Category Archives: food

Make Do

Quiche to eat and to freeze. Kale from the garden. Local beer.

Quiche to eat and to freeze. Kale from the garden. Local beer.

I switch back and forth between scrutinizing our food budget, and then not giving a damn. I’m sure some of you think, “How reckless!” while others would think, “Man, I never even ponder a budget for food!” I think wherever you are on this scale depends on different factors.

If I was receiving food benefits I’d have a very specific number to work with, and if we were filthy rich I’d probably be going out to eat 4 nights a week, not because I don’t love to cook (it’s great!), it’s just that I love going out to eat. But we fall somewhere in between.

We recently returned from a vacation (a huge rarity for us) and we lived it up while we were away. This means we need to be a bit stingy with our budget for awhile while our finances catch back up with us.

Since our bills are basically as low as they can be, our food budget is the only thing with flexibility. Since most of the items I get don’t have coupons available, I’ve stopped bothering with couponing. I also get my veggies from my work, and most other items from the farmers markets.

What’s left are staples and specialty items. At the moment I don’t own a Vitamix so faux milks must be purchased. Also, I get a lot of great deals using Amazon’s Subscribe and Save feature, so each month or so I get wild-caught tuna, canned tomatoes, rice cereal, sunbutter, and coconut oil shipped to me, and I don’t even have to think about it.

For awhile now I’ve actually been buying bread and some other snacky items that I’ve made in the past. But when I narrow the budget I realize I will need to start making this stuff again. Also, I need to dip into our food reserves.

I have things I need to use up, even if I really don’t want to. Putting food by is really great, when you use it in a timely fashion…and I haven’t been. My first step in this process is checking what I really have, and organizing our food. I’m still working through this.

However, each time I do this I think, “Wow, I totally forgot I had that!” or “I don’t remember buying that!” Scary. I realize how fortunate I am to have this problem, and that most people in the world can’t even fathom this.

So now I’m going through and planning out meals that I can make with what’s on hand. It’s actually quite easy, it just takes intention. Last night I used up two heads of broccoli and a big slab of home-cured bacon to make quiche. Three, to be exact. Served up with kale salad from kale I harvested moments before it hit the bowl.

I realized I had a ton of crusts I bought at Aldi one week when they were on special. They had been sitting in the freezer. I also had an abundance of eggs, so it made sense to make extras to freeze for later, when I don’t feel like cooking. Pretty nice to cook and clean once and get three meals!

Today I have to soak some beans and harvest some greens. I plan to keep going on this path until I get caught up on my excess food. I may also make some muffins or quickbreads, and some granola to snack on.

It feels good to be getting back to making more. Around this time of year I start to feel more “nesty” anyway. I think my summers are just too crazy. Now I want to leave the house less and less as the days get cooler, and the more I’m home, the more I want to cook.

Ok, off to soak those beans!

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

I have so much to be thankful this year, it hardly seems fair. I hope you have a lovely day of feasting and friendship today.

In much of my adult life I’ve had an interesting series of Thanksgiving meals with friends, since we don’t live near family. They’ve all been lovely.

I’ve had vegan Thanksgivings, Friday Thanksgivings, one where I was already so tipsy on red wine that I scorched the mashed potatoes, and tomorrow will be the second I’ve had with a turkey from the farm I work for. And this year when Chris pulled out the innards I actually knew what the gizzard was, and wasn’t freaked out.

I am shocked at the love and gratitude and great friendships I’ve had as a grown up. I’ve lived lots of places and it just seems highly unlikely that I’d be at such a wonderful place in my life surrounded by so many amazing people.

Like my friend Paul used to always say….”You are like a cat, you always land on your feet!”

Indeed.

~happy home~ Operation Grocery Budget Reduction, The Sequel

A few months ago I reduced my grocery budget for the month to $200. I used to aim for $400, but even then, I usually went over. I’ve been really good about sticking to budget though.

I’m a not a stickler with the budget, I just try to keep a running tally in my head during the month and if I go over by $10 I’m not going to freak out about it. Planning out meals and reducing impulse buying has helped keep me in check.

I think I’m going to try to reduce it even more though!

Chris leaves Sunday for 5 weeks (at the halfway point we are going to go visit him) so I’m not going to be making regular dinners. Jack doesn’t like meat or cheese (for the most part) so I don’t think I’ll be getting any of that. That’ll save money right there.

I also have so much food in this house. I’m not complaining, but I need to start eating through my stockpile. This week I plan on going through all of my cabinets and organizing everything. I’m going to plan out meals and snacks from that.

I’m also back to juicing more. I think a lot of the produce I get from working for the farm will go into juicing, and I’ll probably get some more at the store too. I’m going to see if I can reduce my shopping to fruits, veggies, raw milk, tortilla chips (Jack and I are truly addicted to them), and wine.

My goal is no more than $30/week. I may even take out cash for the whole month to really reign myself in. I’m going to try to put the difference away for when we go to visit Chris, since we’ll be eating out a lot.

Can I do it? Keep your fingers crossed! I’m going to start with this week coming up and I’ll be updating on my progress.

In a Jam & I Painted a Chicken

Spooning in the jam.

Today I get to mention my friend Jillian twice. For starters, she also recently made the toaster pastries I’ll be talking about, and her combos not only look delicious but they are allergy safe.

At the April Food Swap I got to meet Alana Chernila and snagged myself a copy of her book The Homemade Pantry. Pretty much anyone who ever cooks food for themselves should own this book. The very next day I made the toaster pastries that are pictured on the cover, and knew it wouldn’t be long before I made them again.

Several half-used jars of homemade jam were piling up in my fridge. I wanted a way to use them all up before they went bad, plus I was overdue for some bulk snack making. I promptly made up a double batch of Alana’s crust and stuck it in the fridge overnight.

Ready to bake!

When I woke up I got to rolling. I really love her crust. It’s so easy to use because it’s never crumbly and it isn’t prone to ripping apart from itself. If you fear homemade crust, get the book and use this recipe.

In the end I made 18 toaster pastries. The flavors are blueberry cherry balsamic, raspberry balsamic, and strawberry/raspberry/rhubarb. I left 6 out and packaged the rest to be put into the freezer.

The finished product.

Later in the day Jack decided he wanted to paint. I’ve wanted to paint for some time as well so we headed out to get a few supplies. When we got home we set everything up and then just painted whatever felt right at the time. His is a chaotic scene of animals and fictitious creatures, and mine is a chicken.

creative genius

We are now officially participating in Jillian’s Artful Summer! I will continue to post about our journey with art during this season.

And Here We Go Again….

The couch next to me filled with all the necessary garden planning items.

Looks like I’m about a week ahead in terms of garden planning this year. Here is the post where I talked about my garden plan for 2011. Going to the NOFA-NY Winter Conference (here’s a recent post on that) invigorated me in terms of wanting to grow things.

Tonight I sat down with some paper, a pencil, my leftover seeds, and a few catalogs. First I wrote out what I already have, and then I went through to pick out what I might want this year.

I tried to be very realistic when choosing certain things. Last year’s garden wasn’t nearly as well thought out, and I ended up wasting tons of produce. It was really pathetic.

I foolishly grew too many tomatoes and I don’t really know why I grew Romas because I always get so many from work, it’s just crazy. I also ended up growing a type of of cherry tomato called a sungold. I got the starts from work and I’m pretty sure I grew 5 plants which produced like crazy. This year I’m going to grow one plant of yellow pear cherry tomatoes and be content.

Last year's leftovers.

I’ll be growing lots of greens. Most of them were purchased for our cold frame garden that didn’t end up happening this year, so instead I’m going to plant them right out in the garden. I will have one section for lettuce successions and another for cut-and-come-again plants like kale and chard.

I think I’ll throw in a few more broccoli varieties, and make sure to not let the transplants get too leggy this year. I also need to be better about removing the outer stems to promote better growth this time around.

Our cool pea trellis that Chris built last year is going to work hard this year. I plan to put peas on the front again but this year I’m going to plant two varieties of pole beans on the back.

It also looks as if I’ll be tearing up the other part of my front yard for herbs. There’s simply no way they will all fit in with the vegetables. Plus I feel like herbs are something I need easy access too, so a nice, narrow plot should suffice.

A few herb varieties are perennials so I may try to figure out a way to plant them somewhere separate like in my backyard. If I do this I’m going to have to put up a low fence around them otherwise my crazy dogs will trample them.

I’ve done a rough mock up of the garden but one of these days I’m going to go out and remeasure it so I can pin down the final version. I plan to compare the space needed for each vegetable with the actual space so I’m not caught off guard at the end of spring. I also don’t want to accidentally start too many seedlings.

I’ll keep updating things as the season progresses too. What are you planning to grow?

Chocolate Peppermint Pretzels & More!

The finished products.

I needed to make some simple gifts for neighbors and the Kilpatrick Family (because they are seriously like a surrogate family to me, and they are amazing people), and I really wanted to do something where Jack could help.

I figured these chocolate dipped peppermint pretzels would be the perfect solution.

Peeled candy canes, ready to be turned into minty dust.

I used two different colored candy canes (traditional and ones that include green), peeled them, and then separately gave them a good crushing in my food processor. When each was done I poured them into their own shallow bowl.

Powdered minty magic.

I got 2 bags of the honey wheat pretzel sticks. They are a good, medium length. I melted (separately) white and semi-sweet chocolate chips in a double boiler. When they were all melty, I put the bowls at our workstation and we got to dipping.

After we dipped each one we rolled it around in the peppermint crunchies, then we set them down on a huge silicone mat. You could also use wax paper or parchment paper if you don’t have a silicone mat.

Almost done....

At the end we took red and green colored sugar and sprinkled it on them, then waited for them to dry.

Scrumptious

I realized when we were finishing up the pretzels that I still had lots of melted chocolate left. Since wasting food makes me feel nutso, I knew I had to figure something out.

Chocolate peppermint coins

I got out my mini muffin tin, spritzed a little cooking oil in the bottom of each space and then started pouring the melted chocolate in. I quickly sprinkled the leftover peppermint and sprinkles on, then stuck the whole pan in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

If you don’t have a mini muffin tin you could use a regular one, but the disks would just be thinner and wider. They may also be a little harder to get out so silicone muffin cups might make things easier if you have those.

When I pulled the pan out I let it sit on the counter for a few minutes before carefully popping them out. I put them in little baggies and I’ll be giving them as gifts.

For the pretzels I got some inexpensive containers to package them in. I found a set of green plastic containers and a glass jar with a hinged lid. The glass jar was less than $3 at local dollar store!

When I filled them I put some candy cane striped ribbon around the top and then little “To, From” labels on the top.

The whole project didn’t take more than a couple of hours and it was really affordable. This would also be a great project if you have kids of multiple ages, because even though they might not be able to all the steps, even just putting on the sprinkles would be fun.

So if you are scrambling for any last-minute gift ideas definitely give these a  try!

My Recipe Binder

The cover of my recipe binder.

Part of pinching pennies is eating at home. So in my quest to be more frugal, I made up a fresh, organized recipe binder for myself. Having interesting meals planned out will prevent me from saying, “Hey let’s go out for dinner,” or “Let’s order pizza.” As fun as that is, it’s not the wisest use of our money right now.

I should tell you I already had a few recipe binders. One was super small so it ended up being a catch-all for folded up recipes. It was a freaking mess. The next one was a larger binder that had pocket folders in it. It held the recipes better, but since they were piled up on top of each other in the pockets, I couldn’t flip through them easily.

I took a basic 3-ring-binder (get a bigger one than you’d expect, trust) and made a cute cover for myself with some food-related pictures I’d taken. Before I filled out the tabs on the dividers I sorted the recipes to see what I was working with.

My "Breakfast" section. My apologies for the blurriness.

Since we eat seasonally I figured I should separate the veg-dominant recipes by seasonal group. So one tab is “Spring/Summer” and the other is “Fall/Winter.” Then I realized I had a bunch of breakfast recipes, so I grouped them together. We don’t eat tons of meat so rather than having a tab for each type of meat, all the meat centered recipes have their own tab. The others are “Ethnic,” “Soups, Salads, Dips,” “Desserts,” and “Easy Peasy.” The easy ones consist mostly of pasta dishes, sandwiches, and other things that come together in less than 30 minutes.

I would really suggest making your own tabs like this instead of going with classic recipe binder categories. You’ll probably be pretty surprised at your balance of recipes. For instance, I think in the future I may make subcategories for my “Dessert” tab because it’s much more full than I ever thought it would be. I could easily break it down into “cookies,” “cakes,” “quickbreads,” and more.

Most of my recipes are from magazines so I got a 100 pack of clear slip covers for super cheap at Target to put them all in. This way I can flip through easily and if I have it out while cooking, I don’t have to worry about the recipe getting stuff spilled on it.

Now I just need to make sure to look through it on a weekly basis and pick new dishes. I have been meal planning and although there are a billion templates you can use online, I just jot notes to myself in my planner, and continually change it during the week.

Coming up I think I will make some classic sausage and peppers because I need to yank out all my bell pepper plants. I also need to figure out more stuff to do with my swiss chard.

So there you have it. Do you have a recipe binder or have you been meaning to make one? Do you regularly plan out meals to stay sane and save money?