Sunday, March 1, 2015

Orange Lemon Poppyseed Muffins

So Sunday is park brunch day.  It rained last night, so I wasn't sure we were going to have it, but I wanted to be prepared.

I wasn't up to anything too difficult. I didn't sleep well last night and woke with a bit of a headache (thanks to 1/2 glass of wine too many at our parents' night out and hormones).  Wow, a night out!  It was fun, and for some reason, the babysitter can get our toddler to bed better than we can.

Pinterest led me to a few interesting recipes, and I picked one because I had a bunch of oranges and lemons from the farm and from friends.  But it called for poppy seeds (I had none) and plain yogurt (didn't have that either).  I didn't figure that banana yogurt would taste right.

So I headed to the store and used 10% of my weekly budget (ouch!) on poppy seeds (no cheap options at the close store) and a small yogurt.  It was worth it!  And now I have plenty of poppy seeds.

I pretty much followed the recipe here exactly, except that I didn't top with coarse sugar, because who has that?  Not me.  Still the hubby and older son loved them and they are almost gone. (No brunch today.) Pardon the crappy photo.  I mean, the photos on the original recipe are awesome.  I'm pretty sure nobody comes here for my photography. Just my witty personality.

The general weekend prep this week, in addition to the muffins, included BBQ chicken in the crockpot (for tacos), spinach balls (actually chard and beet green balls), steamed beets, plus lots of washing lettuce and radishes and hard boiling eggs for lunch time salads.

I also washed and froze dill for the freezer, and probably should do the same with the parsley, but I already have a ton of frozen parsley.  How much more do I need, really?

Thursday, February 19, 2015


So, I'm looking through the ads this week, and what do I see?

Quaker oats, 42 oz, on sale for $1.69. ($0.64 a pound)

But that's not the crazy thing.  It's says it's on sale from a regular price of $2.69.

Since when?  I JUST paid $3.99 last week at the same store!! ($1.52 a pound)


You'd better believe that I'm buying 2 boxes, maybe 3.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Oatmeal Death March

So today, I got a glimpse of what my life was like in 2009, when I embarked on the grocery budget challenge.  Back then, I was aiming for $160 or $320 a month (alternating months), not including the pre-paid CSA.

The problem with a tight budget is the inability (or difficulty) in stocking up.  In 2009, the $320 a month months were stock up months.  And of course, I rolled over unspent money to the next month.

This year, I started my $80 a week challenge 3 weeks in, and was already over budget by about $100 when I started.  So there is no "overflow" and won't be until probably April.  I periodically check to see when I break even.  I am lucky that I have bulk chicken breasts and pastured pork in the freezer right now, but when that runs out, it's going to be even more of a challenge than it is now.

Case in point: Oats.

I've been making granola a lot lately.  For V-day today, I decided to make oatmeal cookies.  When I checked the pantry, I realized I was short on both oats and brown sugar.  I knew a grocery shop was in the cards today, but I have only $22 left for the week.

My  memory tells me that oats are generally $0.80 on sale, and I can usually find them for $1 - $1.25 a pound not on sale.

Well, my memory sucks.  Here's what happened today:
1.  I wasn't going to check out Costco, because it's out by work (11 miles away).
2.  I remembered that oats are cheap at Whole Foods, and sometimes Lazy Acres.
3.  Since I was heading to Trader Joe's, I opted for Whole Foods because it is nearby.
4.  I needed milk at Ralphs.

Step 1:
- Ralphs: 42 oz oats on sale for $3.49.  $1.32 a pound.  A little expensive.  Also needed brown sugar.  $1.69/lb.  Opted to skip Ralphs.

- Trader Joe's: 2 lb oats for $4.  $2 a pound.  Nope.  Brown sugar: $3.49 a pound.  Nope.

- Whole Foods: Bulk oats at $1.79 a pound, and packaged was even more.  Nope.

- Albertson's (my regular store): I was sure it would be cheaper here.  $3.99 for 42 ounces, or $1.52 a pound.  And brown sugar $1.79 a pound.

At this point I couldn't stomach another stop, not even going back to Ralph's, which is on the way home.  So I spent $0.60 extra and learned a lesson (again).

When you are on a budget and out of something, it's a problem.  You end up spending more for non-sale items or smaller items.  (I also spent too much on hand soap yesterday.)  In order to get great deals, you have to keep your eye out for prices AND for the amount that you have.  If you are out of something, then you can just decide to make something else instead - this is a seriously good way to save money, and I've gotten better at it over the last few weeks.

So for today, I could have skipped the oats until I got a better price, and made chocolate chip cookies instead of oatmeal cookies.  But my husband doesn't like chocolate, so what's the point of making a Valentine's day "treat" if it's not a treat for your honey?

In the end, I split the dough, and half are oatmeal raisin, half oatmeal chocolate chip, because my big boy doesn't like raisins.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Greens Greens Greens!

It must be winter in Southern California.

My husband picked up the veggies this week at the CSA and ooh-boy, are they full of greens!  Craziness I say.  I know what we are eating this week.

Allow me to list:
kale - 2 bunches
chard - 1 bunch
"spicy greens" - 1 bunch
lettuce - 2 heads
spinach - 1 bag
turnips (with greens) - 1 bunch
beets (with greens) - 1 bunch
(We also got cauliflower, marinara, oranges)

So.  My goodness.

Today I fired up a pot of water with the steamer insert and started washing.

I first washed and steamed the turnip greens and beet greens, and put them in a bowl when done.

Then I washed and steamed the chard, and chopped the stems and tossed those into the crock pot with the black bean soup that's in there (recipe from Budget Bytes).

After that I washed the spicy mix and tossed it in there.  Generally the spicy mix is used in salad.  I could have done that and mixed it with the lettuce and spinach.  But I find it to be really spicy.  And as I suspect that we will be getting the spicy mix for several weeks, I decided to pace myself.

While the spicy mix was cooking, I smelled a strange burning smell. I  turned it off and moved it into the bowl.  Here's the bowl:

After it cooled, I pureed it in the food processor.  My favorite ways to eat greens are in soup, in frittata or quiche, as an Indian curry, mixed with an Asian sauce, or creamed.

These are destined to be creamed with cream cheese and parmesan.

As I started to wash the mountain of dishes, I noticed that the burning smell was the bottom of my big pot.  Ugh.  It's soaking right now, while the beets and turnips roast.

Does anyone have a good turnip recipe?  I admit, I don't care for them.  I've tried them many ways, but mostly end up choking them down with potatoes.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Superbowl Sunday

Well, I survived another week.  Thanks to Smowmaggeddon, my husband's trip to the frigid northeast was canceled last minute (well, postponed really, to an undecided date).  Yay!  The week ended up a social whirlwind.

I am a fairly social person for an engineer.  I have a lot of groups of friends and like to cultivate and embrace them.  But that's a lot of work.  On the Myers-Briggs surveys I tend to come in at ESTJ or INTJ.  I am weak in the E/I and S/N.  I find that when I was a supervisor of a group of six, I leaned more ESTJ.  But now that I'm more of an individual contributor, I lean more INTJ.  Interesting.

Anyway, this week sported:
Morning brunch potluck at the park (Sun) - standing weekly date
Elementary kid birthday party (tons of fun, lots of parents to talk to), it was at a ropes climbing course. (Sun)
PTA move-a-thon planning meeting (Mon)
Fundraiser for school at local pizza place (Tues) - are you tired yet?
Out for a glass of wine (and she brought cheese/ crackers, I took nuts) with a good friend (Weds)
Lunch out with a former boss and couple of others (Fri)
Lunch out with a good friend (Sat)

Well, it definitely hit all at once (that is 6 months worth of social engagements for me).  Also I had PMS so maybe my food choices weren't always the best (sometimes they were!)  I also had about 6 months worth of beer and wine (a total of 4 beers and 2 glasses of wine all week).

So for Superbowl Sunday?  There's our standing date for the potluck, then to the pool with the boys, then...nothing.  No plans, other than to occasionally check the score to see if I've won money in the pool (my numbers are 8 and 5, so...I'm not particularly hopeful).  And of course I wrote this yesterday, we all know I won no money.

Here's a snapshot of the CSA, the menu and cooking for the week:
Beets: roasted for salads, steamed the greens to go into a frittata for today's potluck
Lettuce and radishes: lunch salads
Butternut squash:  Roast
Cauliflower (from a coworker): Roast for tonight's dinner
Kale: chips (last night)
Parsley: I washed and spun 2 very large bunches and stuffed it into a small ziploc bag for the freezer.  No way I could have used it all up.

I also made refried beans in the crock pot (from 100 days of Real Food), but I must have put too much water in there.  They were like soup, so I had to cook them down for an hour after.  We used canned beans for last night's burritos.

Left to do today:
Make the frittata
Make granola
Figure out what to make for dinner.  There was an interesting chicken and lentil soup I saw on the kitchn this week.  So maybe that?  Or  maybe something else?  It's a bad sign that I haven't figured it out yet.
Wash the lettuce and radishes and some carrots for the week's lunches (mine and the 3rd grader's)

A few photos of the work - so much of the prep work is for lunches.

Here's an outside picture of my lunch (salad)

Here's my 3rd grader's lunch (that's homemade hummus!)

Here's some roasted carrots - my coworker gave me a bunch of HUGE free carrots, so I made them into "fries" and baked them.  And we'll probably not eat them until tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

New thoughts on the budget

So there was a day this week when I was looking at the grocery budget.  When I set the budget at $80 a week, I knew it would be a challenge.  But I thought it would be a challenge in the "just think about what you are buying this week way", not as much of a "you can have this OR that" kind of way.

I've done budget challenges in the past (at one point, more than a decade ago, $25 a week for two).  They are always challenging, but this one gives me some new perspective.

So there I sat, realizing I had $11 left for the week.  I knew I wanted to buy a 10 lb bag of pinto beans for $6, because that's a sale price.

That leaves $5.  And we are almost out of eggs and cream cheese, and completely out of yogurt and cottage cheese.

Is this a tragedy?  No.  My son likes eggs for lunch, but I can just as easily give him homemade bread and some cheese.  My kids like bagels and cream cheese for breakfast, but there is always cereal or oatmeal.  They love yogurt as a snack, but we have fruit.  But I was embarking on four days with a traveling husband, and I wasn't sure how much harder I was going to make it for myself.

So what to do with those $5?  Well I personally don't eat too many carbs these days for weight control, so how do I get my 4 servings of protein a day, if we are out of eggs and cottage cheese?  One of my servings is a smoothie and the other is dinner, but that's still 2 servings of protein needed.  And 2 eggs is one serving.  Luckily I have some canned fish and some frozen ham from Christmas.

My freezer is full so I figured that the first couple of months of this challenge would be easy-peasy.  I'd underestimated how much of a HABIT that I got into, buying the same foods to eat over and over, and only supplementing with stuff from the freezer.

So for people who are "food insecure" - on food stamps or not - this is a constant struggle.  Can you imagine how much brain power it takes to make sure you and your family are eating enough, much less getting a well balanced meal?  Day in and day out.  It is very easy to sit back from a place of "choosing" to limit your budget.  It's something else entirely when your entire life is this way.  I grew up poor, and I know that for my family, it became rote.  Everyone knew how to cook economically.  These days, many people are coming from a place of having to learn it from the start.  The knowledge wasn't passed on and learning it causes a ton of stress.

One of the forums that I am a regular at is Mr. Money Mustache.  There have been a few threads lately on food.  One of them is a paleo thread - and how do you eat cheap on paleo?  I went through and did an interesting math exercise this week where I wrote down a typical day of food for me (about 1400 calories) and calculated the cost of each item.  Rather than asking someone "give me your best paleo meal", I think it's important for each person to calculate the cost per item themselves.

The next step is, of course, to figure out how to get each item you eat for cheaper, OR to increase frequency of the cheaper items OR to find cheaper alternatives.  If you are strict paleo or even lean more towards lower carb (like me), you may find yourself eating more fat for your calories vs. protein.

For example, it's 9 cents for 120 calories of olive oil (7.5 cents per 100 calories), but it's 47 cents for 100 calories of cottage cheese.  Of course, you need protein so you wouldn't want to have all olive oil and no cottage cheese.  But instead of eating a cup of cottage cheese for 200 calories, it's cheaper to eat half cup, and then be liberal with the olive oil on your vegetables.

On the same vein, another thread was talking about food costs in general.  One of the members mentioned that for two adults and two toddlers, they budget about $300 to $350 a month (including all paper products, etc), and they cannot imagine people with $800 grocery bills.  They cook from scratch, etc. etc.  Well, grocery costs vary widely around the country, and the aforementioned member eats a lot of oats, rice, beans, and pasta.  I know that these things are very inexpensive and I used to eat a lot of them.  But these days I limit myself to 2 servings per day, so even if they are cheap, I am only saving so much money.

This week, of course, the kids were eating like horses and I fear the teenage years.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Budget

Well, as a reminder, I decided to try and hit a grocery budget this year, at $80 per week.

I am already over.  But I knew that, because I was several days in before I decided to watch things.

So here's where we are:

And here's what it tells me:

  • Holy crap, we've shopped 18 times in 24 days?  That's insane (though some of them are 2 stores in one day).
  • Costco is great, but it can lure you into buying things you don't need (ahem, a big bag of Snapeas, the snack not the vegetable).  Also, the size of the items means you eat up your budget quickly (half of this week's budget went to Costco, and $5 of that was the aforementioned Snapeas).
  • Husband is much more likely to buy snacks (like at Rite Aid and that was pringles chips), and for some reason figured that they didn't "count" to the grocery budget.  Yes.  Yes they do.
  • Whole Foods hot bar is my kryptonite (see 1/10 and 1/11).  I suppose I could count this as dining out, but I don't.
  • One of the ways I thought I'd save money is to switch to the big tub of yogurt instead of the small cups.  But then I made the mistake? of making a batch of granola. boys (all 3 of them) like that as a snack.  The granola is gone (less than a week later) and my 8 year old had 5 bowls of yogurt/granola in one day.

So, I'm at $133 per week, approximately.  I have a ways to go to hit that $80 target.