I stand, financially, with my burger trip, I'm now at:

Balance: $121.15.

And yes, I'm carrying on with the project. Because real life happens, regardless of budget, and with heaven only knows what kinds of upcoming expenses, maintaining a tight food budget is a damn good idea. I foresee a big pot of soup this weekend, as I'm in a bit of a funk (can't imagine why), it's pissing down rain, and I was given a chunk of ham, complete with bone, by a coworker.

But truly...this fucking SUCKS. Guess the dogs and I are sleeping downstairs for a while.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Can green be (economically) lean?

I'm beginning to think that this little undertaking might end up being good for the waistline, as well as for the wallet. Where I would normally tend to snack mindlessly, or grab bits of this or that without a thought, I'm now so focused on every dime that I am NOT eating anything unplanned. At over $3 a go, there will be no ham, egg and cheese sandwiches from the local bagel shop on the way to work. Not to say that cheap, unhealthy choices don't abound, because they sure as hell do, but I'm currently trending more towards whole food items made quite simply. In an effort to do a little advance planning for the week ahead, I've got a pan of beans and greens working on the stove (kale, some hot Italian sausage, cannelini it!), and a couple sweet potatoes baking in the oven (easy to turn into a hearty lunch with some salsa and black beans).

It's not escaping me, either, that this is pushing me towards eating as the Gospel According to Michael Pollan (of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" fame) would encourage us to. Lots of whole foods, with a focus on vegetables and fruits, sourced locally when possible, and supplemented in small doses by meats. There's no doubt that I live in an area where agriculture flourishes to an almost ridiculous degree. If one lives in, say, Manitoba (Hi, Mum and Da!), you're going to have different constraints. To that I would say you have to get to know what thrives in your area, and make the most of it. My folks up north have abundant, cheap sources of meat and fish, and no one in the world is a more vigorous preserver of garden produce than my mother. And when your growing season is about 3 minutes long, that takes far more planning and skill than I possess!

As many aspects of our lives become curtailed by rising gas prices, it can't help but to be reflected in our food costs as well. The further things travel, and the more climate controlled they must be to arrive "fresh" at their destinations, the higher their accompanying price tags must be as well. Where local foods from farmer's markets have often been thought of as more costly in comparison to their mass produced and shipped grocery store brethren, they not only more honestly reflect the cost of food production, but are becoming competitive with similar items shipped from afar. With the tremendous social, environmental and dietary benefits that can result from sourcing one's diet close to home, I am increasingly hopeful that doing so can be accessible to all parts of a community, not merely the affluent and well-intentioned.

In related local food news, Hudson appears to be on the verge of beginning a food co-0p! While it appears to still be in the rough planning stages, I love the heart of the idea. And as Hudson proper lacks an actual grocery store (city residents have to wend their way out to Greenport for actual grocery stores, which, to the many people with no vehicles, means either a pricey cab ride or a long slog), so to have something like this right in the heart of the city could be a tremendous asset. I do worry that prices may be prohibitive, but hope that there will be ample promotion of affordability via member participation that it could be accessible to everyone. Definitely something to look forward to and support!

Ok, that's enough proselytizing for now. Plus, I'm hungry and dinner's ready, so I'm going to go stuff my face. For those of you keeping track at home, we are now looking at...

Today's groceries of $13.99 and 2 slices of cheese pizza at $3.78, which brings us to...

Balance: $128.59

Saturday, June 4, 2011

It's not all Ramen over here....

Sigh...I had such big plans for high productivity today. In my idealized world, I would have created a carefully planned grocery list, planned a week's worth of meals, done all my weekend errands and cured some tropical disease. There are weekends when this actually happens, and I am a machine of efficiency. (Well, my progress with tropical illness is slow, but I'm a geologist by training, so I'm guessing the learning curve is steep.) That so did NOT happen today. It's been an emotionally stressful week, which likely didn't help, but I'm willing to bet that neither did playing Spades until 4 am, either. Oh well...too tears in a bucket, and all that.

I did manage to drag my ass to the Farmer's Market this morning, although not at my normal bright and early hour. I was vaguely hopeful that arriving so late would make my chocolate croissant lust moot, as they tend to sell out by 10 am, but no such luck. And, as I have no will power whatsoever, I had to get one. (Thank you, France, for creating breakfast pastries so delightfully buttery, light, and filled with chocolate...I owe you one.) My big bag o' wonders from my CSA got picked up, too, and as the photo above demonstrates, I'll be well supplied with greenery this week! I'm a bit alarmed at the sheer volume of lettuce that needs to be consumed, but a friend recently mentioned a southern recipe for wilted lettuce that involves hot bacon grease, and well...hell yes, I need to try that!

All the veggies pictured are part of my weekly share, so the only items I purchased outright today were a wedge of cheese and the aforementioned croissant. I'm still working my way through a lot of pre-experiment supplies, so I don't feel that I'm fully in the groove of the budget yet. As those things dwindle, though, we'll see how I fare.

I guess I'll have to do some planning and shopping tomorrow, as I hereby officially declare today a wash, and plan to retire to the couch with a movie and version 2.0 of my afternoon nap. Let's hope that for the sake of productivity I don't get roped into any more late night card games.

So, with today's market treats and some curry chicken from the Chinese take-out near work last night (all told, $11.81), we are now at:

Balance: $146.36

Also, as you can see, I'm having a hell of a time with the photo part of this blog. Since my computer went to be with Jesus and got re-built, I lost my old photo software, which I at least sort of knew how to work. So, bear with my wildly sized photos for a bit until I figure the new stuff out, please!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Mostly Math

I figured I'd better work out the monthly amount my CSA share from these fine folks is running me, so I can budget accordingly. As I'm splitting my share with a friend this season, the breakdown for me ends up at $37.60/month. Not bad at all, considering that this will keep me awash in abundant greens all summer, plus berries and veggies as the growing season progresses.

My Saturday morning forays to the Farmer's Market in town are one of the utter highlights of my week. Hudson's a small town, so familiar faces (and often, their accompanying canine companions) abound, and live music and people watching (oh, NYC weekenders, how you amuse me!) are ample entertainment while hemming and hawing about the cheese o' the week. I won't lie, however...I'm a bit anxious that my Saturday morning chocolate croissant is a luxury I might not be able to afford, and that would veer towards tragedy. We'll have to see how it goes.

So, with a couple of small items purchased today, and incorporating the CSA costs, we are at....

Balance: $158.17

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Day 1-Burger Resistance

Well, to much fan fare and rolling out of red carpets, today marks the first day of my challenge to feed myself (hopefully well) on the federally mandated $200/month budget for a single individual. To be honest, it's been a very easy first day, as I'm still working through a lot of leftovers from the long weekend, and had actual time to cook this evening.

The only potential trip-up came when I went to my eye appointment today, which is dangerously located very near a Five Guys Burgers & Fries. To those unfamiliar, it's the Eastern Seaboard's Holy Grail of kick ass burgers, and the most ridiculously delicious fries ever. Needless to say, I love them, and I could SMELL the charred greasy goodness as I drove by. However, as a burger and fries tends to come in around the $10 mark, I didn't want to play that free and loose with my budget right out of the gate. I do have to return for a recheck appointment next week...I think some penny pinching will have to be put in place to make a bacon-y splurge possible.

With an eye towards planning for the next couple of days, I made a big batch of a pasta dish with some leftover grilled chicken and asparagus from the farmer's market.

And of course it's now June, which means that strawberries are imminent, and pick your own places abound very near my house. If one is willing to spend an hour picking, you can get a LOT of strawberries for very little money. I tend to pick fruit like I'm an Amish mother of 8 (12 lbs of cherries? Of course I need them! What the hell for, I'm not quite sure, but I must pick them.), so I happily foresee a lot of berries in my near future.

And there ends Day 1.

Balance: $200