Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Down With the Sickness

I have a cold.  A sore throat, running nose, and general malaise.  It comes at a crappy time, seeing as I have an exam to take today.  Why it couldn't arrive when I was grading exams, or standing around giving the exam, or grading quizzes, or doing something that didn't directly involve my personal success, I don't know.  But here it is.  

Besides the constant nasal leakage, the sore throat was making me very unhappy.  Thankfully, I have a weapon in my arsenal of cold-fighting tactics, older than Cold-Eeze and Airborne, possibly originating around the same era as parents the world over ladled chicken soup into bowls for sick children and found they felt better afterwards.  It is...  The Grandpa Calvin Drink. 

My mom's dad is my Grandpa Calvin.  Well, he was, at any rate.  What is the proper etiquette for referring to deceased relatives?  Just because he's not alive doesn't mean he's no longer my grandfather; I mean he's my grandfather in memory, right?  Well, whatever.  I'm going to use the present tense.  Anyway, he passed along this concoction to make sore throats feel good, and I'm a huge fan.  

The Grandpa Calvin Drink

- Fill a mug with milk, leaving a bit of room at the top.

- Sprinkle in some cinnamon.  I added dry ginger to mine just before, and it was very nice.

- Microwave until very warm.  Try not to boil it over like I did, but you want it to be hot.  Alternatively, you can do this on the stove, but then that's one more pot to wash.

- Add honey until it's as sweet as you like it.  I add what likely amounts to ~2 spoons.  

- Optional: stir in a small bit of butter.  This may aid the throat-coating, it may do nothing at all, or it may just taste nice.  I tend to forget this step... maybe because I like my butter on toast, but hey.  Whatever you like.  :)  

- Drink.  Grandpa Calvin knew his stuff, people.

If I didn't have to drive to school later, I'd alternate a cup of this with a cup of tea with honey and whiskey to clear out my sinuses.  You know, I've never been a fan of newfangled cold medicines.  The normal ones tend to make me drowsy, and the non-drowsy formulas make me into a hyperactive lunatic.  I'll stick to my Cold-Eeze, chicken soup, milk, tea, honey, and whiskey, thank you very much.  Definitely tastier, at any rate...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Food Stamp Challenge, Continued

Because of an avalanche of grading, homework, and studying responsibilities, I have been remiss in updating on the challenge. First of all, Danny and I spent $22.00 at Trader Joe's for peanut butter, bananas, eggs, milk, cheese, OJ, and a few other necessaries this weekend. The Rosh Hashanah leftovers were finished on Friday, and the fast on Thursday went well. I made a batch of borscht this weekend, and I am officially still in shock over the amount of cabbage one head of said vegetable contains. Danny made some kasha and risotto, too. We've been eating those items for lunch and dinner for most of the week. Our bread has carried over into this week, and that with peanut butter, bananas, and honey, eggs, or cheese and pickles have been nice breakfasts with milk or juice.

Still have enough beets for beet salad. Still have enough cabbage for slaw. In fact, I practically have cabbage coming out of my ears. It is with consternation that I stare at the sizeable wedge of neatly packed layered leaves sitting in the fridge. I think it may be time for a stirfry. Lots of ginger, lots of garlic, tempeh from the fridge, cabbage (of course), carrots, peppers... it'll be good.

Things have been fairly easy, really. This $25 per person per week is very close to what Danny and I spend normally. We've spent $75 over a week and a half with plenty of carryover (there is so much of this delicious, rich borscht, I cannot believe it; I'm going to post the Joy of Cooking recipe which is quite good for those who don't just throw things into a pot), and we haven't even gotten to make chili. I think the overall problem is how we as a society expect to eat, because when it comes down to it, veggies - certain veggies - are still ridiculously cheaper than processed crap.

When you get down to the naked legumes, huddled masses produce, and whole grains, the nutritional bang for buck is gargantuan. If our nation ate like this, there would be absolutely zero obesity epidemic. You'd have larger people and smaller people, for sure, but this "epidemic" would be nonexistant. And it wouldn't be for lack of food. You can eat as much lentil salad, cabbage, borscht, and kasha you want, because you'll still have money in your pocket. Once you get over the initial gassiness from the increased fiber (and you start to enjoy reliable regularity), it's not bad at all. You learn how to make things taste Mexican, Middle Eastern, Indian, Russian, Italian, Asian... and you suddenly have an arsenal of flavors you can apply to various substrates.

Food Stamp Budget Challenge? Not much of a challenge. I can see how it would be monotonous after a while, but it's entirely possible to eat well, plentifully, and insanely healthily. Plus, you can enjoy high-quality or even kosher meat every couple weeks if you're careful. If I ever donate anything to food banks, it'll most likely be a collection of recipes. What I've learned here is that we need to revise our attitudes. My parents used to take one day, usually Sunday, and cook for the week. And we always had hot, healthy, and usually delicious dinners. I mean, people, this is not impossible.

Is it boring to always eat beans? Yes, but why is it any more boring than always eating meat?

Isn't it time-consuming to cook all the time? Yeah, but I'll be damned if I'm going to throw away my health, well-being, alertness, and enjoyment of food in the name of speed. I turn on some nice music, and have at it. Danny is just as - if not more - involved in the kitchen, so everything gets split up.

Oh, and here's my last counter to the "it's too hard" argument about $25 per week per person challenge. Take the money you'd spend every month on cable TV (which is about $60 in my neck of the woods), cancel the cable (I don't get TV), and divide that by 4, which is $15, and add $15 to the weekly family food budget. Oh yeah, and then you'll have time to cook because you'll have an extra 2 hours every night. Or go to the library and borrow books if you have so much free time, or tutor kids (assuming you don't have any) and make some pocket money, or do that thing you like to do but never have time for (like picking up the instrument you've stored in your closet since high school and rediscover your love for honking away on the clarinet).

That's what I think. I may be wrong. I may have no idea what it's really like. But based upon my experience growing up - and I include the present - it isn't impossible. Like so many other things in life, you do what you have to do to get by as well as you possibly can. We only get one shot in one body. Might as well make it count, even when it sucks, no?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Food Stamp Budget: Proceeding

So, this food stamp budget thing is ok.  

For breakfast, I grabbed a handful of fruit (several plums) to throw down on my stomach full of nerves, because woah nelly, this teaching thing is a bitch.  The last time I took biology was in high school, and now I'm expected to teach 2 recitation sections of Mammalian Physiology to psychotic rabid premeds.  Imagine someone told you to teach 20th century British literature, with the only qualification being that you speak and read English.  That more or less defines the mess I've gotten myself into, and it is quite possibly in the running to make the list of The Top 10 Worst Things In The World That One Can Do.  

Danny had leftover bobka (cake) and plums with yogurt (from the fridge) for breakfast, and he had leftover stuffed cabbage, pot roast, and sweet and sour cabbage, mashed potatoes, bread with pickles, and finally brie and leftover cake for dessert. For lunch, I had leftover stuffing and lentils, and for dinner, leftover stuffed cabbage sandwich (toast, warmed stuffed cabbage cut into slices, a bit of mayo and ketchup to supplement the sauce) and leftover cake.  See, this leftover thing is getting in the way.  I think the only way to make it so I can see what $25 per person per week is really like is by doing it for several weeks.  Technically, the leftover stuffing was free; I took it along with stuffed cabbage, pot roast, mashed potatoes, and a whole bunch of cake home from Rosh Hashanah.  Oh yeah, and tomorrow is Yom Kippur, where Jews fast all day.  So really, this is one big cheat.  I can't bring myself to waste food by ignoring the amazing leftovers in the name of experimentation.

I'm going to do it again this upcoming week.

I haven't made beet salad or borscht yet, and I still have one pumpkin.  We have an obscene amount of bread left, and there's sweet and sour cabbage and about 2 servings of pumpkin soup still in the fridge.  My lunch finished off the lentils.  And might I add... anyone not blessed with bowel regularity ought to consider increasing their intake of lentils.  Seriously.  All you need is some sauteed soup veg, a very generous amount of lemon juice and chopped parsley, and some salt and pepper.  I'm addicted to it.  But then, I grew up in a house where lemon, salt, and pepper was the dressing of choice for, well, nearly everything.  

And by nearly everything, I mean normal salad, drained canned chickpeas, steamed zucchini, steamed broccoli, raw sliced tomato (plain and on sandwiches), fish (broiled, grilled, steamed), etc.  Seriously.  It's really good, especially with some chopped fresh herb and/or garlic.  Forget bottled salad dressing.  It's not worth it.

My assessment so far?  I think I had a leg up shopping in NY for fruits and veg and bread, not to mention Rosh Hashanah leftovers and Yom Kippur fasting.  The Food Stamp Budget will definitely continue into the upcoming weeks, but for now, the fridge will continue to be cleaned out by Danny and me because I HATE wasting food.  I'm going to keep this thing updated, with full disclosure of all food eaten.  (But only dinner tomorrow because of the fast.)  So, to whom it applies, I hope you have an easy fast.  :)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Danny made pumpkin soup last night from the smaller of the two pumpkins. We followed the Good Eats suggestion of taking a meat cleaver and a hammer and tapping the back of the meat cleaver to split the pumpkin into quarters. The seeds were scooped, and the pumpkin roasted, as per the recipe (click link in "pumpkin soup" above).

We approximated the quantity of chicken broth (from leftovers of the previous week) needed, added a bit extra ginger (from a large chunk in the freezer), and omitted the heavy cream. It's just not necessary. You can get a very smooth velvety soup from just the pumpkin and broth. I'm not busting heavy cream, but I like soup to be something I can eat like a salad - i.e., massive quantities whenever I want, not have to think about whether it's going to make me sorry later, and be comprised mostly of veggies. I think of it like cold-weather salad, because I really love salad, but eating something cold and wet when it's cold and wet outside isn't the nicest thing. So, during the winter months, hot soup fills salad's place in my meals. We had nutmeg and the requisite honey in the pantry, and I have the leftovers for lunch with some lentil salad, a couple slices of bread to dip in the soup, some plums, and 2 cookies (leftover from the family get-together this weekend).

Not too shabby... :)

The soup itself is totally awesome, and if you're into butternut or acorn squash, Alton Brown says it works equally well with those veggies. Like I said, it's really smooth, you can adjust viscosity with broth, and keeping it simple on the flavoring front - nutmeg, ginger, honey, salt, pepper - allows the pumpkin to be a player, not just as something in which to throw spices. If I was craving some heat, I can see hot peppers not being out of place, but be careful choosing. Tabasco or Frank's Redhot have no place in this soup. You'd need some deliberate heat, not vinegar with some chilis thrown in for the hell of it. Your best bet would likely be some fresh chilis chopped up and sprinkled over top, or maybe hot pepper flakes, but stay away from vinegar-based hot sauce for this.

Last night, Danny and I had the pumpkin soup and some sweet and sour cabbage for dinner... so far, so good. And healthy. Rock on, food stamp budget!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Cost of Eating: The Food Stamp Challenge

I came across an interesting challenge last week, while flipping through a newspaper. A county food pantry was trying to raise awareness of hunger by challenging people to eat on a food stamp budget, $25 per person per week. I thought, "Wow, that's not so different from what I spend a week on food, give or take."

Unfortunately, Rosh Hashanah got in the way, and we had a week long foodfest, all the treats from the old country, until finally, on Sunday, after rolling out from my parents' house in NY to return to MD, Danny and I stopped at good old M&M Farms. We got plums, pears, 2 beautiful perfect pie pumpkins, potatoes, onions, garlic, cabbage, a bunch of fresh parsley, 2 boxes of mushrooms, bell peppers, 2 lbs of carrots, 5 limes, some lettuce, and beets, ready to resume a normal diet. All that amazing produce cost $30. Then we stopped at Rockland Bakery, got bread for probably about ~3 weeks to freeze for later, and that cost $13. And I thought, hmm. Maybe now would be a good time to try that Food Stamp Budget Thing.

I immediately failed, making tuna sandwiches out of pantry tuna for lunch. I don't know if pantry tuna counts, seeing as I didn't buy it with my $50. And if I divide the bread expenditure by 2, assuming our stash is depleted in 2 weeks (which it won't be, but whatever), Danny and I have spent only $37 on food for the week. And if I factor in a can of tomatoes and stew beef (because a batch of borscht is certainly in order), a can of Israeli pickles (for beet salad), then I'll be at around $45, with enough money for a 1/2 gallon of milk (~$3) to add to the weekly groceries. I'm also at liberty to add a bag of lentils for weekly protein, which clocks in under $1. We have eggs left over from last week.

I have a vision of borscht, warm lentil salad, sweet and sour cabbage, gingery pumpkin soup, pumpkin breakfast muffins (a pumpkin-y riff on the super-healthy bran, nut, and raisin filled version my grandma's been eating for 79 years... and hey, 79 years of bran muffin eating can't be wrong) accompanied by autumn fruits, baked potatoes, and sauteed mushrooms and onions to round out whatever needs rounding out. I forgot how much a box of kasha (buckwheat groats) costs, but I should check that because kasha is delicious, especially when it's loaded with mushrooms and onions.

I have to say, $25 per week per person isn't miserable. But then, if I shopped for food in Maryland, it might be. Fruit is quite expensive here. Apples can't possibly be more in season, and yet they cost $1.50 per pound. They're $0.99 per pound in M&M, and they have a very nice assortment of varieties; macoun, macintosh, and cortland. Bosc pears and plums - Italian prune varieties, large dark purple ones with green flesh, and the light pinky-purple ones with orange flesh also clock in at $0.99. Plums and pears aren't listed in the weekly flyer here in MD, so who knows what they cost. Bell peppers in MD are 4 for $5. Even if they are 1 lb each, that's more than $1 per pound, and they were $0.79 per pound at M&M. Granted, M&M and the local cheap supermarket here are equal for items like onions and in-season squash (even though I love pumpkin, I can't eat butternut or acorn because of a weird intolerance for assorted squashes and sweet potatoes). But I'd still take M&M because their onions aren't prebagged, and their food in general tends to last longer before turning to mush.

It's very curious. Peaches trucked from farms 45 minutes out are just barely underselling the supermarket ones. It's a pretty messed up system we have here in MD. But I will persevere with this foodstamp thing. It's not that far off from how Danny and I normally eat. If anyone else reads this blasted thing, are you up for the challenge? If so, please specify rough geographical location, because I want to know where people charge what for food.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Something else to do with lentils.

So I figured out something else to do with lentils, as the title suggests.

Start with the cooked lentils plus sauteed flavor base (carrot, onion, garlic, celery), warm up in microwave, squeeze lemon on it, and add a nice amount of chopped parsley, some salt and pepper, and I like hot sauce on mine.

I expect that would fall under the category of "warm lentil salad," but that makes it sound like it took more time than it did...