Friday, March 30, 2012

Caramel Pear Scones

Not doing so great. Visited the dr this morning to change my blood pressure medication - I'm having a minor allergic reaction to it and my blood pressure refuses to stablize. Dr wants me to go on a more extreme diet than I am currently doing because I'm not losing weight. I haven't been that good with looking at my diet as a tool for weight loss lately because I wanted to focus on it being healthy and I can only focus on so much at a time. She's also very disapproving of my using MSG instead of salt. She doesn't want me to use either. GRR - it's tough when you get older and you start developing health conditions that refuse to go away. So I'll take the weight loss more seriously especially since we are finally getting signs of spring.
Of course, this all leads me to guilt over pizza last night at my dad's. He likes to have us over and this time he wanted to pick up some Little Caesar's pizza.
I made these scones on Sunday. We vacuum sealed some and put them in the freezer. We're trying to experiment with preservation so I can do big baking on the weekend and stretch it out over a period of time without it rotting.
These scones are amazing. I subbed out the all-purpose flour for about a half n half mixture of oat flour and whole white wheat. I used applesauce instead of the butter but kept the 1/3 cup of sugar - mixing white sugar with molasses. I might try these with just molasses next time because they are really sweet. I had some leftover butterscotch sauce from my mom and opted to use that instead of making caramel sauce. The flavor is amazing and the sauce adds a sealing coat to the scones keeping them super moist. It's not really scones because I associate a more dry quality with them but these are amazing. The chopped pears create little wet pockets that are wonderful. However, do not leave these on your counter while you finish them up - the moisture leads to quick souring. I've been grateful we got them into the fridge with some in the freezer.
*Note - mine had no nuts, ran out of walnuts at some point and forgot to add them to the list. And I didn't peel the pears.

Caramel-Pear Scones
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, chilled, cut up
2 to 3 pears (1 lb.), peeled, chopped (1/2 inch) (about 2 1/3 cups)
1 egg
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk, divided
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Heat oven to 425ºF. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine flour, 1/3 cup brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in large bowl. With pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in 6 tablespoons butter until mixture resembles large peas. Stir in pears. Beat egg and 1/2 cup of the milk in small bowl; stir into flour mixture until moistened. (Mixture should form soft ball. If too wet, add 2 to 3 tablespoons flour. If too dry, add 1 to 2 tablespoons milk.) On lightly floured surface, roll or press dough into 11-inch round 3/4 inch thick; cut into 8 wedges. Carefully lift wedges out with floured spatula; place on baking sheet. Brush with remaining 1 tablespoon milk; sprinkle with walnuts. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned on top. Cool. Meanwhile, heat 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup butter in small saucepan over medium heat until sugar is melted. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Stir in 2 tablespoons milk; return to a boil. Remove from heat. Stir in powdered sugar and vanilla. Drizzle over scones.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lemon Flatbread and Pizza

I have some beautiful lemons from a friend and the first recipe I thought of was lemon flatbread. I saw the recipe in a magazine and thought I had saved it. Luckily I found it online. The end result was crispy crackery sour salty goodness. I had even cut the amount of salt and it was still overpowering in a junk food sort of way. My yeast was dying so the bread didn't raise as nicely but I wasn't about to complain.
I know it doesn't sound like an "Ohh" "Ahh" sort of recipe but I liked it. I liked it even better when I turned the crust into pizza last night. I had better yeast so the result was less cracker like. I used wheat flour both times - mixing oat flour the first time and a little white flour the second time (both times just to use up the scraps of flour we had around). I made two pizzas - one with organic pizza sauce, grilled onions and peppers, pepperoni and cheese. The second I made a pesto sort of sauce out of pickled green tomatoes, pumpkin seeds and a little garlic. That pizza had sauce and cheese. I did leave a little cheese off the last 1/3 of each pizza so my husband could have some. The end result was wonderful pizza. They were different but so tasty. That was the last of our pickled tomatoes (sadly, no one really liked them when I first made them but since we discovered they are great on pasta, and now pizza, we've gone through them rather quickly) but hopefully, we'll have lots of tomatoes this fall to make more.
On to the recipe - this is on
I made them with whole white wheat mixed with less than 1 cup of other flours. For the lemon flatbread, I left off salting the bread just before baking. I did notice that it too less time for my flatbread to cook so watch the timing. I think they took only about 15 minutes so start checking at 10 minutes.

Lemon Flatbread
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for bowl and pans
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons salt, divided (see Notes)
3 lemons
In the bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve yeast in 1 3/4 cups warm water (90° to 105°). Let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes. Attach dough hook and, with mixer on low, add olive oil, flour, and 4 tsp. salt. Mix until dough is smooth, about 2 minutes. (It will still be fairly sticky and won't pull away from the inside of bowl.) Using a spatula or oiled hands, put dough in a large, oiled bowl, cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap, and let sit until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Meanwhile, slice lemons as thinly as possible. Discard any seeds. Put lemons and 1 tbsp. salt in a bowl. Let sit at room temperature at least 1 hour and up to 1 day. Preheat oven to 425°. Lightly oil two 10- by 15-in. baking sheets. Punch down dough, divide in half, and put each half on a baking sheet. Flatten dough as much as possible, pushing gently from the center out. (Dough will pull back toward the center; don't worry if it doesn't stay in place.) Let rest 10 minutes and then flatten again, pushing the edges and corners down to help them stay put (if it pulls back a bit, that's okay, but you want to make the dough as thin and flat as possible). Lift lemon slices out of their juices and lay them evenly over the dough, pressing them into dough as much as possible. Sprinkle dough with remaining 2 tsp. salt. Bake until brown and crispy, about 25 minutes. While bread is still warm, cut each sheet into 15 pieces. Cool on wire racks.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pear Bread

Dinner last night - my husband made a beef stew and we ate it with a fresh loaf of french bread. We're out of flour and yeast after I made the dough for pizza tonight. We'll have to increase our flour purchases to atleast 10 pounds if we are going to make so many foods from scratch. We stopped by Safeway on Monday to pick up strawberries (3 pounds for $5). I walked down the baking isle to see what the cost of chocolate chips was and took the opportunity to check out their whole white wheat flour price. They've dropped the price to $4.99 and it's on sale until the 10th for $4.49. We'll get April's food stamps then and make sure we pick up 2 bags of flour. It's pricier than the all-purpose white flour but we like it and a bag of flour is about the same price as a loaf of whole grain bread so it works out.
This past weekend I made my mom's pear bread. I'm sharing my version of her recipe and her version. It's kind of fun to see how recipes are passed down in our family. We're not great with writing down the recipes. That's been something I have been working with and one of the reason's I thought I'd start sharing what we are eating. The only substitutions I made was using pumpkin seeds and dried elderberries (I used about 1/3 cup of elderberries and just covered them with boiling water while the bread rose the first time).
My mom is right - this is the best bread ever. It's dense but fruity and nutty. We've started eating it with cream cheese instead of butter and it's perfect. The recipe is so simple and so full of nutrition. I left on the peel for my pears and mashed them with a fork. Heating them made them more mushy and ready for the yeast.

Mom’s pear bread
1 cup pear puree
1 ½ teaspoons yeast
2 ¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup walnuts
½ cup dried cranberries
Heat pear puree to warm. Add the yeast and let sit. Slowly add in flour until you have a firm dough. Let sit and rise until doubled. Knead in walnuts and cranberries. Set in greased loaf pan and let rise a second time. Bake at 350 for up to 30 minutes.

"I don't think you need the breadmaker. In fact I goofed when I added the fruit and nuts but it still came out really good. The pears we picked would just start disinegrating after you peeled and cut them so before long they were more like a thick pear juice so I use a cup of that, 2 3/4 cup of Bobs Red Mill whole wheat pastry flour 1 1/2 teaspoons of yeast ( I think I would use a little more yeast and warm the pear juice and put the yeast directly in the pears and then after it starts to activate add the flour)."
"After the first rising I kneaded in the chopped walnuts and craisins, about half a cup of each by hand. The loaf only raised about half of the height of the breadmaker pan. It ended up being about a 4 inch cube but it was a good texture and just a bit heavy.So without a breadmaker I would use a smaller than normal breadpan. I also stopped the cooking before the given time. I cook by site so when it browned on top I figured it was done. Seriously the best bread ever."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Toffee-Pear Sticky Pudding

Yesterday we ate Caramel Pear Scones for breakfast (recipe coming soon) and leftover Sunday dinner for lunch. For dinner, my husband fried some tofu - sliced thin and fried in hot oil. He, then, made a stirfry of carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes and cabbage and served it over brown rice. I made up a quick sweet and sour sauce (1/2 vinegar, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 catsup, 1/2 cup water with 2 TB cornstarch, cook until thick while whisking to prevent lumps). It was rather tasty and made enough for lunch today.
I made the Toffee-Pear Sticky Pudding on Sunday. It is a gooey sticky mess that lives up to it's name but it so tasty that you don't mind licking your fingers clean. This is not a finger food, however.
I did forget to add the baking soda but it didn't seem to damage the final dish. It might have been lighter than the dense goo I got but I don't really care. I know a gooey dish might not sound appealing but think of it as a sweet sticky caramel - it's a lot like that. I used slightly more dates since my package was about 1 1/2 cups and I didn't feel like having to return it to the cupboard. I used basic chopped dates from Walmart. I never peel my pears either which works for this because they were so soft that the peel gave them some structure. Also since I have stopped buying brown sugar - I use white sugar with molasses (which is basically brown sugar). I like the molasses flavor and think it really added a richness to this dish. For the sauce I used 1 cup chopped pears and whole milk instead of cream.
Oh and as I re-read this I realize that I stopped reading the instructions too early. I didn't prick the pudding nor did I return it to the oven to bake in the topping. (opps!)
I did change the method for the sauce - I melted the 1/2 cup butter (nucoa in our case), added my chopped pears and stirred for a moment before continuing on with the sauce recipe. My pears were not pretty enough to make them more garnish-like so I just dumped them in. I did follow the rest of the instructions.

Toffee-Pear Sticky Pudding
1 1/4 cups water
1 1/4 cups pitted whole dates, preferably Medjool dates
1 cup chopped peeled fresh pears
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 recipe Toffee-Pear Sauce
In a large saucepan combine the water, dates, and pears. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cook, covered, about 15 minutes or until fruit is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed. Mash with a potato masher, fork, or immersion blender until as smooth as possible. Stir in baking soda; set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8x8x2-inch baking pan; set aside. In a small bowl combine flour, baking powder, and nutmeg; set aside. In a large bowl combine brown sugar and butter. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed about 1 minute or until combined. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and vanilla. Stir in date-pear mixture. Stir in flour mixture just until combined. Pour batter into prepared baking pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Place pan on a wire rack. Immediately use a long skewer to prick top of cake all over. Spoon the portion of Toffee-Pear Sauce without pears over cake. Bake for 3 minutes more. Cool on the wire rack for 10 minutes. Serve warm with the portion of Toffee-Pear Sauce with pears.

Toffee-Pear Sauce
1 fresh pear
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Peel and core pear; thinly slice pear. In a medium skillet melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add pear slices; cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until tender and lightly browned, turning pear slices occasionally and reducing heat to low if pear browns too quickly. Set aside. In a small saucepan melt 1/2 cup butter over medium heat. Stir in brown sugar. Bring to boiling, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil gently, uncovered, for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Carefully stir in whipping cream. Bring to boiling. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Divide sauce in half. Stir pear slices into one portion.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Apple Harvest Cake

We had a busy weekend. Saturday my son and I spent the day in Moscow, Idaho. We started by dropping off our Farmer's Market prototypes for a jury process and spent the time wandering downtown before going back to pick the items up. We came up with some great ideas and found some wonderful stores (the buy local promotion was hosting a scavenger hunt to find local businesses). We tried kumquats for the first time and something called a mandinquat (or something like that). We aren't fans but I'd still like to try making jam or something from kumquats. While out and about we stopped at the Co-op and checked out the meat department. I like stopping in grocery stores to browse because it helps me plan my next shopping trip and there's no real pressure at that time. The guy at the meat department was more than willing to give me a tour of their products. He gave me more information than I could possibly hold but what I learned most was how affordable the prices were. The hamburger is $2.89 a pound and he told me if I buy 3 family packs I can get them for $2.59 a pound. What a bargain for locally grown meat (some is organic but I can't remember what). I rarely stop in the meat department there because I knew I couldn't afford it but taking the time to learn about their meat I discovered I could afford it and I'm happy.
For lunch I made bacon fajitas. We had bacon in the fridge so I thought I'd chop that up with some onions and peppers and serve in corn tortillas. I dowsed the filling with lime juice just before scooping it up into warm tortillas.
We made popcorn for a snack. My mom had this idea of using a spray bottle for me to add butter to my popcorn. I decided that using oil would be better because all I really want is a way to get the seasoning to stick. It worked wonderfully. I air popped the popcorn, spritzed it with oil and sprinkled on some msg and cajun seasoning. I like the flavor of the msg but I over guessed on the cajun seasoning and ended up with spicy popcorn which was really tasty.
Sunday I spent baking. I do have lots of recipes to share. Today I'm sharing the Apple Harvest cake - what a great moist cake. It's not a huge cake - makes 1 pan but it's tasty.
I substituted the egg for 3 tablespoons applesauce, mostly because I had some leftover applesauce and I wanted to try using the oil instead of butter in a cake. I did make the rum glaze with whole milk and nucoa (since that's all we have). The only problem was it kept seperating. I don't know if it will have that problem with butter and half n half but I just had to make sure to shake the container before pouring it over the cake. Also, I didn't have any nuts.

Apple Harvest Cake with Rum Glaze
2 c. Chopped peeled apples
1 c. Sugar
1/2 c. Oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg (or 3 TB applesauce)
1 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 c. chopped nuts
1/2 c. flaked coconut
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. half & half
1/4 c. rum (spiced is better)
Cake: Mix together apples and sugar, let stand a few minutes until juice forms. Sift together dry ingredients and add to apples. Mix in oil, vanilla, egg, nuts, and coconut. Bake in a greased 8x8 pan at 350 deg for 40-45 minutes. Serve warm with rum glaze. Rum glaze: Heat sugar, butter and half & half on stove, stir until smooth then add rum.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Weekend Planning

I had to come up with something. I've been terrible this week. Menus for yesterday - Breakfast was grits with bay seasoning, Lunch was hash browns with eggs and tortillas and carrot sticks. Come the evening, my dad invited us over for Pizza. He was out and about and decided to get Papa Murphy's but he can't eat the whole thing. I know he could buy smaller but he likes the company. We talked him into coming over to our house so I could work on stuff that didn't happen (we ended up with more company and it was nearly nine when everyone left - oh well).
The thing about the weekend is that it's a chance for me to play with recipes and work on projects. I like going into the weekend with a plan. Maybe not concrete because things happen but a list of recipes I can play with.
Tonight is movie night so it's spaghetti night with my dad. Saturday will be different since my son and I will be in Moscow all morning. I have a craft jury to attend (cross fingers because this could be a good money maker for us and an opportunity to do something fun). While there, we plan on spending our time doing the community scavenger hunt. If you get 15 items, you get a $5 gift certificate. I think I might use that to buy us something for lunch since we'll be there a long time.
My husband already has dinner ideas - we're doing stir fry with barley. Barley has become his favorite grain. Maybe we'll make the hulled barley and see how that compares.
Sunday brings Sunday dinner. We try to attend church but I haven't been feeling well and my husband is working all weekend so we'll be staying home. A great time to cook up those pears and lemons that I want to work with. Next week, I should have great recipes to share. I'm thinking a lemon focaccia and more pear breads (oh and lemon curd of course).
We're not great with our meal planning and that's something we need to work on. Maybe we'll sit down and plan the weeks meals. I hope to make up some pizza dough. Dough freezes well so I could mix it up ahead of time and have it ready. I could bake it too and have it be completely ready for use - so many ideas, now I just need the time and energy to follow through.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Menu for Wednesday

I've been feeling poorly lately. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure last October and have been struggling to balance all the things I need to for my health. We think my feeling poorly is due to the medication but I don't know. What I do know is that I am exhausted all the time which makes keeping up with this blog tough. I don't have enough energy in the evening to experiement with recipes nor do I have much of an appetite lately.
I'm grateful that I have such a wonderful husband who is willing to take over the cooking part of the household. He's doing a great job, now I just need him to read my mind about what recipes to experiment with and how to do it and I can keep up with this blog without a problem.
Yesterday, we had fried eggs on homemade brown bread (toasted). I love starting the day with a fried egg. Because we use cast iron we use very little oil to fry the egg so it's not a bad food to eat. We always eat the whole egg because research shows that the two parts of the egg balance each other perfectly. I know there is concern about cholestoral and the egg has gotten a bad reputation but science is always proving that whole foods are best.
Lunch, I opted not to eat the beautifully packed lunch my husband made me. I just wasn't up for it. My stomach was a little queasy so I got soup at the local cafe, along with a maple bavarian doughnut because those are my super weakness. I was sorry later because all that sugar made me feel more sick to my stomach. This doesn't affect my budget because I work hard to earn points for various programs to earn free gift cards. My soup and doughnut were thanks to a gift card from my insurance company.
Dinner my husband made chicken thighs with cornflake crusts. I'll have to get the recipe to share because it was wonderful. Then he made mashed potatoes (he calls them boiled potatoes) with garlic and a lovely salad from our bountiful baskets. It was so good I was a little sad there were no leftovers for my lunch.
We finished the night with a little homemade cocoa. We've gotten this down to where it's almost healthy. Last night, he added a splash of the irish cream coffee syrup which did increase the sugar content slightly (we've got it down to 1/4 cup for 3 servings). We like cocoa on cold snowy nights - did I mention it snowed yesterday? So much snow and I so desperately want spring.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Potato Candy

Yesterday we had leftovers for breakfast and lunch - nothing interesting there. For dinner my husband made a rice dish. He sauteed a head of cabbage with a polish sausage (we picked up four packages on a really good sale). He added the remaining onion soup that I turned into gravy and some leftover plum sauce and served it over brown rice. It was good. A bit on the gooey side but the brown rice offered a nice firm texture under the saucy cabbage. The flavor was amazing. It's fun to clean out the fridge sometimes and dump extra sauces in dishes. Sometimes it's the seasonings that make the dish.
I promised a potato candy recipe - the actual recipe will be at the end of this post.
My son has this deep love of potato candy and, to him, it's the ultimate St. Patricks Day food. He requests it when he has a function at school during the holiday.
I started with having him peel 6-7 small potatoes (I thought they were small, in hindsight they may have been closer to medium). I wanted him to have enough but I also thought it made sense to use up the bag. I didn't realize this was far too many potatoes. I boiled the potatoes until they were soft and then ran them under cold water to keep them from being to hot to handle. I mashed them with a stick of Nucoa and then set them in the freezer to cool. It took a little work but by the time I added the sugar they were cold. I mixed in slowly an entire 2 pound bag of powdered sugar. This was when I realized I was in trouble. I didn't have anything resembling a dough - this was a definite soup of a mess. I couldn't run to the store - I didn't have time since I left this to the last minute so I did what any great cook does, I substituted. I added some regular sugar, maybe 2 cups but that didn't really help and the texture went from smooth to gritty. I needed something that maintained the current flavor and yet thickened it. While thinking on that, I added the vanilla which was not enough and my homemade version wasn't strong enough. Being of quick mind, I grabbed a rather dusty, forgotten bottle of Irish Cream coffee syrup and added that to the mix. It was perfect, the flavor complemented nicely and may become the new flavoring for this particular candy. I decided that coconut flour would be perfect since I finish off with coconut. I like coconut flour, it adds a nice nutty flavor to baked goods and was my go to GF flour (I started using it long before going GF though because it's high in fiber). About 1 cup of the flour and the dough was good to go. I finished it with about 2/3 of a bag of sweetened coconut and put the whole thing in the fridge. By this time I was too tired to spend time rolling it into balls and then in the remaining coconut.
My son and husband did that before his party. He said the kids were skeptical at first but then ate them all up. I want to note that they only rolled a portion of the dough. I still have a ton of it in my fridge that I need to come up with a plan for. The gritty texture never really went away but the flavor only got better. I may be coming up with a way to use the dough as a filler in cookies.

Potato Candy
1 large potato - peeled
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
4-5 cups confectioner’s sugar
5 cups sweetened coconut flakes
Boil potato until soft Mash until smooth and add butter. Let cool completely. Mix in vanilla and slowly add sugar. (if the potato is still warm it will melt the sugar so make sure it is cool). Add sugar until you have a stiff dough. Knead in half of the coconut. Roll the dough into small balls and roll in remaining coconut. The dough gets soft when warm so may have to refrigerate it to make it workable.
Can add green food coloring with the vanilla.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I have the hope that this blog will keep me honest but also encourage me to be an example. The same idea is behind a food journal - being honest helps you understand why you are eating what you are eating.
I forgot to mention that one reason for sharing my menus was to keep me thinking about the image I want to present. I want to be a beacon of light in these dark times. Show how one can eat healthy on a very tight budget. Stand up for those who can't, speak out on the real issues when it comes to food.
Then last night the worst thing happened. My husband and I didn't have a dinner plan. Our son was going to out that evening having dinner with a group so it was just us - us and no plan. Not a problem, we'll come up with something but it didn't work out that way. The overstuffed refrigerator was just overwelming. Normally, it would feel like a blessing but last night, tired and hungry, it was just too much to think about. So I mentioned pizza and my husband jumped at the idea.
We snuck down to Little Caesar's and picked up a $5 pepperoni pizza. We topped it with fresh tomato at home but then panic struck. How was I going to explain this on the blog? Maybe I could just pretend to forget to post, could I dangle something better to make you not notice that I didn't post my menu. No - I had to be honest. The truth is - this happens and it happens a lot for some families. Not having a dinner plan leaves the family rushing out for something less than nutritious. Now we have about $10-20 in our food budget for these moments. We spend our $90 in food stamps and $30 (most months) on bountiful baskets so we're not actually spending the $150 food budget I mentioned so there is still some leeway for a pizza or two.
However, I felt guilty. I knew I had done something wrong. What does that say about our view of food. It was just my husband and I so one pizza was more than filling. We got our basic food groups - cheese, bread, tomatoes and pepperoni. It might not have been the healthiest choice but we didn't go hog wild. The money made us feel a little guilty but we had it.
For the two meals prior - we ate leftovers. Leftover scones for breakfast, then leftovers from sunday dinner for lunch. We had the same for breakfast today and I will have the same for lunch as well. So where did the guilt come from?
That's something I'll have to ponder and get back to you with an answer. Tomorrow I'll share my recipe for potato candy. I may have shared it before but I made some this week for my son's get-together yesterday and made some changes (not ones I had intended to make either). The result was a really tasty treat.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Menus and Peppered Bacon and Pear Scones

I was talking with my mother on Friday and we got to talking about keeping a record of what we eat especially when it comes to how we use the foods we forage. I've been struggling a little with this blog because I haven't found a good way to share how we survive the month with our food budget. I have shared recipes and grocery budgets but that doesn't touch the day to day ways we stretch our food and the mistakes we make. Starting this week, I will be sharing our daily menus as well as recipes and tips. It may need some tweaking so please be patient while I figure out how best to share this information.
Sundays are a family dinner day and consists of a sort of potluck centered around a theme or main dish. Currently, we are down to just us and my dad. Sometimes we get more family and weird combinations as people just bring something to share.
This Sunday we wanted to do something Irish in honor of St Pat's day but no corned beef. My mother had given us a roast that she found in her freezer - she wasn't quite sure what it was or what condition it was in but we're forever scavengers so we gladly took it.
We got our Bountiful Baskets on Saturday. In the basket we had - romaine lettuce, tomatoes, spring onions, some kale looking leafy green (that no one was able to identify), potatoes, granny smith apples, 2 english cucumbers, carrots, oranges, melon, and 2 cabbages. I think that was everything.
We centered our meal around the roast and his basket (since it's really just him, he likes to use it when we eat with him). We cooked the roast in the crockpot for 6 hours. We had covered it onion soup I had made weeks before (we froze the excess). It was amazing. My dad made a salad of lettuce, shredded carrots, chopped cucumbers and tomatoes. Then he grated Cougar Gold Cheese over the top. Then he chopped up a cabbage and sauteed it with garlic and soy sauce. We microwaved some potatoes while I made a gravy out of the onion soup (1/2 stick butter, 1 cup flour and all the soup). We finished the meal with some cupcakes my father made (cake mix, frosting and grated coconut).
That was dinner. I had made breakfast late in the day so we only had the two meals.
Breakfast was Peppered Bacon and Pear Scones. We have some overly ripe pears that need to be cooked so you'll be seeing a lot of pear dishes this week. I had come across a recipe for Peppered Pear Scones and thought they would be wonderful with the peppery bacon I had purchased this month. These have no added sugar and just a touch of fat making them fairly healthy and super tasty.
Peppered Bacon and Pear Scones
2 cups chopped over-ripe pears (removing core and seeds but leaving skin)
2 cups whole wheat white flour
2 teas baking powder
1/4 teas baking soda
4 slices thick cut peppered bacon
2 eggs
1 TB Molasses
1/4 cup milk
Bake bacon in the oven (lay bacon on a cooling rack over a cookie sheet) at 350 until crisp. Meanwhile make batter. Add flour to a bowl with baking powder and baking soda. Beat in eggs and molasses. Mix in pears, taking care not to break them down too much. Using scissors, cut bacon into 1/4 inch pieces and drop into bowl. Add 1 tablespoon bacon grease, try to get the meat drippings and extra pepper in the process. Mix thoroughly. Drizzle in milk, 1 tablespoon at a time until the batter is wet. Pour onto a baking sheet and smooth out until an even 1/2-3/4 inch. The batter will be rather wet.
Bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes or until cooked through. Serve warm with butter.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Rice Congee

My mother discovered this dish earlier this week. Congee is a rice porriage sort of dish. The wonderfulness of this recipe is that it stretches a cup of rice into many servings. It's easy to make and since the dish is rather plain it takes on a variety of flavors.
To make congee, add 1 cup rice to 6-9 cups water (we use 6 and it seemed like plenty of water). Throw it in the crockpot on low overnight.
My mother added 3 bananas and cinnamon to the pot and then served it with sugar and milk.
I think it would be better with ginger and garlic. I ended up adding a little sugar to my banana dish and then adding MSG to give it that salty savory sort of flavor.
I, personally, am not a huge fan of sweet rice even though this dish has plenty of opportunities to offer both sweet and savory.
I used brown rice and ended up with a mushy mass so it might be a good way to work brown rice into your diet. Overall, it was tasty and reminded me of wet oatmeal. I plan on playing with the flavors and seeing what goes best for us. I think using apples would still be good - perhaps with some walnuts and dried cranberries to make a breakfast dish.
This is not just for breakfast. I read that many use this as a "sick" dish and I can see the appeal. I would love to have a great dish for when we are all sick and no one wants to cook and this seems like it. Maybe cook it in chicken broth with garlic and ginger - think I'm craving garlic and ginger - maybe some lemongrass. I'd love to hear what you ate with congee.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes

Last week, Lisa Hall at Fatal Foodies wrote that she was planning on making cupcakes in ice cream cones for a party. She shared her idea and it got me thinking, I had bought at some point in time a silicon mold that made cakes into ice cream cones. I had never used it. My son's birthday was Sunday so it would be a perfect time to try it out.

This was at the end, I didn't think to take pictures until I had baked them.

I had run out of time on Saturday (the day of the party) so I opted to us a cake mix. The mix filled the mold and most of a small tray of mini-cupcakes. My first mistake was that I over-filled the mold. I had done it intentionally, thinking that the extra would make a lovely rounded top giving it a more ice cream on a cone look. (think muffins) That's not what happened, the batter just oozed around the top and over the sides.

They came out of the mold really nicely and were so cute.
Right away, I noticed a problem. The stems were soft. I made up a quick peanut butter frosting (peanut butter, powdered sugar and a bit of milk). The idea was to frost a thin layer of peanut butter and then a scoop of Cool Whip making it look like ice cream.

These pictures tell a lie, it was work to make them look like this for the pictures. The cake was not firm enough to stand up to the weight of the frosting and Cool Whip. The tops fell off. The one in my hand lost about an inch of the bottom due to the weight. I made them look so cute and then dumped them Cool Whip first into a bowl so they could be eaten.
I want to try the mold again but it will have to be with a homemade batter and a denser cake. The packaged mixes are far to light to hold up to this but they were still a cute idea and the taste was amazing.
To see Lisa's end result visit here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Why breakfast is the most important meal of the day

I've been struggling this week. It's such an off week and I'm rather tired. I was going to share the cute cupcake things I made for my son's birthday but I forgot the pictures at home so I'll share those tomorrow. The idea was cute the execution not so great but I'll explain more later. I promise I will have some recipes soon, we're just not creating anything new.
Well, this blog post came in my email last night and I decided it was one that needed to be shared. Let little otter explain to you why breakfast is the most important meal of the day - I promise you won't be disappointed with his logic.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


I wasn't sure what to share today until I came across a blog post about L-cysteine. You should recognize that word if you read the ingredients in your packaged foods. L-cysteine is an amino acid that our body creates. When pulled out of protein sources, it becomes a dough enhancer and flavor additive.
The problem - well 2 things really: the source and the process to remove it. L-cysteine is pulled out of hair and hooves. In some cases, the hair was recycled from barber shops (yes I am talking human hair). In other cases it was removed from left over duck feathers and hair from pigs or cows.
For those who believe in eating the whole animal or reducing waste, this sounds like a good idea. Did to me, a little. Why not use something that is just waste, even though it sounds unpleasant.
The big problem - it's not easy to remove the amino acid from the protein. Think back to high school science - an amino acid is a building block for protein. Essentially, they have to break down the protein to remove the L-cysteine.
In doing the research, I discovered that L-cysteine is a popular supplement as well.
Hmm - that makes me wonder. Our bodies make L-cysteine so we don't need it from outside sources so why would we take the supplements. L-cysteine is also found in high protein foods.
A quick search says that L-cysteine is good for athletes and bodybuilders.
I'm still not making the connection - maybe I'm not well versed but it would stand to reason that if you are someone who needs L-cysteine then you would just eat extra lean proteins. That way you are getting it from a natural source.
Personally, I can't move away from the original source of L-cysteine. It's just too gross and knowing that they have to chemically alter the hair and feathers to make the additive/supplement really grosses me out.
Add to that - they've discovered how to make an artificial L-cysteine as a food additive. Why do we need an artificial version of something that we can get naturally? We don't need L-cysteine in our non-protein foods. I know that it doesn't really make the food taste better but maybe it covers up those off flavors of eating artificial ingredients. I don't know but what I do know is the list I have of ingredients I want to avoid just gets longer everyday.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Grocery Shopping for March

Partway through February we knew we had to do something different so we started looking at healthier ways to eat while still maintaining our budget. It's a tough juggling act because healthier feels so much more expensive.
We started our shopping trip at the Co-op. I don't shop much at the co-op because it just feels too expensive but I had earned a free loaf of bread. My son's birthday was this past weekend and he wanted stroganoff for dinner. My husband thought a nice loaf of french bread would be nice. The co-op offers a punch card for bread and we had been saving our cards for years. While there we looked in their bulk bins. I bought organic popcorn on sale for $1.09, the normal price $1.29 (a pound). Walmart's price - $1.48 a pound and it's not organic.
We picked up some organic couscous which was still cheaper than buying it in the box anywhere else and some hulled barley. The hulled barley is something we haven't been able to find. Pearled barley is everywhere and cheap. The difference is as if pearled barley was white flour and hulled barley was whole wheat. Hulled barley is less processed and has more nutrients.
The last thing I found was whole white wheat flour for $5.09 for a 5 pound bag. That's still significantly more expensive than white flour but it was $.30 lower than the best price we had found (and it wasn't even on sale).
Then on to our favorite discount grocery store. The prices weren't as great as I had hoped. We started in the bulk bins and I have to say that really is where everyone should start. Ironically, we found popcorn there for $.80 a pound but I was still happy with my $1.09 for organic. Next time we'll buy the non-organic if we don't see a difference. We picked up legumes and brown rice. I even found instant potatoes which was perfect because we only needed 1 cup for a particular recipe. That saved me not only the discounted price of buying in bulk but I only had to buy about a cup. I was even able to get a small amount of green split peas so I could make some fun St Pat's cupcakes. I sometimes forget how wonderful bulk bins are.
The only meat we bought was chicken thighs at $1.18 a pound, bacon for $2.49 a pound and one steak for X's special dinner. We bought tofu and lots of beans and legumes. This will be a month of vegetarian dishes or limited meat dishes. We broke the package of chicken into freezer bags of 3 thighs (with one bag having 4). For just over $5 we will have 4 meals of chicken. The bacon was thick cut peppered bacon which was broken into packages of about 4 strips each giving us 7 meals.
Cabbage is on a good sale right now - we picked it up for $.48 a pound and bought 10 pounds. That is a minimum of 4 meals depending on how we prepare it. We could stretch it to 8 meals if necessary. We love bacon, onion and cabbage on rice.
We set aside some "money" to see if corned beef goes on sale this week. The best price we found was $1.99 a pound which just wasn't quite low enough for us to feel it was a deal. We love corned beef and the idea of buying a tiny little one just seems so sad. I might pick up a little one anyway and use it in a hash like dish so we can feel like we got some.
I was just thinking, Sunday we went over to my mom's who gave us some odds and ends meats to clean out her freezer. This helps her reduce waste and gives us some extra meat for the month. Included was a whole chicken and a roast. Both of those will feed us for more than one meal so it helps stretch the budget some.
Our son took his birthday money to the store and bought peanut butter because I had forgotten to pick some up and we try to do a once a month shopping to keep a tight hold on the budget.
Ordering a bountiful basket today so we'll have fresh fruits and veggies this weekend. We'll get another basket in 2 weeks, after payday.

Friday, March 9, 2012

End of February Experiment

So we decided to change our diet to meet our budget instead of meeting our budget to fit our diet. The result was that we actually saved a good deal of money but that was really the only positive result.
We had a lot of the same dishes over and over. I can tell you I am glad to be on a pasta hiatus after this month and I love pasta. At the end of the month, the meals got tougher and tougher to prepare because we had planned for quick meals - spaghetti and sauce, creamed soups, lots of soups. We thought we had planned for a month but the food went faster.
Since we are used to once a month shopping it didn't really occur to us to go to the store to buy more food. We did stop in for milk and bread but even that seemed to go faster.
Aside from that, we all felt awful. Come towards the end of the month we were so cranky and exhausted. I can't say that it was 100% related to the diet but it was not a fun month to have to live through.
For March, we have decided to try to return to the diet we ate before moving to the city and going gluten free. We ate nothing made of white flour and sought out whole grain foods instead of just whole wheat foods.
It's a more expensive diet but whole grains keep us full longer. We, also, recently got rid of our cable. As strange as it sounds, we no longer feel the need to snack at night and we're going to bed earlier. March looks to be a warmer, sunnier month (in between the rain). It might mean actually having the chance to spend time outside. It might mean some early foraging. If the weather stays nice we should have mushrooms after all the rain.
The other thing we might start this month is organic milk. That will depend on the cost of the whole grains. We might have to alter our diet one item at a time.
On another note - March is National Nutrition Month. I should have mentioned that earlier to explain my reasoning behind all the website reviews. I have one more site I want to share with you but since it's geared towards kids I want to get my son playing on it before I write the review.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


One way to extend your pantry is to grow your own foods. This is not always the easiest thing to do. We live in an apartment and are lucky to have a complex with garden plots. For the last two years these have not been the most successful plots but I think I have finally figured out how to fix the problems. Our weather has been rather uncooperative with late starts. Last year we had frost into June then the weather turned amazingly hot and we didn't see rain for the entire summer. I lost the plants I started because I started them too late and they were not hardy enough to survive. I bought plants but they were in the ground too late to really produce well.
We have two plots, each 6x6 raised beds. One is our "permanent" plot that we filled with herbs and berry plants. This year I plan on adding a comfrey plant. The other is our veggie garden.
Our plants for the year - zucchini, watermelon (because we had seeds from the year before - watermelon is hard to grow in our area), pie pumpkins, tomatoes, jalapeno and sweet peppers, spinach. I think that's everything. I do plan on buying an additional blueberry plant to add to the permanent plot. It does cost to use the plots - $20 per plot per year.
I started plants a week ago - everything but the spinach and the zucchini. The zucchini I purchased is a 60 day crop meaning that they'd be producing before I got them into the ground and I don't want that. I might start them in May so they have a little time to grow before I plant but that all depends on the weather.
Knowing your weather and what grows best is a trial and error process but you can ask your neighbors. I never rely on USDA charts because I know they are for more professional growers. That doesn't mean they aren't useful but I find talking with people who are actually growing food in the area are better resources. Here in the Palouse region of Washington, I have found that tomatoes, peppers and zucchini are almost fool proof plants.
Now things to look for when you plan your garden, especially if you are "unseasoned" - I swear by growth dates. Each packet of seeds comes with a number of days. Ideally this is the amount of time it takes to produce a crop. If you've lived in your area awhile then you have an understanding of your growing season. Here, up north, this is the time between the last frost in the spring and the first frost in the fall. Some plants can tolerate some frost but it's best to use those dates when planning your garden. I know that we often have frost and snow up to May (on average not on odd years like last year). This tells me that I can plan to plant in May (or gives me a time to start looking for the end of frost). Some plants such as peas and potatoes prefer the cooler weather and can be planted in April (my mother says the rule of thumb is to plant them on Good Friday). Peas don't really do well when the weather gets hot. As much as I love fresh peas - I don't bother with them because I, personally, have not had good luck with them.
I know that the first snow fall often comes at the end of October but that the frost can start early September. Reoccuring events help. Our county fair is in September and that gives me an indicator for weather patterns. We can easily get really cold weather during that week and some years the fair just wasn't worth braving the cold for. Other years, the weather is beautiful.
In a perfect year, I can get my garden prepped in May and my plants planted. I have until the middle of September before the frost can potential kill my plants. That gives me a growing season of approximately 120 days. I work to avoid anything that takes that long, instead opting for plants that mature in 60-90 days if I can get them. As I said some plants, such as pumpkins, will tolerate the cold and many will not have numbers lower than 100 days. I still seek out the lowest number I can.
There are tricks to extending your growing season such as using greenhouses and frost protectors. This year I plan on experimenting with them but at this point I can't share any experience with you.
Now, on another note, I plan on growing some plants on my balcony and in my apartment. We have limited space so I can't go hog wild but I will be planting the spinach indoors - for longer growing season and convenince. I will be using containers to grow peppers and tomatoes as well. For me, this is a back up plan in case something happens to my garden. I'm thinking about making or purchasing one of those topsy turvy tomato hangers for my balcony (probably making). The trick here is to purchase good soil for the plants I keep close to home so they have the best possible chance of survival.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Building Healthy Habits for Kids

I was reading a post on eating from a toddler's perspective. It got me thinking. I have raised a good eater. My son is rather open to foods and will choose healthy over unhealthy more often than not. He still likes treats such as soda, chips and candy but he will choose to eat air-popped popcorn and fruit if I offer them. I can't say I have the perfect advice for raising healthy eaters since we still have our share of unhealthy habits but I do know I did somethings right.
Plate Rule: In our house the rule is you don't have to clear your plate but if you want seconds you have to eat everything on your plate. That includes later. You can't scrape your salad into the trash and then decide 30 minutes later you want more pasta. There have been nights when my son's plate has sat on the counter half eaten while he decides whether or not he's still hungry.
New Food Rule: You have to try one bite of a new food. If you don't like it then you don't have to eat it (but the plate rule is still in effect). My personal belief is that if it's healthy and I still don't like it then I eat it fast and I eat it first. If it's not healthy then I pass on it.
Those are the only two rules we have about eating but we have some guidelines about snacking. The biggest guideline is - if we shouldn't eat it then we shouldn't buy it. On occasion, I buy a junk food something - box of doughnuts or oreos, a bottle of soda. These never last long in our house and they are a rarity. That doesn't mean we don't have snacks. We keep popcorn in the house and my son is quite familiar with the air-popper so he can make his own snack. We set limits to how much nucoa he can use and he stays within those limits. He's free to experiment with seasonings and other ideas. (He's put barbeque sauce on his popcorn.) We keep instant coffee, tea and individual packets of crystal light available for drinking. I, personally, don't like the crystal light but my husband does and if it keeps him away from soda I'm all for it.
Another thing I did was taught my son to be self-reliant in the kitchen at a very early age. I worked the evening shift when my son was two and I hadn't met my wonderful husband yet. My son was an early riser. I was already exhausted and I couldn't keep getting up with him every morning. So I taught him how to make breakfast. We designated a drawer that was his. I filled it with breakfast bars and snacks. He knew that when he was hungry he could make his snack. It wasn't long after that that I had him making real food. By the time he was five he could make his own packaged mac and cheese. I know it's not the best food but it taught him valuable skills in the kitchen. Now at 15, he can cook just about anything. He's been creating his own recipes for the past 5 years and has even entered contests.
I keep him involved with the whole process. We talk about what we want to eat, how do we want to prepare it, what sort of vegetables should we have. I ask for his input when I go grocery shopping. When we have extra money, we talk about what would we like to try. With the bountiful baskets we get lots of interesting fruits and vegetables. He's very honest. He'll talk about what he didn't like whether it was texture or flavor. We talk about our food as we eat it especially if it's new.
I have made mistakes - I will be the first to admit that. My favorite mistake story happened when my son was about 4, I think. He was going through a phase where he just wouldn't eat his vegetables. I kept trying to think of creative ways but I didn't want to deceive him - he's a smart cookie and figured out I was slipping cauliflower into the mac and cheese. After that he was suspicious and I didn't want to make him hate vegetables. So I thought I'd get creative and make a Bob and Larry salad. For those who don't know Bob is a tomato and Larry is a cucumber on Veggie Tales. When I served it to him, all beaming because I was an awesome mom, he started crying - you killed Bob and Larry. It was an absolute failure and I had to give back my mom of the year award. He got over it but he still remembers it. I still can't get him to eat raw tomatoes but atleast now we can talk about why.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Bean Sausage

At Christmas time, we had a ham. When we were done with the ham, I used the bones and scraps to make 2 pots of black beans. I portioned the beans out and froze them, making about 6 meals worth of beans for future uses. We like black beans but the preparation has made them not so convienent. Freezing them gave us more access and boy have we had beans. It's almost time to do it again except I don't have a ham but that's not a problem.
Anyway, I was reading through the Hillbilly Housewife when I came across a recipe for Pea Sausage. Her recipe called for Black Eyed Peas but I was sure this would work with black beans. I passed the recipe on to my husband who thought this was the coolest thing he had ever seen.
Last night we had black bean sausage with fried eggs on biscuits. I got to tell you, aside from them being a bit drier you couldn't tell we weren't eating sausage. The flavor and texture was so nice that this will easily become a family favorite.
They are drier due to the lack of grease so take care when you fry them. They might bake well but we haven't tried them.
These are a great addition to anyone's diet but especially those who are avoiding/reducing their meat consumption or for those who can't have all the extra fat. I'm thinking we might try these for other recipes - imagine black bean sausage in italian dishes -mmm. I have polenta on the list for meals this coming month, maybe we'll serve it with black bean sausage and a hearty vegetable tomato sauce.
How did he make them?
He pureed about 2 cups of cooked (frozen then thawed) black beans in a blender. Added an egg, some flour and sage. You just need a few spoonfuls of flour to bind it all together and the sage is what gives it that sausage flavor. Mash it into patties and fry in the skillet. He used the cast iron with just enough oil to keep them from sticking.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Foraging - touching base

I have nothing that I can think to share today. I am uninspired and my brain is blank. I've been thinking a lot about what foods we eat and where they come from. It all started with this article.
I don't have good answers which is why it's gotten me thinking. That coupled with finances has got me wondering if we could really survive off of foraging. I can't hunt - just don't know how and haven't been able to talk myself into it. I do fish but I haven't been overly successful with great fishing. That's something I plan on working on this summer.
We can forage but will it be enough. It's a learn as we go and I still don't know enough. In the meantime, I've started some of my garden plants inside. We have jalapenos, tomatoes, pumpkins, watermelon and maybe a few other odd seeds that I had leftover. I bought a package of sweet peppers and will start them this week. I will, also, be planting some spinach in an indoor container. The plan is to have indoor plants and garden plants so that if the weather is uncooperative I will still have food, how much I can't say. We'll have a few more varieties that I'll plant from seed not starts.
I look forward to what the year is bringing. We're still getting a little snow and cold weather but warmer weather is coming and the foraging will begin. We'll see where it goes from there.

Friday, March 2, 2012

My Letter To Michelle Obama

It was my plan to actually send this letter to her but there is no contact information that wouldn't send my letter into the growing junk pile. I just have to hope that this will help someone somewhere.

Dear Mrs. Obama,
I want to start by saying I appreciate your efforts to encourage healthy eating and exercise habits for Americans with the hopes to reduce the waistlines of our children. However, I find that your approach is no different than other programs in the past.
While I believe education is best for most situations, I don’t believe this is one. We know what good food is, we are bombarded with information about nutrition constantly. Much of this is contradictory but the fact remains the same – the education is out there. The problem is a majority of those with the problem don’t have the resources to change it.
My family is one. We have a weight problem that continues to be a problem. Do we understand the difference between good nutrition and bad? Yes. Do we always eat the best nutrition possible? No. Why? Because it’s not as accessible as the less nutritious foods and let me explain why.
I live in a small farming community in Eastern Washington. Just over a year ago, our community welcomed a Wal-Mart Supercenter, upping our grocery shopping opportunities to 3 stores. A neighboring community offers 4 stores, with one the same as one in our community. We have opportunities for a variety of foods, with one of those being a whole foods co-op. We are, also, a college town so a large percentage of our community has little money to spend on groceries.
We have 2 farmer’s markets during the summer but our growing season is quite short so while we can gorge on fresh fruits and vegetables during that time, we have over 6 months each year where the access to local fresh foods doesn’t exist. The past two years, we have had strange weather patterns which have limited some foods with last summer being the worst.
Now that you have an understanding of our limited shopping, let’s talk finance. I work for one of the universities in our area (we have two). I have a salary of just over $2000. I get paid twice a month. After taxes, medical and other things I bring home just under $750 each pay period. I am the sole provider for a family of three. My husband has been unemployed for over a year and continues to look for work with little success. (A side note – the universities are two of three large employers in the area and budget cuts have left many looking for work, leaving only one major employer who is hiring.) He does take on odd jobs as he can and bring homes another couple hundred a month when possible. We, also, get $226 in child support each month.
Our rent is $700. Our electric bill is $84, our local company averages the amount through the year so we can pay the same each month. Our cable, phone and internet are combined and cost us $150. We subscribed to cable when both my husband and I were working. The cost was barely $100 for all three bundled together. We signed a two year contract. The price continued to increase over time until it had increased by 50% and we were stuck. Recently we hit that two year mark and cancelled the cable but I can’t tell you at this time what we have saved. Just for basic living our expenses are $934, over half my income.
We have two car payments totaling just over $300, again we purchased them when both my husband and I were working. Our insurance is due for four months out of every six and that is $138. That brings our monthly expense to $1372.
Then there’s credit card expense. I would like to say that we didn’t have credit cards but when we had no other way to pay for things this seemed like a good plan. We were on a three year debt free plan when my husband lost his job. Sadly, our debt increases our monthly expenses nearly $400 (after paying off two credit cards when we received our tax refund). We have just now passed my income.
In the end, my husband has to find ways to make more income just so we can put gas in our cars. How does he do that? He cleans apartments for $20 (each time he cleans regardless of mess or time). He takes shifts with a recycling company digging through dumpsters for aluminum. They pay him on commission which can mean as much as $50 for three days work. He has looked into opportunities to make money from home such as selling on eBay or blogging but the money just doesn’t come in. We’re starting our own Etsy company with the hope of getting anything to help our situation.
We do get food stamps – all $92. I’m not complaining; I am grateful for every penny. That $92 is all we have most months for food and this is where the real problem happens.
I have to make $92 worth of food stretch for a month for a family of three – 2 adults and 1 teenage male. I don’t buy processed foods if I can help it. I try to cook from scratch. We eat limited meat. We’ve started to scrape together more extra funds to purchase two bountiful baskets a month. (Bountiful Baskets is a non-profit group that helps families purchase fresh produce for $15 a basket.)
Now comes the breakdown. My family prefers whole grain bread but the cost is up to $5 a loaf. We look for it to go on sale which brings the price to $2.50 to $3. White bread costs $1. So for every whole grain loaf of bread I buy on sale I can buy 2-3 loaves of white bread which actually have more slices per loaf.
I can make the bread from scratch. White flour is normally $2.50 for 5 pounds but often goes on sale for $1.99. The wheat flour is $5.35 for 5 pounds and never goes on sale.
I can buy hot dogs on sale for $.69 a pack and chicken drumsticks for $1.25 a pound. I even buy bacon at $2.25 a pound because I can make a pound last for 2-3 meals.
Lean hamburger costs $2.50 to $3.50 a pound. Boneless skinless chicken breasts sell in three pound bags for up to $10 a bag (we get them on sale at $5-6 per bag).
We like salad. I eat mine with salsa to add more vegetables. Iceberg based salads often go on sale for $.99, sometimes with $.50 off coupons. Romaine and spinach based salads go on sale for $2.50. I can’t tell you what they sell for full price because I can’t afford it at all.
We buy potatoes, carrots, celery and onions on a regular basis because they are vegetables we can afford. Washed out, tasteless tomatoes will cost us $3 a pound through the winter. Colorful peppers can sell for as much as $2 a pepper. We wanted to try Swiss Chard – nearly $3 a bunch (fortunately we found a grocer who had some they were going to throw away and sold it to us for $3 for 2 bunches).
I can make a meal out of pasta and canned sauce for about $2-3. We pick the best sauce with the most vegetables at the best price but that doesn’t mean they are healthy. The sauces are loaded with preservatives and salt. Of course, we can only afford white flour pasta which often sells for $1 a pound. The whole wheat or more healthy choices are often twice that.
I had thought to include the school lunch issue since my son gets free lunches but I believe there is enough discussion out there about that.
We do have the option of getting commodities, a once a month government distribution of food for the poor. This past month the selection was a 5 pound bag of potatoes, 2 packages of chicken drumsticks, a can of beef stew, a can of tomato sauce, a package of dried plums, a package of spaghetti and canned peaches. We don’t get the commodities because we don’t eat enough of the food.
Do I have a great solution for you? No, because it’s not a simple answer. I’d love to see an increase in my food stamps or see more programs like Bountiful Baskets (and perhaps have them accept food stamps). I’d love to see the food that is given out from government programs to be healthy and fresh. To be honest, the processed foods they give out in the commodities are so awful that most people won’t eat them. I know several households that have a pantry full of commodities that they don’t know what to do with because it’s not something they eat.
I know you can’t make the big changes. How are you supposed to fight the rising price of healthy food? How are you going to help those who need more than education? I know I want to eat healthier and it kills me to have to cross off half the healthy things on my list because I can’t afford them. I hate that I have to choose a less healthy option because it’s cheaper. What we really need is a company that is willing to risk their bottom line to provide inexpensive healthy whole foods so that the demand can be met. We have a tough time voting with our dollars when our dollars don’t go very far.
Thank you for your time,
Sara Thompson

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Chicken Cacciatore

I often forget to share the simple recipes - you know, those recipes that are really just an idea that you throw together. How could anyone really be interested in how I made that? Last night, my husband made chicken cacciatore. It was something that I used to make quite often - funny how our diet goes in cycles. I had totally forgotten it until he suggested making it for dinner.
I know there are tons of recipes out there for chicken cacciatore but they all are more complicated than ours. I'm sure you know someone who makes this and didn't even know what it's called.

Chicken Cacciatore
Chicken parts (we used 4 thighs but you can use whatever so long as you have 1 piece per person as a minimum)
1 jar garden vegetable spaghetti sauce
parmesan cheese
1 package noodles
Lay chicken, single layer, in baking dish. Cover with spaghetti sauce. Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked (this will depend on your cut of chicken).
While the chicken is resting outside of the oven, cook the noodles according to the package directions. Serve the chicken with sauce over the noodles and top with cheese.

These are also the hardest recipes to write (as you may have noticed) because we just throw everything together. Make sure you have enough pasta to feed your group and enough sauce to cover the chicken and it will all work out. Serve with a salad.