Own Your Beauty!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Troll Under the Table

That would be my dog…this is prett much her standard position while I eat anything.  Primed in position for if (when?) I drop food so she can oh so kindly keep my floor clean…so selfless is this one Winking smile


I continued on my bulk cooking journey today.  I had been letting my chicken stock simmer overnight in the crockpot with the bones, the juices and white wine I cooked the chicken in originally, and a bunch of frozen veggie trimmings I have had in my freezer.  I added water up to the top, some fresh cracked pepper and 4 bay leaves and just let it simmer on down.  I was rewarded with flat out, no joke, no lie, no foolin’, the best chicken stock I have ever made!  Didn’t even need extra salt.  Just got strained and went straight into a pot for soup.  Dark, rich, delicious, I was eating spoonfuls straight from the pan.  I added a bag of frozen gumbo veggies (I love okra…don’t judge me!) about 1/3 of the chicken I stripped from the carcass yesterday, and some cooked Trader Joe’s Harvest Grains Blend.

I decided to go with this instead of noodles because I knew it would be stored for later, and whenever I store chicken noodle soup the noodles suck up all the broth and end up sort of gooey and stew-like instead of soup.  Plus the broth drips off the end of the noodles and onto my boobs and stains my shirts…the curse of being well endowed!

Well, needless to say it turned into probably the tastiest chicken soup I have ever had let alone made.  I broke my unwritten rule of storing everything I am cooking and had a bowl for lunch along with a couple of pieces of my homemade bread and butter.


Best cold weather lunch ever…the end…no arguments! 

I am about 1/2 way through my list of cooking now and feeling good about getting everything done before school starts.  I can’t wait to crack open the smoked salmon my mom sent me for Christmas and use that for a couple of recipes.  I am thinking, smoked salmon quiche, smoked salmon chowder, and…….?  I could probably get 3 recipes out of this giant piece of salmon!! Or I might just grab a fork…I have been known to do that too Smile

Something else I did last night, went through my old clothes that are too stained to wear or just don’t fit right and cut them up for rags and towels.  These towels used to be a sweater and a tank top.  My bathroom towel used to be a polo shirt in a color of red that just was never flattering on me.  I also made 2 headbands out of the waist band pieces I cut from each of these sweaters.  And they look pretty adorable if I do say so myself.  Glad to be reusing things and they are cuter than towels I would have bought at Wally World anyway!DSCN0455

And just to end…I got up to go to the bathroom and someone was SO KIND as to steal my spot keep my place warm for me.  Such a giver this one is.  Good thing she is cute and easily forgivable!


Monday, December 27, 2010


So I made my curried lentils today.  Such an easy recipe, crazy cheap, and so incredibly tasty! 

Let’s see, I used a little less than a bag of lentils so say $1 for that, a large can of crushed tomatoes so another $1 for that, 1/2 bag of brown rice so $0.50 for that, some negligible amount of spices but we will just say another $0.50 for all of the curry powder, cumin and red peppers, and a full bag of frozen spinach so another $1.25 for that.  so for around $4.25 I made 8 full servings of curried lentils with brown rice for my freezer making it just a little over $0.50 per serving.  Compare that to a $7 meal at Subway, or even a $5 meal at Panda Express…healthier, tastier, more filling, and 10% of the cost.  I would say this gets a big YES from me!

I will give as much of a recipe as I can considering I just kind of wing it as I go and you can too!


Curried Lentils and Brown Rice -

  • 3 cups dried lentils
  • 2 cups dry brown rice (yield approx. 8 cups cooked)
  • 1 large (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 large bag frozen chopped spinach
  • approx. 2 Tb. curry powder (to taste)
  • approx. 1 Tb. cumin (to taste)
  • approx. 1 tsp. crushed red pepper (to taste)
  • approx. 1 tsp. salt (to taste)
  • 1/8 cup lemon juice (to taste)
  1. Cook the brown rice according to package directions and set aside
  2. Rinse the lentils and place in a large saucepan with 6-8 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes until tender.  When fully cooked, drain.
  3. Add crushed tomatoes, spinach and seasonings into the cooked lentils.  Mix well and taste, adjusting seasonings as desired.
  4. Serve 1 cup brown rice w/ 1 cup lentil mixture. 
  5. That’s it!
  6. DSCN0438

    All packed in individual containers for my lunching ease

Seriously, is anything easier?  And I love lentils because you don’t have to soak them like you do beans.  Tons of protein, super healthy, but you don’t have to think as far in advance.  If you like other veggies than the spinach go for it, you could probably sauté up some onions and garlic to add and it would be fabulous too, but this is what I made and it is really delicious and totally vegan.


Marked so I remember what it is tucked back in my freezer!


Made 8 servings, 8 meals I will not have to buy from school – I think I need more tupperware!


And just for fun, the loaf of bread I just pulled out of the oven.  I think it turned out as one of the nicest loaves I have made!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

EXTREME bulk cooking!

I am a lady with a plan.  The first month of next semester is going to be straight up insanity.  I am stage managing the first show which begins rehearsals on January 9th and closing night is February 12th.  So we will be rehearsing 6 days a week, until 10:30pm every night with about 1 hour for dinner break between classes ending and rehearsal starting to come home, take care of doggie, get dinner, and get back to the theatre.  My goal is to cook, portion, and freeze enough food that I don’t have to cook for the entire month other than baking a fresh loaf of bread on the weekends for the upcoming week.

With that goal in mind, when I went to the store last week I stocked up on ingredients that could be used for a ton of different recipes and different types of foods.  If I do all Mexican flavors or all Italian or all soups I get bored fast.  Variety is key!  I also wanted to cover breakfast, lunch and dinners.  Breakfast 2 days I week I will be at home for and 3 days a week will be at work so I needed something that could be portable and easy to grab and again, wouldn’t mean eating the same thing every damn day.  With lunch away from a microwave 2 days a week I will probably make some things on my day off that don’t have to be reheated, like pasta salad or peanut butter sandwiches.  But I hope to get a small soup thermos too so that I can take soup and bread and don’t have to reheat it.  We shall see.

Anyway – here is my list of everything I am planning on cooking and storing in the next 1-2 weeks

  • Breakfast:
    • granola
    • yogurt
    • breakfast burritos
    • cranberry pumpkin muffins
    • instant oatmeal (my own mixture)
  • Lunch/Dinner:
    • Roast Chicken
    • Smoked salmon quiche
    • salmon patties
    • baked pasta w/ chicken sausage
    • curried lentils and rice
    • salmon potato chowder
    • chicken noodle and veggie soup
    • chili
    • chicken enchilada casserole
    • brown rice
    • multi grain pilaf
    • split pea soup
    • ???  If I have leftover ingredients I will turn them into something!!

Cooking at this moment is this roast chicken in the crockpot, which when done will be eaten some plain, some in the chicken enchilada casserole, and the carcass boiled down for broth to make the chicken noodle soup. 


I love roasting chickens in the crockpot, they get so ridiculously falling off the bones tender and when you are done stripping the carcass, just toss it back in the crockpot with the juices and a bunch of water and veggies and turn it back on overnight for extremely easy chicken stock!


Seasoned with a blend of sea salt, Italian herbs, and TJ’s Everyday Seasoning.  A quartered onion on the bottom, garlic rubbed under the skin, drizzled with olive oil, lemon juice and maybe 1/4-1/2 cup of white wine and that’s it! DELICIOUS!

Also cooking is a pot of veggie chili and a pot of brown rice.  I also plan on cooking up some curried lentils tonight so I can package it in single servings with the rice.  And if I am feeling particularly ambitious I might tackle the baked pasta this evening too.  If not I will pick it up again with a few projects tomorrow!

Wish me luck in my totally insane bulk cooking endeavor Smile and if anyone has any great ideas for make ahead, no heat lunches let me know.

A Snowed in Christmas

Well – although I enjoyed reading about everyone’s wonderful, warm, family holidays.  I sadly spent Christmas alone with my baby girl of the canine persuasion.  I was supposed to go over to have dinner with a group of friends, but when I woke up this was all I saw outside my window! 


And 24 hours later it is STILL snowing!  Yay mountains.

So it meant that no one was coming in and no one was heading out and I was snowed in at home alone.  Well, with an extremely snuggly dog who we discovered is afraid of snowmen! 

Save me from the evil snow minions mommy!

I ended up continuing to watch my Christmas movie marathon, sorted laundry, did some mending, sewed buttons on some knit bags I had made awhile ago, and chatted with my mom about 4 times on the phone.  No big Christmas dinner for me.  I ended up reheating some split pea soup and playing World of Warcraft. 

My Elmer Fudd hat from my mom – dorky, yes…but it will keep my ears warm on the bike!

All I can say is, as much as I love having my personal time and as much as I love spending time with my dog, next year I am going to make a point to be with family or friends in some way.  Holidays alone just aren’t my favorite thing in the world. 

Nerys hopes everyone had a Merry Christmas Smile

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Eve Knitting

I just wanted to share the headband that I have been working on today.  I have made it about 1/2 way through my Christmas Movie list (with a pause to watch The Shining on a Netflix date with a friend in Delaware…hey, it takes place during the winter!)

While I have been watching I have also been knit knit knitting away.  I like to knit to keep my hands and brain active so I don’t just turn into total movie couch slug.  I will share pictures of what I knit for my family for Christmas gifts soon – I just don’t wnt to share TOO soon on the off chance that one of them reads my blog before they open their gifts!

So here it is, unveiled, my Christmas headband specially designed to be lovely and cabled and to also keep my ears nice and toasty warm when I take the poochie out on walks.  I’m not sure if the pictures do it justice, but it really is a gorgeous, rich shade of cranberry red!  And done just in time to be Merry Christmas to me Smile 

I hope everyone else is having a wonderful, merry, and warm holidays no matter where you may be, what you are celebrating, or who you are sharing it with!

Peace ~Tina

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Movie OVERLOAD!!

So since I am hanging out at home by myself this holiday (Well, with the cutest dog ever as company at least) I decided to go CRAZY on the Christmas spirit by getting as many Christmas movies as possible to watch over the next 2 days.  I made myself wait until today to start watching them too Smile with tongue out

Here is the list of movies that I shall be partaking in over the next 48 hours:

  1. A Muppet Christmas Carol
  2. Scrooged
  3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated AND live action)
  4. White Christmas
  5. Nightmare Before Christmas
  6. Holiday Inn
  7. It’s A Wonderful Life
  8. Love Actually
  9. Bad Santa
  10. A Christmas Story
  11. Elf
  12. Polar Express
  13. Serendipity
  14. The Shop Around the Corner

First up on the holiday movie marathon

So in other words…MOVIES!! Add some hot chocolate, knitting, homemade split pea soup from last night, and a nice walk with the doggie later this afternoon and I am set Smile 

I may go over to some friend’s for Christmas Dinner tomorrow if I can get a ride (because the hunk of junk vehicle is broken again) so I will probably make a pan of cinnamon almond monkey bread tomorrow morning.  If it turns out I will share the recipe!  I also made a big pot of split pea soup with pork chops last night that turned out just delicious.  No picture because really, is anything less attractive to photograph than split pea soup??  But take my word for it, awesome.  The secret ingredient was a dash of cinnamon – added a wonderful depth and brought out the flavor of the pork.

Nerys says Merry Christmas

She is happy just to cuddle her bottle until she is ready to shred it into little plastic pieces

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Stir Fry and Cider and a very pathetic Pooch

So as I was looking through my cabinets for something for dinner I was in a quandary.  Part of me wanted to open up the Trader Joe’s multi grain pilaf (already cooked) and mix it with the Trader Joe’s Green Curry Tuna (both courtesy of my wonderful mother who knows I go through serious TJ’s withdrawals out here in the sticks!)  But the rational part of my mind said “No Tina – because in 3 weeks you will be deep in rehearsals and at school from 9am – 11pm and you will be SO thankful for having some quick and easy meals like this to throw together in 5 minutes!”.  But all the dried beans and frozen sausage and brown rice were saying the opposite to me “Tina…you are hungry NOW and we take anywhere from 45 minutes to 8 hours to cook!  You may waste away to nothingness before we are cooked!”  The voices in my head don’ t have a great grasp on biological science to know I wouldn’t ACTUALLY waste away, but they are very convincing. 

In the end I compromised and made a stir fry with sautéed tofu…longer than tear and pour Trader Joe’s fare but shorter than a pot of rice and beans.  Firstly I sautéed up some cubed tofu tossed with a fair amount of this yummy Super Hero Sprinkle that I got from the local farmer’s market this summer. 

It’s mostly nutritional yeast and some flaked seaweed but adds a really nice, light flavor to veggies and tofu.  In some good sizzling olive oil, I let it brown and crisp for about 20 minutes in the pan until it was golden and crispy then took it out and set it aside.

Next I added 1/2 bag of fajita frozen veggies and a good glop of frozen spinach to the pan and poured in about 1/2 a bottle of this stuff. 

Now don’t be fooled my friends!  Although the bottle says Trader Joe’s Gyoza Sauce it is in FACT Trader Tina’s homemade stir fry sauce in a repurposed bottle!  I love the TJ’s gyoza sauce but when I was out I looked at the ingredients and realized I had a lot of the stuff on hand.  So I mixed up soy sauce, rice vinegar, honey, garlic powder, dried cilantro and lime juice and I have some SERIOUSLY delicious stir fry sauce in my fridge for pennies and at the ready for moments like these. 

Meanwhile I had cooked up a remaining half a pack of Thai Kitchen rice noodles, and when the veggies were all thawed and hot I tossed the tofu and the noodles in the pan and mixed it all together and dinner is served!


A Hornsby’s hard cider on the side and a dog who thinks if she looks ultra pathetic/cute she will get leftovers (not tonight pumpkin, this is all for Mama!) and my night is complete.  Sitting down to watch Gods and Monsters and pull out my knitting.  As of tonight, I don’t have ANYTHING to do until 2011! 

Although I am hoping to make my winter break productive and get my apartment totally cleaned and organized, and go through ALL my clothes.  I am unhappy with some of the things I own, when I put them on I inevitably hate the way I look in them and then I get frustrated with my body in general.  So I decided no more negativity because of clothes.  If I don’t like the way it looks it either gets cut up and altered so I DO like it or it gets sent to Goodwill.  When I am done I hope to have a closet full of only clothes that I love and feel positive about and then if I find I need something new I can go thrift shopping and really know what I am looking for.  But that is tomorrow…for tonight I am content with movies, cider and knitting.

And just for fun, a picture of the frozen waterfall along the road when I took poochie pie out for a walk this afternoon.

I can learn!

So I keep hearing about this fabulous book, the bible of frugal living, all should bow down before its magnificence! It's called The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn. It supposedly has anything and everything you could possibly need to know to live a frugal life. So what did I do? Immediately went on Amazon to see if they had it. *Slap hand to forehead here* Now to be fair, I know Amazon sells used books too and I wanted to see if they had an edition for my Kindle. But of course they don't, and honestly I am hesitating at buying a book for $15 (used from $9.92) that I have never even looked at and don't know if it would even apply to me.

Then it hit me like a bolt of frugal lightening -I go to college! Colleges have libraries! I could check it out of the library! I am a genius! (Must be why I got straight A's last semester ya know) So off I go to the library website to find a copy of this fabulous book, aaaaaaaand......................they don't have it. Ok, so maybe it isn't exactly scholarly college research. That's when I discover this AMAZING thing called "Loan Shark" where you can sign up to have books from library systems around the country sent to your school and held for you to check out. Oh hellz to the yeah! It's like library magic! So I did indeed enter a loan shark request and now I just get to sit and twiddle my thrify little fingers and wait to be notified that it has arrived for me.

Instant gratification as good as clicking a button and having it download to my pretty e-reader? Well, no. But it is FREE and I can take the time to read it and decide if it is something that would benefit me to own before shelling out the $9.92 + shipping (for a used copy of course) to have a copy of my very own. See? I can learn to break the consumer habits and use the resources available to me! Sit...stay...check out books from the library...good Tina :-P

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Use it up, make it last, make do, or do without

That is the tag line from one of my favorite blogs, The Non-Consumer Advocate.  She subscribes to a “buy nothing new” lifestyle.  Meaning, everything (other than a few exceptions like food, toiletries, underwear, stuff like that) are either purchased used, salvaged, traded for, Freecycled, Craig’s Listed…you get the idea.  This is a movement that started with a group of folks in San Francisco (where else!) about 5 years ago, and has picked up followers all around the world since then.  Everyone is free to make their “rules” and exceptions.  Some people will buy new if it is handmade or directly benefiting a local business, or will buy new books because that is their passion and they want to support the authors (but only from local bookstores).  Pretty much it is just about becoming conscious of our consumerism and determining how much we NEED to buy, and how much we would just really like to have in the moment, and how much we can repurpose instead of buying more disposables that will probably end up in a landfill sooner rather than later.

I have looked at this movement with envy and grand ideas of joining them for a couple of years, but every time I start to think about devoting myself to the concept I suddenly realize I DESPERATELY NEED those slipper socks/pajama pants/water bottle/earrings/new skirt/4 fleece blankets RIGHT NOW!!! And I end up purchasing said items from Wal-Mart or Target or Old Navy or whatever.  Now, on one hand those slipper socks, blankets and pajama pants have made it possible for me to keep my heat down at home and save on utility bills…but did I really need them NOW or could I have worn older stretch pants, already owned slippers with already owned socks, and hit a thrift store for some blankets (even if they didn’t match as perfectly as the set of fleece ones). 

So, without feeling the need to wait any longer I am going to jump into it and see how it goes doing The Compact for 2011 (and the last 2 weeks of 2010).  This might be really easy for me.  After all I really don’t have money to be spending frivolously on “stuff” anyway and if I could cut my spending way back and maybe even build up some savings that would be brilliant.  BUT it might also prove to be really hard for a couple reasons, #1 being that I live in a small town in the mountains of North Carolina, Wal-Mart pretty much IS where there is to shop for this stuff without driving 30-60 minutes towards Asheville for real thrift stores.  and #2 my car is pretty much a giant hunk of scrap metal that only works about every other month which makes driving those 30-60 minutes near impossible unless I bribe a friend to drive me.  I am going to make exceptions for the standard underwear, socks, even sheets if I need a new set and my big one, yarn for knitting and crochet.  But for the most part everything else I am going to do my best to see if I can do without or get it used, and if I can’t find it used then maybe I don’t need it so desperately after all!

BUT buying used isn’t the only part of this that is important.  There is the that age old axiom that I led this post off with “Use it up, make it last, make do, or do without”  Kind of like people tend to get really hung up on the “RECYCLE” part of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle and forget about those other 2 R’s that are even MORE important!  So when I start jonesing for stuff that would make my life easier or things I would really really like to obtain, I look around to see what I can make do with or what I can make last. 

Reduce reuse and recycle

My example for today is – a tea kettle!  I heart tea kettles.  I think they are pretty, cozy, and can really make a place feel like a home.  I love places that just have a brightly colored tea kettle sitting on the back burner at all times just WAITING to heat up some water for you.  But I am also realistic and I realize that my kitchen really doesn’t need another item taking up space, needing to find somewhere to move it when I am cooking, spending the money on one when a small sauce pan on the stove works JUST as well.  But this morning my saucepan was in use for other purposes and I just wanted a single cup of hot water to make my miso soup for breakfast so I decided to look around and see what I could make work.  When a friend was moving out she brought me a bunch of her stuff she couldn’t take with her.  One item was a little 2 cup coffee pot that is just adorable.


Only problem is, I really don’t drink much coffee at home so it has just kind of sat there looking cute and unused (except for it’s brief moment of stardom when I used it as a prop in my acting final substituting Pepsi for coffee…it was a brilliant performance on the part of the coffee pot, very method)  So I decided to dig into my bag of tricks and modify the COFFEE pot to be my new TEA pot!  When I stay at motels and I want hot water for tea I always take the little coffee filter holder out of the pot (because it makes everything that passes through it taste like stale coffee) and I take the lid off the pot so that all now more free flowing the water actually ends up IN the pot and not the counters.  Well, I did the same thing on this little pot, tucked away the filter holder thingy and lid in case I want to make coffee in the future, and voila!  2 cup tea pot that doesn’t take up a ton of room and makes just enough for me alone and doesn’t make my miso soup taste like 2 week old coffee grounds were mixed in.

Honestly, if I had to buy a 2 cup coffee pot for this purpose I wouldn’t have.  It is super handy, but a pot on the stove works just as well too, even if I do have to wash it first.  But by using what I had on hand that was given to me for free instead of shoving it in the back cabinet until I randomly felt like making coffee at home (which happens maybe once a year) it was an all around winning situation.  And it helped me make this delicious, healthy (if not particularly photogenic) breakfast of miso soup, tangelo and homemade toast w/ butter.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Food and portions and stuff

So I packed my food for work today. After having a panic attack over how much money I spent on eating out during finals week ($10-$15 a day, seriously more than 50% of my weekly income was being spent on Subway, McAllister’s and Mad Batter) I decided that during break I will do LOTS of cooking, pack my food when I am working, and freeze a ton of stuff to be ready for the insanity that is going to be January 9th – February 12th (first day of rehearsals through closing night of Reasons To Be Pretty) (I should stop using parenthesis so much…but I like them…don’t judge me, I’m a theatre major not an English major)


So I packed some of my leftover curried lentils and brown rice for lunch today. I also packed a slice of fresh baked bread, 2 clementine oranges, package of miso soup mix, a string cheese, and an apple. I figured all that would cover me for lunch and afternoon snacks. But seriously, I think I grossly overestimate how much food I need in a day. I ate about 3/4 of the lentils and rice, the bread and the clementines and a Christmas cookie that a coworker had brought in and didn’t touch the soup, cheese or apple. It’s like, I pack every day on the off chance I am chosen to join an expedition to climb Everest and all I will have to eat is what is in my lunch bag. PLUS the tupperware I pack my leftovers in holds 3 cups and of course I feel the need to fill it full. That means I packed around 1.5 cups of lentils and 1.5 cups of rice. I mean, no wonder by 3/4 of the way through I felt like I was going to burst with curried goodness! I’m thinking maybe I need to downgrade to a 2 cup tupperware container for leftovers for a more reasonable serving size so I don’t have a curried food baby after lunch.

So, lesson of today boys and girls – you will NOT starve, or be chosen to cater a mountain climbing expedition on the contents of your sack lunch, so pack for a single meal and not a week.

ALSO! I got my Christmas packages from my mom today. Although I left the wrapped presents until Saturday (if I can hold out) I did open a box of Trader Joe’s goodies that I am SUPER excited about. My closest TJ’s is 2 hours away an I haven’t had a functioning car for almost 3 months so getting awesome care packages from across the country always makes my day. Behold the stash!Trader Joe’s miso soup and dried peaches are probably two of my favorite things in the entire world…right up there with world peace and pillows stuffed with bunnies.

The holidays don't have to be about money

I went to a holiday party yesterday. I am broke, I have no car, I stocked up at the grocery store for 3 weeks of careful menu planning and really didn't feel like I could spare much of my food for a potluck, I recently moved so I already got rid of all my extraneous "stuff" that might have made ok secret santa gifts. This could have been a time to go into pity party "Oh poor me, alone for the holidays, family 3000 miles away, no money, no car, stuck at home with the dog and Netflix for company." But instead I decided I was going make the most of my unique talents and make it festive without spending a dime!

First the Secret Santa gift - it needed to be something that could be appropriate for a man or woman since we didn't know who would get our gift. So on Saturday at noon I went through my massive yarn stash and pulled out a half a ball of red, half a ball of grey and half a ball of black. I grabbed a pair of needles and just started a-knitting. I made up the pattern as I went along and ended up with a fast, beautiful, striped scarf with awesome multi-length tassles. The funny part is, I hadn't quite finished it when my ride was supposed to get to my place. So instead I wrapped up a ball of yarn with a note saying "IOU 1 COMPLETED HAND KNIT SCARF" and took the scarf on the needles to the party to keep working on. I was knitting on it all evening with everyone admiring it, but I didn't let on my little secret. One gentleman in particular was really fascinated by it, kept asking me questions about it, how long woud it take to finish, all this. When it came time for the gift exchange, HE was the one who ended up pulling my wrapped ball of yarn which I promptly grabbed from him (because I had just run out and had 2 rows left...LOL!) and 20 minutes later was able to gift him with the finished product and he LOVED it. So, gorgeous Secret Santa gift completed and it was yarn I already had around as odds and ends from other projects.
Cost to me - $0...actual cost of yarn used, maybe $3-5 tops

Part 2 was needing to make something for the potluck. I usually like to make cranberry sauce, but when I was at the store Saturday bags of cranberries were $3 each and that just seemed like more than I could justify on my budget to make a side dish. But what I DID have in my fridge was a pitcher full of Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes bread dough. I mix up a batch of this every couple of weeks and have it to make fresh bread throughout the week. So I grabbed a double size lump of dough, let it rise for 2 hours to make it nice and airy, and baked it up. Sliced the whole loaf up into small pieces and put it in a basket. At the party I had multiple people tell me it was the BEST BREAD they had ever had! Half whole wheat, no sugar, as basic a flour/water/yeast/salt recipe as you can get, but it was just as good as anything you get from the fancy bakery downtown for $6 a loaf. I had people swiping the leftovers to take home whcih was fine with me, because I had already baked a second loaf to keep for myself :-)
Cost to me - $0 (the dough was already mixed and sitting in the fridge)...actual cost of the ingredients in the loaf, about $0.50

So...without putting a penny out of my pocket I was able to go to the party, enjoy the company of good friends, a FABULOUS meal, and just the all around warm feeling of being with people you love around the holidays AND bring a gift and a contribution to the potluck without spending any money out of my rather empty pockets.

I guess the lesson is, you don't have to be fancy! Would I have liked to fix up a gourmet, fancy, gorgeous dish of bacon wrapped dates or mini stuffed potatoes or tiny spanikopita bites, maybe. But that bread was made with love and probably tasted better than most of that other stuff would have anyway. Would I have liked to give a big gift basket full of goodies from a local store or a gift certificate to everyone's favorite restaurant as a gift? Maybe, but the scarf came from my hands, my heart, and will keep someone who needed a friend and needed a scarf warm this winter. I think my simple offerings that were made with my talent and my love were more welcomed and appreciated than anything I could have thrown money at. And that is a good lesson to remember year round!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cinnamon Love

So my new favorite dessert is cinnamon baked apples.  I have discovered that I can’t keep chocolate in the house because SOMEONE turns into a chocolate monster and eats it all when I’m not looking!!  Oh, wait, I live alone…nevermind, it’s just me.  Well in any case, my inner chocolate monster has made it so that I am taking a break from keeping any sweets in the house for the time being. 

So instead I pretty much always have a bag of apples hanging around, and this is my new go to snack-um in the evenings when I am looking for something a little sweet

Cinnamon Apples: (Serves 1)

1-2 apples – sliced thin

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp sugar


Preheat oven to 375 deg and lightly grease a cookie sheet (or cover with parchment paper)

Combine the cinnamon and sugar – I like to make a mix of 1 part cinnamon to 2 parts sugar and just keep it mixed up in a sandwich baggie with my spices so it is all ready and the sugar gets nice and cinnamon infused.

Toss the apple slices with the cinnamon-sugar and let rest for about 5 minutes.  This macerates the apples and gets the juices flowing a bit.

Spread the apple slices out in a single layer on the pan.  Give the slices some space, but it is ok if they are overlapping a bit.

Bake for 10-15 min, stirring once halfway through, until they are a bit translucent and a nice caramel brown.

Eat!!  I like them all by themselves, they would also be delicious over icecream or pancakes, or even chopped up smaller and mixed into greek yogurt.  Nom Smile

Also a gratuitous picture of my weekend knitting project – a scarf for a Secret Santa gift.  It’s going to be purty!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Food Inc. - My mini review

So I have seen the movie Food Inc. about 10 times. I love it, I agree with it, and I watch it every now and then just to remind me why need to make the right choices in my food every day. HOWEVER - there is one part of the movie as I am watching it right now that is really bothering me. This is the part where the family is going through the drive through and spending about $12 on lunch for the family of 5, and then they go to the grocery store and talk about the prices for healthy foods there. While at the grocery store they are walking around saying $1.29/lb for broccoli and $0.99/lb for pears is just too expensive and they can't afford to eat healthy when candy and chips and soda are the same price or cheaper.

This is where I feel like some personal responsibility and healthy choices HAVE to come into play! Yes, I could get more calories worth of candy for $1 than I can get of fruit. But if I am eating a $0.50 pear compared to a $0.50 candy bar as a snack it is a healthier choice for the same price! No one is telling you to buy soda instead of, what, water? When I am on a $30/week food budget I know that spending $3 on a bag of lentils and a bag of rice is going to feed me longer, healthier, and more satisfying than a $3 bag of chips, or choosing a $2 carton of eggs instead of a $4 frozen pizza, that is about taking personal responsibility for my shopping choices.
I fully believe that the food industry is broken, sick, twisted, uses deceptive marketing tactics to get us to desire their artificially manufactured crap and is a major contributor to obesity and diabetes in our society. I think that the ridiculous increase in obesity over the past 50 years that goes hand in hand with the ridiculous new food creations that go further and further away from natural can't all be laid on willpower or personal failing. But, to say that you just CAN'T buy fruit because candy is cheaper just seems like a real cop out to me.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Pantry cooking never tasted so good!

So my car was fixed for a nanosecond and then it pooted out on me again. Which means I am digging through the cabinets looking for foodstuff until I can get a ride to the grocery store again. Went through and cleaned out the fridge of all the odds and ends that I have let get a little too ripe during finals week, and decided to make myself up a yummy pantry dinner.

Curried Lentils and Brown Rice

I boiled up about 1/2 bag of dried lentils with 2 bay leaves until they were very very soft. Drained and pulled the bay leaves out and added a large can of crushed tomatoes, about 1/4 cup of leftover curry ketchup, and somewhere in the ballpark of 1 Tb. each of curry powder, garlic powder and dried cilantro and some salt to taste. Basically, start small and add until it tastes good to you :-)

In the meantime I used my tried and true method for a pot of delicious brown rice (The secret - saute the dry grains of rice in some hot olive oil until they are nice and toasty before adding water. Lots of flavor and it doesn't get too mushy!)

Spooned up half a bowl from each pot of deliciousness and INSTANT YUM!!! This probably cost me no more than about $3 for the entire big pot. 1 cup of rice from a $1 bag, about $0.75 worth of lentils, $0.99 for a can of crushed tomatoes, a few pennies for the various spices. The curry ketchup was probably the most expensive thing and the meal would be just as good without it, I just happened to have a bit left in my bottle from my birthday. I think I will toss some frozen spinach in the rest of the pot to up the veggie quota, but otherwise this is about as perfect a winter dinner as it gets! Add a glass of white wine and some old episodes of Star Trek Voyager and I am a happy girl this Friday night.