Saturday, February 28, 2009

February Totals

So here we are at the end of February and I've overspent on food. Not on booze or pet food but food for the human 2/3 of the family. I can justify it any way I'd like but as this is not an exact science I know this is gonna happen and I'm not too bent out of shape about it. We were close and then Henry returned home and was quite ill for the past few days and he asked for some soda and that put us over the top but the last thing I'm willing to do is sacrifice comfort for a sick 10 year old.

Anyway, February totals are as follows:

Food $201.97
Booze $45.73
Pet Food $43.00

I'm still quite please with this, keeping myself in interesting vino, good relatively healthy food and feeding a 100+ lb dog for under $300 a month is fine with me. Adding in the January totals I get the following figures:

Food $370.91
Booze $88.68
Pet Food $81.65

Now it seems it is probably easier to keep well under budget if I shop relatively equally from week to week setting the 25% goal rather than going hog wild the first weekend and then trying to stay more disciplined throughout the month however we're back to that not an exact science thing and we're low on some staples such as vanilla extract, maple syrup, brown rice, onions, spuds, etc. All of these things are rather spendy especially since we're buying natural - an example is something like Log Cabin or Golden Griddle maple syrup made from hi-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavorings cost about $4 for a qt the last time I looked. Grade B real maple syrup in bulk is $12+ a pint. All of which brings me to the next point I'm trying to make as we continue on this project...

I continue to read how eating natural foods (organic, grass fed, free range, locally, etc) is not really a viable idea for people of limited financial means; well I'm hear to call a resounding bullshit to that. We buy milk from a local dairy (Golden Glen Creamery) that pastures their milk cows as often as weather allows and feeds hay when not able to allow the cows to pasture. No rBST, stabilizers, additives, colorants or any other such stuff and they use only glass bottles as well as only market in Washington state in order to have less of an environmental impact by washing the bottles and not transporting their products over vast distances. I'm all for this and we will continue to patronize a thoughtful, natural, local producer for our milk needs but we pay $8.98 a gallon for this milk. That's right, very nearly $9 a gallon while many are complaining about $4 a gallon for milk and I have been buying as much as we want to drink without reservation; I drink more of it that Henry does and I'm here 100% of the time. We continue to buy cheese that's well over $20 per lb but we buy small quantities and enjoy the yummy handcrafted quality of local conscientious producers. We purchase locally grown organic, fresh vegetables and fruit that is in season or able to be stored for long periods such as local onions, apples and spuds. We're eating right, eating until we're full, having treats (baked home-made cookies last night but that's another post) and we're still able to do it on less than most people would expect.

This past month I was not nearly as careful or mindful of my shopping as I had been in January and it showed by being so close to the edge by the end of the month. I am trying to find that happy medium between conscientiousness/mindfulness and keeping up with a relatively busy scheduled life. We still have quite a few higher priced items left from my purchases last month; chicken breasts, cheese, etc as well as some specialty items such as Sound Tastes Lime Riesling Chimmichurri and Mt. Townsend Chipotle Cheese Curds so one we get staples purchased I'm sure March will go fine budget-wise. So far in 2009 we're averaging just over $175 a month in groceries less than $47 a week. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and state for the record our little project continues to be a big success.

Keep those cards and letters coming, I like getting your comments and I'm open to any suggestions you might have or any successes any of you are enjoying.


2006 Mano a Mano Tempranillo

I opened this with delivery Pagliacci pizza last night and I must say this needed something like a Grand Salami Primo to stand up to it. Burgers with jalapenos or Mama Lil's might have been a good match but perhaps still a little light for it. What I'm trying to say is this is no wimpy glass of juice, this 100% tempranillo is a serious bruiser of a wine; inky purple/black in the glass, big nose full of leather and tobacco, brambly blackberry juice with strong tannic and acidic backbone this wine is almost too much for any food and certainly too much as a cocktail with pupus.

The jury is still out on this one as I need to see what is has done since last night but this is one ginormous vino. Recommended if you like this style...and for $7.99 it's a subtle price for an anything but subtle wine.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Daily Bread

We've purchased very little bread so far this year, only twice when Henry has had a friend over and I have not had a bread they liked available for burgers at lunch time so far. All other bread we've baked from scratch and with a little better planning I can probably even stem that once a month send the kids to the store for burger rolls problem. Although I've written of it in previous posts I am still searching for that one recipe for a 100% whole wheat or 100% whole grain bread that is soft enough for a kids taste and texture buds to get behind and I will continue this search.

What I'm writing about today is a daily loaf or almost daily anyway. It seems that I've been able to get pretty close to perfecting my technique for producing a lovely crackly crust baguette in under an hour from start to finish and including all rest and bake time; easy enough to get in the oven shortly after getting home in the evening with a short enough time to have hot fresh bread with the evening meal. The recipe is thanks to the "Master Recipe" from Artisan Baking in 5 Minutes a Day but my oven and the somewhat moist air of the Puget Sound area have had me running through a few loaves before I got what I consider to be a really great baguette.

Master Recipe

Makes 4 each 14" baguettes

3 C warm water
1.5 Tbl Yeast
1.5 Tbl Kosher Salt
6.5 C All purpose flour

Mix it all together and let rise loosely covered for about 2 hours or until dough deflates slightly and turns flat on top
Refrigerate (The dough can be worked as soon as it deflates but is easier to shape when cool)
Remove ~1/4 of the dough and shape into a 14" rope & flatten to ~3/4" thick X 2" wide
Place on moderately floured pizza peel
Preheat oven with baking stone to 450F, started at this point it should allow sufficient time for the loaf to rest
Slash dough 3 times in long diagonals
Slide rested dough onto baking stone and pour ~1 cup of water onto the bottom of the oven to generate steam
After 10 minutes, pour another ~1 cup of water onto the bottom of the oven
Bake for 25 minutes
Remove to a cooling rack for minimum 15 minutes prior to serving

You'll get one of these

Notice the lovely structure

I'm very pleased with this loaf and plan to experiment more with it but I'm sold. I think this will make some fine burger rolls and this baguette will serve very well for grilled brats w/ mustard and kraut.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Amish Friendship Bread

Well, I can't say I had overly very high hopes for this even after hearing how good it is; it has instant pudding as an ingredient (Amish, I doubt it)?

Anyway I was given a bit of starter and very specific instructions for this by friend and blog follower Daniel so I faithfully carried along for the 10 day mush period and put it all together (never use metal in contact with the starter!) along with pulling out the recommended 4 batches of starter to share with 3 more friends and have a keeper for us. Well here I have to say I really like this! Forget for a bit that it is a sugar and oil filed pillow surrounded by more sugar and cinnamon while made dense with the additions of substantial egg-age. This is some fine eating. I have a wee munchkin that's been ill for the past 3 days and is showing no signs of immediate improvement but he cut through that enough to try this and got a big shit-eatin' grin on his mug and begged me to keep one of the starters and also send one to his Mum's house for them to make when he's there.

Well, I'm here to say that it appears that it is a good thing we can make it only every 10 days or so as it certainly isn't big on the healthy end (I did use all whole wheat flour for the finished product so at least we have that going for us) and it does have a packaged food mix in it (first since the new year began) but it makes a fine breakfast or snack. I'll be passing out the starter packages to my local friends and who knows? It might make it all the way around the world 1 starter bag at a time.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I love breakfast

For the past couple of nights I have been getting home exhausted, the weather has been crap wet and cold, work is just getting to me and all around just mid-winter blahs have set in. What's been holding it all together for me is breakfast. That's right, breakfast...but with a twist; breakfast for dinner.

Comfort food extra super good; spuds fried in butter with onions and peppers topped of with eggs left with runny yolks to mix all together with salt, fresh ground black pepper and plenty of Tabasco along with some slices of my homemade baguette.

Certainly while not necessarily fitting into the healthy part of our project it is certainly healthy for my soul. Hot and spicy runny yolk goodness all while sitting in front of the tube wrapped in sweats and a blanket and knowing just how lucky I am to live with the abundance we have. The breakfast for dinner certainly fits the budgetary guidelines; probably into each meal about $1.25.

Anyway, I just had to get this out there. My apologies for the somewhat lame post but it fits my current mood too, comfort food in just a few minutes with yummy cheap staple ingredients. What a wonderful world!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

2007 Boekenhoutskloof The Wolftrap

Made up of 60% syrah, 39% mourvedre and 1% viognier this is a real winner in the under $10.00 range. I paid $8.99 pre-tax and this is one worth searching out. While certainly not local, this South African beauty is mighty fine.
Big spicy fruit, jammy plum, cherry, blackberry flavors along with some supportive acid and tannins show great balance and this is a strong showing standing up even to my goat cheese pizza with Mama Lil's Kick Butt peppers on whole wheat last night.

If you can find this one, try it out; highly recommended! Without doubt the best of my under $10 finds in many years.

Friday, February 20, 2009

2005 Stonecap Syrah

OK, so it's pizza night and I'll keep this one quick. Tonight it's about another of my budget vinos and another of the two local (Pacific Northwest produced) wine I purchased at the beginning of the month.

While nothing to run screaming naked through the streets about, I have to say I kinda like the 2005 syrah from Stonecap, apparently the "Chateau Cashflow" version from Goose Ridge Vineyards in Richland, WA. Now I know, it may be that the peeps of the Tri-Cities are a bit tainted by all that radiation leaking from the nuclear reactor next door but I think this one fits the bill; budget friendly, silky smooth and quaffable. Now, it's not a big tannic hair on your teeth monster like many of the higher priced juices but if you're looking for something not too fancy for a budget evening in, this could be your poison. Although a little weak after the first evening, which may have been my fault as it is sealed with a Stelvin closure and I didn't evacuate the air or refrigerate, just screwed it back on, the first night there was good balance and even after that it was still drinkable for the next couple evenings. I'll buy this one again; a decent plonk without having to drive through vats of dead dinosaurs to get it to my glass. Purchase price = $7.99

Thursday, February 19, 2009

You are what you eat

So, in pondering this statement it occurs to me that I have embraced an entirely new lifestyle but more on that later...

As we continue on our quest to eat well, eat right and eat frugally we are also doing our best to eat locavoriously as well. After finishing my read of The Omnivore's Dilemma, I am not sure whether it is better to eat certified organic that comes from a zillion miles away or if it is better to eat from the local food chain even if the local food is treated chemically for better yields and to be stronger against pests. Now obviously if the local food is grown naturally and /or organically then it is pretty much a no brainer and we eat "clean" food from the local food system thus putting money back into the local producer's pockets and increasing the demand for their locally and cleanly produced foods. However, what about industrial organic produced by huge farms and then truck it all over the world using mega calories of fossil fuel to get it to our plates and us consumers eating asparagus from Chile just because we can afford it financially; does that make it so the planet can afford it environmentally? So much to think about so I'll get back to my earlier statement.

Since Henry and I have recently switched to consuming only those animals that are vegetarians (vegetarian fed chickens & pork, 100% grass fed beef) and we are eating only vegetarians, then I feel really good about embracing a lifestyle I always thought would be very difficult. Stay with me here but...

if X = Y and X = vegetarians and Y = me then I must be a vegetarian right? So if I eat only vegetarians and I am what I eat then I AM A VEGETARIAN.

That's right, it seems that in our new found frugality we are also changing to what I've heard for so long to be a "healthier" lifestyle, vegetarianism. WOW! We had a 100% grass fed steak the other night and it was the tastiest beef I've had in a very long time and probably the best tasting vegetarian I had ever consumed.

This is a lifestyle change I can really get behind...

Alright, here's another recipe; vegan this time though (how am I gonna figure that one out? If I only eat vegans will I be a vegan or do I have to start wearing vegans too? My brain hurts with the possibilities)

Choley Madras

1Tbl peanut oil
8oz onion, chopped
2 15oz cans garbanzos, drained and rinsed very thoroughly
16oz red skinned potatoes, diced
5oz Patak's Madras curry paste (1/2 jar)
3C water

Sweat the onions over medium heat for about 5 minutes, add the spuds and garbanzos along with the water and stir in the madras paste. Simmer for ~20 minutes or until the spuds are done and serve over brown rice.

VOILA! Inexpensive, spicy and delicious. I had a nice big dinner and 3 lunches out of this for about $5

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bodegas Callia Alta Shiraz - Bonarda 2007

Another of my latest wine buys on a budget, the Bodegas Callia Alta 2007 Shiraz - Bonarda from Argentina is OK but even @ $7.99 I doubt I will buy it again. Although technically OK, there was no pizzazz; there is not nearly enough acid to bring any balance and although quite young what fruit there was died too easily, and there is no backbone to endure any time at all. I'll call this one a don't bother although as plonk goes, I did finish the bottle so at least it was good enough not to dump down the drain.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


A weekly indulgence for us since we have been making homemade pizza for many years and it has become both a staple and something I can do with my virtual hands tied behind my back. It is so simple I really don't know why more people don't do it especially with the price of a delivery unit these days. Mind you there are some tremendous pizzas available for delivery and takeout in our area but you know, mine stack up if I do say so myself.

Some have asked for the pizza dough recipe and I have never had this one fail. Henry now makes this and it is simple enough that even a 10 year old can remember the recipe...

.75 C warm water
1 Tbl yeast
1 - 2 Tbl olive oil
1 C unbleached all purpose flour
1 C hi protein whole wheat flour
2 tsp kosher salt

Water, yeast and olive oil in the food processor for a minute just to start the dissolve process, add the flours and the salt and pulse to start then run to knead for about 2 minutes. Remove to a lightly oiled bowl for about 40 minutes and you're ready to go.

Some of my recent concoctions (one of the real beauties of making pie @ home is you can do anything you want or whatever you have on hand)...
  • Goat cheese with hard salami & pepperoncini, no red sauce but a garlic olive oil base
  • Barbecued chicken pizza
  • Mozzarella, parmesan and asiago w/ hard salami and red bell peppers
  • Goat cheese on olive oil & garlic base with Mama Lil's Kick Butt peppers
  • Hot italian sausage w/ mushrooms and black olives
I think you probably get the idea. Henry is a bit more of a purist except for the barbecued chicken pie but I stretch what we have with a few tricks like cutting the salami or pepperoni type meats into julienne strips and this not only stretches the meat so I use less and add less fat but also adds more edges for that yummy burnt edge that most of us like.

Another nice thing is I can control what's in or on the pie. No crappy industrial red sauce for us just organic Trader Joe's marinara as usual for the red sauce or some homemade BBQ sauce. I can get local cheeses as well as cured meats. One of the local pizza chains and one I really quite admire for their committment to composting and use of local products runs a great seasonal pie program with local asparagus in season, they use Mama Lil's peppers as an option and they have right now in fact a great pie called the Salumi Primo with locally produced Italian style charcuterie from Salumi Artisan Cured Meats (finocchiona in this case) along with Mama Lil's peppers, roasted fennel and a combination of mozzarella, ricotta and fontina cheeses on an olive oil base. Although this is one of the best pies I have ever had, it doesn't really fit the currentt food budget so why not make it myself for about 25% of the price?

Anyway, no photos this time around cuz I just couldn't wait last night while the pie was steamy and dripping cheese...heaven can't be any better than that...


Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Thai red curry to be exact... My big weekly meal of choice this time around. Chicken in red curry with veg and brown rice makes a nice meal after work, a quick heat and POOF! hearty, spicy, filling and oh so yummy. I figure I'm into this about $7 and I'll get 4 1.5 cup servings and along with .75 cup of cooked brown rice it is a big meal. I use a brand of curry paste called Mae Ploy and it is quite inexpensive, very flavorful and easy to use. I get a pint of the paste for $1.69, throw in a can of light coconut milk from Trader Joe's and the rest is pretty much up to the chef. Here's what I did...

8oz boneless skinless chicken breast, thinly sliced

8oz cremini mushroom thick sliced

1/2 red bell pepper, sliced

4oz carrots julienned

1 can slice water chestnuts

1 Cup frozen green peas

Stirfry the chicken in 1 Tbl peanut oil & remove from the pan

Stirfry the mushrooms with another Tbl peanut oil

Dry stirfry the carrots so they caramelize a bit and return the shrooms and chicken to the mix along with the red bell pepper, peas and water chestnuts

Dump in 1 can of coconut milk and then add 2-3 Tbl red curry paste to taste

If it needs a bit more spice and no more curry flavor, add a teaspoon of sriracha

POOF! Even with slice time you're in 20 minutes. If you've made your brown rice ahead of time you need do no more than spoon it over the warm rice and instantly transported to Thailand (well having never been to Thailand I can't really say that for sure but it sure seems that way). I washed this down with a 22oz bottle of Dad's Little Helper Malt Liquor from the Rogue Brewery (I am a citizen of the Rogue nation after all) and all was well with the world.

As you might be able to tell this is a far cry from the yellow glop that many Americans think of when they hear "curry". The word curry merely means "sauce" so really it is a different blend of seasonings wherever you go; Japanese curries are flavorful and spicy, sometimes hot and sometimes not. Indian curries are so numerous but my favorite everyday is Madras a spicy blend of flavors and a tomato-ey base that's pretty spicy. When I want to step up too the edge I'm going the tindaloo route but I need LOTS of beer and raita to cool the palate after that. Thai curries as a whole are my favorites, I started with green curry and after quite a lot my favorite is Mussaman which has some different flavors due to the addition of aromatics such as cinnamon and other flavors one may not associate with curry. I love Mussaman curry with lamb and cashews...mmm mmm MMM!

The best part about the curries I make at home is they are CHEAP and really good, with Asian flavors and hearty and spicy. It gives me the ability to work some spice magic and never leave the house or my budget. It's been snowing here the past couple of days (WHAT THE HECK! Snow in February is just wrong!) so a hot spicy meal is just the ticket. I hope those of you that haven't tried these budget "stews" and need to break out of the mold give it a try. You really can't screw it up...

Well, off to a glass of wine, a roast pork sandwich on homebaked bread and the foodie film "Eat Drink Man Woman", I hear it is pretty amazing in it's food scenes. Keep those comments coming, I love to hear from you all and any suggestions or comments are welcome...


Friday, February 6, 2009

Cayalla RTW

Here's one of my recent purchases, Cayalla RTW. A nice little bottle of juice from Oregon and Washington grapes and vinted in Rickreall, Oregon by Firesteed. A blend of 65% cabernet, 20% merlot and 15% syrah Decent fruit but oddly enough the fruit seemed to do better after it had been open a day or two. It just seems to keep getting better. Not a lot of tannin, a bit of acid in fact just enough to keep things interesting. So a local wine with decent fruit for everyday plonk; all for $8.99. It's the best thing I've had from Firesteed in years and I've been drinking a small glass of this nearly each night this week and yep, I'll buy this one again

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I was asked today...

...if I was somehow disappointed that I had spent so much the first weekend as it sounded as if I was after one friend read the last post. I would like to take this moment to say absolutely not! It is just a different way of going about the same thing. By laying in some staples and then replenishing the fresh stuff throughout the month I may or may not be able to save even more. I will just have to find out what works for my little family as this is definitely a moving target.

The goal is to eat right, on the cheap.

I can do this by going to the natural food stores, watching the ingredient labels at the supermarket and by hitting the year round farmer's markets; I just have to figure out which combination will yield the best results to make the above goal.

I'm still trying to perfect a whole grain sandwich loaf, I have been successful enough to eat every loaf of every bread I've made thus far but I am not yet ready to post as none of them have been anything to write home about. I have the flavor down I think now but the texture is still quite dense and is just a bit difficult to work with. I do have faith however that I shall overcome these problems and soon be able to post what has worked for us on the bread front. I am so satisfied with the brioche recipe I previously posted from the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes folks that I went out and bought the book (paying full pop I'll have you know, spending some of last month's savings in a local non-change bookstore). It is giving me some terrific ideas but even with this I have not had quite the level of quality for which I'm searching.

Anyway, hasta

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


So we're a few days into the new month and I don't find any reason to go off half cocked and start spending crazy amounts of $s on food. I had a big shopping weekend of which we'll talk more in a moment but it's been busy with life getting in the way of my project so rather than obsessing about it I just quit writing about it instead. I even heard from one of you my fair readers telling me more posts! Alright, alright...

As I wrote above, a big shopping weekend. A trip to the big box discounter and bought chicken breasts, asiago, omega 3 eggs and broccoli. I know, I know I was going to try and buy fresh all the time but the chicken there is grown locally in WA or OR and although the broccoli is brought in from CA at least it's the West coast, a 3# bag lasts a couple weeks and it's all usable, no throwaway even nothing for the worms or the compost pile. I had to drive to the city last week so rather than driving again I went to the wine shop where I usually find a number of nice little juice bottles for inexpensive and so although not yet the new month, I shopped rather than driving back in and I'm putting that trip on February's ledger.

Sunday found Henry and I meeting friends Scott and Edie @ the farmer's market where we sampled a plethora of fine tastes. Flavored sea salts; vanilla, garam masala, apple spice, olive, etc from a new purveyor. All delicious and really interesting and great flavors. Cheeses, organic fresh nut butters, breads, organically grown local in season vegetables... Even in the winter the pickings were far from slim. I ended up with a fresh cheese called Ladysmith from Samish Bay Cheese in Bow and chipotle cheese curds from Mt. Townsend Creamery in Port Townsend. Some lime / riesling chimichurri from Sound Bites in Tacoma, organic carrots from Full Circle Farms. A trip to the grocery to round things out for a big pork shoulder roast, whole wheat flour, and organic milk for yogurt and I was into the month having blown a full 50+% of my food wad for February!

Not to obsess about this, I figure that although in about $102 already, I really don't need to buy much besides fresh produce and milk for the remainder of the month (although I do need honey for bread but more on that in another post as well) so really it's not all that bad. The wine bill was $45.73 for 5 bottles; two of which are from the NW so didn't even need to be shipped a long way either and usually the inexpensive juice that's worth drinking is all from far, far away. We did end up under by over 15% last month, if I maintain this month which should be slightly easier as it is 3 days shorter, then I think some good habits will have taken root.

RESEARCH WARNING! Semi-Scientific Findings!
OK, so in researching what the average family spends on food I have come up with a few things here. The feds believe that the median family spends about 13% of their income on food. The median family income for King County is just under $70K so that means about $760 per month for a family of 4. Halving that I come up with $380.00 per month for a family of 2 so based on that I saved $210 last month on groceries and counting the fact that there was not dining out, I couldn't really count that against the grocery bill except for the Chinese New Year lunch and would have come in under even including that. I have now told my 10 year old that whatever we save under the $380 while still maintaining and healthy, fresh and varied diet we can stash for a trip to Costa Rica that he's been asking for the past 2 years. I think that's incentive enough to keep on keepin' on with "the plan".

OK, so that was a mouthful for a guy that thought he had writer's block when he sat down. I'm back to the tube for some last minute R&R before an early bedtime and early rise tomorrow (5am alarms get old).