Don’t worry, I’m less pouty this week. 😉 Our groceries are usually driven by what’s in our produce box, but especially this week. Usually there are one or two veggies that don’t quite get used up, but this meal plan is on track to take advantage of every single one of them! My cart at the store felt a little empty this week, but I know I was buying slightly higher-priced items that will pack a lot of punch–whether that punch is flavor, protein, creaminess, etc. Also, more unusually, I bought three different protein items this week, and they will all be used for this week. Not too much stocking up this time, though, as always, some items will stretch! And in spite of my empty-cart concerns, you can see that when it is all laid out on the counter, we have our usual amount of food.
Our box is fairly out of season, with what I can only presume are hot-house tomatoes, cucumber, and corn. I’m more exciting for HH’s source of fingerling potatoes. We’ve gotten a them a few times recently and any new/tiny potatoes are high up on my favorites list! I took a chance on some frozen mussels this week, to supplement a “Low Country Boil”. M isn’t too keen on shrimp at the moment. So, of course, I am all about them, suddenly. Isn’t that always the way? Anyways, it’ll be a different twist to use up the corn and potatoes and we can each favor our preferred seafood.
I still didn’t have quite enough to spring for some nuts, but I still have my change from last week to build upon. Plus, I got the chance to actually note the price-per-ounce, and was surprised to find that (while Aldi wins out on pricing for most types of nuts), I can get raw walnuts for cheaper at Trader Joe’s. In the meantime, I managed to squeeze some no-sugar-added peanut butter into the budget, along with some dried banana chips. These will make another snack option for us. Plus, I’ll be able to make a super tasty peanut dipping sauce for our summer rolls this week.
I’ve also noticed that, without much effort, this $50 budget is forcing us to eat less meat. I have tried in the past to reduce our meat consumption, but never really found a my groove to sustain it. Nowadays, we usually have about 2 dinners that are meatless each week, and at least one more where meat is more seasoning that main dish. We just don’t have the budget to have a piece of meat, each, plus sides. Especially when our dinner leftovers are often becoming our lunches. So that was interesting to see that I’ve naturally adapted to the less meat.
Finally, our Hungry Harvest box always send out an email on Thursdays, listing what is in each week’s box. That’s wha kickstarts my meal-planning each week. Of course, they always note that the contents of the box may be different. Customers are able to make lists of vegetables and fruits that they do not like, which will be swapped for something else. Also, since Hungry Harvest sources from recovered produce, there is always a chance that there will not be enough of a certain type of produce to fill every box, or that an item might spoil before packing time. This week is a good example. The email listed that my box would have 2 grapefruits: we opened it up to find a grapefruit and 3 kiwis in substitution. I’m certainly not mad about it. I like kiwis, and since we eat most of our fruit raw, I don’t necessarily have a recipe hinging on that second grapefruit. In fact, the kiwis are much easier for me! M doesn’t eat much fruit, but I like to have a piece in my lunch and at breakfast, if there is enough. Last week, our apples and oranges were only enough for my lunches. I’m happy, with the one grapefruit split in half, to have fruit with some of my breakfasts this week.
Here is how I spent this week:
Hungry Harvest Produce Box: $15.00
Trader Joe’s: $3.86
Total: $49.99 (heyyyyyy!)
Hungry Harvest Produce Box: 1 english cucumber, 2 ears of corn, 1.5 lb fingerling potatoes, 1 butternut squash, 1 pint cherry tomatoes, 1 grapefruit, butter lettuce, 3 apples, 3 kiwis.
Aldi: white wine, gluten-free bread, mushrooms, almond milk, parmesan cheese, butter, kielbasa, cheddar, frozen berries, frozen mussels, peanut butter, bratwursts
Trader Joe’s: tofu, banana chips, lemon
Here’s what we are eating:
Sunday: Low Country Boil with ciabatta rolls using the mussels, kielbasa, corn, potatoes, lemon, butter, and a little wine from this shopping trip, plus shrimp and bread rolls from the freezer and spices from the pantry
Monday: Tofu Summer Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce using the tofu, cucumber, butter lettuce, and peanut butter, plus rice paper wrappers and vermicelli noodles from the pantry and chili sauce, carrots, and peppers from the fridge
Tuesday: Leftovers The usual.
Wednesday: Cheesy Butternut Squash Pasta I’m going to try this riff on mac & cheese with half of our squash (I’ll freeze the rest), some of the cheddar, plus pasta from the pantry.
Thursday: Mushroom Risotto with Roasted Tomatoes another favorite meatless meal, using the mushrooms, white wine, tomatoes, and parmesan, plus broth, rice, and spices from the fridge/pantry
Friday: Toad in the Hole (Sausages & Yorkshire Pudding) with Gravy and Vegetables A nice, traditional UK dish for St. Patrick’s Day, for anyone who isn’t much of a fan of boiled meals… I considered a variant on my shepherd’s pie, but this was more cost effective for this week. The bratwursts, because they were the only non-italian sausages I could find, plus a lot of pantry ingredients.
Saturday: Out/Leftovers We are going to a movie with some friends. Dinner is still up in the air, but we will definitely have various leftovers, if we decide to eat at home.
Breakfasts will be yogurt, fruit, eggs, oatmeal, or toast. Lunches are mostly leftovers, with the option of cheese & crackers, PB sandwiches, and/or hard-boiled eggs to fill in. Our small, but growing snack stash includes: cheese, popcorn, PB+banana chips, and (if I get my act together today) pumpkin muffins.
I’ve finally pulled together all the specs to share my herb planter with you! I built this in an afternoon two summers ago and I still remain immensely proud of it! 🙂 It’s nice to have access to herbs near our patio, rather than having to walk up to the garden before I prep dinner (though I do that often, too). I adapted my planter from Ginger Snap Crafts, but I made several changes: I dropped the planter down to just 4 troughs and I added legs so that it could stand freely, instead of leaning. Our patio is covered, so if our planter had to lean on a wall, it would by too far back under the roof and wouldn’t get any sunlight at all. The additional legs allow it to stand on the edge of our patio to take advantage of the afternoon sun.
Also, when I was putting together my planter, I found that the directions weren’t as clear as I would have wished–for instance, while it specified 8 ft long boards, it never gave their width, nor really explained how best to divvy up the cuts needed for the boards. I did some guesswork along the way, so I’ll do my best here to be thorough with my modified herb ladder!
First things first: I was definitely trying to spend as little money as I could, without resorting to dumpster diving or curb-scouting my lumber. So pricy cedar, while beautiful, was definitely out of the question. Since I also knew that I would need extra lumber for the legs to make the planter stand upright, I started to play with the math. I realized that if I cut the number of planting troughs down to 4, I would only need 4 boards to create the troughs. Plus 2 more for the slanted legs and 2 more for the upright legs. That still kept me at 8 total boards of lumber, but, pretty quickly after I looked at the Home Depot website, I realized that I could save some money by adjusting the type of boards I used for the legs of the planter, compared to the type of boards that I used for the troughs. I ended up using the same boards for all for legs, which were thinner in width. In poking around Home Depot for some current prices, thinner boards definitely saved some money. I’m happy to say that (with the lumber I sourced in the links) this planter still clocks in at under $50 to make!
A note on cuts: Home Depot will make a few cuts on lumber for free, or for a few cents, depending on your store. But this project calls for many more cuts than is worth trying to do in the store. Find yourself a saw (and some training in how to use it!) or a friend with a saw and knowledge. I called in a favor with a carpenter friend, who used the saw at M’s work to make the cuts for me in about 15 minutes. A hazard of my theater degree and my varied basic knowledge of carpentry, costuming, etc, is that I look at A LOT of projects and think “I can figure that out. And if I can’t, I have friends who can!” It has held true, so far! Take advantage of your resources, folks! 😉 I also borrowed a drill gun from work (returned in perfectly good form, with the battery recharged!)
So, let’s get started. Here is your materials list:
- 4 boards: 1 inch thick x 6 inches wide x 8 feet long (pine was the most affordable for me)
- 4 boards: 1 inch thick x 3 inches wide x 6 feet long*
- 1 box of composite deck screws (1 5/8 inches long)
- Optional: 1 sample can (8 oz) Weatherproofing Outdoor Wood Stain & Sealer**
*If you think you will be moving this planter often, perhaps bump up to a 4 inch wide or 2 inch thick board for the legs. Mine seem slightly spindly, but since I don’t move it often, they haven’t been a problem. You can also cut out two boards completely, if you want the planter to lean against a wall or a fence.
**Preferably from the reject/discount section, if you are bold enough to risk the color not quite matching the image on the label. My Home Depot taps a bit of the stain onto the lid, so you can get an idea of the color. My stain was also Semi-Transparent, which allows some of the wood grain to still show through.
Your tools needed:
- C-clamp or a second person to be an extra pair of hands
- Drill (preferably cordless) with drill bit and screwdriver bit
- Optional: level
- Optional: paintbrush + dropcloth
Let’s get started!
Purchase your materials and gather your tools. Measure and make your cuts to the 4 lengths of 1″ x 6″ x 8′ boards:
- Board #1: we cut 3 lengths at 27 inches and 3 lengths at 4.75 inches. There will be a small piece of scrap left over for every board.
- Board #2: the same– 3 lengths at 27 inches and 3 more lengths at 4.75 inches
- Board #3: cut 2 lengths at 27 inches, 2 lengths at 4.75 inches, and 1 length at 30 inches
- Board #4: cut 3 lengths at 30 inches
Now you should have (in total): 8 pieces of wood that are 27 inches long–these are the bottom and backs to each of the 4 troughs; 8 pieces of wood that are 4.75 inches long–these are the sides of your troughs; and 4 pieces of wood that are 30 inches long–these are the front of your troughs.
You also have the 4 pieces of 1″ x 3″ x 6′ lumber. These are the legs of your planter. Leave two of them alone and for the other two, cut a 15 degree angle off of one short end. Line it up at a corner and you will be cutting a slight diagonal off. This allows the side legs to be slanting, yet still sit flat on the ground. Look back at the above picture, at the bottom of the leg nearest the dog.
Now you are done with cuts! Let’s get started putting this together!
Start by making your troughs: The bottom piece will be sandwiched in between the back piece and the front piece, rather than capping/overlapping the sides. So, if the bottom board is flat on the ground, the back and front piece come down on either side to also touch the ground. This is because your very short 4.75 inch side pieces sit in the U-shape made by the back, bottom, and front pieces. So the hole in the trough is a full 6 inches wide by 25 inches long (you lose an inch to each side-piece) by 4.75 inches deep. Make sense? I’m doing my best to explain, but this was definitely where I had to stop to figure it out. The pieces should fit together like a puzzle. If you are confused, take 2 each of the 27-inch lengths and the 4.75-inch lengths, plus one of the 30 inch length and just hold them together (without fastening them) until you side the box. Remember, the front has excess that overlaps on each side by 1.5 inches, to eventually overlap the side leg boards. Click through the Ginger Snap Crafts link above, she has some photos that help to visualize all of this!
I started by screwing together the bottom and the back boards, because they were even in length. I just stacked some extra pieces to hold steady the board and screwed it into place with 3 screws along the back seam. The I added the 30-inch front board, so I was making a U-shape, or 3 sides of a square. I centered the board so that there was 1.5 inch overhang on either side, and then screwed the front piece in with 3 screws. Then I was able to wedge in the 2 small side pieces. These, I secured with 2 screws (one at the top and one at the bottom) of the back board and with 1 screw at the top of the front board. That is one trough done! Repeat 3 more times until all 4 troughs are built. Swap your screwdriver bit for a drill bit and drill 3 to 4 drainage holes in the bottom of each trough, to ensure that your herbs’ roots won’t be drowned.
This is when that second person or your C-clamp becomes your best friend. We are going to attach the 4 troughs to one of the slanted side legs.
I started the first trough so the bottom about 4 inches up the slanted leg off the ground, but you could even go higher and have the bottom of the trough be 6 inches off the ground. I measured 12 inches along the slanted side leg between the bottom of a trough and the bottom of the next trough up (below). I also placed the troughs at angle, so the overhang of the front board was straight up, and there was about 3.5 cm space between the front edge of the slanted side leg and the front board of the trough (above). I marked the diagonal line in pencilon the side-board of the trough, to line up with the legs and then I also marked on the leg where the top and bottom of each trough should line up. I set each of the four troughs on their side so they stood upright, then laid the slanted leg board over top of all four troughs and adjusted until each trough lined up with my marks. Make sure that the diagonal cut–remember the 15 degrees we took off of one end of two of the boards?–is DOWN. The diagonal end will sit flat on the ground! That’s what gives you the ladder-style slant. Scroll back up to the photo of my un-painted planter and look at the bottom of the front leg near Punc. See how the diagonal is resting completely on the ground?
Starting at one end, clamp the side leg and the trough that you are about to screw on. I used 4 screws in a square-ish pattern to secure the trough side to the slanted leg. Once secure, undo the clamp and move on to the next trough, making sure to keep all of your marks lined up with the appropriate edges as you clamp it down. After securing all four troughs, you can flip it over as one piece and line up the second slanted side leg. Make sure that you re-measure and re-mark with your pencil the angle on the other side of the troughs and where each trough should land along the second slanted leg. Repeat with the clamping and securing each trough. Now you should have a 4-trough planter on two slanted legs. If you simply want it to lean against a wall or a fence, you are done building!
If you want your planter to stand upright on it’s own, you need to attach the two final, straight legs in the back of your planter. I lifted my trough-side leg combo and leaned it against a wall so that I could be sure that the planter was level and my diagonally cut bottoms of the slanted side-legs were flat on the ground. Then, I slipped the two straight boards on the outside the slanted legs, making sure they were upright, with their straight bottoms flat on the ground. I clamped the two legs together above my top trough and secured each side with 6 more screws evenly space throughout the space where both legs came together. Then I repeated the process on the other side.
AND NOW YOU HAVE A PLANTER! Celebrate! Get a cold drink! You aren’t done, though. 🙂 You could be. The planter is built and it will hold plants and soil. But the wood is completely unfinished and it will eventually degrade in all the weather outside. If you would like to prolong the life go the planter, you should seal the wood. I did not seal to inside of my troughs, where the soil and plants will go, so as to minimize the chemicals that might leach into the soil and then into my plants. However, I did seal the outside of the planter, to better protect against the elements. If you are going to paint the wood, spend a little time smoothing all of the wooden surfaces with sandpaper. Especially your cut sides, which will be the roughest. I like to use a dry paintbrush to go over all the surfaces after sanding, just to really make sure that all of the sawdust is off of the surface of the wood before I paint.
The paint I’ve linked to, above, is the type I found: meant for the outdoors, meant for weatherproofing, meant for use on wood, and–best of all–a stain/sealer combo which means that I didn’t have to paint/stain the whole thing and then do it all over with the separate sealer! Win! My sample can was just barely enough to put 2 thin coats of stain on all of the outside surfaces of the planter. I did one coat in the afternoon and the second the next morning. Follow the directions on the can–mine required the stain to “cure” for 72 hours without getting wet. This was pretty easy, since our patio is covered. I moved it as far back as I could to keep it shelter, because, of course, it rained during those 72 hours, but my planter was no worse for wear.
NOW YOU ARE DONE! After 72 hours–or whatever time is recommended on your can of paint/stain/sealer, you can fill up each trough will soil and start planting! Just remember, like potted plants, these plants in the troughs need to be watered more frequently because the shallower soil will dry out more quickly. This summer, my planter will be 3 years old and it have held up beautifully!
It’s been a weird week, folks. Maybe it is the weather finally acting a little like winter, maybe it’s stress, but I have been in a bit of a funk all week. To top it all off, I allowed myself to get a little excited as I wrote my grocery list, because it seemed like so little. I thought I’ve have more than a few dollars to stock up. Unfortunately, I forgot how much dairy eats up our budget. Don’t you dare try to swing me on that dairy-free lifestyle–I absolutely love all things dairy. Cheese, ice cream, milk, yogurt…<3 But our current consumption schedule has made it so that we tend to run out of our dairy products in the same week, and then there goes my budget.
I’ve been wanting to get some nuts for snacking and some sauces and such, but my extra dollars usually go towards something more pressing. This week, I did know that I wanted to spring for some of those herb paste tubes at Giant. Specifically, one each of cilantro and lemongrass. They are a few dollars each, but (especially the lemongrass) lasts forever, since the paste is concentrated. So while I was disappointed to pass up the cashews, I knew that I would be rewarded with super flavorful dishes. And, maybe I could stop spending $1 each week on fresh cilantro. However, I definitely underestimated the price of these herb pastes. I thought I had saved enough money to get both, but these things are $4.50 a piece!! Oy. Only one this week, then. The lemongrass is definitely worth it, so I will have to save a few dollars to pick up that one soon, but I will pay attention to our use of the cilantro paste to see if it is actually worth that price.
I mostly let go of my deprivation funk today when I realized that we have popcorn kernels in the pantry and then when I used one of last week’s zucchini to make my Chocolate Surprise Muffins. (I used all flax eggs, plus replaced all of the various vegetables with one large zucchini, undrained. Also added in a 1/2 cup of shredded coconut! They ended up being vegan.) A little bit of that crunchy popcorn and chocolate went a long way towards making me forget the cashews, peanut butter, and chips that were left behind at the store this week.
I also planted the first seedlings of the year in our garden plot! Kale and swiss chard, to hopefully survive our cooler temperatures. I also planted some carrot and radish seeds, which will have a few weeks for the weather to warm up by the time they sprout. A second batch of bone broth had been in the crockpot for a few days, as the last of the broth from the previous batch will be used up in this week’s soup. I also tried flavoring my kombucha for the first time: with vanilla beans, which made a perfectly pleasant brew. I’m even getting M hooked on kombucha, now that it is readily available!
Here is the breakdown for this week:
Hungry Harvest Produce Box: $15.00
Aldi: $26.27 ($8 was spent on a pilates ring I found in their home-goods aisle. Super excited to try that out! But of course, it doesn’t count towards our food budget.)
I came out under budget this week. I’ll put the change towards last week’s overage and keep the $2 in bills for a future trip. Maybe this is how I’ll be able to afford those cashews…build up my change!
This week’s groceries:
Hungry Harvest Produce Box: 2 bell peppers, 1/2 lb. brussels sprouts, snow peas, 2 oranges, 3 apples, an onion, 3 sweet potatoes, 2 carrots, and a pint of cherry tomatoes
Giant: coconut milk, cilantro paste
Aldi: goat cheese, sausages, ground ginger, persian cucumbers, hummus, spinach, yogurt, half-n-half, artichoke hearts, white northern beans, an avocado, bread, milk
Plus a dozen eggs from my mother’s chicken lady hook up. 🙂
Here is the meal plan for this week:
Sunday: Roast Chicken and Vegetables with gravy using the whole chicken from last week, some bone broth from the freezer, lemon from a few weeks ago, and some of this week’s carrots, sweet potatoes, and onion
Monday: Zuppa Toscana using last weeks red potatoes and kale (I found the recipe right after I made last week’s meal plan and knew I needed to make it!), plus the last of the bone broth and some sausage, white beans, and half-n-half from this week’s groceries
Tuesday: Leftovers M is out, as per usual, so I will figure something out, or eat more soup.
Wednesday: Veggie Curry Stir-fry using this week’s snow peas, peppers, carrots, brussels sprouts, and coconut milk, with curry paste from the freezer and rice from the pantry
Thursday: Tomato & Goat Cheese Tart with salad I froze the other half of the pie dough when I made quiche last week. That will thaw, then drape over those cherry tomatoes, tarte tatin-style, with a little balsamic vinegar and dried thyme from the pantry. Goat cheese will be crumbled on top after it’s cooked. I’ll pair it with a salad that uses up any remaining kale plus some of the spinach
Friday: Tuscan Chicken Sandwiches based on what I ate from the sandwich shop almost every day of my freshman year of college, before I was gluten-intolerant. Some chicken from Sunday’s roast, with goat cheese, spinach, (freezer) pesto, roasted red peppers, artichokes, and aioli. If I feel extra proactive, I might try some baked sweet potato chips
Saturday: Chicken Tacos with the last of the roast chicken, plus tortillas and various fixings from odds and ends in the pantry and fridge
Breakfasts will be yogurt with fruit, zucchini muffins, avocado toasts, or eggs. Lunches will be leftovers from dinner or cucumbers and hummus + hardboiled eggs, with fruit.
I am having a pretty great Sunday, how about you?
My crazy balancing act of work-homework-internship-housework-social life actually stayed in check this week! After work yesterday, I managed to come home and finish my homework, which took a huge weight off of my shoulders. Since Sundays are my only day off of work each week, they tend to be filled with all of my catch-up tasks. More often than I’d like, this means most of my homework, all of the cleaning and laundry, and meal prepping. I never actually get through my To-Do list on Sundays, and–this year, especially–it leaves me totally stressed out. I am trying to develop evening routines that break up my housework into manageable, small tasks each day, but this has been a really tough habit for me to develop. In fact, it’s only the dream of someday having a Sunday with actual downtime that keeps me at that habit.
I didn’t get much cleaning done during this week, but I did reorganize our bookshelves to make room for my cookbooks, so that I have more food storage space on top of our pantry. (Mostly because I found copper-trimmed mason jars to store my beans and lentils and they were not getting shown off as they deserved!) But getting my homework out of the way was just enough to remove the stress! My to-do list today was super manageable, and I even was able to tackle a few extraneous tasks that have been bugging me–like reorganizing our linen closet and cleaning my desk! I had a little downtime when I went to my mother’s to pick up eggs and all in all, today has been industrious, yet satisfying!
I do have a confession to make, though: I was over budget this week. 😦 By exactly $0.50 and that was only tax, but over my $50, just the same. However, I went over budget by grabbing a whole chicken for $5.04, so it was totally worth it! I will get at least three meals out of that chicken, plus having all the bones to make another batch of bone broth. I also have a quiche in the oven right now, which is another one of my favorite cheap “stretch” dishes. Normally, a few eggs, several slices of bacon, and a cup or so of veggies would possibly stretch to 2, maybe 3 breakfasts for M and I (if I’m stingy with the bacon and we add some toast into the equation). Theses same ingredients, mix with a little milk or cream and tipped into a pie crust, will give me 8 hearty servings! Add some roasted potatoes or other vegetables alongside to mix up these leftovers for lunch or dinner!
Here is the breakdown for this week:
Hungry Harvest Produce Box: $15.00
This week’s groceries:
HH Produce Box: 2 zucchini, 1 lb. tiny onions, 3 tangelos, broccoli, kale, 1 orange, 1.5 lbs red potatoes, and sugar snap peas.
Aldi: bacon, whole chicken, butter, cottage cheese, garlic, queso fresco, cucumber, frozen orange juice concentrate, tortilla chips, swiss cheese, onions, lime, avocados, pasta, white vinegar, bread, cilantro
Plus 8 eggs from my mother’s chicken hook-up. 😉 And here is how we are using this week’s groceries:
Sunday: Turkey & Broccoli Quiche with roasted Potatoes A couple of eggs, the last of the half-n-half from a few weeks ago, some of the bacon, butter in the crust, half the swiss cheese, an onion, plus turkey & broccoli from the freezer. And some of last week’s potatoes.
Monday: Pasta Primavera using the pasta, some of last week’s milk, the remaining parmesan from 4 weeks ago, some of the garlic, zucchini, snap peas, kale, and broccoli from this week, plus some peas from the freezer, and red peppers from our box a few weeks ago.
Tuesday: Leftovers/Crepes I am hoping to get my act together to make crepes for Fat Tuesday, but, worse-comes-to-worst, I know there will be some quiche left (which is not bad at all!)
Wednesday: Out at M’s mum’s house I’m not sure what we are doing for dinner.
Thursday: Citrus-Braised Pork Chilaquiles + Avocado Salad from Date Night In I’ve already talked about how much we love this cookbook and these chilaquiles. I stocked up on the pork last week, but I’ll use the orange juice, cilantro, tortilla chips, onions, lime, garlic, queso fresco, and avocados from this week, plus bone broth from the freezer.
Friday: Citrus-Braised Pork sandwiches with quick cucumber pickles and roasted potatoes with broccoli Definitely making enough pork for a second dish. We have a lot of GF hamburger buns taking up valuable freezer space, so I’ll use up a couple of those. With that cucumber running me $0.29, these quick vinegar pickles will be the cheapest topping that I make all week! Plus, I’ll use up more of last week’s potatoes and the rest of the broccoli.
Saturday: French Onion Panade with Kale Salad This panade is like the best part of French Onion Soup. It even has the same flavors, you just lessen the amount of broth and up the amount of bread to make a sort of savory bread pudding. I’ll use up all of those tiny onions, the rest of the swiss cheese, the last of my bone broth (a new batch will be started this week), and some GF sourdough bread that I unearthed from the freezer. The salad will use up more of the kale, plus some of the cranberries from last week and whatever cheese is left!
Breakfasts will be eggs, toast, oatmeal, or cottage cheese with fruit. Lunches will be leftovers or sandwiches with the deli roast beef from a few weeks ago, plus the remainder of the sugar snap peas from our box. I am going to try to get my act together to make a batch of zucchini muffins as well, which will supplement breakfast or snacking!
It doesn’t look like much, but it is totally delicious!
How is your week going? It seems like everyone either has massive winter storms or unusually spring-like weather. We are in the latter, with our afternoons reaching almost 70 degrees! It has been a lovely respite, in a certain sense, but a little unsettling. It is still February, after all. Will we even have a winter season this year?
I’ve been starting to think about my garden plans for this year, because the extended forecast is still staying pretty mild! I think I will be aiming to put a few hearty green seedlings into the ground within the next couple of weeks: swiss chard, kale, etc. Whatever I can get my hands on, knowing that this isn’t actually planting season. Normally Home Depot fills my seedling needs, but I may need to venture to an actual garden center to find seedlings. I also need to check the almanac for the last predicted frost, but I’m feeling pretty confident about planting seeds soon, as well. I’ve always felt like I start my seeds too late, so this mild winter may be the reason that I finally get them out on time! I’m still planning to use square foot gardening, but I am expecting to tweak a little from last year’s garden plan. It was not as successful as my first year, unfortunately. I didn’t really get any onions or carrots last year, and I bought tomato plants that were too big for my box. This year, though, I’ll learn from those mistakes!
I am also dreaming of a patio makeover. And I am determined to make those dreams a reality! Our patio is the one part of our apartment that I’ve also felt was a little neglected, so I’ve been saving up a few dollars here and there for a cheap update! Some actual decor, perhaps a few pillows, maybe some new (cheap) chairs, and a new grill! I will keep you posted on our progress!
This Spring weather also has us see-sawing back and forth between comforting winter meals and lighter Spring ones. Which is why I keep finding my meal plans full of slow-cooked, heavily spiced Indian dishes and soups…or sushi. Haha! On Sunday, I let myself play in creating a big vegetarian, Indian meal. I had wanted to make Paneer cheese again (I’d give myself about an 85% success rate with this batch…insufficient draining, I think) and we had potatoes and cauliflower to make Aloo Gobi, so I rounded things out with a batch of Coconut-Creamed Spinach, which is totally my go-to side dish for any Indian food! I’ve talked before about how I am working to appreciate cooked greens more and this is one of the few cooked greens dishes that I will always enjoy! It is so delicious over a bit of rice, creamy and comforting and full of flavor! Light Indian spices and coconut milk instead of cream give this dish an unexpected twist, without being too overpowering. A healthy dose of garlic and salt, with a little heat, are still required, just like in regular creamed spinach.
- 2 packages frozen spinach, thawed
- 1 can (15 oz) coconut milk
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. garam masala
- 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp. chili flakes
- 2 tsp. coconut oil
- salt & pepper
Press the thawed, frozen spinach into a mesh sieve to squeeze as much water as you can from it. Leave to drain as you cook the onion. In a sauté pan over medium heat, as the coconut oil and the diced onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened and is mostly translucent. Add the minced garlic and the spices (garam masala, ginger, cumin, and chili flakes) and stir the whole mixture for about 2 minutes, until the garlic and spices are fragrant. Add the drained spinach to the pan and stir to combine with the onion. Pour in about half of the can of coconut milk, stirring until the spinach mixture loosens up and the coconut milk in incorporated into the mix. Add the remaining coconut milk and simmer the mixture until the desired thickness–the milk should hold together everything: the liquid shouldn’t pool from the greens. It should only take a few minutes, at most! Add a hefty pinch of salt and pepper, taste, and add more salt if needed!
I scored majorly this week! We had a very good produce box this week, even creating one of those serendipitous moments of including a cauliflower and potatoes for the week when I was toying with the idea of Aloo Gobi (Indian Cauliflower & Potato Curry)! I am still really digging Asian–type flavors this week. Plus, after finding out that Aldi stock’s gluten-free imitation crab, I knew I would also be making California rolls. Super exciting!
Once the box was confirmed and I was making my list for the store, I knew I was going to have a fair amount of extra money left over…it turned out to be around $11, so I able to spend NINE DOLLARS to stock up on a 5+ pound pork butt! That is the toughest thing about this $50 budget–that there is rarely ever enough remaining money to cover those bigger cuts of meat (that are actually quite cheap in terms of dollars-per-pound, but still require a slightly steep investment up front). Believe me, I am trying to get creative with how I save up for them–maybe I’ll tuck the changes away each week until it builds to $10-$15. Either way, by using our pantry a lot this week, I did manage to squeeze in the pork butt (and a treat: potato chips!) I’ve already portioned the pork into 3 different 1.75 lb bags in the freezer. You can bet that Citrus Pork Chilaquiles from Ashley‘s Date Night In Cookbook will be on the menu next week.** The other ingredients with be a little bit of an investment–things like orange juice, avocado, tortilla chips, and queso fresco with run me between $1-$2 a piece at Aldi. But I will get creative with the rest of the week’s meals in order to make it work because these chilaquiles are HEA. VEN. LY!
If you are careful with your pantry items and invest in spices, there is absolutely no reason to boring, flavor-lacking food when you are eating on a budget. As you may noticed, M and I favor super bold cuisines: Thai, Mexican, Indian and eat dishes from those cuisines fairly often! Spices are the absolutely key to keeping things interesting! I’ve found that cheap spices can be found in the “Mexican/Asian” aisle of regular Giants. They have very cheap bottles of garlic powder, oregano, cilantro, etc and even had little baggies with a couple whole star anise or a few whole nutmegs for like $2! Check it out, and try to put together a few dollars towards spices every other week–you will soon be on your way to a flexible and useful spice cabinet!
**This is not a paid endorsement at all. M got me the book for Christmas two years ago and I just love it! The chilaquiles is our absolute favorite recipe…with Basil Mint Bourbon Jubilees coming in close behind!
This week’s tally:
- Hungry Harvest Produce Box: $16.50 (added on the grapefruits)
- Aldi: $27.75
- Lotte Asian Market: $5.28
- Total: $49.53 (If I hadn’t had those stock up/splurge items, we would have barely cracked $35 this week!)
This week’s groceries:
Hungry Harvest Box: 2 grapefruits (add on), 1 red onion, 0.5 lb brussels sprouts, 3 apples, 1 head of organic cauliflower, 1 pint cherry tomatoes, butter lettuce, 1 mango, 1.5 lb fingerling potatoes.
Lotte Asian Market: whole lemongrass, fresh cilantro, fresh parsley, 2 lbs sushi rice
Aldi: dried cranberries (stock up), 1.5 lb pork tenderloin, 5.12 lbs pork butt (stock up), chips (splurge), cucumber, 5 lbs potatoes (stock up-forgot about the fingerlings in HH box), avocado, diced tomatoes, milk, sriracha (stock up), cooking spray, imitation crabmeat
Here is how we are eating this week:
Sunday: Paneer Masala, Aloo Gobi, Coconut-Creamed Spinach, & Rice I’ll be making the paneer with that gallon of milk and some lemon juice! It is so simple and I should get between 12-18 oz of cheese for about $1.50. I’ll cook down a masala sauce with the tomatoes, some spices, and some of the half-n-half from two weeks ago. The spinach is from two weeks ago and the coconut milk is from last week’s grocery trip. The veggies from the box will pair with spices for the Aloo Gobi and we purchased a huge 15 lb bag of rice ages ago, that we have been slowly working our way through.
Monday: I’m out late with meetings for my internship. I will probably grab something on the run.
Tuesday: Leftovers M is out and I work late. I’ll eat leftovers or some scrambled eggs when I get home.
Wednesday: Pork Tenderloin, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, & Fingerling Potatoes with Mojo Verde sauce M will be cooking while I’m in class. Mojo Verde will someday make it up here on the blog–it’s similar to chimichurri. An herby sauce with cilantro, parsley, garlic, vinegar, and all sorts of tasty stuff!
Thursday: Sushi! A big old batch of rice will get rolled into California Rolls, veggie rolls, maybe I’ll even break out the shrimp if I’m feeling fancy! Check out my last post for a step-by-step guide to rolling sushi!
Friday: Larb Gai I’ll mince up some chicken thighs with the freezer and sauté them with my pantry items (fish sauce, lime juice, etc) and cilantro and serve with the red onion and butter lettuce for a light dinner.
Saturday: Odds and Ends Whatever I’m feeling like. I know I need to use up the eggplant and do something with tomatoes! We will still have chicken thighs and a few sausages in the freezer, if I want some meat.
Breakfasts will be eggs or oatmeal or fruit and toast. Lunches will be leftovers or sandwiches using the roast beef from last week!
Not exactly a recipe today, but more of a technique post. But I do have a few sushi recipes, that can be shared here, now that I’m covering the basics!
Since I know you have all been waiting with baited breath to hear what M picked for Valentine’s dinner…(haha)…surf and turf! Perhaps a little traditional, but oh so delicious! He grabbed some personal-sized sirloin steaks and a cluster of snow crab legs for each of us! It was so, so good! I think it’s actually been over a year since I had crab legs and I definitely will have to do some scrimping and scrounging of pennies and some careful sales watching so that we can have them again before this year is over! I’ve admitted to my own recent conversion to seafood-appreciator on this blog before, but I had forgotten how much I like crab! Especially the legs, because the insides and organs and gunk of blue crabs still grosses me out. Plus I’m bad at picking those little legs. Please give me those (somewhat) tidy clusters of snow crab legs!
Yummmmmm. I thought about those crab legs and butter all day. I also spent the day enjoying my Valentine’s gift of a brand new office chair! It’s red, it’s sleek, it has any amount of support…perfection! I’ve had a sad history of used and often-broken office chairs, though my latest model was doing just fine enough for me to stop complaining about my back pain (mostly). But, M remembered and got me one and totally surprised me at work–enough to have me on the floor teary-laughing! So I am very excited to adjust this exactly how I need it and improve my daily office life!
Anyways, I thought I would take advantage of the simple cucumber rolls in this week’s meal plans to take a few step-by-step photos to show how to roll sushi. I’ll be honest: the thought of making sushi was on my list of Very Intimidating Cooking Things. (Side note: if you’ve been reading along for a while, you should be celebrating with me because you also realize that I have now tackled everything on that scary list!!!) But then I finally did it and it really can be very not frightening and even almost easy, if you are kind to yourself! The biggest impetus was honestly that sushi is so expensive! It it so much cheaper to make at home, and if you are very, very nervous, then just start practicing with some veggies rolls that will cost you pennies! But they look super fancy and taste delicious and still have that sushi magic of filling you up without much food actually being used…I still prefer the ease of keeping the seaweed on the outside of the rolls–still got all the right flavors in there! Someday, perhaps, I’ll be brave enough to flip the rice to the outside!
Let’s get started!
First make your rice. Be sure to use rice marked as “Sushi” or “Nishiki” rice! Prepare according to the bag’s directions. I usually bargain for about 3 sushi rolls-worth from 1 cup of uncooked sushi rice. Remember, 1 cup uncooked is going to result in several cups of cooked rice!
After the rice has cooked and steamed according to the package directions, for every 1 cup of uncooked rice that you made, mix together 3 Tbsp rice vinegar + 1 Tbsp sugar + 2 tsp salt in a small bowl until the sugar and salt has dissolved (if I’m in a hurry, I’ll microwave this, since the warm liquid will dissolve the salt and sugar more quickly!) Fluff the cooked rice with a fork, then pour over the vinegar mixture and mix gently, but well to distribute the flavor! Continue to stir gently for 1-2 minutes more, to help the rice release steam and cool. Cool the rice to room temperature.
Prep your sushi filling–thinly slice whatever you are putting in there: fish, veggies, etc.
Fill a bowl with water, grab your nori (seaweed sheets), put the filings and the rice beside you, and you are ready to go!
Okay, so you do need to invest in a sushi mat. I found them for a very reasonable price at my local grocery store–it came in a kit with a wooden spoon that can be used instead of the fork to stir the vinegar into the rice! While it is possibly to roll sushi without a mat, it make it so much easier that it is definitely worth the investment! Place the mat in front of you with the sticks running perpendicular to you.
Put a sheet of nori on the mat.
Dip your fingers in the water. With WET hands, scoop two small handfuls of rice onto the nori. Wet your fingers again and press the rice into a thin layer. Leave about 1 inch of space at the far end of the nori, but make sure that the rice goes close to the other edges. If your fingers are not wet enough, the rice will stick. Keep dipping them in the water as needed.
Lay your fillings on the near end of the nori sheet. Try to make them even, across the whole sushi roll.
Grasp the edge of the mat with your thumb and forefinger (with both hands, I just needed one hand to take the photo). Use the rest of your fingers to press against the fillings. Lift the sushi mat and begin to roll the edge of the nori sheet over the fillings as your middle, ring, and pinky fingers tuck the filling under the edge of the roll, like you would with a burrito. (Check out the technique next time you are at chipotle–they flip the tortilla over the filling and pull/tuck it back into the roll of the tortilla. You are doing the same pull/tuck technique with your fingers!)
Keep rolling with the mat guiding the nori sheet until the edge of the nori goes entirely around the filling to meet the rice (I’m just lifting the mat to show you).
You can release the mat once the filling is encased in the first part of the roll. Keep rolling until the rice is covered and only the edge of the nori remains.
Use a little of the water to liberally wet down the edge of the nori wrap, all the way across.
Roll all the way over. The wet nori will stick to the roll. Gently flip the roll over and press down the seam. Place seam side down on the plate and refrigerate for 10-15 minutes.
When you are ready to slice, use a serrated meat or bread knife. Wet the blade before every cut. I usually chop my sushi into eight pieces, as that’s simplest. I’ll cut the roll in half, then line up the two pieces side by side to cut those pieces in half again, and then those four pieces in half one more time.
And there you have it! Homemade sushi!