Budget Update & Meal Plan for September 3-9

Happy Labor Day!  M and I have made the best of the weekend.  On Saturday, we drove up to Baltimore with a friend.  I was the only one of the trio who had been to the National Aquarium, so we braved the cold drizzly day to enlighten the guys.  I have fond memories of visiting the aquarium when I was a kid (before many of the renovations).  Seriously: museums, aquariums, zoos…all my favs.   I will always go.  Thankfully, I live close enough to D.C. that I can scratch my museum itch with all of the free Smithsonian institutions.  Anyways, we got our fill of sharks and fish and three-finned seat-turtles.  (That turtle has been there since I can remember–and was super active all day, which was awesome).

Then we did a little googling to find the locals choice for seafood, rather than any of there over-priced chains surrounding the National Harbor.   We ended up at LP Steamers and feasted on blue crabs, shrimp, lobster, clams, mussels, scallops, and oysters.  Add a basket of fries and a cider, and I was a happy girl.

On Sunday, we drove down to see A at her new townhouse and to reunite Punc with her sister.  That dog has been so forlorn whenever we visit my mother, because Panda isn’t there to play with her anymore.

We stopped by Potters’ Craft Cidery, just because it was 10 minutes down the road.  All of the ciders were nicely light, and I appreciated that all of them–even the fruited styles, were not very sweet.  Its a good brand to look out for, as their distribution grows!  We took Skyline Drive for the way back.  Driving through mountains with an audiobook playing was a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

We were back to reality today, tidying the house and grocery shopping, etc.  This week’s groceries was a lot of indulgence and some stocking up.  We are gone again this weekend, down to North Carolina, so I only had to worry about four dinners this week.  I brought my friend to Aldi for the first time and was a little distracted by explaining everything in the store.  Also, the store was pretty sparse.  They obviously hadn’t stocked up since before the weekend, hence my going over budget.  The bacon I grabbed was in the wrong box–I was expecting a $3.19 price point.  Not so much…premium instead.

In addition to all in the meal plan, I made a plum cake with the plums from last week.  The cake base is from Flavor Flours, which I would highly recommend!  I love that the focus is on the individual flours and how the taste and texture can complement various types of confectionary and pastry.  We are just about back to our regular Fall schedules, so I’m hoping that this week will be the start of my working out the routine for this season.  Anyways, lets look at these groceries…

Here’s what I spent:

groceries 9.4

Hungry Harvest Produce Box: $15.00

Aldi: $35.64

Total: $50.64

 

Here’s what I got:

grocery 9.4

HH Produce Box: Zucchini, tomato, 2 onions, 2 crowns of broccoli, 2 asian pears, 1 avocado, 2 mangos, 2 clementines, 3 romaine hearts.

Aldi: 1.5 lbs top round steak, butter, bacon, shredded cheese, olive oil, cream cheese, sausage links, Swiss cheese, goat cheese, peanut butter, half & half, white wine

+ 18 eggs from my mother’s coworker

 

Here’s what we’re having:

Sunday: Out on the road.

Monday: Turkey-Broccoli Quiche with a side salad  I found some turkey stashed in our freezer, so the broccoli in this week’s box was rather serendipitous.  This is my all-time favorite quiche, and I’m usually constrained to making it around the holidays when there are turkey leftovers.  It is a nice surprise to make it in September!  1 crown of broccoli will go in to this.

Tuesday: Leftovers while M is out and I work the late shift.  More quiche!  I’m not complaining!

Wednesday: Steak with Balsamic Tomatoes, Roasted Broccoli, Smashed Potatoes A nice indulgence, since steak usually isn’t in the budget.  Unfortunately, prices weren’t as great as I was expecting for beef, but this will still be super tasty.  We’ll likely supplement the HH tomato with one of our own from our garden.  This will use up the rest of the broccoli, and a few red potatoes that have lingered in the pantry for a couple of weeks.

Thursday: Roasted Cauliflower with Whipped Goat Cheese, Zucchini & Roasted Tomatoes  I stumbled across this recipe last week and it looks tasty.  Last week’s cauliflower never made it into rice, so it will be used up here; along with this week’s zucchini and plenty of cherry tomatoes from our garden.

Friday: Cobb Salad with the rest of the romaine, some bacon, hard-boiled eggs, shredded cheddar, tomatoes, and bleu cheese dressing from the fridge.

Saturday: Road-trip to North Carolina for M’s nephew’s birthday! We’ll be making our traditional stop into the Saxapahaw General Store.  They always have great local goodies.  I’ll be grabbing a couple more bottles of their elderberry syrup, for sure.  I mix it into my kombucha for flavor + an extra immunity boost!

Breakfasts will be eggs or oatmeal.  Lunches will be leftovers+fruit.

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Budget Update & Meal Plan for August 26-September 2

This week is one of those weeks that I am reminded why we follow our budget.  Keeping such a low budget week-to-week means that when we reach these weeks where we want to splurge a little, or we have social obligations calling us to go out several times that week, we can usually manage to do so.  Being frugal day-to-day has allowed us to have the extra money to fund busy weeks like this one.  We’ll be out 4 nights this week–one at a barbecue where we will bring dishes to share, and up to three others out at restaurants for various events.

As we get nearer to Fall, my time at our Farmer’s Market grows more and more limited.  Once our Saturday rehearsals begin, I have to be at work early enough that I am not able to get to the Farmer’s Market.  M and I went this week, knowing there was a chance that it could be our last market of the season.  Although my Saturday class don’t begin for another two weeks, it is likely that we will travel for Labor Day weekend and we will be away in NC for the following weekend.  With this in mind, I bargained to spend an extra $20 this week, bringing our budget up to $70, so we could get some favorite items from the market.  Thanks to our produce box, we rarely need any vegetables.  The market’s pickle stall is wonderful, so we grabbed a pint each of Sweet Onion Sriracha Pickles and Pickled Beets, for a total of $9.  I spent another $4.50 on stone fruits, because I’ve been dreaming of cakes+stone fruits.  The small, sweet prune plums will be perfect in a tarte-tatin style cake or clafoutis.  The green plums were new to me, and I still haven’t filled my peach galette craving.

Last week, I tried to make one and my pizza stone cracked into 4 pieces in the oven, effectively destroying the galette along with it.  I’m still not sure what caused it to crack, but it was a very sad day, indeed.  Now I have the peaches to make (and hopefully actually taste) another galette.  My sweet tooth is out of control, so I’ll keep an eye on the fruit throughout the week…if I can spread my baking into next week, I will.

M and I went grocery shopping on our way home from the Farmer’s Market.  The unspent $5 from my Market splurge was spent on chocolate.  Aldi carries European-style chocolate that is a little hard to find in the States, so it is always a temptation when M comes shopping with me.  Knowing that I’d really only be cooking 3-4 meals this week, I planned on Bulgogi’s slightly more expensive beef.  I knew I had room in the budget for it.  The rest of the groceries went to a few ingredients to round out our meals, but mostly to a sorely-needed baking stock up.  We were entirely out of sugar and salt–which falls into a hazy category.  We do use iodized salt in our shakers and in baking, but most of it will actually go into scrubbing our cast iron…which isn’t exactly food, I suppose.  Oh well, the few cents spent on it is fairly negligible.

I won’t get to the cauliflower in this week’s produce box, so I will be making it into cauliflower rice to stash in the freezer.  I’ll also finally be bottling a fresh batch of kombucha (long-neglected over my busy summer), as well as a batch of bone broth from our stash of freezer bones.  I’m still slightly off in terms of my digestion and overall well-being, but I think both of these items will help me feel better!

My classes for grad school start this week.  While I am taking the same number of credits as past semesters, it is spread over three classes.  So I am facing 6 hours of class on Monday afternoons and a Friday class on some weeks as well.  I’ve finally passed the halfway point and will be graduating at the end of next year or in the Spring of 2019.  It seems both very far away, but also fairly close.  Hopefully I can keep everything in balance this semester.

Here’s what I spent:

groceries 8.26

Hungry Harvest Produce Box: $15.00

Farmer’s Market: $13.50

Aldi: $28.64 (on food–we also got a harness for Punc)

H-Mart: $12.70

Total: $69.84

Here’s what I got:

groc 8.26

HH Box: 1 pint cherry tomatoes, 2 apples, 2 lemons, 2 asian pears, 1 onion, 1 head red leaf lettuce, cauliflower, 1 lb green beans

Farmer’s Market: 2 peaches, 2 green plums, 1 pint prune plums, 1 pint pickles, 1 pint pickled beets

H-Mart: 2 lbs bulgogi-cut beef, 1 dozen eggs

Aldi: 2 chocolate bars, olive oil spray, 3 lbs lemons, cashews, 1 qt yogurt, ricotta cheese, salt, green onions, sour cream, butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar

Here’s what we’re eating:

Saturday: Out to a Barbecue I made deviled eggs and a double batch of lemon bars to contribute.

Sunday: Bulgogi Beef with Rice and Lettuce and green onions, carrots, and onion topping.  We had all the ingredients for ssamjang in the fridge already, plus soy sauce for the marinade.  We wrapped up the beef and rice in the lettuce from our produce box

Monday: At Class. There are leftovers for M and I made a batch of rhubarb-streusel muffins on Sunday with pantry ingredients.  I’ve frozen the muffins and took a muffin + 2 oz of cashews along with me to class.  I also brought coffee and water from work (free).

Tuesday: Out for M’s mum’s birthday  At least I think we are going out.  If need be, I can move up Friday’s pasta dish to tonight.

Wednesday: Friend’s Going Away Party at a Thai restaurant, so at least there will be plenty of leftovers for Thursday lunch!

Thursday: Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage in Browned Butter  I’ve had the squash for months, but luckily these keep well.  It will make plenty of extra gnocchi to freeze for later.  Plus fresh sage from the garden and a little browned butter.

Friday: Ricotta Pasta with Green Beans and Tomatoes All fresh ingredients this week, except for pasta from the pantry.  If we end up eating this earlier this week, I can make risotto with roasted tomatoes instead.

Saturday: Out on a Day Trip

Breakfasts are avocado toast (with avocados from last week), eggs, yogurt+fruit.  Lunches are leftovers, overnight oats, or hard-boiled eggs.

 


Ambrosia Salad

ambrosia title

As much as I am interested in new food trends, there are a few classics–especially those that I grew up with–that will always have a special place on my table.  As a child of the ’90s, some of these dishes waver on that edge of decidedly old-school, especially as we look at cold salads.  Ambrosia is one of those.  I am seeing this creamy fruit salad less and less these days, but, in my mind, ambrosia is one of those quintessential summer dishes.  Due to the lack of vegetables and the inclusion of fruit, it was a universal favorite in my house while I was growing up.  It also made an impression on our extended family (here is the recipe, finally, Lizzie!)  Ambrosia was always a true sign of summer (even though, using the canned options, it can be made almost any time of year that grapes are in stores).

ambrosia fruit

I’ve sampled a few ambrosia salads at various barbecues, either a store-bought salad or by someone else’s recipe.  And I was always disappointed, if not disgusted.  They were always horribly sweet.  There are rules about Ambrosia Salad (in my adamant opinion! 😉 ).  Rule #1: no maraschino cherries.  Listen.  I love maraschino cherries.  Especially the un-natural, bright-red ones.  A visit to any fro-yo place usually ends with most of my money paying for at least one extra ounce of weight made up entirely of half a dozen maraschino cherries.  However, they do not belong in ambrosia salad.  The juice makes it all vaguely pink and the flavor just doesn’t fit.  No maraschinos.  Rule #2: no vanilla.  This is often linked to the third and most important rule: Rule #3: don’t cover the fruit with a sweet topping.  I’ve tried this dish made with whipped cream, cool whip, vanilla yogurt….all of those options will leave your teeth aching and your mouth crying out for water from the sugar.  The marshmallows and the coconut and, you know, all the fruit, provide plenty of sweetness.  Even vanilla extract adds a heaviness to the salad.  You just don’t need it.

In adhering to rule #3, I will finally admit the ingredient that may give you pause.  Yes, the topping that mixes everything together into creamy goodness is…. sour cream.  Gasp!  I know!  Just reminiscent enough of those terrible 1950s recipes calling for mayo and shrimp and jello and other horrors to make you stop and reconsider.  But hear me out:  Sour cream is great here.  The tang balances the sweetness of every other ingredient and after a couple of hours, the marshmallows break down into soft little pockets and the sugar on the outside of the marshmallows has blended with the cream to make the whole thing perfectly sweet.  Yes, I suppose I would allow swapping plain yogurt for the sour cream, if it really rattles you.  But let’s be honest with each other.  Sour cream achieves a texture of delightfully-creamy-without-being-heavy that no other dairy product can.  Greek yogurt would be too thick and heavy, regular yogurt would be too watery, especially combined with the juicy fruit.  Sour cream is the best option.  Just don’t think about it too much and do me a favor: try it with sour cream first.  Trust me.

ambrosia close

I was delighted, in fourth grade, when I started learning about Greek mythology, to learn that ambrosia was the food of the Gods.   Having had this dish for many summers, I couldn’t imagine anything more appropriate to feed Athena, Artemis, Zeus, and Apollo. So try it out…it is the food of the gods, after all!  Not to mention a really great addition to any barbecue or potluck and the perfect option for a summer evening!

ambrosia mixed

Ambrosia Salad

Serves 6-8 | Prep time: 10 min. + resting | Cook time: N/A

  • 1 c. mini marshmallows
  • 1 c. crushed pineapple, drained (or 1 c. fresh, finely chopped)*
  • 1 small can mandarin oranges, drained
  • 1 c. shredded coconut (sweetened is traditional, but unsweetened would be fine)
  • 1 c. grapes (red or green), slice in half
  • 3/4 to 1 c. sour cream**

*My pineapple is fresh, but chopped too large in these photos.  As soon as I took a bite, I knew I should have chopped it much finer, when using it fresh.

**Depending on how juicy the fruit is, you may need less or more.  Gently fold in the smaller amount first, and then decide if you need the rest.

Combine the fruit, marshmallows, and coconut in a large bowl.  Gently fold in sour cream, being careful not to break up the mandarin orange pieces too much.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving, to allow flavors to meld.


Budget Update and Meal Plan for August 13-19

This week will be spent readjusting to life without camp.  There is always a transition period–I’ve just spent the last seven weeks entirely immersed in a whole different schedule, workload, and focus.  This week is for cleaning the house, organizing my emails, and generally getting my life in order.

I am excited, because the end of the week is our annual canning day.  A few friends and I set aside a day to spend hours preserving and canning.  It is such a long process, so it is much more entertaining with company.  Our SO’s are in charge of lunch/dinner while we wash, chop, soak, boil, and reduce a variety of produce and then rev up a water bath to process it all.  This canning day was started because we wanted to make Squash Relish, which still remains as the primary act.  This year, I will also do a batch of tomato jam and my friends are tag-teaming the process of making apple butter.  We might try tomato sauce, or something else entirely.  I found a recipe for a carrot cake conserve that I’m still considering….but it may have to wait.  Even in a whole day, only so much can be made when limited to a 4-burner stovetop.  Whatever we do end up with, we’ll swap a few jars so that we all have a taste of the product.  The produce for canning will be separate from my weekly grocery budgets, since this is a true stock up.  However, I really don’t expect to pay more that $25-$30.  This will result in 10 jars of squash relish and 4-6 jars of tomato jam + 2-4 jars of apple butter, at least.

This week, M is working late nearly every day.  Dinners are, again, relying on protein from our freezer/pantry, and are simpler dishes or platters, in order to keep everything easy.  As such, a lot of our groceries from the store are aimed at stocking up.  A condiment or too, flour, some probiotic-rich foods as well as some simple items because my stomach has been pretty unhappy for the past few weeks, after all the stress and poor eating.  I even managed a bottle of store-bought kombucha to split over the course of this week, as I neglected my own homemade booch.  Check out that mother behind the groceries–it’s grew four baby SCOBY’s.  I restarted a batch last night, finally, but it will still take about a week before it is ready to drink.

Here’s what I spent this week:

(I was lazy and only went to Trader Joe’s this week, because I needed to grab paper goods.  The TP, paper towels, and dog treats came out to $10, so my total for food was $35.18.  I’m $0.18 over, as my math regarding tax was a little off.)

groceries list 8.14

Hungry Harvest Produce Box: $15.00

 

Trader Joe’s: $35.18

Total: $50.18

I was able to take home half a dozen individual yogurt cups as we cleaned out the fridge at work (the students’ parents bring us food sometimes), which really helped my budget, since those were free and can serve as my breakfast all week long.  My mom’s egg lady is back, so I also got 18 eggs from her.  Those should last us well into next week.

Here’s what we got:

groceries 8.14

HH Produce Box: 2 lbs red potatoes, 3 peaches, 3 pears, 7 tiny cucumbers, 2 broccoli crowns, 1/2 lb kale, 1 pint cherry tomatoes, 2 ears corn

Trader Joe’s: gluten-free English muffins, unsweetened Applesauce, White Beans, Butter, Red Onion, Sauerkraut, GF Flour, Kombucha, Coconut Aminos, Lemons, Ginger, Feta cheese, slice Deli Ham

plus another overflowing pint of cherry tomatoes from our own garden

We are really eating from our pantry this week!

Here’s what we’re eating:

Sunday: Out I was still at work (my boss got us all Chipotle) and then we went to our friend’s house where they fed us dinner and we watched Game of Thrones

Monday: Tomato Tarte Tatin, Cheese, Fruit, Salad using all of the tomatoes from our garden, some herbs, and a quick pie crust.  I served it withe last of the lettuce from last week’s box, plus some cheese that had been languishing in the drawer for a week or two (bleu and mozzarella) and with some of the pears

Tuesday: Burgers, Potato Salad, Roast Corn using beef and buns from the freezer.  I’m using about half of the potatoes from our box.

Wednesday: White Bean Dip, Tomato-Cucumber Salad, Baked Feta  I made this dip for a camp potluck while M was out of town.  It is sooooo delicious and super simple, so I’m making it again.  I’ll use all the cucumbers and most of the tomatoes for the salad.  I will mostly save half of that block of feta and freeze it for later.  We’ll serve everything with some crostini made from the English muffins, thinly sliced.

Thursday: Sausage & Kale Pasta with sausage from the freezer.  Whatever tomatoes don’t go into the salad on Wednesday will end up here.

Friday: Canning Day! I’ll make some broccoli salad to contribute to dinner at our friend’s–most likely hot dogs, as they are the ideal carrier for our prized Squash Relish.  We have some buns in the freezer that I will bring along, too.

Saturday: Sweet Potato Roast and Breakfast Sandwiches using last week’s SP’s.  Eggs and ham will round things out.

Breakfasts will be smoothies, applesauce & yogurt, or eggs.  Lunches are leftovers, caprese salad, or ham sandwiches, with fruit and/or sauerkraut, and kombucha for me.  I did indulge in homemade Eggs Benedict on Monday, when I was off of work, which explains the ham, lemons, butter, and English muffins in my basket.  🙂


Budget Update & Meal Plan for May 21-27

I’m back!  April and early May swung totally out of control, between family stuff, my internship, and some intensive work projects.  Only in the last week or so, do I feel as though I’ve finally gotten my feet underneath me once more.  I will say that, through all of the madness, we did actually stick to our $50-per-week grocery budget (M even did the shopping twice and stuck to the budget!), although there was also a little more ordering out and food waste than I would like, over the course of these weeks.  But our budget also worked, because, even with the cost of ordering out a little more frequently, we had that little bit of padding in our bank accounts to cover it.  Up until this year, that padding would have already been spent on groceries, that would likely have still gone uncooked in favor of the convenience of ordered food.  And then we would have found ourselves in a bit of a jam.

Anyways, this week’s dinners are–as usual–guided by the produce that came in our Hungry Harvest Produce Box.  It so happens that using all the various veggies in the box (plus a few left over from last week) created a weekly menu made entirely of our household’s Go-To recipes.  We make all of these so, so often.  It will be a nice way to ease back in to cooking most nights of the week.

I am in the very (very) beginning stages of attempting to meal plan in two-week increments, instead of one.  I’ve noticed that it may be easier to spend $100 every two weeks–all those times that I am a dollar or two short from a more budget-friendly (i.e. larger) item would be easier to work into our budget.  Plus, through Hungry Harvest, we can get a slightly larger produce box delivered every two weeks for much less than $30.  This opens up a little more to spend at the store.  It would be easier to stretch meats and dairy and other higher-cost items, too.  I want to do a couple sample two-week plans before we commit, of course.  It add another element to our meal-planning, in that I would not have to think about which vegetables might spoil faster–those would have to be eaten in week one, while the hardier veggies are saved for week two.  I’m merely playing around with my options right now, but I will certainly keep you up to date!

Here is what we spent this week:

(Ignore the weird spacing–the cashier had to adjust bananas that rang up incorrectly)

Receipt 5.20.17

Hungry Harvest Produce Box: $22.00  I added on the pound of cherries and two pounds of rhubarb–all the fruit for me, please!

Aldi: $27.23

Total: $49.23

Here is what we got:

Groceries 5.20.17

Hungry Harvest Box: 2 lb. rhubarb, 1 lb. cherries, 2 portabello mushroom caps, 1 pint cherry tomatoes, 3 sweet potatoes, 2 kiwis, 2 avocados, 2 apples, 3 green bell peppers, & a head of romaine lettuce

Aldi: frozen blueberries, frozen raspberries, bananas, 2 lb. chicken breasts, white vinegar, 2 lb. carrots, gluten-free bread, organize spinach*, almond milk, butter, quinoa

Misc: 18 dozen eggs from my mom’s chicken lady connection

*I do appreciate that my spinach is organic, but the $0.50 more I paid for it was actually to get the spinach in a plastic box over a bag–the fragile leaves stay much fresher in the box!

Here is what we are eating this week:

Sunday: Out? If I don’t get dinner while I am running around to various places, I’ll probably make some with eggs, veggies, and some bacon/sausage.  A frittata or omelet, maybe.

Monday: Fajitas with Portobello Mushrooms, Onions & Peppers, Corn Salad, and Guacamole  Meat is as of yet undetermined–maybe some of the chicken, but we also have steak and shrimp in the freezer.  The onions are from the pantry and the corn is from last week’s HH box.  We’ll also use some of the tomatoes, and tortillas from the pantry.

Tuesday: Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad  This is the most recent addition to my list of quick staples!  Exactly as it sounds: all the piece of a classic chicken caesar salad, just swapping the croutons with cooked (and cooled) GF noodles to make a cold pasta salad.  We’ll use the chicken breast and the romaine, plus some parmesan and noodles from the pantry.  I’m home late, but I can cook the chicken while the pasta cooks and get this dinner on the table in about 20 minutes!

Wednesday: Portobello Mushroom Risotto, with Roasted Tomatoes and Kale Salad  Two classics, using some of the tomatoes and mushrooms from this week’s box, plus kale from last week’s.  We have broth in the freezer and everything else (arborio rice, cranberries, nuts, etc) in the pantry.

Thursday: Out My coworkers and I will be celebrating our boss’ birthday

Friday: Grilling!  Protein with yellow squash, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes  Basically, whatever protein isn’t chosen for the fajitas earlier this week, plus the rest of the veggies from last week’s HH box.  We are expecting rain until Thursday, so I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that the squash will stay good for that long.

Saturday: Tofu & Broccoli Pad Thai  This meal is actually entirely from the pantry–it’s a dish we did not get to last week.  I might swap the noodles for rice and play around with a different sauce, if I’m feeling creative, but I know we have all the ingredients for Pad Thai on hand, because I love it. 🙂

Breakfasts will be Berry & Spinach Smoothies (trying to get back on that smoothie train).  Lunches will be sandwiches (we have ham in the fridge), dinner leftovers, or hardboiled eggs.


Budget Updates & Meal Plan for April 9-15

Here we are at week three, where our schedules begin to get hectic and a smidge crazy!  This week, I only have three days of late-night rehearsals, versus the 5 days a week coming up in the next two weeks of my internship.  But this week’s shopping was driven by prepping for the next few weeks and I am feeling very optimistic about our pantry and fridge!

This weekend, I had off from our usual Saturday classes, as all the kids are on Spring Break.  My extra time meant that I could do more shopping for our patio, go through all of my clothes in order to reorganize my side of the closet, and then spend almost all of Sunday out with some friends, at a wedding expo (there were 4 fiancees in our group a 7 ladies) and at our local winery.  It was wonderful to actually have a little time to decompress with friends and to get so much work done around the house!  We have also been lucky to have weather in the 70’s all weekend!  I’m hoping it lasts, as I am planning to fill up our herb planter and plant tomatoes in our garden plot this Saturday.

In the middle of the week, M and I also bought a new charcoal grill.  We’ll have a little bit of a learning curve, as we are both more used to propane grills, but the deal was too good to miss and it even has a smoker box.  I may be bold enough to try my hand at smoking a salmon fillet.  Our favorite smoked salmon came fillet-style from a vendor who no longer comes to our farmer’s market and I haven’t found a good substitute for my Smoked Salmon Salad in any of our usual grocery stores.  But I bet I could get a nice low temp, with a little smoke, and just spend the day hanging out on the patio while the fish cooks.  We used to freeze our salmon from the farmer’s market, so I could stock up a a large fillet, smoke it, and stash it in the freezer in smaller pieces, in order to last us a while.

Speaking of stocking up, I am pondering the idea of, in addition to my usual weekly budget of $50, if it might be worthwhile to have a small, monthly “stock-up” fund.  I’ve discussed my frustrations before, that, while shopping on a budget, not having one more dollar can sometimes mean settling for half of the amount of food.  For a short span, while we had a Costco membership, we did a pretty good job of stocking up on meat at Costco once per month, and filling in everything else in our weekly grocery trips.  But, if I wanted to smoke the salmon in an amount that was appropriate for the full day of babysitting the grill, I really should be looking at a large piece of salmon…probably $25-$30 worth, which, as we know, is almost all of my weekly budget to spend at the grocery store, in order to round out after our produce box.  I’ve been toying with the idea of pulling together maybe $20 more each month, to be spent on those larger, “stock-up” items.  I still want to get through this month on the current budget, to have a better comparison of our expenses, but we shall see…

Starting this week, with our schedules filling up, snacks are super crucial.  My rehearsals are on campus, where there are a plethora of food establishments close at hand, but I certainly don’t need to be spending that money every day on fast food and coffee.  So I wanted to have snacks that are easy for me to bring and heartier snacks that M can have at home, since a couple nights a week we may be eating later or he may be cookings and leaving me leftovers to reheat when I get home.  Thankfully, he is used to eating dinner later from his childhood (the various Europeans I’ve met tend to find American dinnertime oddly early), so it won’t be as much of a stretch for him when we push back dinner.  My receipts this week are all over place, as I picked up some homestuffs at each store and randomly found the GF chicken on sale at Giant during the week, so I snatched that up, but forgot to save my receipt.  Oof.  Lots of numbers, folks, but still on budget!

Here’s what we spent this week:receipt

Hungry Harvest Produce Box: $11.25 (my friend signed up and put my name as a referrer, so I got 25% of this week’s box!  So excited to have found myself with a few extra dollars to spend!)

Giant: $5.00

Trader Joe’s: $4.49 (on food)

Aldi: $28.04 (on food)

Total: $48.78

Here’s what we got:

groceries

Hungry Harvest Box: 1/2 dozen sweet potatoes, 1 pint cherry tomatoes, 1 lb carrots, 3 blood oranges, 1 lb fingerling potatoes, 2 yellow squash, 1/2 lb green beans, 1 apple, 2 cucumbers, 1 pack of portobello mushroom caps

Giant: 2 packages GF breaded chicken tenders

Aldi: tortilla chips, 2 bags fruit/nut/seed trail mix, clementines, hummus, greek yogurt, parmesan cheese, brie cheese, drink mix packets, deli ham, deli turkey, coconut milk

Trader Joe’s: 5 mini brie “bites”

Misc: 18 dozen eggs from my mom’s chicken lady connection 🙂

And here’s how we’ll use it:

Sunday: Out to the Winery That’s where the larger round of brie will go, along with some GF crackers I had in the pantry, a jar of my Cranberry Chutney that I canned in December, and a few of the clementines.  The rest of my friends also brought snacks for a great picnic.

Monday: Mushroom Risotto with Roasted Tomatoes I’m trying to get in this favorite as much as I can before the weather get too warm! I’ll be using arborio rice from the pantry, broth from the freezer, and some of the portobellos (I’ll slice at oven-dry the rest for a future flavor booster), some of the parmesan, and the tomatoes.

Tuesday: Rehearsal Night, Quick Chicken Tenders + French Fries + Green Beans I’ll bring a little snack pack with me (I’ve found that 1/4 cup of trail mix, 1 brie bite, 1 drink mix packet, and 1 clementine can fit quite neatly into a half-pint jar).  When I get home, I’ll toss a couple of the chicken tenders and some fries from last week’s grocery haul in the oven  and sauté green beans before a small, quick dinner.

Wednesday: Class + Rehearsal Night, Macaroni & Cheese  I warned you last week that I go straight back to comfort food when things get busy and stressful!  Not to mention, I still have a couple boxes of GF mac & cheese in the pantry from when I found them on sale for $0.68 a box.  So this meal didn’t pull from this week’s budget at all.  I’ll have my snack pack at rehearsal and M can snack as well.  We might add some frozen peas or tuna if we want the macaroni to be more substantial.

Thursday: Chicken Fajitas We have tortillas, onions, tomatoes, and a bell pepper in the pantry, along with chicken, sour cream, and cheese in the fridge, so this is another meal pulled entirely from our pantry, rather than this week’s budget.

Friday: Rehearsal Night, Quick Chicken Tenders + French Fries + Green Beans the last late night for this week will use up the last of that quick chicken, beans and fries.

Saturday: Breakfast for Dinner we can roast up the potatoes for a hash and maybe make some egg & ham sandwiches.  Nice and simple.

Breakfasts will be eggs or yogurt with fruit.  Lunches will be leftovers or sandwiches.  Snacks will be trail mix, fruit & cheese, hummus & cucumbers, chips & salsa (from the fridge!), deli meat, or hard-boiled eggs.

A lot of chicken and potatoes, for sure.  But this week was all about stocking up and those cheaper meats and starches let me focus my money elsewhere.  I’ll still have sweet potatoes, yellow squash, carrots, possibly cucumber, chips, clementines, trail mix, yogurt, cheese, hummus, deli meat, and coconut milk leftover after this week.  I should actually have enough clementines and trail mix to last through all three weeks of my rehearsals, and I’ll work everything else into my meal plans for the next few weeks.


Kale Salad: Building Blocks

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It’s been a bit of a rough week, in terms of stress management.  The most frustrating part is that I am not even at the actual busy, stressful time yet–I’m just worrying about it.  Anxiety life.  Oy.  But, if I can just keep on picking away at my assignments and project prep: a little bit of work this evening or that morning, I shouldn’t have any problems at all.  I’ve just gotta remind myself that the best thing I can do is to break everything into manageable tasks.

Kale Chop

Freshly chopped.

I also have to find some stress relief.   That is currently in the form of watching season 1 of Once Upon a Time (I’m behind, I know.  But I am also totally over whiny James and would just like him to disappear, please!) and planning a mini patio makeover for us.  We haven’t done much with the space in our two years here.  We brought a pair of plastic adirondack chairs we found at the curb of our old neighborhood, and purchased an Applaro table + chairs + stools from Ikea when we moved here, which I still love!  Every piece folds up, so its a total space saver!  Other than that, we have my herb planter and a very old, giant grill that was another curbside find.  M and I agreed that we would be getting a new grill this year (possibly even this weekend!) and I was feeling like things needed a little sprucing up, in general.  I want to enjoy my time on our patio, rather than simply abandoning it to the bugs.  Since the beginning of this year and our grocery budget revamp, I have also been trying (semi-successfully) to purchase our groceries with cash.  I almost never carried cash before, so this has been a huge shift for me.  But, our ATM only allows withdrawals in sets of $10, so, with my $35 to spend at the grocery store, I’m left with $5 that isn’t budgeted for groceries.  It had been easy enough to stash this weekly $5 bill in a jar and forget about it.  Now, four months into the year, I have a nice little cash fund that I can use towards a patio update: to get some string lights, pillows, and maybe a lantern or two!  Since we are hosting our families for a small Easter lunch, I am hoping to have the patio finished by then!  I’ll be sure to share the results when I do get things done.

Kale Ready

After “massaging” the kale.

Today, I am sharing our absolute favorite recipe for kale.  This is the only salad that we eat consistently, but it never disappoints, even when it is so simple.  It’s gleaned from several different recipes across the web and also from a few kale salads that we have sampled in restaurants.  By thinking of this salad in flavor building blocks, rather than in specific ingredients, we always have enough “building blocks” on hand in our pantry to make this salad, and we have endless combinations to try!  There are 5 important parts: Sweet (some kind of dried fruit works best), Crispy (breadcrumbs or croutons), Crunchy (nuts or seeds), Salty/Creamy (cheese), and Tangy (vinaigrette).  Add each of these elements to some kale and you will not be disappointed!  This salad is almost more like a coleslaw in terms of the thinly shredded greens and the ratio of greens to other ingredients.

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Kale Salad

Serves: 4-6 | Prep time: 10 minutes |Cook time: (optional) 3-5 minutes

  • 1 bunch curly kale
  • 1/2 c. dried fruit
  • 1/3 c. tiny croutons (about 1-2 slices of bread)
  • 1/3 c. sliced/chopped and toasted nuts or whole, shelled, toasted seeds
  • 1/4 c. shredded parmesan or other hard, salty cheese
  • 2 Tbsp. water
  • 5 Tbsp. vinegar, divided (red wine, champagne, or apple cider vinegar is best)
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 6-8 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • salt & pepper

Place the dried fruit in a small bowl and add 2 Tablespoons of water and 2 Tablespoons of vinegar.  Microwave for 30 seconds and allow to sit while preparing the rest of the salad ingredients.  This allows the fruit to rehydrate slightly, making it softer and adding a chewy bite to the salad.

Remove the leafy part of the kale from the stems.  Stack the leafy part and slice the greens into thin strips.  Add to a large bowl and massage the kale greens.  The greens will get softer, will slightly change color, will shrink a little in mass, and will begin to smell like grass.  Your hands may even turn a bit green.  This breaks down the tough leaf without cooking and makes the raw salad infinitely more palatable! Check out the photos above–can you see the difference?  Set the greens aside.

Chop the bread slices into the tiniest pieces that you can manage.  I prefer this to breadcrumbs, as it gives a more hearty texture.  Plus, then I don’t have to keep GF breadcrumbs around.  I’ll be totally honest, we usually freeze the ends of bread loaves for this exact purpose!  Place the bits of bread in a skillet with a glug of olive oil and cook, stirring occasionally, until these tiny croutons are a little toasted.  Set aside.

Mix up the dressing: add 3 Tablespoons of vinegar, 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice, 6-8 Tablespoons of olive oil (the usual ratio is 1 part vinegar to 2 parts olive oil, but we prefer less oil for a tangier dressing), 2 teaspoons dijon mustard*, and 2 teaspoons honey into a jar.  Lid tightly and shake until the dressing is combined.  Taste the dressing and adjust as needed–perhaps more honey or more vinegar.  If I need more vinegar, I’ll first use the water-vinegar combination from my soaked fruit!  You can jazz up this vinaigrette by using different types of vinegar and oil, adding herbs or garlic, etc.

Put together the salad: Drain the soaked fruit and add the fruit to the greens.  Add the nuts/seeds, then the cheese.  Pour over about half of the dressing.  Sprinkle salt and black pepper over the salad, fairly liberally.  Toss all of the salad together until thoroughly mixed.  Add more dressing if needed.  Last, add the croutons, and mix in.  This helps to prevent them from getting soggy.  Serve immediately or set in the fridge for up to an hour before serving.  Leftover can be stored in the fridge tightly covered for up to 2 days, but you will lose a lot of the texture from the nuts and croutons as they soften.

*The mustard helps the oil and vinegar emulsify, so do your best not to skip it!

Some of our favorite combinations are:

–Dried cherries, pumpkin seeds, and parmesan

–Dried cranberries, sliced almonds, and parmesan (in the photos)

–Dried currents, toasted walnuts, and asiago

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