Project: Food Budget Week 16

Food Budget Piggybank

We spent $0 this week on food. Didn’t eat out, didn’t shop, didn’t go to Costco.

And, obviously, we didn’t starve.

We ate much of what I had said I was going to prepare last week: black beans and rice, roasted cabbage (that’s all me), roasted beets (only one family member, my 7yo daughter, does NOT like beets), vegetarian chili and mashed potatoes, and baked oatmeal (finally! It was good. I’m going to play around with it). Additionally, I made a delicious broccoli cheese bake that pleased me because it was tasty and I used up food instead of wasting it. I’m getting *much* better at that.

Although still not perfect. See: kale from two weeks ago. Forgot I had it, and never incorporated it into a meal plan.

Now, also obviously, eating in and packing lunches has put a huge dent in our pantry and freezer supplies. This week I am setting the budget for grocery shopping high. I need staples (from beans to butter) as well as some specialty menu items. I haven’t made the list yet (or the whole menu) because I pick up my CSA box tonight, and I need to see what’s in it.

I’m debating the Costco trip this week, too. I better evaluate what I have for lunches, and go from there.

Grocery: $400
CSA: $134 — this is higher than usual because we were offered local, grass fed beef. Even though I am a vegetarian, my husband is not. It’s a 20 pound lot that I am splitting three ways (with two other households). I’ll be curious to see what Dan thinks about the taste of it!
Costco: $50
Eating out: $50

Baked Oatmeal
Adapted from this recipe on

4 cups milk
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups old-fashioned oats
2 cups chopped, peeled apples
1 cup dried cherries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan heat milk, brown sugar, butter, salt, and cinnamon. Add remaining ingredients; mix gently. Spoon into a greased 2-quart casserole. Cover and bake for 45 minutes.

This made *too much*, and that’s saying something for my oatmeal-loving family. I’ll make it again, only half the amount.

Partial menu:

Vegetarian Haluski (Cabbage and Noodles)
Lentil Stew
Beet Soup with Creme Fraiche


Let’s see how everyone else did!

* Emily Levenson
* Dairy-Free Cooking
* Test Kitchen Tuesday
* Acquired Tastes
* Fit Flexitarian
* Warm As Pie
* Katy Rank Lev
* My Inner Healthy
* Little Blue Hen
* xox, b
* What da Health?
* Project Food Budget 2.0
* A Nice Heart and a White Suit
* Fresh…A New Chapter
* Chandeleah
* Two Eggs Over Easy
* That’s Just Me
* Eat Whole Be Vital
* Four Happy Violets
* Naturally {Un}refined
* Pgh Dad
* yogabeautylife
* Charmingly Modern
* NaMAMAste

Return to School Lunches

So, I’m doing the NaBloPoMo for September, and the theme for the month is “Return”. I probably won’t stick to the theme every day, but in case you were wondering at all about my uptick in posting, or why I am writing about certain things, I thought I would point this out.

I read a blog article on Slate the other day about school lunches. This mother of four outlined her school’s “rules” on lunches, and added some of her own concerns regarding what other people would think of HER because of what is (or is not) in her kids’ lunches.

I was a little taken aback.

I send Flora and Kate with lunches every day (or almost every day). If school or daycare offer cheese pizza (or, in Flora’s case, grilled cheese or mac and cheese), I will ask if the girls want to buy their lunch. They usually also get a fruit and/or vegetable and a dessert with bought lunches.

(Yeah, so much for that “one choice” thing. It’s too ingrained a habit! Curses.)

As far as what I pack, I have not ever received a list of acceptable food stuffs, and I have never worried about what others think of me or my daughters because of the contents of their lunches bags.

Am I just lucky? I know that food allergies are on the rise, but we’ve never received a notice from any classroom regarding nuts or peanuts. A peanut butter sandwich is a regular staple in Flora’s lunch. If it became verboten, I think we could deal, but I have to admit I’m grateful I don’t have to think too hard about it. (Knock wood.)

As far as healthy lunches go — or food in general, really — I don’t think hard about that either. Neither of my girls are extremely picky eaters (knock on wood, again! I’m hoping Michael will be the same). They have their preferences: Kate loves hummus, Flora does not; Flora likes peanut butter, but not PB & J, and so on. Sandwiches are on whole wheat bread or multigrain tortillas. I do buy pre-packaged snack foods, including chips, dried fruit, string cheese, and tubes of yogurt. I seldom pack candy or cookies — sometimes a week or so after Halloween or Easter, they get candy treats. I never pack pop (or soda, depending on where you live). The girls get chocolate milk, water, or 100% juice — usually milk.

Do your schools concern themselves with what your children are eating at lunch? Is this becoming more normal? Should it? I know childhood obesity is on the rise, but I would resent a lot of rules concerning my kids’ lunches. (Yeah, I *still* have problems with authority. What of it?)

I don’t pack healthfully to impress anyone, or to “be better” than anyone. I grew up eating a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, yogurt, and cheese (and Oreos, potato chips, and candy), and I just want my kids to have a normal relationship with food. Nothing is forbidden, although personally I don’t buy foods with high fructose corn syrup in them. I’m sure they get food with HFCS — I don’t control all of their eating 100% of the time, let’s face it — just not from me.

Oh, also, my favorite new development in this area: Flora packs her own lunch. She puts dried mangos in a baggie; she chooses her chips and remembers her chocolate milk. Kate wants to pack her own lunch, too, and I will let her — when she starts preschool on Wednesday. I don’t know if the novelty of packing lunch every night will wear off, but for now I’m going with it. I will try to make it part of their pre-bedtime routine, because, let’s face it, it’s one less thing I have to do! I supervise, make suggestions, and help with sandwiches when needed.

How do you pick your kids’ foods? Do you worry a lot about it? Are you trying to make healthy eating second nature to your family? How’s it going?

Weekend: Wrestlemania and a New Recipe

The thing about being POD nearly all weekend is that it’s like 36 hours of Wrestlemania as far as Kate is concerned. And her goal is to take me down to the mat. By Sunday afternoon, she nearly succeeded, and Sunday evening I had to gate the girls in the living room while I stole a few moments to make dinner all by myself. Flora was a mass of emotions too, which I attribute to two things: her dramatic personality and being tired. It was another weekend of doing A LOT, and not enough chilling at home.

I love that Kate is so tough, I do, but when getting her removed from a location requires brute force, it is difficult to admire her pure bull-headedness and wiry strength. Saturday she and I had a tete-a-tete at Beaver Valley’s Festival of the Trees that required me leaving Flora with Bella to let Kate ride out the tantrum (with me) in the car. It was quite something, I tell you, not made any easier by the fact that at one point she wanted either her stuffed monkey (George) or her stuffed bunny (Cuddle) and we had neither with us. Note to self: the kiddie survival kit requires a stuffed animal. Stat.

Then Sunday, I thought we could ride out naptime at the OTB Bicycle Cafe fundraiser/Steeler game we attended. I was wrong, and when it looked like she was going to insist on inflicting bodily harm and/or chocolate stains on other attendees, I figured we’d better load up & head out. (Flora, incidentally, was an angel). I got some very concerned looks as I headed out the door with Flora hauling her wheeled backpack and Kate pretty much hanging upside down from my head. (We made it home safely, everyone.) Napping was no longer an option by the time we rolled in, and I just prayed to make it to bed time. (We did. There may have been a lot of shouting.)

On the plus side, Dan and I attended a little get-together Saturday night for which I invented a new recipe that we are calling Pesto Fagioli.

4 cloves garlic
1 15 oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
A big handful of basil (1 loosely packed cup, maybe)
1/4-1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
Olive oil

Throw everything except the olive oil into a food processor. Add the olive oil while pulsing until it is the consistency you prefer. Next time, I am going to try to make it chunkier; it was too smooth to my taste.

The basil lends this a lovely green color (really!) so this is a good one for the Christmas season. Or St. Patrick’s Day.

(As to the Year in Review: My favorite recipe from 2009 is the vegetarian corn chowder I stumbled upon. I think I’m going to have to make this again soon! Just reading this recipe gave me a hankering. Now, to find the time.)

Life with Kids

It took me four hours to make mashed potatoes yesterday.

I had originally intended to cook exactly nothing (just bring some faux meat — and not of the Tofurkey variety), but then I discovered about 14 potatoes from my CSA in my refrigerator. So I called my MIL Wednesday and offered to bring mashed potatoes to dinner as well. I had butter and milk, even, so I didn’t have to make a store run. Bonus!

I should probably know better than to think I would just ‘whip up’ some mashed ‘taters. But I truly didn’t think it would take me four hours.

I got the potatoes out of the refrigerator around 11 a.m. I wasn’t whipping those puppies until 2:30 p.m. It was ridiculous.

But life with children is all about interruption, and I don’t know why or how I forgot that.

I got the potatoes out of the refrigerator — and had to make Kate lunch.

I got out the vegetable brush to scrub the potatoes — and had to make Flora lunch. Actually, since she wanted eggs, Dan was pressed into lunch duty (1. He makes better eggs. 2. He had slept until 11 a.m.). I just had to make Flora’s toast.

I ate some lunch, too.

I started to clean the 14 potatoes —  and had to help Kate down from her chair.

I went back to the sink — and had to rinse lunch dishes and put them in the dishwasher.

And on and on. The washing, peeling, cutting, and cooking of the potatoes were interrupted by: asking my children to stop screaming in the other room; asking them to clean up the other room; trying to get Kate to go on the potty; changing Kate’s diaper; helping my children clean the other room (which had been ritually toy bombed while Dan & I were… well, reminding each other of one of the reasons we were so thankful to be married); reading Skippyjon Jones; helping Kate brush her teeth before her nap (she had had a lollipop); getting Kate in for her nap — twice; and sending Dan upstairs to help Kate actually fall asleep for her nap. (He was cleaning the office.)

I had no clue that making mashed potatoes was going to be so exhausting.

Apparently, the secret to great mashed potatoes is lots of butter and four hours. Because there weren’t even leftovers.

Random Thoughts: Brief and Bad

I don’t really have much good news.

I’m at trouble at work because of how much time I have been home with sick children. And you know what? I think I did the right thing staying home with them. So that’s that.

Flora woke up SCREAMING at 11:30 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. with ear pain. Dan’s taking her back to the doctor this afternoon.

Guess those antibiotics aren’t working.

I had ear infections as a child, and I remember how very much they hurt. As hard as it was to be empathetic at 2 a.m., I think Dan and I did okay with Flora. We were a little crankier — all right, a lot — with each other. Really have to work on that.


Oh, wait, I do have good news. The plague of insects that has descended on the house in the past few months has been stemmed. Thank goodness for cold weather.

I still see the occasional G-D FRUIT FLY buzzing around the kitchen. I make it my priority to track it through the air and squash the life out of it. We’ve a few Asian lady beetle carcasses laying around, too. It’s amazing that some of those seemingly dead bugs will rediscover their will to live (and their tiny little feet) and crawl out of the pile of crumbs I have swept up.

They aren’t very fast. They get dumped with everything else.


I have a lot of baking to do in the next 10 to 14 days. This is bad news if you are on the receiving end as I’m not much of a baker. But Flora needs cookies for her class (she’s going to be 5 years old in less than a week) and I am attending the infamous Cookie Swap with Burgh moms on Nov. 14. I have a couple of pretty easy recipes on tap; the trick will be how I deal with the kids while baking.

If I suit them both up in hazmat uniforms, I guess I can let them help.


Our new back door won’t go in because of wood rot and other problems. Do we just do something half-assed for now (and not use the back door) or do we spend thousands of dollars to do the job right and make the payments? FUDGE.


Updated to add: Flora has infections in both ears, a temp of 102, a new, stronger Rx, and she threw up in the doctor’s office. This day is just going swimmingly!

Meatless Monday: Consolation Prize

Because I have been almost completely housebound this weekend (and looks as if I will be into the near future as well), and also have had a well-stocked refrigerator, I have managed to do a lot of cooking.

On Friday, I made a crockpot minestrone soup recipe. This was my second stab at it, and it still needs some tweaking. If I get it right next time, I’ll post the recipe.

I joined a CSA farm for the first time this year (Kretschmann Farm), and I was placed on their waiting list in May. I was finally to pick up my first box of veggies a few weeks ago. Beets are big this time of year. For Saturday night’s dinner, I roasted them. Holy heck, roasted beets are tasty! I’ll be doing that again.

Then for Sunday night, I made more roasted veggies from the CSA, carrots and potatoes. The kids balked at first, but then sampled a few. Flora preferred the carrots, and Kate preferred the potatoes. Dan liked them all. Also with CSA produce, I made this risotto recipe. Next time, I should make sure I have all the vegetable stock I need because substituting in two cups of water made it too bland. But I will be trying it again, and in the meantime, I think I’m going to try some fried risotto patties with the leftovers. Also to try: this recipe for red cabbage.

Flora’s temp hovers at the 99.5-100 mark, which her pediatrician’s office tells me is part of “this” virus. (She’s also got a runny nose and one heck of a cough.) When I brought her to the doctor’s office Friday, she was diagnosed with an ear infection. After two doses of the antibiotic hadn’t killed the temp, I knew something else was up.

The most remarkable thing is her pallor. Flora is drawn and pale; her lips are too puffy (I am making sure she drinks plenty of fluids, even stooped so low to offer her Yoo-hoo — a ‘treat’ from my FIL); and she’s got dark brown circles under her eyes. The time change didn’t help her — she was up Sunday at the new 5:30 complaining of how thirsty she was; and she was up early today, too — screaming about a “ladybug” on her ceiling. Her appetite isn’t that great; she mostly prefers butter bread. She’s restless as all get out, but doesn’t have either the sustained energy or attention for doing much. (So much for having her help me dust.) (I kid. Kinda.)

Anyway, at this point, the pediatrician says she’ll probably need to be at home at least two more days. I am monitoring her temperature rather obsessively, even going so far as to take it both via an ear thermometer and an oral digital thermometer. I keep checking Kate, too. I wonder if this is the virus she had not too long ago, or if this is something else she’ll pick up.

At least we’ll have lentil soup to feast on this evening. That’s some consolation.

Meatless Monday: Stirfry

I have rediscovered the delicious simplicity of stirfry. It’s quick, tasty, and easy on calories (for DearDR).

As with many meatless dishes I have posted… er, lately (very lately as it were), what I like the most about stirfry is you can pretty much do anything with it. Don’t like broccoli? Use something else. Fan of water chestnuts? Stirfry is perfect!

DearDR and I received a wok for our wedding. I was worried it wouldn’t work as well on an electric stove as it did on gas, but those worries have been unfounded.

I start with some olive oil mixed with sesame oil to saute garlic. Then I throw in hoisin sauce and tofu. After that browns a little bit, I add my veggies. I try to limit myself to three, and I try to make them all a different color: broccoli, red pepper, and carrots; celery, carrots, and mushroom; orange pepper, broccoli, and water chestnut.

For DearDR I have sauted some chicken strips on the side, sometimes with a sweet and sour marinade that he likes.

I have been serving the stirfry over soba or udon noodles, as well as the stand-by: rice. My kids like both — they don’t like to eat everything mixed together, but they will eat steamed or sauted veggies, rice or noodles, and plain tofu. We probably eat stirfry once a week, but it hasn’t gotten boring because I don’t think I’ve made it the same way twice.

What’s your favorite stirfry? I know Allison has one she makes with pineapple. And, yes, I am sincerely hoping she will link to a recipe or leave it in the comments. Please leave your favorite combo, too!

Meatless Monday: Mother’s Day Brunch

As I mentioned, DearDR and I hosted Mother’s Day Brunch yesterday.

My husband loves brunch, and my husband loves brunch because he loves to make pancakes. He does not cook, otherwise, but he rocks the flapjacks.

Because of the walk on Saturday, I kept the menu pretty simple and straightforward, and no, I did not get to make those muffins. Instead, we had:

Pancakes: plain, blueberry, and banana
Quiche (recipe below)
Bacon and sausage: real meat versions
Fakon and veggie sausages
Fruit salad (courtesy of my MIL)

Coffee, oj, and mimosas were also served.

DearDR did most of the cleaning, meal prep, and clean up afterwards. I think we ran the dishwasher three times yesterday. He was a truly spectacular husband — I mean, above and beyond his usual spectacularness. If that’s a word.

Anyhoo, one of the reasons I picked quiche is because it’s one of those dishes that once you know how to make it, you can do just about anything with it.

Quiche is very simple. Pie crust — I recommend Marie Callender’s frozen crusts; they are vegetarian (i.e. no lard) and very flakey and tasty — eggs, milk, and fillings. I made a goat cheese/mushroom/spinach quiche (Quiche A) and a broccoli/cheddar quiche (B).

Preheat the oven to 350°. Place the pie crusts on a foil-lined cookie sheet.

Spread about 1 tablespoon of butter on the bottom of the crust.

If you are using cheese, use 4 to 8 ounces. I used 1 cup (8 oz.) of cheddar in B and 4 oz. of goat cheese in A. Layer on bottom of quiche crust

For Quiche A, I used one 6 oz. bag of spinach, steamed, drained (squeeze all the water out), and chopped. I used about 1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped mushrooms (cremini and oyster). Layer on top of the cheese.

For Quiche B, I used about a cup of broccoli florets. I probably should have steamed them a little, too — they were a tad too crunchy.

For the egg mixture: Four eggs, 1 cup milk, salt & pepper to taste. Use an electric mixer for a really fluffy result. Pour over the fillings in the crust.

Bake for 45 minutes. If you want a browner top, turn oven up to 450, drizzled melted butter over the top (you can also sprinkle some Parmesan or romano cheese over the top) and bake another 5 minutes. Wah-lah!

Public Service Announcement III: Be Nice to Each Other

Sunday night, for the first time ever in my entire life, I cooked a steak.

It was not for me, but for my husband. (For the record, I still think preparing chicken is the most disgusting thing in the world.) It is part of my strategy for getting DearDR to eat better food and learn portion control. He also had a lovely salad of Italian baby lettuce, strawberries, celery, and carrots. (No cheese, no nuts, not for DearDR for a while.)

See, DearDR needs to lose weight. Also, his triglycerides have to come down (to quote his doctor, they are “exceedingly high”), and quickly. If he can’t get them in line — and keep them in line — through diet and exercise, he’ll have to start taking medication.

DearDR is only 40 years old. And I plan on keeping him around a long time. I’m going to help him be a better eater and lose some weight.

A while back, Heather Armstrong at Dooce was reflecting on whether marriage or child-rearing was more difficult. (For her, the latter.) There are days that for me, the two run neck and neck, but part of that is due, to my discredit, to my poor attitude. A kind of “leave me alone” attitude. There are days that I seriously question whether I am cut out for this wife-and-mother gig I’ve gotten myself into. (Newsflash RPM: Too late!) Some days I just feel my household is out of my control, the budget is out of my control, my children are out of my control, and so-help-me if DearDR asks me to make him a sandwich, I’m going to lose it.

But then I get a good night’s sleep, and my children do something amazing, and my husband makes me laugh, and everything is all right again. A glass of wine and some quiet time at the end of a day do wonders, too.

I was having one of those cranky days last Wednesday (note to RPM: adjust the attitude in time for Lost night), and DearDR and I sniped at each other. And then he got his numbers from the doctor on Friday, and I got some perspective.

Remember a few years ago when those “Tips for a Good Wife” were making the rounds of the Internet? I’m not going to say that those are a good idea or anything (I am feminist, hear me roar), but something can be said for being nice to each other.

When your spouse comes home, stop what you are doing (unless this involves leaving a child undiapered or in danger) and hug and kiss him or her. You may not feel like doing it, I know. Do it anyway.

Pick up the occasional treat for your spouse — you do it for the kids when you’re out and about. Just a little something that says, “I thought of you today.” A book, a DVD, some (inexpensive) flowers, a nice beverage or chocolate. I think we all do this early in our courtships, and then it goes by the wayside, especially as other things take precedence. Bring back the treats! DearDR has given me bookmarks, and I’ve been thrilled to know that I am on his mind.

Prepare a meal for your honey — or simply provide one. Whichever spouse does more meal planning and prep needs a break. Give him/her one. It can be as simple as bringing home a Costco pizza to bake at home, or suggesting the family go out — even Eat ‘n’ Park can be a relief.

Cuddle. Watch a movie together. Spend special time on a regular basis with your significant other. I know for DearDR and me, this is challenging because of the children and our schedules. We are trying to bring it back. (I’m not talking about green beans. I’m talking about intimacy.)

I know this is all common sense stuff, but I also know I lose sight of simple things — over and over again. When DearDR and I married and talked about having kids, I told him I wanted us to remember that we were married first. And then I forgot — or, more likely, I get so frustrated with what I perceive is my bad job on the spousal and/or parenting front, and I want to chuck the whole thing and go away for a week.

Some day, it will be just DearDR and me again. I don’t want us to have to try to reconnect when the kids leave home. I want us to take the little steps we need to take to stay connected. Now and forever.

Meatless Monday: My Simple Easter Addition

When my MIL hosts an event, there is enough food to feed about 50 people. Possibly more. Not because 50 people are coming, but just because that’s how my MIL cooks. She married into an Italian family, and that’s how Italians cook. Trust me.

So I often feel bad offering to bring more food over, but I also consider two things:

1. Six of us are vegetarians (my girls and me, and my SIL Earthmother and her two children) and
2. It’s important to have something that the kids will actually eat. (This doesn’t always work out, however. Regardless of what my children will eat at home, if there are enough people and/or enough snacks and candy available, you can bet that getting a healthy protein or vegetable down their gullets is a foregone conclusion.)

Earthmother contributed a fabulous quinoa salad (most overheard quotes of the day regarding her dish, “What’s that? Keen-wa? What kind of food is that?” I am eagerly awaiting her recipe because it was good.

I decided I wanted to do something simple and tasty, so I went with a white bean salad. The beauty of it is that you can pretty much do anything with a white bean salad — it’s like a canvas to make something pretty and fresh tasting.

I used cannellini beans (white kidney beans; other options are great Northern beans or navy beans) as my base. I added a few thin stalks of broiled asparagus (asparagus tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic, and roasted at 400° for about 6 minutes in the oven), one radish, 1/4 cup fresh dill, and vinaigrette. My vinaigrette was 1/2 cup olive oil, three tablespoons vinegar (2 sherry vinegar, 1 balsamic — I would have used red wine vinegar if I had any), one clove garlic, 1 teaspoon dijon mustard, salt & pepper. Just toss everything together, and let marinate for a few hours.

It was very good, and I have a little left over for lunch sometime this week.