Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The local farmer's market...

...opens this Saturday for the season and I'm about to pee myself with excitement.

I'm just sayin'

Another update - new food friend Eric has invited me to be an author on his rolling food blog called What Are You Eating? I have accepted and would like to ask you all to get on yer mouses and get yourselves over to the blog for some ramblings about food and drink from people who love to cook, eat, talk about and everything else that comes with food. These are quick little updates so it won't take you long and although our ramblings may be found to be whack by some of you I can assure you we are all having some fun from it.

Here's the link - You'll see me hangin with Homer and my tag is "Jim" (original huh?)


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

That time of year again...

OK, so I don't have a lot to write about food wise. I had a great bowl of bun nem nuong for lunch and I'm still stuffed, spicy heaven in a bowl! Otherwise it was just another day at work; busy and wanted to get home.

So here I sit, baking bread and drinking a beer having just finished editing Henry's fundraising page for the American Diabetes Association's Tour de Cure and thought "hey, I should put that on my blog". Diabetes affects so many; 21 millions Americans, 6 million of which don't know they have it. I'm sure I'll shamelessly plug his efforts again before the ride but when he finished the 44 mile loop last year up and over the Sammamish plateau from Marymoor park and then up and over it again on a 100F day, you couldn't have found a more proud Papa. Anyway, this year I'm driving a sag wagon on that route and giving Henry some independence and letting him ride on his own (with 3 of my friends though, there's only so much freedom you can give a 10 year old you know) while I touch base with him every once in a while.

Anyway, I hope you'll look at his personal page for the ride. If he can pedal his legs all that way, I can ask that you all dig in your pockets for a little something to help him on his way.

Here's his page -

Here's a photo of him after completing the ride last year -

Thanks for reading and thanks for checking out his page. peace

Monday, April 27, 2009

Back at it - Spuds are in!

So the Hunger challenge is done, we're back to normal and I even treated myself to just a wee bit of ice cream tonight after eating the last 1/2 cup of roasted chicken and leftover fusilli from last week in pesto that I had made the week prior.

Not a long post tonight, but I did want to tell you about the potato bins we built this weekend and got 4 varieties planted; Russian blue, Red thumb, Norkota russet and Chieftain. Here they are planted in the bins we built. The idea it that after each 6" the plants grow you bury they nearly all the way again and they send shoots off the stems to each 4 square feet is supposed to yield some large number like 100# + of spuds. We'll see... It has been a fun project and with seed potatoes, lumber so far and the making of garden soil we're in it about $45. Wish us well...


Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Challenge - Finis!

Ramblings and musings coming on so prepare yourself...

First, the expenditures -

Originally spent $34.96

Ended the week with -

  • 2.5# Russet potatoes - $1.25
  • 1.5# Unbleached white flour - $.75
  • 1 ea Apple - $.10
  • 1 ea Kiwi - $.10 (never did get ripe)
  • 1 ea Lemon - $.10 (used about a teaspoon of juice but still have the rest
  • .5# Fusilli pasta - $.50
  • 8oz Organic marinara sauce - $.55
  • .25# Broccoli - $.25 (stems only which I'll use for stirfy, but leftover nonetheless)
  • .5# Carrots - $.50
  • .75 ea Garlic head - $.40
  • 2 ea Cage free eggs - $.34
Total leftover $6.24

Also leftover -
  • 2 Qts Homemade Chicken stock from the carcass early in the week and veg trims
  • Cost - ? -- Cost for 2 Qts Chicken stock @ the market ~$4 -- Value - Priceless :)
  • Enough aioli to make another sandwich
Not figuring in the last two items, it leaves us having spent a grand total of

Divided by 5 = $5.74 per day

Not to pat ourselves on the back too much but I'm calling this a success. It shows you can eat well, with fresh and varied food and still get veg, fruit and protein into your diet on the cheap. Remember this was for 2 people, we used nothing we already had other than herbs from the garden that were planted years ago and although those are for taste, we could have lived w/o their addition but why. As I wrote earlier in the week, found food is good food and we here in the Pacific Northwest are surrounded by food that can be found and it going to waste a lot. The only fruit I eat near the end of summer is blackberries found everywhere, in fact most people want you to take them and plums from the trees in mine and my neighbors yard. I don't know anyone with fruit trees that is not willing to share if you just ask. It's not charity, gardeners LOVE to share their bounty.

All said and done, I asked Henry how he felt about the week and he will share his thoughts with you all later but to sum it up he let me know he thinks we're pretty lucky to not have to worry about having food in the pantry. We made it all the way through the week and since he had been such a good sport, at the last minute before pizza I told him to run to the store and get himself a soda, my treat. I'm not counting it, I just felt he had earned it by living the week with me.

I never did have that drink last night, just to let you know.

Friday Pizza Night

We made 2 ea 9" pizzas last night with this recipe and I'll try and figure the cost as well

Pizza Dough
  • 3/4 C + 2 Tbl Very warm water (usually I would add olive oil to the 3/4 C thus the 2 Tbl) -Free
  • 2 Tbl Baking yeast - $.12
  • 2 C Unbleached white flour - $.27
  • 1 Tbl Kosher salt - $.03
  • 4oz Organic marinara sauce - $.36
  • 2oz Shredded mozzarella - $.32
  • 1.5oz Canadian Bacon - $.69
  • 1/2 Onion caramelized - $.05
  1. Add yeast to warm water
  2. Add flour and salt
  3. Mix and knead for about 5 mins, place in bowl and cover with a kitchen towel for ~40 minutes
  4. Saute onions until caramelized and set aside
  5. Julienne Canadian bacon and set aside
  6. Preheat oven with stone or inverted cookie sheet to 500F
  7. Roll or pat our 1/2 of dough to about a 9" circle
  8. Top with 2oz marinara & spread 1oz cheese each
  9. Top with your choice of toppings - last night Henry had his with 1oz Canadian bacon, mine was caramelized onions and 1/2oz Canadian bacon
  10. Bake for about 6 minutes
Pizza night for 2 - Food cost $1.84 - Add in the last minute treat soda of $1.19 and we're just over $3. The local pizzeria would have cost more than $20.

1/2 Cheese / 1/2 Canadian Bacon for Henry

Canadian bacon & caramelized onions for Dad

Speaking of pizzerias - This exercise in Hunger Awareness brought up an interesting point... Apparently recipients of Basic Food can spend their allotment at Papa Murphy's but can't spend it on deli food? It would seem to me that this is a bit of an inconsistency as prepared food is prepared food. Anyone know about this? Any other inconsistencies to write about? Anyway, I think it's fine that Basic Food can have allowances for some treats but shouldn't it be able to be used across the board? Also, I think as long as the pizza carries a good supply of veg and no extra cheese (not exactly standard fare on any Papa Murphy's menu that I recall) then pizza is a fine balanced meal but a deli salad of pasta with veg and cheese is too. Just thoughts to ponder...

  • We learned some stuff
  • Henry and I both have more empathy for those not so lucky
  • My son and I had some serious conversations
  • I was inspired by the other bloggers and how they stretch their $s (including how they prioritize, some gave up coffee, others did other stuff)
  • We talked to others about this a lot - at work and at school and I think that was the point of the whole thing if I'm not mistaken, to start the conversation and the thought process
  • I made some new blogger friends

Anyway, although we'll continue to work within our budget we are looking at what we can spare from the savings to help others as well. We have been planning to put what we save from the mean expenditure of King County based on the USDA estimate that families spend 13% of their budgets on groceries into our travel fund but we'll be sharing a bit of that with others so they might not have to worry quite so much about food as well. Just to share what those $s are...

  • The average mean income for a family of 4 in King County = Just under 70K
  • 13% of 70K is $9100 annually or or $758 monthly
  • Splitting that in half for my family of 2 = $379
  • We've been living on $200 in groceries monthly so that = ~$180 per month we are saving
  • $180 per month = $2160 we had planned on for saving

Henry and I will discuss this as a family and somewhere in the future we'll let you know how this is going and how we plan to help others with some of this but for now...who knows

I'll keep writing so keep on reading and I hope I can keep some of the new friends and reds I've gained along the way. Writing is a lot of fun for me so keep checking back or subscribe and thanks for reading


Friday, April 24, 2009

Day 5 - Nearly the End *BAD WORD WARNING*

GodDAMN do I want a drink! Here we are at Friday and even though it's one more night, it would be sooo nice to have a fine hoppy local IPA, a glass of busty, fruit bomb zinfandel, a gin & tonic w/ a nice squeeze of lime, even dare I say it a fine icey cold PBR tallboy dripping with condensation just to celebrate making it through another week.

Resist the temptation, resist the temptation, resist the temptation...

Pizza dough (w/o olive oil) is rising and it's movie night at Casa Hunger so that's all I have for tonight as I'm taking a break from writing. More (including the overview of the week) this weekend.


Early am Musings on Day 5 - Also Friday!

OK, so today we get to do the Friday dance. WHOO HOO! Today this means more since I'm exhausted, I've noticed that regular stuff is taking a backseat to my musings and it's time to get back to it.

Did I mention I'm exhausted? Well, I also realized that I forgot to take Henry to soccer practice on Wednesday evening and that the house is a relative wreck right now. Perhaps I've been putting more thought into this that I realized as I'm not usually so pooped at the end of the week. At least we get to sleep in tomorrow...

While I'm thinking about it (there they go again, pesky thoughts popping up) -

Although we've been living on this budget for some time, the challenge for Casa Hunger was to buy for the week and use only from the food we bought. It takes more thought than just trying to figure it all out, go to the store and if I forgot something or we get a hankering because the weather has improved or some such other rot we just pop back up to the grocery and get what it is we need and/or want. As you all know, that's a big no can do this week and I think that is what has pooped me out.

Blogging is hard work. I usually get about 3 posts a week in; sometimes less, rarely but still sometimes more but this twice a day thing is taking it out of me but mostly from a time standpoint. By the time dinner is complete and I get the lad into the shower so I can start writing, it's nearly 9pm and I try and get up well by 5 so I can get at least a bit of work done. Blog time, wind down time, getting the lad into bed, etc and 11pm here we come. 5am comes pretty soon and makes me grumble as I turn to smack the alarm.

Empathy - it's a big new world for me... This was suggested by a not to be named amigo (you know who you are) that mentioned (reminded perhaps?) to me that thinking about others is my strong suit? Walking in others shoes is a pretty new experience for me and I think I need to do a bit more of it. My goodness! At nearly 50 years old I might be growing up a bit - damnit!

Community. That's it. Community. I feel like I have a new community of which I am a member and I hope that none of my new community members feel let down here. There have been some very interesting posts, some very inspiring posts, some thought provoking and discussion worthy posts and some downright delicious sounding and looking posts by the other bloogers during this week's challenge. Some of the bloggers I was already familiar with and some others are new but as I've written earlier in the week here we all are doing the same thing in different ways and all striving for the same end goal. Yuri from United Way of King County, thanks for putting us all together, bloggers give yourselves a big round of applause and the rest of you get out there and read... but more importantly cook! Check out the other bloggers here -

Not to worry, you're not done with me yet... More posts to come and a weekly wrap up sometime Saturday.

More caffeine...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Day 4 - Done! Now it's the home stretch

Golly I want a glass of wine!

OK, just had to get that out and there may be more random comments like that pop out from time to time. Although we have been living frugally but well for some time now it has not been this disciplined. If I went over for the week I could add it to the following week or I could make a big shopping trip and spent half my budget the first weekend and the buy staples like milk and fresh fruits and veg the remaining 30 days. Not so much this time, I'm committed to sticking with this, using only what I purchased for the challenge (other than the 1 concession I made for Henry and allowing him BBQ sauce but he's used a grand total of 2oz or roughly $.28 so even with that in mind we are over a grand total of $.24 of the self set $35.00 total since I did return to the grocery for more apples, a kiwi and a lemon. for a total of $1.00 after my original shopping trip.

The weather was once again sunny, cold but sunny and clear so I really would have liked to go get some ground beef and grill burgers but again it isn't in the budget and this merely helps that feeling of empathy; those that are on this budget can't just add it to next week's total or pass by what's already in the fridge.

One thing to discuss, I see a lot of my fellow bloggers this week keeping track of daily expenditures and I'm not doing that but I did figure I would take inventory at the end of the week and determine how much of everything is left as I've left it all in the original packaging. A quick subtotal subtracted from the total spent and divided by 5 should give us a pretty good idea of the expenditures of Casa Hunger for the week. Look forward to that on Saturday some time...

What we did today -


Canadian bacon hash with an egg over easy for me
An apple for Henry


Chicken parmesan sandwiches - leftover chicken parmesan from last night on homemade baguette w/ just a pinch more sauce to keep it all moist.
Henry ate an apple, I forgot mine as I got too busy at work

Speaking of work, today was Bring a Child to Work Day and Henry moved a couple hundred desktop PCs around a storage room for me and another 70 or so from one room down a long carpeted corridor on carts that he loaded and unloaded and stored in pre-set organization. I mention this as it will help you all understand why we ate more dinner tonight than previous evenings. I did however pay him with two new shirts he has been coveting but that's another issue...

  • 8oz Trader Joe's fusilli pasta
  • Leftover white sauce from the trofie on Tuesday
  • 3oz Broccoli bits, steamed
  • 4oz Grilled chicken
  1. Boil
  2. Warm
  3. Steam
  4. Slice
  5. Toss together
Although I expected to have at least one portion of dinner left for one of our lunch tomorrow there was none, zero, zip, nada. I was helping Henry and doing a bunch of other flitting about from meeting to meeting while moving equipment and gathering up stuff to be moved around all while keeping an eye on him and making certain he had everything he needed and was doing OK on his own. We're both tired...

80% of the challenge is done, I wonder if I'll cave and have that glass of wine with pizza tomorrow night...


The Challenge - 60% Done & More Morning Musings

Perhaps it was the hunger I felt yesterday, perhaps it's talking it out with Henry each night over dinner... I don't know but here it is another morning and yep you guessed it - another thought or two have popped into my dense cranium. Mornings are usually just take care of the usual ablutions and get my rear out the door for a train ride to work on which I can nap some more or in other words pretty robotic. I don't know what's making these things go on in my head but I might, sorta kinda like it? NAW!!!! Whatever, you fair readers are in for more rambling thoughts on what's going on this week...

  • Questions that have popped up from others (you know who you are)...

Knowing what we know now, do I think we could have done this last November?
I have long said I could feed the 2 of us on $200 per month or $50 per week and feed us in a healthy manner with plenty of food. I was challenged by others to do just that and we have been living on roughly $7 per day ($49 per week) since January 2009 and since that time I have been writing about "the project". We have certainly learned a number of things and it has grown tiresome at times (consciousness is definitely hard work!) being mindful of what we are spending and how we are spending it. Here are the high points; my health has improved slightly, we are not consuming processed foods, Henry feels like he is more a part of the process and chooses only natural foods (even soda has to be cane sugar only for him anymore and now he limits himself on how many he can have each week), everything gets used and even the waste goes into our worm bin to later feed our summer garden. Sorry for the long answer to a relatively short question but yes, I know back in November of last year we could do it. It was just a matter of putting what we already know into practice.

Is $7 per day for an individual enough?
Frankly, I think it is more than enough. Some caveats to that though...
Not everyone has the skills to make basic food taste good.
Not everyone has the $s to initially stock a pantry so they can just buy 1 or 2 expensive things at a time when they run out.
Not everyone has the ability to travel to PCC where there is an amazing bulk section (one thread across many of the blogs I've been reading this week - cooking oil. The choice to buy only 1 type, the expense of having to buy a full bottle, etc. I bought 5 fluid oz of canola oil for less than $1.50 as I knew that would be all I needed, not my first choice but because I can buy small amounts at a local store I did it.
Not everyone has a nearby Trader Joe's where it is easy to purchase good choices for not a lot of money and always find interesting things to try even if they need to be doctored a bit for the final product. However all of these stores in my area are on direct bus lines for us, I'm just saying.
Not everyone has the time - If I'm in financial straights, I'm looking for a job
Not everyone has the desire - If I'm bummed out, I'm lying on the couch feeling bummed out

Why did we choose to feed 2 of us ($12 per day allowed) on the budget for 1 ($7 per day)?
As I wrote above, we have been doing this for some time so I wanted to push this a bit. If we had an empty pantry and fridge and had to buy everything we needed for 5 days, what would we have to spend? Could we do it on $35 and have fresh fruit and veg? Could we have meat of any kind? What if I lost my job and had no savings and this was the week or two that we are waiting on getting our first assistance? Anyway, $12 is more than we spend on a regular basis and I felt like that wouldn't be challenging enough. If I am by myself, I would probably bake baguette and eat nothing but eggs over easy with Tabasco and a wee bit of Point Reyes blue cheese and apples for dessert and could probably live that way on $7 a day. It's just a matter of priority.

  • Other Random thoughts...

Booze - Understanding that Basic Food cannot be used for the purchase of alcoholic beverages (correct me if I'm incorrect here but that seems to be the way) I could have continued on my quest for decent plonk for minimal prices in the wine department at Trader Joe's as it wouldn't be part of the budget. But here it was about the empathy again, would I have even $5 to spend on a bottle of wine or a 6 pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boys if I couldn't feed my son? Again it's back to priorities and I decided to live the life; empathy baby!

Basic v Gourmet - With a 10 year old in the house that is just coming into his own in matters of eating things green (or any other color than pasta or mashed potatoes)... OK I say that but Henry is a relatively adventurous eater, his first solid food was broccoli although he distanced himself from that abut 7 years ago until just recently rediscovering it, just one example... :) Anyway, I learned long ago that if I didn't want to cook twice for every meal I would have to work on things we would both eat or figure out another way. Henry lives with me 1/2 the time; 5 days one week and 2 the next all year long. I get plenty of time to eat ahi, blue cheese, arugula, etc when he is at his Mum's house so that's what I do. I'm just saying we're pretty used to grilled chicken or chicken parmesan and since we swore off feedlot beef, the cost of grass fed keeps steak and even burgers to a treat once or twice a month as part of our $200 budget. We eat this way a lot but I'm always getting more and more variety into our foods as Henry branches out and discovers new things he likes.

Health - I'm fat. No other way to say it really. I'm a type 2 diabetic with elevated blood pressure and I'm a good candidate for heart disease. Since we've quit eating processed foods my blood sugars have stabilized (still with meds, but stabilized nonetheless) and both my cholesterol and blood pressure levels have dropped to much more manageable numbers. My weight has stabilized and although I'm still fat (hey! if I lose half my weight I'll only be half as good looking right?), I seem to have lost a few pounds since mid last week. I can't say it's the challenge but I think it probably is as for the first time in years I'm watching portion size in order to make certain we don't run out of food before the 5 days is up. the challenge is a great exercise and all but as a parent I have a responsibility to feed my son and if he was hungry and we had no food, I'm headed back to the grocery.

OK, that's about it for Day 4 random musings. Time to get the lad up and moving so until later tonight...


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Day 3 - Nearly in the History Books

Greetings readers! Here we find ourselves once again fed, happy and ready to write, OH YEAH life is good, yes?

Interesting this about today, after writing my morning ramble and doing some work before leaving the house and getting the wee lad to school on time...I forgot to eat breakfast. I remembered just as we were getting in the car and thought, well here comes that empathy thing. I had a choice, go hungry for a few hours and experience this for what it is since I figure many people who must live on assistance don't have the $s to just plunk down at the Organic to Go near work and get on with their day or go the route I usually do and plunk down that $s at the O to Go and just be like any other day I forget/don't have/don't feel like preparing breakfast.

I chose to go hungry and live the challenge. I got to work, had a cup of coffee and some water and tried to forget about this rumbly in the tumbly (and if you know the size of my tumbly, you know that rumble could knock down a tall building). I made it, I felt hunger for a lot longer than I usually do and made it all the way to Noon when a grilled chicken sandwich with lemon chive aioli on homemade baguette and an apple awaited me. Frankly, it just didn't seem like much after the wait. The same thing was fine the prior day but then I ate a big breakfast so it wasn't quite the same thing. Empathy was the theme of my writings today and there I was feelin' it just a short time later.

So on with what we did today...


No breakfast (obviously) for me
Henry chose no breakfast either as is his usual habit


The aforementioned chicken sandwich and apple for me
Henry had a pizza sandwich - Homemade baguette with organic marinara from TJs, Canadian bacon and mozzarella cheese and an apple


One of Henry's favorites was on the menu tonight - chicken parmesan. Simple and really good but still I was working with limited resources so things were a bit different than usual.

Chicken Parmesan - Hunger Awareness Week style

  • 1 and 1/2 Half chicken breasts leftover from when I broke down the whole bird on Monday
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 Tablespoon Milk, Organic 1%
  • Fresh bread crumbs - the centers of the bread on which we've made sandwiches the past 2 days
  • Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • Canola oil for sauteing
  • Trader Joe's Organic Marinara - We buy this as we don't often use red sauce and this makes fine pizza sauce and is really quite tasty and no high fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners - it tastes like herby tomatoes w/ onions and garlic the way it's supposed to and it's cheap, $2.29. I don't think I can make 25oz of organic sauce for that
  • 2oz Shredded mozzarella cheese
  1. Cut the chicken breasts into 4 equal pieces per breast
  2. Pound to ~3/8 inch thick between 2 wet sheets of plastic
  3. Beat egg and milk w/ a pinch of salt (this helps break up the albumin in the egg and makes it smooth)
  4. Add the chicken to the egg mixture and let soak while grinding the bread crumbs
  5. Dredge the chicken on one side in the bread crumbs - no added seasoning today
  6. Salt and pepper the non-breaded side and then dredge that side as well
  7. Saute the breaded chicken bits in just the smallest amount of canola oil you can until brown on both sides
  8. Oil a 9x13" baking pan lightly and spread with about 3/4 C marinara sauce
  9. Remove chicken to the sauced baking dish as it is browned
  10. Spread a bit of marinara on each piece of chicken and sprinkle with cheese. I usually add parmesan, asiago etc. at this point but we're on a budget so mozzarella only and not much of that

Bake for 15 minutes @ 400F

I served this with steamed broccoli tonight and we had enough chicken left over for us both to take for lunch tomorrow as Henry once again accompanies me to Bring a Child to Work Day. We usually leave early and go out to lunch but this year we need to stay (I have too much to do this week, busy busy) and we're on the budget too so no dining out for today.

All in all another successful day on the challenge. A full belly, a happy kid and time to get a full nights rest. Is there any more?


The Challenge - Early Morning Musings

As I read through the other bloggers that are participating this week I get all sorts of excited and inspired about how everyone is taking their own approach to this very worthwhile effort. Some are looking at it from how much can we save and still eat well (Henry and I are in this camp) while others are looking at how they can continue to cook the same way they usually do and do it while maintaining a tight budget.

As I thought about another comment from my Mum regarding baking bread vs. perhaps finding a bakery thrift store or picking up that gallon of no name milk at the gas station for $2 a thought came to me. Now those of you that know me understand that a thought of any kind coming to me is always a rarity and also a somewhat momentous occasion so readers, my apologies but I must expound...

At first I thought the challenge was about teaching others how to feed their families in a healthy manner on the cheap, then I thought it was to help raise awareness (stated by our own Yuri at the United Way). I also pondered if this might or might not help anyone out there as a PC and Internet connection would probably be one of the first things to go in a very tight, perhaps even unemployed family environment. There is a solution there as well as the libraries have free Internet but I wonder, is reading about how to cook what an unemployed or broke person would do? I think that person would probably be waiting on line for the vastly backed up Unemployment office to help get benefits or looking for a job.

Anyway, for us here at Casa Hunger (yes it really is our last name, not something contrived for the challenge) I see this as a couple of things...

Getting back to the basics of food - Henry is learning that a simple grilled chicken leg with veg and spuds can be delicious as well as budget friendly but mostly delicious. I have been quite enamored with the most recent recipes and cooking shows from Jamie Oliver in the UK where his food has returned to the most basic - little manipulation of the freshest ingredients combined in interesting and tasty ways and cooked simply.

Facilitation of good habits - Henry is 10 and I continue to point out. His enthusiasm for this (any many others don't get me wrong) project is something to behold and even one of his teachers asked if he could share his thoughts on the week after it is done. Delicious, healthy food while still spending within our means regardless of the status of those means is a valuable lesson.
Food makes people happy - Henry and I talk about the challenge, how we are eating well and getting plenty of what we eat while not overeating (which is my downfall with the evening meal) but we're spending quality time in the kitchen (w/o the TV), at the dinner table and even blogging together (sort of since there is only 1 keyboard) and you know what, all the while we're smiling and happy and laughing as good food should make us do.

But most important - I think this is giving us some empathy for others. Not just others that perhaps don't have the abundance that we do, or that don't have the same skills that all my years as a chef, bartender and sommelier gave me, or even the different ways that others feel they "must" cook or the traditions we all have in the kitchen. What I am taking away from all this while we shop, cook, plan, talk, read, etc is how different we all are yet how we can all come together like this with a goal isn't the right word... searching... perhaps "feeling" is where I'm trying to go and I guess that feeling sums up the idea of the empathy. Ramble, ramble, ramble but I just wanted to get this down as I was thinking about it so that was my musing for this morning.

Anyway, thanks for including us in this. Thanks to all the people that are participating, it is so very interesting. Most of all, thank you all for reading and actually THINKING about this whole thing.

Here's the real reason for everything I do...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Day 2 - The Summary

So how 'bout that kid of mine, eh? He wants to get right in and write a few words. It's obvious his love for food and how he thinks it's pretty cool we can make pasta from scratch w/o a pasta maker (pasta makers are old hat for this wee one, he does that all the time). I wanted to show you can make something pretty great even when you don't have any special equipment and the food budget is tight.

Trofie is a Ligurian gnocchi I had the first time when Henry's Mum and I were in Vernazza on the Cinque Terra about a dozen years ago. It is traditionally served with pesto, the local accompaniment to pasta. As Henry wrote the pasta is named for the shape and I believe (feel free to correct me if you speak Italian) it means "little worms". It is very simple, about 2 C unbleached white flour and just shy of a cup of water. If you have a food processor or mixer you can use that to mix and knead or otherwise just mix it until you can no longer mix with a spoon and then knead in the flour until a fairly stiff dough is had. I let it rest for about 30 minutes and then just roll it into little works between my palms while catching up on food shows or the news. It is best to lay the worms out on muslin as is shown in Henry's photo.

Tonight we boiled it quickly in a large pot of salted rapidly boiling water for a few minutes and then tossed it in a cream sauce with garlic and lemon thyme (Henry's choice and I dare say it was a very fine choice) and fresh ground black pepper.Homemade pasta in garlicky herbed cream sauce...DONE!

Breakfast was a hash of russet potatoes with onions and Canadian bacon with an over easy egg for me, Henry chose an apple as he doesn't eat a lot of breakfast and lunch at school is @ 11:00 anyway. I really missed my Tabasco sauce this morning but it wasn't part of budget so...

Lunch consisted of a chicken sandwich with fresh lemon chive aioli on homemade baguette along with an apple for me and chicken sandwich with barbecue sauce and another apple for Henry. This was made from the grilled thighs and wings from Monday night's grilling and was delicious!

We spent the afternoon in the garden and doing some clean up in the front yard so we were pretty hungry when we came in. I put a new baguette in the oven and rolled the trofie while watching a recorded episode of Gordon Ramsey's F Word on BBC and Henry updated you all before sitting down to a rich yummy dinner. We have enough dough left over for another batch and 1/2 made enough for us tonight.

For sweets tonight, it will be more oatmeal peanut butter chocolate chip cookies and fresh strawberries. I made the cookies more budget friendly by using this recipe -

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chips (Budget Friendly Version)

  • 2/3 C Peanut Butter, freshly ground
  • 3 Tablespoons Canola oil
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 C Sugar (I used evaporated cane sugar)

Beat together until well combined and fluffy

  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt
  • 2 C Rolled Oats
  • 1/2 C Unbleached white flour
  • 2/3 C Chocolate Chips

Spoon onto a parchment lined baking sheet and squish with the bottom of a glass

Bake for 12 minutes @ 350F

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies ("Real" Version)

  • 1/4 C Butter, softened
  • 1/2 C Peanut Butter, freshly ground
  • 3/4 C Brown Sugar
  • 1 Egg

Beat together until well combined and fluffy

  • 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 2 C Rolled Oats
  • 3/4 C Whole Wheat Flour
  • 3/4 C Chocolate chips

Squish onto parchment lined baking sheet with the bottom of a glass

Bake for 12 minutes @ 350F

While the budget version are fine, they just miss a bit of je ne sais quois w/o the butter, vanilla, whole wheat flour and baking soda

Anyway, that wraps up day 2, keep those cards and letters coming


Pasta Time

Hi everybody Henry here right now it's about 6:50 pm and my dad is making a kind of pasta called trofie and he told me it was made with flour and water not flour and egg like it is traditionally in most parts of Italy at first I thought it was called trofie because it was made with water and not egg but I found out it was the shape of the pasta when I asked (So what kind of pasta are you going to make with the dough) and his answer was (trofie is the shape of the pasta not just the dough) and he also told me the shape looked like little worms here's a picture of what they look like
Is that cool or what well that's all for today Henry out. . .

The Challenge - Day 2 Part 1

It's early day 2 and I've been cooking all night. That's right, after breaking down the chicken yesterday I saved the leftover peels and tops from the carrots along with the ends and skin of an onion, a teaspoon of black peppercorns and 3 smashed cloves of garlic for stock. After roasting the neck, wing tips and carcass of the bird until brown, I tossed that with the rendered fat from roasting along with the rest in 2 litres of water and simmered overnight. I did add about .5 litre in the middle of the night but this morning the house has the wonderful aromas of fresh chicken stock wafting as I work for a couple of hours before waking the boy.

A comment came up yesterday from my Mum regarding most people who are on assistance will more than likely not bake their own bread. I concur but I still want to encourage everyone to try as the method for keeping fresh bread is simple and the results are without equal. I use the same method as outlined in the book "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes" and keep a loose dough in the fridge for a week or so. Although I like baking bread and all the ablutions thereof, I understand not everyone has the time (nor do we to do this consistently to be frank) to bake all the time. However it really is only about 5 minutes of active time (not considering resting, baking and cooling) for each step. Here's the recipe I used this week, white flour only unfortunately as whole wheat didn't fit into a week's budget...
  • 3 Cups Water, very warm
  • 1.5 Tablespoons Yeast
  • 6.5 Cups Unbleached white flour
  • 1.5 Tablespoons Kosher salt
Mix the 4 ingredients, cover lightly until completely risen (dough will fall flat on top) - 5 minutes
Refrigerate for minimum 3 hours
Pull the desired dough from the batch and shape - 5 minutes or less
Rest on a pizza peel or inverted cookie sheets dusted liberally with flour
Preheat oven with pizza stone or inverted cookie sheet to 450F
Slide the dough onto the stone or cookie sheet, toss 1 C water onto floor of the oven
Bake for 30 minutes while doing something else

I set the timer for baking for 10 minutes and then toss in another 1 C water on the floor of the oven. This helps develop an even crustier loaf and we like it that way
Let the loaf cool after baking. This allows the crumb or interior of the bread to develop as it should. Even if you can't wait until completely cool, let it go as long as you can.
The big batch of dough will keep in the fridge up to 2 weeks but better results come within the first 5 to 7 days.

I do the same recipe but use 3.5 C high protein whole wheat flour and 3 C bread flour for our normal loaf. My 10 year old tells me he likes all the bread I make and he'll eat any of them. Do give this a try if you have even a few minutes.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Challenge - Day 1

OK so it started out OK and so far we're doing well. I was a bit challenged this morning with what to make for lunch as I hadn't really done any cooking yet for the week so no leftovers!

Anyway, I had baked a nice wide baguette yesterday so I small diced one slice of Canadian bacon and then some onions in just a pinch of canola oil in a non-stick pan, scrambled a couple of eggs into it and then put just under half the eggs into some of the baguette for breakfast and took the rest to work with some more baguette for lunch with a small apple. Henry took 2 apples, and (OK this might be called cheating but since I'm feeding us both on what "da rules" allow for an individual, I let it slide) and some leftover pizza from his dinner the night before. He had gone to Carmelita with his Mum for his Auntie's birthday dinner and it would definitely have been wasteful had he not eaten it and that is probably more important when living on a budget; no waste! He told me he had plenty to eat, I was a bit hungry by dinner time but that's how it's supposed to be right? I had no nibbles at work, we went for more apples after work (small Fuji apples are still on sale for $.10 so we picked up 8 more and a kiwi, also $.10 so we are now down to $.14 left from the $35) because they were so good and a way to keep fresh stuff in us for this challenge.
Returning home I broke down a whole chicken and barbecued the 2 hindquarters and wing segments. I removed the breast meat from the carcass and skinned those, saving them for later in the week. I par-cooked 3 small russet potatoes, cooled and sliced them each into 4 slices and brushed with canola oil and sprinkled with salt before grilling in the same spot where I had cooked the chicken hindquarters to help keep from sticking. Some carrot sticks and ice water and this is how dinner looked ---
This was our dinner day 1, a grilled chicken leg with just salt and pepper, 1 carrot each and we split the 12 slices of grilled spuds (we ended up eating them all although not all shown here) and as you can see out plates were full, protein was about the recommended 4oz each and we're both fact my happy boy proclaimed this one of the best dinners he's had in quite a while, the potatoes rock! and he ate all his carrots. We even have peanut butter oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for a bit of a sweet treat in a while. I baked these yesterday from our $35 larder so they're legal. Day 1 , successful!

Here's how we started the week...

Saturday prior to the challenge - shopping

Sunday prior to the challenge - bread dough for the week - more on this as the week goes on, baked one loaf of bread and baked peanut butter oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for the week. The cookies are better made with butter but hey, trying to keep it real so made them with canola oil and I was able to buy just enough oats and chocolate chips from the bulk section.

I used no coupons, I shopped at the following stores; Top Foods, Trader Joe's, Manna Mills (just for the baking yeast), QFC and PCC. As any of you who live in the Seattle area know, both PCC and QFC are not the least expensive groceries by any means but they are the closest to my house and they are right across the street from one another. I know both of these groceries well and I like the products. Trader Joe's is a bit out of the way but the price on organic milk is the best, they have the small package of inexpensive very low fat Canadian bacon, they had the best price on a whole chicken (surprisingly) but that's because chicken wasn't on sale anywhere and I figured this was my best deal on protein for the majority of the week and again I know the store well. Manna Mills is a great store and until PCC came to town was my bulk food and natural food grocer of choice and they still carry the local grass fed beef products I like but they are the only ones that have the bulk baking yeast and I needed just a few tablespoons of it. I hit Top Foods because they had a great sale on small apples for $.10 each and Henry and I both like apples and they are a great way to keep the fresh healthy stuff going as I said before. That's about it for strategy, nothing crazy, shopping took too long obviously at 2.5+ hours and that is not something I would normally do but it's all in the name of getting the job done. I believe I can feed 2 people on the individual allotment all week.

From time to time, you may read a bit from Henry. He has asked that I allow him to comment along the way this week. I asked that he sign his posts with his name so you'll know his words. Let me take a moment to say thinks for reading, please add your comments along the way as I love to get 'em and look forward to them when I get the email notification. Most of all, thanks for the well wishes from all of you who have commented and I hope this helps some who are not as fortunate as we are.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

OOOPS! One More Thing...

As we continue to try and meet our budget of $200 in groceries per month and $50 in booze, I neglected to let you know where we are on that front.

Before shopping for the challenge we had spent just over $108.00 on food and just over $21.00 on alcoholic beverages (not counting my night out with friends).

I just didn't want to lose track of the bigger picture as we work the challenge...

Almost $34.00 Worth of Groceries

This is what close to $34.00 worth of carefully selected groceries looks like. I looked at the sales and my shopping trip took me to 4 different stores and took over 2.5 hours from the time I left my house until I returned. I was never more than a couple miles away from my door but in order to make the most of my $s, this is what it took. I believe I made a couple mistakes and I think there will be a couple of caveats to the week but this is where we are. Below the photo is the list broken down by what I purchased, how it was packaged, the cost per unit and the extended price plus the subtotals from each store. I even have a single item of $.24 from one store but it is the only place I know to buy bulk yeast so I could bake bread but more on all that later...

Item Package Qty Price per unit Extended
Potatoes, Russet 5# 1 $2.49 $2.49
Flour, White unbleached 5# 1 $2.50 $2.50
Apples, Fuji bulk, ea 7 $0.10 $0.70
Onions, Yellow bulk, ea 3 $0.10 $0.30
Strawberries 1# 1 $1.59 $1.59

Subtotal - $7.58

Pasta, Fusilli 1# 1 $0.99 $0.99
Cream, Whipping 8oz 1 $0.99 $0.99
Marinara, Organic 25oz 1 $2.29 $2.29
Milk, Organic 1% 64oz 1 $2.99 $2.99
Canadian bacon 5oz 1 $2.29 $2.29
Chicken, Whole 4.58# 1 $5.91 $5.91

Subtotal - $15.46

Broccoli, Crowns bulk, # 0.8 $0.99 $0.79
Carrots bulk, # 0.9 $0.99 $0.89
Garlic bulk, # 0.14 $3.99 $0.56
Mozzarella, Shredded 8oz 1 $2.59 $2.59

Subtotal - $4.83

Yeast, Baking bulk, # 0.07 $3.49 $0.24
Subtotal - $0.24

Eggs, Cage free Dozen 1 $1.99 $1.99
Oats bulk, # 0.47 $0.90 $0.42
Canola Oil bulk, pt 0.5 $0.28 $1.42
Peanut butter bulk, # 0.29 $3.31 $0.96
Sugar, Evap cane bulk, # 0.21 $1.21 $0.25
Chocolate chips bulk, # 0.22 $3.66 $0.81

Subtotal - $5.85

Total - $33.96

So I'm not sure how this is all going to look with the lists and the spaces and whatnot so bear with my limited publishing skills but I'll do my best to update you all each day on our progress along with the recipes we're using. Here are a few things to keep in mind...

Henry will be with me all week and according to "da rules" we should get $12 per day which for the 5 days of the challenge would be $60 or for 7 days would be $84. We are targeting living on the $35 limit for 7 days for both of us with the following caveats -
Henry can have BBQ sauce - Although it did not fit in the budgeted $35, we buy a brand of BBQ sauce that contains no high fructose corn syrup (HFCS going forward) and feels he can make anything taste better with it. The price per 18oz bottle is $2.29 but he and I will work out a limit as to how much he can use.
I receive coffee in numerous forms as a benefit of where I work. I won't be giving this up but will limit myself to plain black coffee - no espresso or espresso drinks, no dairy or sugar - and only 2 cups per day.
I have herbs growing in my yard and will use these as I consider these to be found items and are free. These herbs are rosemary, lemon thyme, oregano and chives. I will use no others in keeping with "da rules" as those would have to be purchased or given to us by others.
Henry can have 1 non-HFCS soda this week - it will cost more than the $1.04 we have left by about $.15. He can choose when and where to have it but it is his choice and is a weekly treat that I will continue to allow him.

I know I'm bending a few of "da rules" but since this is a 5 day challenge, I believe we could do this better if we were doing 2 full weeks or even a month as we could purchase a few items in less packaging (it killed me to use so many plastic bags yesterday @ the bulk aisle and produce for such wee quantities) and I understand that Basic Food supplements don't arrive in 5 day increments (not sure what the frequency of delivery is but would suspect no more that every other week at the most, if any of you know please enlighten me) but I believe we will do our best to purchase less than $35 the following week as well in order to see if we can extend this. I'm certain we will still have some quantity of the items from this shopping trip leftover at the end of the week.

I'm baking some bread today, getting prepared for the week. I would suspect I'll spend more time writing about the week than actually cooking which I want to keep track of as well understanding that many people who do receive Basic Food supplementation don't have a lot of time to spend feeding themselves and their families.

Anyway, that about wraps it up for today. Bring on the challenge!


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Playing Catch Up...

So although I've been eating all week and trying to get a plan together in my head for the upcoming Hunger Awareness Week Challenge, I have yet to put any time in on blogging about such stuff.
Monday night I had a lovely prawn po boy with Mama Lil's Kick Butt peppers. A quick saute of onions and red bell peppers with garlic, toss in the prawns and deglaze w/ just a pinch of white wine and into the baguette and topped with the kickbutt peppers and drizzled w/ a wee bit of the pepper oil. Peeled & deveined prawns were on sale for $5.99 so a half pound got me this dinner and another of the same sandwich for lunch at work the next day. Figuring that my baguettes cost about $.75 each and the veg was probably about $.25, that gives me two yummy budget meals for $2 each. Keeping it real with the budget never tasted so good. It certainly pays to watch the sales at the local grocers. I accompanied this with a PBR tallboy and felt like I was in N' Orleans for less than $3 total.

Tuesday was bacon wrapped scallops over steamed broccoli and brown rice. Now this one took a bit more prep time but was oh so worth it. I par-cooked the bacon in the microwave until almost crisp but still pliable enough to get around the scallops. A high heat pan w/ just a bit of olive oil for about 90 seconds on a side. Deglaze the pan with a little white wine and toss in some fresh chives from my garden patch and just enough butter to emulsify. Nuke some broccoli, stir some asiago and garlic into some freshly steamed brown rice and you end up with something like this...

Again, I got another meal out of a half pound of scallops for lunch the next day. Scallops were $9.99 a lb; I stumbled on this sale while visiting a market in search of wild mushrooms (nothing on that front yet this year so still using dried) where I don't usually have an opportunity to shop and look what it turned into.

Wednesday and Thursday was just a bit of fridge diving and coming up with stuff like omelettes and leftover sandwich meat for dinners and lunches but I did just fine until last night when dinner was Irish whiskey and Mac & Jack's for our post-tax season "we all survived another year" celebration of success with the workmates. It's a good thing that doesn't come around too often is all both my head and my wallet are telling me today but it was good to get out and splurge a bit before heading into living on $35 in groceries next week. That's another post so keep checking back...


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

2007 Caravaggio Montepulciano d' Abruzzo

I think we have a winner, here is one of the best of the bargain wines I've tried and it's the least expensive as well. Fruity, up front flavors, not a lot of lingering so although there is a finish you shouldn't blink or you might miss it but the nose and the palate make up for whatever shortcomings might be there.

The nose is of fresh berries with a fine earthy, almost mossy aroma but only enough to keep it interesting and swirling in the glass only opens it up even more. The palate has just the slightest bit of astringency that dissipates with just a couple minutes in the glass as it opens to good jammy cherry and plum flavors.
OK, so you wanna know what I paid for this little jewel? Well let's suffice it to say that with past experience with sub-$5 vino I've normally been pretty disappointed, however at $4.49 this is a real winner. Trader Joe's came through for me here... Go get you some!

I had it with bacon wrapped scallops, yep still on budget...More on that later


Thursday, April 9, 2009

March numbers + 2009 Quarter 1 Final

Time to wrap both the month of March and add up the first 3 months to see if we made out overall goal of $600 for 3 months for an average of $200 per month in food and $150 for $50 per month in booze.

Well, for the month of March I'm sorry to say we didn't do all that well and exceeded the monthly budget by a little over 11% coming in at $223.17 for food, alcohol at $52.04 and pet food $43.00 for a grand total of $318.21.

Now as I posted yesterday, sometime life gets in the way and we had some flu visit the casa and who am I to deny either of us something which we crave during illness. I did overspend for March but so far we are well under for April so we continue to eat on some of the items we purchased in March as well. While this may all sound like I'm offering excuses, perhaps I am but the real goal was to see if we could live under $200 on average and I have good news to report... a drum roll please...
  • January Totals
  • Food $168.94
  • Booze $42.95
  • February Totals
  • Food $201.97
  • Booze $45.73
  • March Totals
  • Food $223.17
  • Booze $52.04
  • Totals for the Quarter 1 of 2009
  • Food $594.98 Average $198.33
  • Booze $140.72 Average $46.91

I'm OK with this; we met our goal. Not by much but we did indeed meet it and actually exceeded it by just a wee bit. Granted I was much more diligent and conscientious about the whole project at the beginning and it has grown somewhat tiresome (however worthwhile!) but we're not gonna quit, no sirree. I will say this though...conscientiousness is very hard work! Keeping an eye on the prize, looking at changing such a daily and integral part of our way of life so much is difficult and without being mindful it just doesn't work and we proved that with our lessening mindfulness over the last 90 or so days.

Is it worth patting ourselves on the backs? YES!

Am I happy with the results? YES!

Have we saved money? YES!

Are we more mindful of HOW we eat and WHAT we eat? YES!

We're going to keep at this, I'll continue to write about it and I hope you'll continue to read about it. I think the Hunger Awareness Week will make this fun and interesting and maybe even spark some competitions..? Anyway, pop on back for more of the saga as we continue on a path of living well, well within our means...


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Challenge...


Yes I know it's been a bit since my last post and for those of you who are loyal followers please accept my apologies. I'll just let you know that sometimes life gets in the way of the best intentions and I would be surprised if any of you haven't found that to be the case at some time or another...

Anyway, the reason for the title "The challenge" is that I have been asked by the United Way of King County to participate in an interesting challenge and that is to live on the amount of food that can be purchased by basic food Washington state food stamps are called Basic Food and the daily amount is $7.00 for an individual and increasing amounts depending on the size of your household. An interesting bit about this is they have targeted food bloggers (more on that below) as already having an audience and also because we tend to like our food and would also tend not to move to an all ramen all the time diet for the 5 days of the challenge. This is about how to stretch the food $s and still make healthy, fresh, interesting food. Sooo...

I have accepted the challenge and...I would like to challenge all of you ouot there that are reading this to try it as well and write back to me with what works and what doesn't work for you. It's an interesting and fun way to stretch our dollars and I think all of you can come up with some interesting, fun and tasty ways to make this work for all of your families as well.

The rules are simple if a bit strict but that's what makes a challenge, yes?
  • What Are The Rules For The Hunger Challenge?
    · Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner spending only $X a day (see below)
    · Salt and pepper don’t count but all other seasonings, cooking oils, condiments, snacks, drinks, and everything else do.
    · Don’t use food you already own.
    · Don’t accept food from family, friends, coworkers and others. Not even the free samples from
    · Try to include fresh produce and healthy protein each day.

How Much Can I Spend Per Day?
Individuals can spend about $7 a day for the challenge. We chose that amount because it is the maximum food benefits a single person can get on Basic Food (what Washington calls food stamps). And while Basic Food is designed to be a supplement to food budgets, the reality is that many rely solely on their benefits for food because they don’t have enough money to buy food as well as all the take care of other expenses that they have.

This table shows how much allowance you’re allowed depending on family size:

  • Household Size Hunger Challenge Budget
    1 person $7 / day
    2 persons $12 / day
    3 persons $18 / day
    4 persons $22 / day
    5 persons $26 / day
    6 persons $32 / day
    7 persons $35 / day
    8 persons $45 / day

Now I'm going to try and make this a little more interesting and try and go the entire 7 days of the week on the 5 day total for an individual just to see if it can be done. I know, Henry (my just starting to eat everything 10 year old very active boy) will be with me for 4 of the 7 days so this makes the challenge even harder but I think we can do it as we've been fairly successful in keeping to ~$50 a week (more on this later in another post to share my first quarter numbers with you all).

What I ask of you all is do you think you could do it, even for the 5 days? What would you do to try and plan for success? Do you want to try this with Casa Jim & Henry? I hope you do and I hope you write to us about it. I truly believe we can get some great recipes as well as techniques, methods, plans, etc for stretching food dollars and continue to eat well.

Here is the link to the information page -

Here is the link to the registration page if you want to make the challenge official for you and your families -

Here is the link to the blog where all of us who have accepted the challenge and are blogging about it will be posted and we can all learn from each other -