Monday, August 24, 2009

600th post: a few recipes and thoughts on not having as much money for food as I might like

This will not be the big splash of the 100th post about dinner with William Shatner, or the 300th post about homewrecking sluts, or even the 500th post about whether or not killing one's enemy with a Bat'leth is a good idea. Compared to other posts with the double zero numbers, this will be no big deal at all. After giving it a little bit of thought, I've decided to write about eating food when you don't have much money. We will see what comes of it.

I've been thinking about this a bit anyway, with what has been going on recently. And now I'm thinking of it some more, after finding someone else doing the dollar a day blog thing. And then last week we watched a movie about some old ladies who lived with a zillion cats and a lot of garbage.

You know, when Arlo Guthrie writes a song about people who never take out the garbage, it is funny. When real life people do it, not so much.

Anyway, a while back I found this blog of people who were trying to only spend a dollar a day on food. And I thought that I would try that. I didn't get through a month like they did. To do the dollar a day thing as an experiment, you have to plan ahead. You can't have any social commitments during the experiment that would cause you to spend more than a dollar. So I couldn't do a whole month, because of the social commitments I had already made, and then some other things came up that I didn't want to miss because of silly experiment. For me, it was just an experiment, and I did not have a charity or a goal or anything to go with the experiment. When the experiment started interfering with my social life too much, that was the end of the experiment.

When you are doing the dollar a day thing out of necessity and not as an experiment, you don't have to plan ahead the same way. You just can't make any social commitments that require spending money, so you really don't have to plan around them, because you won't be going to them anyway (unless maybe a friend just can't bear to go without you and pays for you to go). There are no dinner and a movie nights with friends, there no holiday parties which require you to bring special food, and there are no stops at Starbucks, etc.... You became that person that everyone used to like, but no one has really seen for a while.

I haven't been doing the dollar a day thing recently. I'm not doing that because I'm so low on cash that I'm just eating whatever happens to already be in the house, regardless of how much I paid for it whenever I thought it was a good idea to buy it. Not that I've stopped stopped buying groceries entirely, I still have to buy milk and eggs and bread and maybe potatoes and noodles, but the rest of it I am trying to make from the odd things that I bought and maybe put in the pantry and forgot about.

I'm about to try a few odd things. Like I'm eating Pasta Roni and similar things that I should have thrown away last year but didn't get around to. Some of it still tastes good. Some of it doesn't. Then I have the odd thing like Chicken Helper, but I don't have any chicken to go with it. Would it be just awful with sausage instead, or maybe Spam?

Could I have Spam, Spam, Spam, Chicken Helper, and Spam?

Or it might be more like rice, rice, rice, Spam, and rice.

In one of my garden beds I have turnip greens. I hate turnip greens. But I needed something that would grow fast, so that I had what looked like a garden bed instead of a mound of dirt. (The neighbors would complain if it was just a mound of dirt.) So I planted a lot of stuff, and I ate some of it, and most of the rest of it has since died, except for the turnips. My husband likes turnip greens, so we had some last week. I thought maybe they wouldn't be as bad as I remembered.

Nope. I still don't like turnip greens. But my husband likes them, so there is free food for him in the backyard.

As for the rest of the garden, I didn't get as much out of that as I hoped. I got plenty of asparagus earlier, but asparagus is only once a year, and for this year it is long past. I got several tomatoes before the plants fell over (which was entirely my fault for not having them properly staked in time), and I currently have yellow squash number seven and eight waiting for me in the fridge. It seems to me that eight squash are not that much from two healthy plants, but the bees don't seem to like me this year. The eggplant remains fruitless, and the pumpkin plants died. I got some peppers earlier, but they aren't doing as well as I would have liked. Maybe they will do better after it cools down in the fall.

The rest of the garden is either an herb or an ornamental plant, or something like a sweet potato vine that is decorative now and might actually produce something to eat later in the year. So I have this big garden, but I'm not getting much to eat from it now.

It occurs to me now that maybe I should have applied for food stamps two months ago. I suppose that I still could, but I keep thinking that things are about to get better, and that there wouldn't be any point in trying to get the food stamps. There's probably a form to fill out, and then they get back to you, and by that time you are working again and told that you don't get anything, sort of like the unemployment thing.

I'm still really ticked about the unemployment thing.

Back to the subject of food. I think that I will post a few cheap food recipes.

Okay, the first one is not really a recipe, just sort of a reminder. Eat popcorn. Get an air popper (or maybe get one of those things that lets you use regular popcorn in the microwave) and make popcorn. Then spray it with some butter flavored non-stick cooking spray (such as Pam) and then sprinkle salt. Well, I am not supposed to have salt, I'm supposed to have chili powder or Parmesan cheese or something, but I usually have the salt anyway. Or, if you would rather have something sweet and aren't worried about sugar or calories, you might try sprinkling a bit of cinnamon sugar. Anyway, regular popcorn is cheap, and if you don't load it with butter and salt and such, it is even good for you.

The second recipe is for my attempt at making the black bean soup from Campo Verde restaurant in Arlington. First, you sort and rinse one pound of dry black beans, and then put them in a large bowl and soak them in water overnight. Next, you pour off the water and put the beans in a crockpot (mine is about six quarts and has the automatic switch to warm feature). Now you cover the beans with water, so that there is about an inch or two of water over the beans. Set the cook time to high for four hours. Then you slice and quarter about half a pound of smoked sausage (and I now use the $1.09 Value smoked sausage from Kroger's) and add that to the beans. About halfway through the cooking time, add a diced onion and between four and eight sliced jalapeno peppers. (Note: if you add the peppers and onions earlier in the process, they tend to lose their zing, and if you add them much later in the process it might be hotter than you like.) And about five minutes before the soup is done, add half a bunch (or even a whole bunch) of chopped cilantro. This should make about about twelve cups and cost about $0.25 per cup (depending on what kind of sausage you use, where you buy your onions and peppers and cilantro, and whether or not the ingredients were on sale).

The third recipe is a similar soup. Replace the black beans with pinto beans, but cover with at least two cups LESS water. Add the sliced and quartered sausage (or, for even less money, add less sausage and a couple tablespoons of bacon grease). At the midway point when you add the chopped onions and sliced peppers, also add two 8 ounce cans of tomato sauce, and about a tablespoon each of powdered cumin and chili powder. Skip the cilantro.

The fourth recipe is macaroni and cheese (just the kind made from a box of pasta and powdered cheese mix, either the store brand or whatever is on sale) mixed with a drained 6 ounce can of tuna, and about a cup of diced tomatoes and jalapenos (or leftover salsa). This is even cheaper if you can get the tomatoes and jalapenos out of your garden, but you might need to cook them a little bit before adding them to the macaroni. Leftover chicken can be substituted for the tuna.

The fifth recipe is for almost a gallon of yogurt. You put almost a gallon of milk (not skim milk, but I have used 2% and 1%) in the crockpot and set it for high for four hours. If your crockpot has the automatic switch to warm feature, you don't have to do anything else for about twelve hours. Then you check to see that the temperature has gone down to about 110 to 120 degrees. Don't let it cool much more than that, but higher temperatures would kill the yogurt culture. Then stir in a small container (like 6 or 8 ounces) of plain yogurt (or sometimes vanilla will work if you can't find the kind you want in plain). Make sure that whatever yogurt you use has live cultures. The first time you will have to buy some from a store, and after that you just put a cup of yogurt aside for the next time. Then you leave the milk and yogurt mixture in the crockpot, set on warm, and come back and check it in another twelve hours or so. It should all be yogurt then. All the books tell you to sterilize everything with boiling water before you make yogurt, but I have only just done regular dish washing, and so far I haven't had any problems.

The sixth recipe isn't really a recipe either, just a reminder to think about making your own sprouts. Making your own is so much cheaper, and it only takes about a week, or maybe less, depending on what you are trying to sprout. Mostly, you are going to go to Whole Foods and health food stores for your sprouting seeds, but not always. Mung beans, for example, are usually a better price at the Asian market (if you have one). You measure the seeds out with spoons, and a week later you have several cups of fresh and cheap vegetables to put in your stir fries and salads and sandwiches.

Okay, so that's the end of my 600th post. Tomorrow I will go back to pulling out my hair and complaining about stuff in general.

1 comment:

Ananda girl said...

YUM! Those sound very good to me. Thanks.

I can tell you another cheap meal...
a can of chili beans mixed with a prepared package of mac and cheese. The beans and the pasta make a perfect protein. Or put a can of chili over spaghetti noodles. Same perfect protein deal. I like them, but like the turnip greens, it may be a matter of taste.

My mom used to use inexpensive dry onion soup mix as a base for veggie soup... just throw in whatever you have left over or out of the garden that you want or need to use up.